How to Pray / Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 11:1-13

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.” And He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Most of us choose to attend a church or a Bible study or a small group because we feel good there. We feel the presence of the Lord. We feel cared for. And yet, in almost every Christian gathering, there’s a moment that strikes fear in every person’s heart. No, it’s not when we pass the offering plate. It’s when someone says, is there anyone who would like to pray? I’m just going to open us up with prayer, and then each one of you offer up a prayer as you feel led.

For some of us, it is terrifying! You can almost hear the theme song from “Jaws” or “Psycho” playing in the background. Nothing makes Christians want to run and hide as fast as being asked to pray aloud. Why? Because most Christians will claim they aren’t “good” at prayer. What does it mean to be “good” at prayer? And who is the judge of our prayers, other people or God? Actually, if you really want an example of a “bad” prayer, this one might be it.

Bubba goes to hear the guest preacher at a Church revival. When the guest preacher asks that anyone with needs come forward for prayer, Bubba gets in line. When it’s his turn, the guest preacher asks, Bubba, what do you want me to pray about? Bubba says, Preacher, I need you to pray for my hearing. So the preacher puts his hands over Bubba’s ears and prays a passionate prayer for Bubba’s hearing. After a few minutes, he removes his hands and asks, Bubba, how’s your hearing now? Bubba says, I don’t know, preacher, it’s not until next Wednesday in Little Rock. That might be an example of a bad prayer.

Okay, so maybe praying is more difficult than pastors will admit. Maybe that’s why Jesus was so gracious when His disciples came to Him and asked, Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.

In the New Testament, there are six Greek words used to express the idea of praying. Some of those words imply begging or asking urgently or making a pious wish. In our Bible passage this morning, Jesus and His disciples use the Greek word proseuche (pro shu ck) when they refer to prayer. Proseuche refers to a face-to-face, intimate prayer in which we surrender our lives to God.

So, the disciples may have been just asking for a prayer formula. But I think that they’re asking about how to have a closer communication with God. They’re asking, what do you and God talk about? Why does it seem like my prayers are hitting a ceiling? What does it mean when God doesn’t ‘answer’ my prayer? If God knows everything, why do I have to spend time in prayer? All the questions you and I have about prayer can be contained in the disciples’ request: Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.

And, as usual, Jesus always gives us so much more than what we ask for. He gives us what we didn’t even know we needed. In these next verses, Jesus wasn’t just teaching them about prayer, He was teaching them the nature of God.

Before we can understand prayer, we have to understand our relationship with God. And so, Jesus begins the most famous prayer in history with the most incredible word. What is it? It’s the word: Father. Father, the one word that changes everything.

Jesus didn’t need to encourage a kinder, gentler God. He knew God as His loving Father who could be trusted with His honest questions and His deepest needs. A loving Father who always answered Him. A loving Father whose name is holy and whose will is perfect. And with this one word, Father, He was trying to teach us the same thing. Prayer is not about the words we use; it’s about the relationship we have with God.

We have a God who hears and sees us . . . and when we’re beaten, or cruelly treated, or fall into any trouble, we must ask help of Him, and He will always hear and help us. If we really believed that statement, it would change our whole understanding about prayer. So, you have questions about prayer? So, you aren’t sure you’re doing it “right”? Don’t let that stop you from seeking a closer relationship with God. That’s the first thing Jesus is teaching them and us with this prayer, prayer has to do with our entire relationship with God.

The second thing Jesus is teaching them is to trust God’s will in all things. If you know God as a loving Father, then you trust God has good purposes for your life. That’s why Jesus could pray so simply, Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.

Why is this prayer so simple? Jesus has the ear of His loving Father, the Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth. He could ask for anything. And yet He is telling His disciples, and us, to just ask God to provide for our daily needs, to forgive our sins, and to shield us from temptation. With this prayer, Jesus is saying, let go of worrying about food or shelter, your internal conflicts, like bitterness and temptations, and trust that the God who loves you is working in your life.

There’s so much in this life that we don’t understand that we can’t anticipate, that we can’t control. It’s easy to get stressed out and anxious and to work ourselves to exhaustion trying to control the uncontrollable variables of our lives. Jesus lived in peace because He trusted His Father’s will for Him. So, He prayed, and in this prayer, Jesus is teaching us to trust God’s will in all things.

And the final thing Jesus is teaching the disciples, and us, in the Lord’s Prayer is to come to God expecting good things. I don’t mean “come to God expecting all your prayers to be answered right away” or “come to God expecting to get everything you ask for in prayer” or even “come to God expecting to feel better because you prayed.” If you’re believing in some myth about prayer that doesn’t align with the truth of God’s word, you’re going to end up disappointed and heartbroken. But Jesus wants us to come to God expecting good things because God loves us enough to give us what we need. In verses 5-8, Jesus uses the example of a friend who gets up in the middle of the night and gives us bread simply because of our “shameless audacity.”

The word used here literally means “no shame.” It’s a compound word, and this word is only used once in the entire New Testament. Only in this story. What kind of God lets us come to Him with no shame and make unreasonable demands on Him?

I think we can find the answer in a Bible passage we learned about in the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. In this story, a younger son, with “shameless audacity,” demands to receive his inheritance early from his father. As if this weren’t shameful enough, he then goes off to the big city and wastes his whole inheritance living the high life. Finally, when he’s broke and hungry and at the end of his rope, he heads back toward home. On the way, he practices his speech in his head: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son . . .”

And then Jesus says, but while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Covered in fear and shame, the son headed toward home, only to have his father run to welcome him with open arms. It makes no sense. That God would let us come to Him, not in fear and trembling, but with “shameless audacity” and ask for what we need. Why would God love us that much? And if we really believed it, would anyone need to teach us about prayer? Or would prayer become like love to us, something that flows naturally between us and God without any fears or burdens or shame blocking our way?

The disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray . . .,” but Jesus taught them so much more. There’s no reason to be afraid. God is like a loving Father. You can trust God’s will for you. You can expect good things from God. So come to God with “shameless audacity.”

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.