Teach us to Pray – Luke 11:1-13

TEACH US TO PRAY, Luke 11:1-13 — Pete Bauer

This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on October 25th, 2015.  To listen to the audio, click on this link – sermon.

The Disciples saw Jesus praying and one of them said to him, “Teach us how to pray, like John taught his disciples to pray.  What the disciple seems to have been asking for was a way to do prayer right, and you get that sense that maybe the disciple was also wanting to be as studied and impressive as John the Baptist’s disciples.

I can imagine Jesus looking at the disciple and sighing inwardly.  Initially, it seems like Jesus is going to answer his request by giving him a pattern of prayer – what we call the Lord’s Prayer,  (Here are the things you should be praying about). 

I imagine that if Jesus had stopped talking about prayer at verse 4, that would probably have been fine with his disciples.  But what is encouraging, to me, about Jesus’ response, is that he gave them more–more than they asked for.  Because for Jesus, the question is not just how should we pray, but how should we engage God?  Jesus did not just want to teach the disciples a pattern (which would be a good thing), but he wanted to teach them to interact with God–which is the soul of prayer. 

Before we go on, let’s just stop and notice something about the character of Jesus–which is that he wants to give us more than we know how to want or ask for.  Jesus is not stingy about giving his disciples, and us, what we need, and even what we don’t know, yet, that we need.  And this is exactly what Jesus is going to say about the Father.

Be Bold When You Come to God.

An Outrageous Request: There are three things to notice in this parable…

  • First, Jesus had the disciples imagine themselves going to a friend at midnight.  Midnight is not–even now, in a culture with late night tv, electric lights and 24/hr. grocery stores–regular visiting hours.  The middle of the night in an ancient agrarian society was an even less appropriate time for a visit or a request of this kind.
  • Second, who eats at midnight?  Even if the friend had just arrived, it is supposed that they would have eaten.  Three loaves of bread is hardly a meal.  This seems like more of a midnight snack.  The notion of waking a friend in the middle of the night for a midnight snack is outrageous.
  • Thirdly, the friend says that the door is locked/barred and the little children are in bed with him.  It is possible that the bar on the door would require more than one person to lift, though perhaps not.  However, it is likely that getting out of bed to unbar the door would wake the entire household, including, perhaps, the small children.

The point that Jesus is making is that this is a completely ridiculous request to make of a friend. Jesus has the disciples imagining themselves making this request intending to make them squirm a bit, to internalize and feel the force of the situation.

Come with Bold Expectation:  As Jesus sums up this situation he says, “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity  he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

What is the boldness that Jesus has in mind, the shameless audacity of the situation?  It is the expectation of help!   The one who goes to his friend in the middle of the night expects to be helped–to be given what he asks for.  This is what Jesus is teaching his disciples about prayer. It is about our expectation.  And if we will consider what Jesus is getting at we will see that this is right at the heart of our difficulty in praying. 

The disciples came to Jesus saying, “teach us to pray,” or, in other words, we don’t know how to talk to God.  What should we ask God for?  How should we pray?  How can we get God to give us what we ask?

To these, hinted at but unasked questions, Jesus responds, come to God boldly and expectantly.  Come to God with the expectation that God will hear you and that God will answer you.  Come believing that God cares about interaction with you–that it is not presumptuous to interact with God, but that it is what we were made for.

Enter Into the Process of Prayer.

Right in the middle of this parable, Jesus says something that we are all probably too familiar with:  So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  These three commands are very familiar to us, but they are not immediately clear.  If we are being honest we might ask, “Seek what?  Find what?  What door?  Ask for what?” 

The Mysterious Work of Prayer:  It should be clear that, at least in this passage, these commands have something to do with prayer.  Jesus is telling us that prayer is, somehow, seeking, somehow asking and somehow knocking. Later on, we will see, Jesus ends by saying, “… how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!  In other words, prayer has something to do with seeking, asking and knocking and receiving the Holy Spirit.

The disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray and here is what I think Jesus is getting at:  I think that Jesus is saying that God calls us to pray boldly, and that as we come to God, there is a kind of cooperation with God’s Spirit through prayer, by which we enter into God’s presence. Through conversation with God we are changed.  This is why, I think, Jesus speaks about prayer in the way he does.

    • Ask and it will be given, seems to be about asking for the gift of God’s Spirit
    • Seek and you will find, seems to be an enlightenment phrase – seek and God will open your eyes to prayer, to knowing him, to seeing yourself as you really are.
    • Knock and the door will be opened, sounds like an invitation to enter in and experience God’s life changing presence.

The Mysterious Work of Prayer Versus the Work of Human Intellect:  The thing about this is that what the disciples wanted to know was information – Teach us, not show us or train us.  This is the way we think about change.  We think, “I will get information.  I will process that information.  I will be changed by that information.”  We are committed to the idea that we can deal with and change the issues of the heart, if only we can figure them out by our own intelligence.

But Jesus is teaching his disciples something else here–not an intellectual method to figure out how to live better, but a way of connection to God’s Spirit.  This is not something that we can control, but something that we must submit ourselves to–opening our hearts and minds to God. 

By prayer we enter into the presence of God, speak to God, seek God, ask of God, knock on the door–and God does that work in our spirits and in our hearts which we cannot do.  God changes those aspects of our character–mysteriously, as we interact with him–that we cannot change by our intelligence.  God renews our minds, changes our hearts, quiets our souls, heals our lives–as we converse with and listen to him in prayer.  Christ becomes our wonderful counselor.

Trust in What God is Doing.

Teach Us to Pray Just as John Taught his Disciples:  The disciple who asked Jesus to teach them to pray already had something in mind.  He was thinking about what John had taught his disciples. Perhaps it was a competitive request–a desire not to fall behind John’s disciples.  Jesus, as we have seen, said a lot more about prayer than the disciple asked.

Which of You Fathers…  Once again, Jesus makes the illustration personal.  He addresses men who were fathers and asks them if they would begrudge or trick their children with dangerous or useless gifts.  But of course, a good Father wants to be able to give good gifts.  Small children ask for things that look shiny.  Fathers understand that what is shiny is often junk, although, they may still buy shiny things for their children, because good fathers are kind.   

Our Father in heaven, like Jesus, wants to give us, through prayer, so much more than we know how to ask.  To pray is to be willing to trust that, through prayer, God is giving us the riches of His life-changing grace.  Are we willing to trust God enough to pray?

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