I wonder if you are old enough to remember the early Beatles hit, “Help”? How do the lyrics go? “Help. I need somebody. Help. Not just anybody. Help. You know I need someone. Help!” Some people view prayer that way. They only call on God when they have a problem.
Corrie ten Boom, knew the importance of prayer. She once asked the question, “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tyre?” While your car has both, they have very different purposes. When you are driving, your need to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times.
The steering wheel allows you to navigate and gets you to your destination safely. But the spare tyre plays a secondary role. You may never have touched the spare tyre in your car. You may not even know where it is. It is probably new and unused because it is only needed in case of an emergency.
How is your prayer life defined by this question? Is prayer like your steering wheel or a spare tyre? Does your prayer life guide you in every facet of your life? Is it something you have your hands on every waking moment of the day? Or is it like a spare tire, something you only use in times of emergency? For most of the day you forget that it’s there. You’re not even sure how to use it and find yourself struggling when you need to use it.
Please turn with me to Luke 11 and let us learn from Jesus about the importance of prayer (11:1-2), the content of prayer (11:3-4), the practice of prayer (11:5-8) and the assurance of prayer (11:9-13). We are looking for answers to four questions – when we should pray, what we should pray, how we should pray and why.
- When Should we Pray? The Importance of Prayer
“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…” (Luke 11:1-2)
The question the disciple asks Jesus is intriguing.They would have been attended services in the synagogue and Temple since childhood. They would have prayed three times a day in the morning, afternoon and evening. They would also have been familiar with the spontaneous prayer of blessing. Moses had admonished the Israelites not to forget the Lord when they entered the Land:
“When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God…” (Deuteronomy 8:10-11)[i]
They reminded themselves of God’s care by offering a short prayer of thanks or blessing. For example, “Blessed are you, oh Lord our God, King of the Universe.” The blessing reminded them that God is the source of every good thing. The word for bless, barakalso means “to kneel”. When we bless God, we are bowing to worship him. Paul insists, “Rejoice always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances.”(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
So if prayer was in their DNA, why did the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray? Was it because they observed how frequently and informally Jesus prayed? So unlike the formality of the Pharisees. They knew, for example, Jesus often prayed alone early in the morning (Mark 1:35).
Luke records many times when Jesus prayed: At His baptism (Luke 3:21); before He chose the Twelve (Luke 6:12); when the crowds increased (Luke 5:16); before He asked the Twelve for their confession of faith (Luke 9:18); at His Transfiguration (Luke 9:29); at the Last Supper (Luke 22:7-23); in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46); and on the cross (Luke 23:34).
They understood the importance of prayer to Jesus: If Jesus needed to pray, when should we pray? Continuously.
- What Should we pray? The Content of Prayer
“Father hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 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.” (Luke 11:3-4)
We call this “The Lord’s Prayer,” not because Jesus prayed it (He never had to ask for forgiveness), but because Jesus taught us to use it as a model. There is nothing wrong with praying this prayer word for word, whether, personally or corporately, just as long as we do so intentionally. It is easy to “recite” these words from memory without even thinking about the one to whom we pray, or what we are saying. You know what it feels like when you are speaking to someone and they are absent-mindedly, looking right through you. God hears our hearts as well as our lips, and sometimes when praying, we are distracted, and they don’t synchronize. Jesus intended this to be a pattern, not a mantra to be repeated mindlessly. So what does this prayer contain that makes it a model prayer? Three things:
2.1 Praise to our Father
“Father hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.” (Luke 11:3). We associate a person’s name with their reputation – Think of Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair or Boris Johnson. Once a name has been tarnished it is hard to restore it. When Israel disobeyed God His name was profaned among the other nations. In the same way the foreign policy of the USA, Britain or France is often perceived by other nations as an expression of Christianity. Here, Jesus is instructing his followers to be faithful to God and for their prayers to reflect that. In this model prayer we are asking God to use us to accomplish what He wants.This is how His name is glorified. Now notice, this prayer assumes we can call God, our Father because we have acknowledged Jesus, His Son as our Saviour and Lord. We pray that God’s sovereign purposes will be revealed in us more and more till the day Jesus returns visibly, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Then every knee shall bow. Praise to our Father.
