Text: Luke 11:1-13
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 the most recent edition of Luther’s Small Catechism, Question 231 of the Explanation of the Small Catechism asks, “What is prayer?” The answer: “Prayer is speaking to God in words and thoughts.” With a simple explanation as this, everyone should know how to pray, right? As we look at our Gospel reading, we find that that is not necessarily the case. Of all the people who should know how to pray, you would think that the disciples would have prayer down pat, seeing as how they see and hear Jesus praying all the time, in various locations and situations. And yet, Luke records, “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “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. But being with Jesus, wouldn’t you think that Jesus would have modeled prayer to the disciples? Surely, they know how 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 seven 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, though our sinful nature will cause us to doubt God’s promise. 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.
Every one of the seven petitions uses a verb that is in the imperative, a verb that expresses a command. What kind of boldness does it take to talk to the ruler of this and every other universe and use imperative verbs? We would never think to talk to God this way if Jesus had not taught us to do so. How is it that we can come before God with such boldness? We begin to see the answer to that question in the way Jesus begins the prayer: “Our Father who art in heaven.”
The one who teaches us to pray also makes it possible for us to pray. The one who teaches us to pray is the one who set His face to go to Jerusalem. He set His face to go to Jerusalem in order to tear down the wall of sin that makes us enemies of God. He tore down that wall by offering Himself up as a sacrifice to make the payment that our sin requires. Jesus allowed His enemies to nail Him to a cross so that He could offer those same enemies a place in His family. With His suffering and death on the cross, He makes us His brothers and children of our heavenly Father. This is a certainty because Jesus did not remain in the grave after He died, but He rose from the dead and has ascended to rule at the right hand of the 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.