Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Teach Us to Pray, Part 1

[This was shared with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio during this evening's midweek Lenten service.]

Psalm 98
Luke 11:1-2
From Luke, chapter 11, verse 1: “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’”

This passage comes less than halfway through Luke’s account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That means it appears well before Jesus’ disciples knew that Jesus was God as well as a good man.

But at this point, it’s probably fair to say that they
did understand two things about Jesus.

First, they understood that
He was magnetic. The disciples felt pulled into Jesus' orbit.

And second, they knew that Jesus prayed.

And because learning to pray--something we can always afford to learn more about--is the focus of these midweek Lenten services, it’s on this second thing that the disciples understood about Jesus that we’ll be focusing in the next few weeks of Lent.

In the Gospel of Luke, the words pray, prayed, and prayer are used many times of Jesus. (Try going through the Gospel of Luke sometime and underlining every time those words appear.)

A few examples:

Luke 5:16 says that Jesus was in the habit of withdrawing to quiet places to pray.

Luke 6:12 says that Jesus went to a mountain to pray and did so all night long.

Luke 22:41 says that in the Garden of Gethsemane before His betrayal and arrest, Jesus withdrew a stone’s throw from the disciples and prayed.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Luke 3:21 says that as Jesus was baptized and was praying, the heavens opened up and a voice from heaven said that Jesus was God’s beloved Son.

Luke 9:28:35 says that the Transfiguration, which we talke about on a recent Sunday morning, happened as Jesus was praying.

The point is that
Jesus prayed a lot!

So, it may seem the most natural thing in the world that one of the disciples--interestingly, never named, meaning it could have been any one of them--would ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

This probably wasn’t as pious a request as it seems, though. By this point in Jesus' ministry, Peter had made his confession of Jesus as the Messiah and he, James, and John had seen Jesus transfigured on the mountain. But all of the disciples were a long way from understanding Who Jesus was, what it meant to confess Him as Messiah or Lord, or what it meant to pray.

One clue to the ignorance with which the disciple asked to be taught to pray is that after he says, “Lord, teach us to pray,” he adds, “as John taught his disciples.”

This is club-thinking, like someone at Kiwanis saying, “Hey, the Rotarians have dinners, shouldn’t we have dinners, too?”

It’s keeping-up-with-the-Joneses thinking, like ancient Israel saying, "All the other countries around us have kings.
We need a king too."

So, the disciples' request for instruction on how to pray is a bit suspect.

But, among the many wonderful things about Jesus is that even when the requests we bring to Him are ill-formed, misinformed, or silly, He still listens to us.

Jesus heard the disciple’s request to teach him and the others how to pray, overlooked the ignorance and misinformation behind the request, and gave him—gave
usa model for prayer that can accommodate everyone from the youngest believer to the most seasoned saint.

Jesus begins: “When you pray, say, ‘Father, hallowed be Your Name.”

Matthew’s Gospel remembers the beginning of Jesus’ instructions a bit differently. Matthew renders Jesus’ words as: “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name…”

The Small Catechism, Martin Luther refers to, “Our Father, Who art in heaven,” as the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer. Here, we’re encouraged to see God not as some distant deity, but as our loving parent who wants to hear from us.

When our son first went away to college and our daughter went to Florida to work at Walt Disney World in their college program, every telephone call and every email we got from them were important to us.

Our prayers can become the telephone calls or conversations with the Parent Who always has our backs, One with Whom we can share our most intimate thoughts, our deepest desires, our greatest fears, worst sins, most noble hopes, and most urgent requests. Our Father wants to hear from us.

But after this note of intimacy, the prayer Jesus teaches us introduces another element that should be part of our praying as well. He does it in the words, “Hallowed by Your Name (or Thy Name).” The word “hallowed” means revered, sacred, inviolable, respected, glorified.

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright says: “This prayer starts by addressing God intimately and lovingly, as ‘Father’—and by bowing before his greatness and majesty. If you can hold those two together, you’re already on the way to understanding what Christianity is about.” [Italics added.]

Pulling those two things together—the loving intimacy of God and the overpowering, perfect, majestic holiness of God—will also, I think, help us learn to truly pray.

In Jesus Christ, we know that God is willing to go with us into our deepest valleys and can, if we will let Him, move our biggest mountains.

“God is great, God is good,” a prayer many learned as children says. The Lord’s Prayer, in effect, begins, “God is good, God is great.”

Either way you put it, it’s wonderful to know that the perfect, powerful God Who is in charge of the universe also is ready to hear from us anytime.

It seems to me that knowing these two things--that God is infinitely great and holy AND that in Jesus Christ, He makes it possible for us to speak to Him intimately and personally--is the first step in truly learning how to pray.

More next Wednesday.

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