2.2 Penitence for our Sin
“Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” (Luke 11:4). Weare to act in a way that acknowledges our indebtedness to God’s grace. Jesus is not saying that God’s forgiveness is conditional on us forgiving others. But unless I do forgive others their sin against me, I have not really repented of my own. That is why forgiving others enables us also to experience God’s forgiveness. Praise to our Father. Penitence for our sin.
2.3 Petition for our Needs
“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.” (Luke 11:3-4)
Once we are right with God our Father and seeking His perfect will, we can bring our requeststo Him. Our specific requests. In an age of food security it may seem strange asking God for our daily bread. But in most of the world it is not certain where food will come from. We should ask Him to provide our needs for today, material and spiritual, not tomorrow, not next year, but today. This demonstrates our dependence on Him. We ask for his provision, for his presence and his protection. When you reflect on these short and simple prayers, imagine there are blank spaces between the petitions for you to add specific requests, for yourself and others. What do we pray? Praise to our Father. Penitence for our sin. Petition for our needs.
So far we have considered two questions: When should we pray and what should we pray?
- How Should we Pray? The Practice of Prayer
“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.” (Luke 11:5-8)
Why does Jesus use this illustration? Offering hospitality to strangers is a basic Middle Eastern custom. (Gen. 18:1ff). If a person refused to entertain a guest, he brought disgrace on the whole village and his neighbors would have nothing to do with him. Refusing a request for help would bring shame on himself, his family, and his village; That is why he would get up and met the need because his reputation was at stake. Do you see what Jesus is saying? God answers our prayers because he cares for his children but he also cares for his reputation.
Jesus tells us to pray “Father hallowed be your name.” Why? Because when God’s children pray, God’s reputation is at stake. The way He takes care of His children is a witness to the world that He can be trusted. So, on this occasion, Jesus is not saying that God is like a crabby neighbour. In fact, He is just the opposite. If a tired and selfish neighbour will help a bothersome friend, how much more will a loving Heavenly Father meet the needs of His own children. Our relationship with God is not based on friendship but kinship. And unlike our neighbour, God our Father never sleeps, never gets impatient, or irritable, is always generous, and delights to meet our needs. Jesus is illustrating from the lesser to the greater. If shameless audacity and persistence eventually works on a neighbour, how much more will persistence bring blessing as we continue to pray to our loving Heavenly Father.
Phillips Brooks said that prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance; but laying hold of His willingness. Persistence in prayer is not an attempt to change God’s mind but to align ourselves with His will. We have considered the questions: When we should pray? What should we pray? And how should we pray? Finally,
- Why Should we Pray? The Assurance of Prayer
“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!” (Luke 11:9-13)
The tense of the verbs Jesus uses is not obvious in our translation. Jesus is saying “Keep on asking … keep on seeking … keep on knocking.” In other words, don’t just come to God when there is an emergency, but pray with your Father continually. The Apostle Paul instructs us likewise, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). As we pray, God will either answer, yes, no or not yet. Sometimes God needs time to prepare us for the answer. Note that the lesson closes with an emphasis on God as Father (Luke 11:11–13). Because He knows us and loves us, we never need to be afraid of the answer He gives. Again, Jesus argued from the lesser to the greater: if an earthly father gives what is best to his children, surely our Father in heaven will do even more.
The father’s ultimate gift is His presence. He meets our daily needs – for bread, and our eternal needs, by His Spirit. This morning, we have been learning at the feet of Jesus about prayer. Prayer is simply talking to our heavenly Father in the name of the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit. We have seen the importance of prayer: When should we pray. The content of prayer: What should we pray. The practice of prayer: How should we pray.And the assurance of prayer: Why should we pray. So let us do so now. I’m going to pray the Lord’s Prayer and pause between each sentence so that you can make it personal. –
+ Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
+ your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
+ Give us today our daily bread.
+ Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
+ Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
+ For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,
now and for ever. Amen.
With grateful thanks to Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary(Word) and Michael Wilcock, The Saviour of the World: the Message of Luke’s Gospel (IVP)
[i]An excellent source on blessing: http://ourrabbijesus.com/articles/blessings-everywhere/