School is finally out for summer! Yeah for the teachers, parents and children! However, in church this is very much a teaching season as we look once again at the familiar gospel readings and parables of Jesus.
The set readings have had us spend the last three weeks in Luke 10; it started with Jesus sending out the 70 ahead of him to find labourers for the harvest. Next, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan and challenges us on who is actually our neighbour and how loving we truly are. Luke 10 ends with the story of Martha and Mary, the great lesson in the balancing of work and activity with the need to sit and listen at Jesus’ feet. These stories give examples of the activity and associated instructions needed to spread the kingdom and show the love of God.
The start of Luke 11 takes us deeper into spending time with God; as it starts with Jesus at prayer. There is obviously a quality about this prayer that attracts the disciples and makes them want to learn. They would have seen Jesus pray many times before. One of the disciples is brave enough to ask Jesus to teach them how to pray.
Jesus’ gracious response is to teach them a prayer which we should recognize as the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus teaches the disciples to talk to God and to bring the whole mess and muddle of our lives, the mundane, the exciting, the big and small, to God.
That is what prayer, at its heart, is: talking to God. Talking. Not begging, pleading, negotiating, bargaining, hiding, pretending all is well when it is not. We have been shown work and activity, sitting and listening, and now we have a guide for talking to God.
Who taught or told you to pray? I remember as little girls, my sister and I being taught to pray by our Nana and our parents. The first prayer that we learned was the classic 18th century children’s prayer – ‘Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep’.
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take
If in the morning light I wake
Lay down my feet
That I my take the path of love
for thy dear sake
God Bless Mommy, Daddy, Susie, Jenny, etc.
And it always ended with ‘God bless all the little children in the world. Amen.’
I realise that this is a combination of the many versions (thanks to Google) but this is the one that I know. Recently my younger sister admitted that this is still her ‘default prayer’. She taught it to her three children and she still prays it on a regular basis before she goes to bed. She also prays it before she walks into the courtroom in her job as a lawyer.
For many of us, the Lord’s Prayer might be our default prayer. Much like ‘Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep’, the wording can be different and we can use it at different times. My version of the Lord’s Prayer is said with ‘thy’ and ‘thine’ and ‘trespasses’ not sins. Again, family influence comes into play: my Mom’s upbringing on the old Anglican Book of Common Prayer and my Dad’s love of the King James’ Bible.
However, it is really not about the words we use. The language of the Lord’s Prayer is simple and intimate; it affirms the fatherhood of God; we are cared for as his children; we are reminded that God is holy and we must reflect this in our words and worship; and it ends with addressing our physical, spiritual and safety needs. The simplicity of the wording makes it easy to slide in our own needs and requests as there is a space for every plea, cry and desire; without need of particularly eloquent language.
It is talking to God and bringing our concerns, which I may remind you, He already fully knows about. You are not fooling Him by withholding! I often think that God uses our prayers to bring needs and issues to our attention.
The second point I would like to briefly make is around persistence in prayer. I have always found the ‘Parable of the Friend at Night’ in verses 5-8 a bit annoying. Just get up and give him a loaf of bread. Jesus uses this story of the irritating friend to get the disciples to see prayer as something basic, day-to-day. Prayer does not need to be carefully sanitised. Nor do we have to worry about bringing to God only what we think he will accept. Back to: God already knows.
Prayer can come with a great sense of frustration. Has this been true in my own prayer life and in the situations that have required persistence? There is always ‘work in the wait’ and a sweetness to both the prayers that have been answered through persistence and those that still await an answer. As uncomfortable as it may be – we are to persist.
Jesus is encouraging the disciples to bombard God with requests, tell him everything, talk constantly to him, involve him in every part of life. We are not to limit God and prayer to Sunday mornings in a particular pew with particular words. The more we bother God, the more we learn about him and the more we learn about ourselves in relation to God.
Why do we need to bother God?
In verse 9, ‘so I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.’
These verses are not about the prayers we pray for the stuff, the answers, the problems that we want God to respond to. Many people feel misled by God when they read these verses and then ask God to heal their loved one dying of _____ (and nothing short of that), or for a million dollars or a million other things.
When these prayers are not answered in the way that is expected, it is all God’s fault. They then give up on God or turn away from faith as they have created a vision of God as a genie in the sky waiting to grant wishes. Their view of God is fundamentally flawed.
The asking, seeking, knocking that Jesus is talking about is in relation to pursuing God, talking to God, learning more about God and who we are in relation to Him. It is about seeking God’s will and not solely our convenience.
Ask for God to come into your life and He will be given to you.
Search for God and you will find Him.
Knock on the door of heaven and it will be opened for you.
Paul, in Colossians, is imploring that young community to live their lives in Christ. Stay rooted and grounded to be built up and get established. We all have needs, wants, struggles and desires, both secretly and publicly, in all areas of our lives that we (I hope) would want God to be our ever present help in trouble.
Paul goes on to warn them of all the empty deceit happening around them. That hasn’t changed! There is so much deceit and empty philosophy in the world today and it is so attractive. Ultimately it will fail. Jesus is the only one who will ever fill us. We can be alive together with him.
Finally, Luke reminds us that our Father in heaven will give us good gifts, more than we can ask or imagine. It is all for the asking.
How is your prayer life at the moment? Do you?
How is it going? Need a change or boost?
If not – why not?
Do you want to do anything about it?
Maybe you need to want to want to do something about it!
Talk to God. It is not eloquent or fancy, not just an activity for Sunday.
I am going to leave some space for a few minutes to do just that. You are not bound to your seats – get up. For some people sitting on a hard pew is not conducive to prayers. Light a candle at the back. Kneel if you’ve got the knees for it.