August 19, 2019
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
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.”
He said to them, “When you pray, say:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’”
Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 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.
“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.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
We depend on a lot of things to get us through each day. On the one hand, there are things we depend on that are generally good for us like our family and friends, electricity and water, coffee and smartphones. On the other hand, there are things that if we become dependent on them are bad for us like alcohol, opioids and smartphones. Yes, smartphones are in both lists. We depend on a lot of things to get us through each day, and in our gospel lesson from Luke 11, Jesus gave his disciples instructions about another good thing to depend on every day, prayer. This morning Jesus instructs us as well, to ask God for good things in prayer.
Our reading from Luke 11 began with Jesus praying. Prayer was something Jesus did quite often. Jesus prayed at his baptism, he prayed before feeding the five thousand, he prayed the night he was betrayed and even now he is talking with God on our behalf in heaven as Paul wrote in Romans 8:34, “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Prayer was important to Jesus and so it was to be an important part of his disciples’ lives too. Here in Luke 11:1, we read, “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.” In response to the disciple’s request, Jesus gave his disciples what we call The Lord’s Prayer. These words Jesus gave to the disciples were not the only words ever to be used in prayer, though they are worth memorizing and repeating by all believers, but also a great insight into what we ought to ask God to give us whenever we pray.
Prayer in essence is a conversation between us and God. Jesus made it clear that prayer is for those who have a relationship with God. We are able to come to God in prayer because we trust in him as our Father. Prayer to God is not just something anyone can do in the sense that any person who just calls out to the ‘Big Guy Upstairs’ or to ‘God, whoever you are,’ will get what they ask for. Prayer is not like asking for stuff from a genie or fairy godmother, nor is it like asking for something from our earthly father, mother or other parental figure in our lives. Prayer comes from the heart of a believer, who trusts in the one true God and what he is able to do. It is speaking with God who described himself to Moses as Exodus 34:6-7 “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” Also, as God in Isaiah 40:28 …The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. And, still the God who Paul said in Romans 8:39, “will let nothing…separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord: whether it be trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, death, life, angels, demons, the present, the future, any powers, height, depth, nor anything else in all creation. This is the God we are able to come to in prayer. Therefore, Jesus followed up the Lord’s Prayer with an encouragement to be persistent in prayer using the example of a man going to his neighbor at midnight to ask for bread. Jesus made the point that the neighbor will get out of bed to give the man bread at midnight not because he is his friend, but because he was willing to ask, even if it was midnight.
Jesus used the illustration of the man asking his neighbor for bread at midnight to teach his disciples to be persistent in prayer. God wants all of us to be persistent in prayer, even if it means asking for something at a seemingly bad time, multiple times or over a long period of time. In our reading from Genesis 18, God revealed to Abraham that he was going to destroy the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. This gave Abraham the chance to talk to God or pray for these cities because his nephew Lot and his family lived there. Abraham asked God multiple times if he would spare the city for the sake of the righteous or believing people within it. Abraham first asked in Genesis 18:24, “What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?” God said that he would not destroy the city for the sake of the righteous people in it, then Abraham kept asking for the sake of 45, then 40, 30, 20 and finally 10. Abraham kept asking God to spare the city, only slightly changing the request each time, but God did not get tired of listening or answering him. In fact, God was glad to listen to him and would have stopped the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, except that there were less than ten righteous people in the city. Only Lot, his wife and two daughters actually left when God sent his angels to warn them that the cities were going to be destroyed. In the end, Abraham was persistent in prayer and God listened, allowing the life of his nephew Lot to be spared.
Jesus wants us to be persistent in prayer because he will give us the good things we ask for. When Jesus finished the illustration of the man who asked his neighbor for bread at midnight, he said, Luke 11:9 “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.” Jesus tells us to be persistent in prayer because God listens and answers our prayers. At the same time then, when we are not persistent in prayers, God does not have anything to respond to. Now, we have to realize that God doesn’t sit around heaven bored and inactive in our lives and in this world if we are not praying, but the point is that when we don’t pray to him, we miss out on good things he wants us to have.
God wants prayer to be one of the most important things we depend on every day. We depend on all kinds of things every day, but none of them compares to what we have in our relationship with God. God wants us to depend on him by coming to him in prayer because it reveals our confidence in him. If we don’t pray a lot, then we are not depending on God a lot. If we don’t depend on God a lot, then our confidence in him may be weak, which can lead to weak faith and eventually giving up on our hope in God altogether.
God does not want us to give up our confidence in him. God wants us to be confident that Jesus has saved us as Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23-24, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Jesus alone saved us through his perfect life and innocent death on the cross to free us from our sins. Paul reminds us that we depend on this one hope in Ephesians 4:4-6, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Saved by Jesus and filled with faith in him for eternal life, we also call out to our God and Father in heaven with confidence for what we still need in this life.
Jesus told us to be confident that God will give us good things when we ask him for them. In our reading from James 5:16, we read, “…The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” We are encouraged to pray because prayer is powerful and effective. In other words, prayer does something. It does something because God hears it. God hears our prayers and knows exactly how to answer them in the best possible way. Jesus drove this point home at the end of our reading from Luke 11:11-13, saying, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
We face all kinds of situations in our lives that remind us we need to depend on God and not on ourselves. If we think through a variety of situations, we can see how the Lord’s Prayer addresses what we face each day:
When the truth and holiness of the Word of God is challenged, we pray “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,” that God would keep his name and his Word set apart as right and true in a world filled with false hopes.
When our faith grows weak and the faith of others seems strained to the point of breaking, we pray, “your kingdom come,” that God would rule in our hearts and lives and be our strength.
When the forces of evil work and plan evil against us and the world, we pray, “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” that God’s good desire and plan for this world stand in that way of evil.
When we are blessed with food, clothing, homes, cars and smartphones, we pray a prayer of thanksgiving that God does, “Give us each day our daily bread.”
When the guilt of our sins weighs on our hearts or when we are tempted to hold onto a grudge until our relationships are ruined by hate and bitterness, we pray “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”
When we face our secret temptations or those that are socially acceptable that have overcome us so many times before that we are brought to despair in our fight against sin, we pray “And lead us not into temptation.”
Finally, when suffering and tragedy plague our lives and our loved ones, we pray “but deliver us from the evil one.”
For all these situations and everything you face each day be persistent in prayer and confident that your God hears you and will answer you as Jesus said,9 “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. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
We depend on a lot of things to get us through each day, some good and some bad, but there is one good thing that is guaranteed to get us through each day, and it is not our smartphone. Our God has saved us through our Lord and Savior Jesus, and he has also given us an open line of communication to him through prayer. May God bless you in your persistence and confidence to ask God for good things in prayer. Amen.