To Him who loved us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father, to Him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen.
The lesson for our meditation this morning is recorded in the gospel of Luke 11:1-13.
Dear brothers and sisters of our Lord, who hears and answers prayer; Christian service is an essential part of the Christian life. But the life of a Christian is also a life of prayer. As Luke records, Jesus prayed frequently. His disciples certainly had plenty of opportunities to observe him praying. They knew that John the Baptist had taught his own disciples how to pray, and as they heard Jesus praying, we can presume that they became conscious of the inadequacy of their own prayer lives, and naturally wished to learn how to pray better. Their request to be taught reminds us that good praying is something which we learn, and we need God’s help to learn to pray properly. So, along with Jesus’ disciples, let’s ask our God for some instruction. Lord, teach us to pray…for the proper things, and in the proper manner.
The first thing he taught them was what they should be praying for. From this instruction, we get what we call the Lord’s Prayer. Now, something that should be noted is that in many of the old manuscripts of Luke, two of the petitions, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and “deliver us from evil,” are omitted, while they are included in Matthew’s version. But we need not worry that two inspired authors gave us different versions of the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord here is not teaching us the exact words for a single prayer; rather, he is teaching us a pattern for all of our prayers.
And in this pattern for prayer, Jesus taught us to pray for blessings:
First, spiritual blessings for all men, what Luther calls the first three petitions: “hallowed be thy name,” “thy kingdom come,” and “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, a prayer for missions - that more and more humans would come to faith and become citizens of Christ’s kingdom, for only the faithful can keep God’s name holy and willingly carry out His commands.
Second, we pray for physical blessings for all men: “give us this day our daily bread.” May all people be provided with the material needs for their daily lives.
Third, we pray for spiritual blessings for the people of God: “forgive us our trespasses;” “lead us not into temptation;” “deliver us from evil.” Those who believe in Christ and his sacrifice on the Cross know that they can pray for and receive forgiveness; they ask also that they may be spared situations that may tempt them into sin; and they ask to be protected from the attacks of the world and the devil.
That, in a nutshell, is what we should pray for. Ask yourselves when you pray if your prayers are like this one. And think about this: the Lord’s Prayer contains only one petition for material blessings and six petitions for spiritual blessings. What does that mean for your prayer life? Our model prayer contains petitions which seek God’s blessings for all men and petitions which seek his blessings for all Christians. None of its petitions ask anything just for me. That is part of the pattern Jesus intends to teach us for our prayer life.
Jesus wants us to pray not just for ourselves but for all people and nations and faiths. And what a privilege that is! You have power to ask God for good things for all people! Do you pray for President Donald Trump? Well you should, even if you don’t like him or his policies, because you love your God and want good things, like wisdom and sound leadership in the authorities he has placed over you. Do you pray for our troops? Yes, because you love God and want our sons and daughters to return home safely! How about the leaders of Al Qaeda and ISIS, or other terror groups? Yes, because you love God and want him to rule in all men’s hearts. You want peace on earth? Pray then, for our leaders, for our troops, and for our enemies.
And God will answer, in his own good time, because we have also been taught to pray in the proper way: with persistence and confidence.
You know, in this world of microwave ovens, instant pudding, smart phones and Google, where so many expect their desires to be gratified instantly, we might be tempted to expect the same instant response from God. But God doesn’t promise us that. Instead, he wants us to be persistent, as a child is with his father. We do address God as our Father…and how does a child ask for things? Any parents here ought to know.
A little child does not hesitate to trouble his father when he wants something. And he keeps it up until he gets what he wants. The parable teaches God’s children to do the same with their heavenly Father. That is the point. Be persistent in prayer. Keep on asking God for what you want.
In our lesson, a man asks a friend to lend him some bread. He wants to feed a guest who stopped in late at night. It is midnight, not a very convenient time to ask a favor even of a friend. IF you wonder why his friend arrived so late, it's a simple matter of geography: travelers in Palestine would often travel at night to escape the heat of the day in summer.
But everyone in the family is already asleep. Because they all sleep in the same room, everyone would wake up if the head of the house gets up to carry out his friend’s request. So he refuses at first. Jesus does not mean to say that God is like the man in the house, that he considers it a bother when people trouble him with requests day and night. He does mean that God will answer when he knows the time is right!
In the original, the word for “persistence” suggests unashamed boldness—or even impudence. Now, I wouldn’t suggest you pray impudently, but unashamed boldness is definitely in order. Consider the boldness of Abraham, asking God to spare Sodom for the sake of 50, then 45, and ultimately only 10 righteous. If the knock at the door continues, it gets results. The man helps out his needy friend, not because of their friendship, but because his friend is persistent to the point of being rude. He doesn’t give up. In the end he gets more than just a bite or two of bread. He gets “as much as he needs.” Persistence pays with God. God does answer prayer. God is more than a friend to us; He is a loving Father.
You want more reason to persist in prayer? Our Lord tells us that is how it’s done: the familiar command goes: “ask, seek, and knock.” You may have noted that in the version we read this morning, the translator demonstrates a very accurate understanding of the original Greek, in that these commands are best understood as a continual, persistent action, namely “keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking.” It might take days, weeks, even years, but there will be an answer.
Pray with persistence…that’s the first part of “how.” The second part is “pray with confidence.” Why do we have such confidence? Because Christ adds a promise to each command: “keep on asking, and it will be given…keep on seeking, and you will find…keep on knocking, and the door will be opened.” Every prayer a Christian prays always gets an answer. It isn’t always the answer we are looking for, and it doesn’t always come when we expect it. But the answer God gives is always the answer of a wise and loving Father. He gives his answer, not when we see fit, but when he knows best. God’s promise to answer prayer encourages not only persistence, but confidence.
And that confidence comes not only from his promise to answer but his promise to give us good gifts. Earthly fathers don’t play tricks on their children when they come with a simple request. When they ask for something good and necessary (a fish or an egg), fathers do not give them something harmful (like a snake or a scorpion). So if human fathers, though they are “evil,” that is, weak and sinful, are willing to give good gifts to their children, how much more willingly does the heavenly Father give good gifts to his children? And that includes the perfect gift, the Holy Spirit. God gives the Spirit freely “to those who ask him.” And the Spirit prays with us, to articulate with groans those things that we don’t know how to ask.
What a privilege it is to bring our prayers and petitions to the Lord God, and to know that our persistence will pay off! Don’t abuse this privilege by not using it, my friends. You have been given a great gift, an open line of communication with your God. Ask, and you will be answered by the God who loves you for the sake of his Son. And that answer will always be a blessing for you.
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Amen.