Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Lord, teach us to pray.” Did you catch that? It’s a simple question from the disciples to Jesus, but they ask a very specific thing. “Lord, teach us to pray.” They don’t say, “Lord, teach us how to pray.” They don’t say, “Lord, teach us what to pray.” No, the disciples simply ask that Jesus would teach them to pray. In actuality, that request is a good prayer in and of itself—one that I should be praying more often than I do. But the answer Jesus gives to this prayer, this request, is much more than a rote prayer to be memorized and spouted off mindlessly. He does give us a prayer, but He also gives us the motivation for praying. With the words that follow the prayer Jesus gives, Jesus works to encourage and kindle in you a desire to pray. And my prayer for you this morning is that something in you would catch fire, that you would hear what Jesus has to say and grow in your desire to pray, that you would learn to pray. “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Jesus starts His answer to this question by giving His disciples a simple prayer. It’s a form of the Lord’s Prayer that He gives more fully elsewhere. In this prayer, we pray for God to be God—that his name would be holy, as it already is, and that His kingdom would come, as it’s already doing. But then we turn to Him and pray that He would give us what we need: daily bread, forgiveness, and a reprieve from temptation. With this prayer, and the discussion that Jesus has afterward, one thing is abundantly clear: God, our Father, is a giving God. He wants to give us whatever we need. This is what Jesus expects will motivate His disciples and us to pray. “Lord, teach us to pray.”
He immediately follows His prayer with an odd story. At least, it’s odd in today’s world. It’s odd for a couple of reasons. First, it’s odd because it’s a story that fits a first-century, Palistinian culture. It deals with thoughts and ideas and a way of living in community that is foreign to us in today’s world. If that weren’t enough to throw us off, Jesus tells a bulk of this story in the form of a question! So, let’s walk through that story and see what’s going on. Say you have a friend arrive in the middle of the night. They walk in the house and you realize, you’ve got nothing in the fridge and the cabinets are bare. So you run next door, wake up your neighbor and ask for some food. In our day and age, you’re probably more likely to get the barrel of a gun than any food. But in Jesus’ time, hospitality was a community responsibility. It was inconceivable to think that anyone would turn down a request for help, especially when hospitality were on the line. A missed opportunity here could mar the reputation of an entire village, not just the individual family. So, Jesus asks, if you go to a friend and ask him for bread, will he say no? Of course not! It’s not because you’re friends, but because there’s more on the line, because you’re maybe a little too bold, because there’s nowhere else to turn.
Now, Jesus wraps up this little story with the lesson. Here’s the moral of the story, “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” In the cultural setting, bread would be given, but only reluctantly, after impudent asking. But with God, simply ask and He’ll give. Just look and you’ll find what God has laid before you. Knock on the door and immediately the door will be opened. God is greater than a reluctant neighbor. He is more willing to give than we are to ask. God gives daily bread, not just bread in an emergency. He stands ready, on alert, waiting to give you what you need. “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Jesus finishes this section with another question that’s based in our earthly world. Again, the focus is on the giver, “What father among you…” Think back a moment, how does Jesus encourage us to talk to God? As Father. “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” No one? Of course not! That’s ridiculous! Even earthly, “evil” fathers know better than that. If these fathers are evil yet provide what is good and necessary, how much more will our perfect, heavenly Father provide for our needs. He is beyond comparison. He stands ready and waiting to give His gift of the Holy Spirit, who is far and away a better gift than fish or an egg. “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Now, prayer is not magic. With magic, you say the right thing, move the right way, eat or drink a certain thing, and you can manipulate some supernatural force to create whatever you want. Prayer is not magic. It doesn’t work that way. I can’t manipulate God or the supernatural to create what I want. Prayer is not magic, it is personal. God is a person, and prayer is simply speaking to Him. Yes, God stands ready to give us what we ask for, but because He knows better than we do, because He has a clearer vision than we do, because He has a plan for all of creation into eternity, sometimes when we pray, God says no. He knows that what we’re asking for will do more harm than good in the long run. And that’s not easy. Some things seem obvious to us that God would give these things: healing, financial stability, and restored relationships, for example.
But asking for these things is like asking for a band-aid when you’ve lost a leg. It’s asking for far too little, for far too unimportant things. Why does physical healing matter? If we have Jesus, our body, broken or otherwise, dead or alive, will be raised, restored, and glorified on the last day. What good is money? It’s here today and gone tomorrow. Rather, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys nor thieves break in and steal. Why do even family relationships matter? Jesus calls us His brothers and sisters, children, not of earthly parents, but of our heavenly Father. When we ask for earthly things, God sometimes says no because it’s not really what we need.
Jesus encourages me and you to look beyond what we can see, to look past the so-called crisis of today, to look beyond the storm of life, and see the reality of God’s kingdom coming among us even now. With our eyes turned forward, fixed on the Father, everything else falls away. When we are brought in line with God’s will and see what He wants us to see, our prayers will change. Yes, they’ll still include the things we need in this earthly life: food and family and finance included. But they also take on a heavenly dimension. We start to ask for things with eternal significance, for us to keep God’s name holy, that we would live as those under God’s reign and rule, for the spiritual bread of God’s teaching, for forgiveness, for freedom from temptation, and most of all, for the Holy Spirit.
So “Lord, teach us to pray.” Reveal Yourself to us as the giver of all good gifts. Show Yourself as the God who has our best interest at heart, ready to give whatever we ask in Your name. Help us to ask for what we truly need. Give us eyes to see the reality of Your kingdom around us. And give us the grace to turn to You in prayer. Lord Jesus, teach us to pray. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell