Bob Keller’s sermon based upon Luke 11: 1 – 13, dealing with prayer.
Our scripture lessons this morning dealt with prayer. What it is and what to expect.
So, what is this business of praying? How many times have you heard, “Let us pray”? The words ‘pray, prayer, praying, prayed, etc are used almost 600 times in the scriptures. God’s people want something – they pray. They get something – they pray to give praise and thanks. We’re commanded in several places in the scriptures to pray.
But what is prayer. If I were to ask you today, “What is prayer?” I’m sure many of you would say “Talking with God.” And certainly that would not be a wrong answer.
What I’d like to do this morning is suggest that prayer is more than just communicating with God, it’s communing with God. It’s entering into that state of getting so close to God that we can really exchange our feelings and thoughts.
When I was a child, I had this mental picture of God. And he was a fearsome being. Not the kind of fearsome being that would hurt you, unless you deserved it, but the kind of awesome, larger-than-life presence that made you tremble. God always sat in this huge white room. It was dazzling white and gold and pulsed with brightness and intense light so that you had to squint to see. And there He was, sitting on this massive gold throne. A huge man, maybe a hundred feet tall. I couldn’t really tell how tall he was because he was always seated in my mind’s eye. I can’t really describe his face, but he was an older looking man with long, flowing white hair and a long beard. And he always sat quietly, never speaking. I always ran when I saw him. This mental picture I had didn’t inspire the kind of “communing” that I’ve come to understand that prayer should be, and that means seeing God as approachable.
When Gordon and Linda Routhier left Queens, NY and moved to Parsippany, they had that ‘stranger in a strange land’ feeling that all of us have when we’re in new surroundings. Their son, Bart, was just in grade school – second grade, I think. I’m sure that I’ve forgotten some of the details here, but Linda tells me that she was advised to meet the Keller’s to help assimilate. As she tells it, “get to know the Keller’s because they’re involved in everything!” But Linda’s problem was how to approach us. She looked on every day when she picked up Bart from school at the same time Connie or I was there to pick up Jonathan. But, whether Linda was shy, or we appeared too unapproachable, the meeting took a while to happen. Linda did eventually step forward and today, we’re the best of friends.
In the Gospel lesson that David read for us just before the children’s sermon Jesus says, “When you pray, say: Our Father…”, and he goes on to teach them what most of us traditionally call “The Lord’s Prayer.”
This prayer, with slight differences in wording, appears twice in the New Testament. The first time we see these words, they appear in Matthew’s Gospel. If you have one of those versions of the Bible where the words spoken by Jesus are in red, you’ll find this prayer amid more red ink than in the national debt. That’s because Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the greatest sermon ever preached, contains this prayer. Jesus instructed His followers on how to pray because he didn’t want them praying like the hypocrites and pagans that were praying in the synagogues and on street corners to be seen and heard by men and who babbled on and on thinking they would be heard because of their many words.
In today’s scripture lesson, the disciples ask Jesus, “Teach us to pray.” Now I could be wrong on this, but I don’t think the disciples ever asked Jesus for any other instruction on their responsibilities. They didn’t ask him, “Jesus, teach us how to preach.” They never said, “Jesus, teach us how to perform miracles.” They never said, “Jesus, teach us how to heal the sick.” But they did say, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
And Jesus simply said, “When you pray, say…” and he went on to teach them a simple prayer.
So what does that mean to us? How do we apply those words of Jesus to our lives? Is that the prayer we are supposed to pray?
Let’s take the prayer apart and see what’s in there.
First off, we see the words “Our Father.” Everywhere else in scripture it’s “the father, my father, your father,” but here he uses the possessive pronoun “our” father. I believe that Jesus was indicating his, and our, relationship to our heavenly father. Here, Jesus was one with his disciples.
And what of the “father” image? Dads, have you ever had one of your kids crawl up in your lap and tell you what a wonderful Dad you are? And has your child ever told you how lucky he or she is to have you as a Daddy? And what comes next? Right! “Dad, can I have…..?”
The point here isn’t that we “butter up” or “brown nose” God in order to get something. The point is that we should view God as our father, our Dad. You’ve seen it, I’m sure. A child sees a toy that he wants. Now if that toy is in the hands of another child, the approach to get that toy is likely going to be very different than if that toy is in Dad’s hands. Generally, Dad is going to be approached with a little more respect and honor.
Jesus teaches us to do that in this prayer. “hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.” This is honoring God, giving Him the glory and surrendering that His will be done. I see this first part of the prayer as the “praise” part.
Then we move into the “we want” part. The rest of the prayer is us asking God to give us things: our daily bread, to forgive us our sins, and to keep us away from temptation. And that’s it. That’s the whole prayer. How easy is that?
Or is this prayer a model of how to pray rather than of what to pray? I think it might be the former because Jesus goes on to tell the disciples, metaphorically, what to expect when they ask for things.
Jesus asks his disciples if they know of a father that would give his kid a snake when he asks for a fish, or some translations say bread. Or if they know of a father that would give his kid a scorpion when the kid asks for an egg. The symbolism is powerful here. First, earthly fathers are capable of making mistakes, but not even a human father would make such grave errors as Jesus talks about here. The kids are also asking for the very basics of life – fish and bread were mainstays in the diet in that time and place. The snake makes reference to that fateful time in the Garden of Eden. Eggs were symbolic of new life, yet scorpions had the power to end life. So how much more could the heavenly father be capable of giving to those who ask?
