Everyone knows how to pray. Most of us do it multiple times a day. We pray before meals, after we receive the Lord’s Supper, to watch over our family. Those are all perfectly acceptable prayers. But what about the more selfish prayers? You know, the one for the new car, the million-dollar mansion, a high-paying job, a beautiful spouse hanging off of your arm. Then again, maybe your prayer life has been nonexistent, even disappointing. Perhaps you’ve even wondered why anyone should bother praying in the first place.
In today’s Gospel, the Lord not only teachers a prayer God loves to hear, but He also encourages a persistent and expectant prayer life in His disciples and in fellow believers. It is not because of who we are or what we bring to the table, but because He gives us the perfect prayer and because God loves to give good gifts.
So why should we pray? If God knows all, He surely knows what our wants and needs are, so there really is no need to pray, right? Wrong! The first reason is simple: Christians are people of prayer. Jesus teaches us to pray by His example and by His words. A quick reading of the text indicates that Luke has two things in mind in this prayer lesson. In the part of the text which presents the Lord’s Prayer, the emphasis is on what God’s children should pray for. In the parable part of the text, the emphasis is on how God’s children should pray.
To remind ourselves as to what we should pray for, we turn to the words of the disciples. “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples’” Jesus’ disciples had plenty of opportunity to watch Jesus pray. They all knew that John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray. But now, they wanted Jesus to teach them to pray.
Why would they need Jesus to teach them to pray? You just close your eyes, fold your hands and start praying, right? That is why the disciples asked to be taught. They knew that their praying was weak and they needed more. Their request reminds us that good praying is something which we learn. We need God’s help to learn to pray properly.
When Jesus taught them to pray, the words were simple. The pattern was simple. There was nothing hard to it. “And he said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’” Not hard, is it? It consists of five simple petitions and contains three types of requests. The first is for spiritual blessings for all men, the second for material blessings for all men, and the last are requests for spiritual blessings for the people of God.
Jesus immediately answered this prayer by teaching the way and the very words to say in prayer. You can be sure this prayer pleases God and convers everything needed in a prayer. Jesus Himself gave it and spoke it for you to pray – the very Savior who suffered on the cross for you, shed His blood to blot out your sins, and rose again from the grave to lead the way for you into heaven.
Instead of asking for things that we think we need, it 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 or for my own. That is part of the pattern Jesus intends to teach us for our prayer life.
Isn’t it interesting that in the Lord’s Prayer, there is only one petition for material blessings? The only thing that we ask for ourselves is daily bread. We ask for what we need to get by in this day, nothing more and nothing less. God will give to us what He deems necessary for our daily bread. Luther says that “daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body….” We do not need to worry about whether the rent gets paid this month or if there will be food on the table tonight at dinner. The Lord provides and He will give to us what we need as He sees fit.
When one learns to pray the Lord’s Prayer, one learns how God has established His hospitality with us in His name and His kingdom and how we respond to this welcoming God by petitioning Him for those things that we need to keep us faithful and from falling into unbelief. When one prays, one enters into a relationship of hospitality where God is the giver of all things and the petitioner is the recipient of the gift of His Holy Spirit. By that Spirit’s power God’s kingdom comes among us as we “believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” That Holy Spirit keeps the whole Christian church on earth “with Jesus Christ in the one true faith,” and in that church “He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” The grand promise – that the good Father gives the Holy Spirit through Jesus – assures a gracious answer to every prayer.
The rest of today’s text is a parable that helps God’s children understand how they should pray. Imagine it in today’s terms. A friend comes to your house at midnight and asks for food for his friend who just showed up. You’re in bed, the house is locked up and the alarm is set. The local grocery store is closed and so you are the only one who is able to help. He keeps asking you for food, ever persistent until you give him some food. You give him the food but why? Is it because he is your friend? No, you do it because he keeps banging on the door. You help your friend not because of your friendship, but because your friend is persistent to the point of being rude. So the point is to be rude when you ask for something, right? In a sense, yes. Persistence pays with God. God urges us to pray, already welcoming our requests, loving to hear and to answer our prayers. God is more than a friend to us. He is a loving Father.
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. It may come at the most unusual time, but the answer comes. 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. His answer is how it should be, not how we want it to be. God will not play tricks on us, His children, when we come with a simple request. When we ask for something good and necessary, He will not give us something harmful. God’s promise to answer prayer encourages confidence as well as persistence. We continue to pray with all earnestness because God is the heavenly Father who loves to give us much more than we ask or expect, and we pray because we are now His precious children by faith in Christ Jesus. With a loud voice, we can all say “Amen,” and amen. Now the peace of God, that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.