Jesus said to his disciples, “When you pray, say: Father.”Luke 11:2
I once had a very interesting conversation with a plumber who was doing some work at our house. When people learn that I am a pastor, it often leads to conversations about religion, as you might guess. Which is what happened with this plumber, who described himself to me as a “Jewish atheist,” who did not believe in God.
He and I had a very interesting conversation that day, about all things religion. But one of the things that he said, that really stuck with me, is what he believed that I believed about my God – namely, that it is against my God’s rules to interfere in our world. He thought that I believed this, that God had a rule similar to the “prime directive” in the Star Trek shows and movies, which prohibited them from interfering with the development of alien civilizations.
That’s kind of what my new friend believed that I believed about God. Even if God existed, he told me, your God is not allowed to interfere with our world, right? And if that is what he believes, I thought, it is no wonder that he doesn’t believe in God!
But as I shared with him, I certainly believe that God interferes with our world, all the time. There is really no question about it, to me. God created this world, and is still very involved in it. I can’t prove this, of course. But I believe it. And I bet you do, too. That is what our faith teaches us. That God is busy interfering in our lives, and in our world, and doing so all the time. And that God does all of that because God loves us, and loves our world.
To put it another way, the whole reason Jesus was born was to involve God in our world. And the whole reason Jesus sent to us the Holy Spirit was to keep involving God in our world.
Okay. We all believe that, as Christians. And we also believe that one of the main ways that God does all of this is through prayer. Prayer is the way that we invite God to interfere, to get involved in our life and in our world.
Prayer is the theme of our gospel reading today (Luke 11:1-13), which is one of the great passages in the gospels on prayer. It is Jesus teaching his disciples what prayer is, and how to pray. And then offering encouragement to keep at prayer even when we are discouraged. So let’s take another look at what Jesus teaches us about prayer today, as we continue to invite God to interfere with our world, and get involved in our lives.
Faith not Formula
When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, he responds by saying, “When you pray, say this: “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 indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
This should sound familiar, of course, but it also seems to be missing some things, right? This is the version of the Lord’s prayer that is recorded in Luke’s gospel. It’s a little shorter than the version recorded in Matthew’s gospel. But it is still the Lord’s Prayer.
And think about what we can learn from Jesus, simply from the fact that he taught two different versions of this prayer. It seems to me that he is showing us that getting the formula exactly right is not what matters to God. This isn’t a magic spell that only works when you say it just right. This is about a relationship with our Heavenly Father, a relationship that is much more about trust than about rules.
But, still, with that in mind, Jesus does teach his disciples a specific prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. And whichever version you look at, it is still arguably the most important prayer in human history, because it is the prayer taught by the Son of God himself. And it is also the most used prayer in human history. It is a prayer, when you think about it, that is probably being prayed at every moment of every day by someone somewhere in the world. So whenever you pray this prayer, you are not praying it alone. Someone, somewhere in the world is praying it with you. It is a prayer that we learn as very young children, if we are blessed to have someone teach it to us. It is also a prayer that can be heard on the lips of the oldest among us, even after they have forgotten almost everything else.
So, Jesus starts right out by teaching us that prayer is about a relationship. Prayer is not a formula. And one of the primary things that we learn about that relationship can be found right in the first word of this prayer: “Father.” “When you pray,” Jesus teaches us, “say: ‘Father.’”
It’s hard for us to remember just how radical this is, that Jesus teaches us to address God as ‘Father.’ Before Jesus taught this, it would have been unthinkable for anyone to address God so intimately. Abraham did not address God in this way. Nor did Moses, or David, or Isaiah, or anyone else in the Old Testament.
It makes sense, of course, for Jesus to address God as ‘Father’. After all, Jesus is God’s Son. That would be the most natural way for Jesus to pray. But when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, the first thing he taught them is that they should also address God as ‘Father’. And with this one word, Jesus redefined the disciples’ relationship with God forever. And ours, too.
We are no longer God’s servants. We are now God’s children. Because Jesus declared it so. Jesus came to be our brother, and to help us learn that we are all now God’s children. And that changes how we talk to God, how we pray to God.
We don’t need a fancy formula to talk to God. Children of loving parents don’t need fancy formulas to talk to their parents. Nor do we need to have our life figured out before we can talk to God. Loving parents want their children to talk to them, even when they are in trouble. Perhaps especially then! We don’t have to be a perfect person in order to talk to God. What loving parent rejects their child because they are not perfect?
Jesus teaches us that when we pray, we can turn to God as any child would to a loving parent. God wants to hear from us, wants to be in a relationship with us, wants to help us live our lives. But God also does not want to interfere without our wanting Him to. He loves us too much to help us against our will. So he waits for us to ask. And the way that we ask is through prayer. Approaching our heavenly Father in prayer.
The Pattern of the Prayer
But, even with that said, we can sometimes feel intimidated when we approach God. We can feel nervous about talking to God, unsure of whether we are doing it correctly. And I think that is why Jesus went on to teach the rest of this prayer – for it to serve as a guide to how to approach our Heavenly Father in prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer isn’t a formula, but it does teach us a pattern for praying that serves as a guide to how to pray. So, think about the pattern we are taught in this prayer, after we are taught to address God as “Father.”
“Father,” Jesus teaches us to pray, “hallowed be your name.” It begins, in other words, by praising God’s holy name. Jesus teaches us to begin our prayers in this way, by praising God, blessing his holy name. Sometimes we can fall into a pattern of always beginning our prayers with a plea for help. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking God for help, but Jesus is reminding us here that our prayers, like our very lives, should be about bringing God glory. So, when we have fallen into a pattern of beginning all our prayers with a plea for help, this can be a reminder to begin our prayers with praise. And in my experience, something important happens when we do that – it tends to change the rest of our prayer. Nothing looks quite as awful when we begin by praising our God. We don’t stop there, but Jesus teaches us to begin there.
The prayer continues with another petition that often doesn’t begin our prayers: “Your kingdom come.” Before we pray for our daily needs, or ask for forgiveness, or pray for help in times of trial, we are taught to pray for God’s kingdom to come.And, again, it seems that Jesus is reminding us in this prayer that it is not all about us. An important part of our lives is bringing God glory and doing God’s will. And that should be an important part of our prayer-lives, too.
And then Jesus teaches us to ask for our daily bread, for whatever we need this day. And he teaches us to ask for forgiveness, even as we promise to forgive others in the same way. And, finally, he teaches us to ask God not to bring us to the time of trial.
Every life faces trials and challenges, to be sure. Jesus knew that. He obviously faced some incredible trials himself. But here, Jesus is teaching us to bring our trials to God, so that we do not have to face them alone. God wants to help us through our trials. To be involved in the challenges we face in life. And prayer is the way in which we invite God to do so.
Persist in Prayer
But there is one final thing that Jesus teaches us about prayer in this gospel reading. And that is, to put it simply: Keep praying. Don’t give up on prayer, don’t give up on God. Keep asking. Keep searching. Keep knocking.
If God doesn’t seem to be answering your prayer, don’t give up on God. Persist in prayer, and your prayers will be answered. Why? Because, again, God wants to get involved in our world. God wants to hear from us, and is waiting for us to knock before opening the door.
Ask, Jesus teaches us in this gospel reading, and it will be given us; search, and we will find; knock, and the door will be opened for us. That certainly sounds like a God who wants to interfere in our world, doesn’t it?
So let’s keep turning to our heavenly Father in prayer. Let’s keep inviting God to interfere with our lives and with our world. And then, let’s keep our eyes of faith open, to see all the amazing ways that God is answering our prayers. Thanks be to God. Amen.