So, do we pray? How do we pray? When do we pray? Where do we pray?
Aside from the instruction that Jesus gave us, there’s no right or wrong answer to these questions. Do we pray when we’re frazzled because the traffic was heavy and dinner isn’t even started and we have to make that PTA meeting tonight? Do we pray when all we have in the house is a few Cheerios, some sugar cubes, glue and an empty milk carton and your kid just told you that he has to have a model of Cinderella’s castle for school – tomorrow! Do we pray while driving to work on Rt 80? – yes but keep your eyes open, please! Do we pray when we read about thousands more dying of starvation in Africa? Do we pray for our men and women in uniform when we read about another casualty in Iraq? Yes, in all cases!
We must give praise to God, our father, for who he is. Then we ask for what we want and expect the answer to be what God chooses to give us. But pray we must, regardless of whether or not we see God’s plan for us in his answers to our petitions.
Some people stop praying because, they say, God doesn’t answer their prayers. If your prayer is earnest when you pray “thy will be done,” then I assure you that your prayers are answered. C.S. Lewis finally recognized this when he said, “I don’t know where I’d be if all my prayers were answered.”
But I don’t have time to pray!
The most powerful man in the world
has 24 hours in a day to do what he needs done.
The richest man in the world
has 1440 minutes in a day to earn his money.
The most educated man in the world
had 168 hours a week to learn.
The greatest athlete in the world
had 365 days in a year to train.
How much time do you have?
You may have heard the story about the guy that had an appointment down town for a very important job interview. If he got this new job, his life could be dramatically changed. So he left early for his appointment. He didn’t want to risk being late.
When he got near the building where his appointment was scheduled, there wasn’t a parking place to be found. So he circled around the block. He had time.
But traffic was getting heavy, so as he started his second circle around he said, “Lord, help me find a parking place.”
Nothing. So his prayer became more fervent, “Lord help me find a parking place and I promise that I’ll start attending church every Sunday.”
Nope. No parking places.
Now he’s getting nervous. The clock is ticking. If he’s late for his appointment he surely won’t be offered the new job.
So his prayer becomes, “Lord, help me to find a parking spot and I promise I’ll attend church every Sunday AND I’ll make sure that I put money in the poor box every time I’m there.”
One more time around the block and right in front of the building there’s a parking spot!
The man’s prayer? “Never mind Lord. I found a spot.”
Do we do that? Do we “bargain” with the Lord in our prayers when we even bother to pray? The adage goes, “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it!”
So are we safe when we just use the Lord’s Prayer instead of using our own words to commune with God? The quick answer is “yes.” In those times when you just know you should be communing with God instead of doing whatever else it is that has you tied up, pray those words. I know there have been times when I’ve been too frustrated, or too confused to even know what I should be praying for that I’ve faithfully fallen on those words and trusted that God, my father, would understand.
But be careful!. Praying this prayer places some demands on us… it is a risky prayer. Evangelist and minister John MacArthur said:
I cannot say “our” if I’m living only for myself.
I cannot say, “Father” if I don’t try to act like His child.
I cannot say “Who art in Heaven” if I am laying up no treasure there.
I cannot say, “hallowed be Thy Name” if I am not striving for holiness.
I cannot say “Thy Kingdom come” if I’m not doing my part to (prepare for) that day.
I cannot say “Thy will be done” if I am disobedient to His word.
I cannot say, “in earth as it is in Heaven” if I’m unwilling to serve Him here and now.
I cannot say “give us this day our daily bread” if I’m not relying on Him to provide.
I cannot say “forgive us our (trespasses)” if I harbor a grudge against someone.
I cannot say “lead us not into temptation” if I deliberately place myself in its path.
I cannot say “deliver us from evil” if I haven’t put on the whole armor of God.
I cannot say, “Thine is the Kingdom” If I am not loyal to the King as His faithful subject.
I cannot attribute to Him “the power” if I fear what people may do.
I cannot ascribe to Him “the glory” if I am seeking honor only for myself.
I cannot say “forever” if my life is bounded completely by the things of time
We repeat the words of the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday. And for many of us those words are just a recitation that takes little to no thought to utter.
A couple of guys in the back woods were walking along the tracks one day and the subject turned to religion. Eventually an argument ensued about which one of the was more religious. The first said,”I’m in church more than you.”
I know how we can settle this. Every Sunday that preacher man has us stand up and say the Lord’s Prayer. I’ll bet you don’t even know the words.
Betcha a dollar”
Now this fellow wasn’t sure if he really did know the words, but, he figured he’d give it a shot.
He knelt down, looked heavenward and said “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
He got up with a smile on his face, wondering if he’s faked his buddy.
His friend gave him a dollar.
What that for?
Shucks! I didn’t think you could do it!
I encourage you this week to commit just five minutes each day to pray. If you don’t know what to say, imagine God as your father. If you didn’t, or don’t, have such a good relationship with your father, pick someone else and just converse as if that person was there. And remember the words that Jesus taught us – honor him first and then ask for His will to be done in your life. And then expect and trust, in blind faith, that God, our Father in Heaven, will care for you, his child.
Prayer, the ability to commune with God, is not an achievement of man – it’s a gift from God. It’s the opportunity to approach the creator of the universe. That’s why in all things we should pray first – make prayer a priority, not an afterthought where we ask God to bless what we’ve already decided. And if you think you don’t know how to pray, or what to pray, just ask Jesus, just as the disciples did. He stands there waiting to teach you.