Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 12)
July 25, 2010
Text: Luke 11:1-13
“Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1; ESV). This morning our Lord Jesus does precisely that. And we desperately need this teaching, because prayer does not come naturally to us, on account of our fallen flesh. We are reluctant to pray. Many of us believe we simply don’t know how to do it. We develop bad habits when it comes to prayer, such as laziness and lack of attentiveness, or worse, we develop no habit of prayer at all. We misunderstand prayer. We often feel that prayer is worthless, that God either does not hear or does not care, and that it won’t change things anyway. Or we go to the opposite extreme, and regard our prayers as works-righteousness, acts that gain favor before God, that make us more righteous than our neighbor who struggles with prayer, or we believe that God should hear and heed our prayers because we are such great and faithful Christians, or some such snobbery. Many, if not most of us, fall into both categories at some time or another, one moment despairing of prayer, the next boasting of our prayer life, even if only in our hearts. Whichever category you fall into at the moment, beloved, repent. Repent and hear the gracious teaching of our Lord Jesus about prayer, heed His command, His invitation, His promise, and so lift up your hearts in communion and conversation with God your heavenly Father, through His Son, and in His Spirit.
Prayer is precisely that: communion and conversation with God. Prayer is the language of faith. Taught by God, we receive prayer as a gift of His grace. The conversation begins with God’s Word to us in Scripture and preaching and Sacrament. Yes, it is vital that God has the first Word, that He gets the conversation going, because otherwise the conversation is left with our own worthless words. We too often think of prayer as simply us talking and God listening. No, first we listen to God. And we don’t listen to Him in our hearts, or in some mysterious still, small voice, but in His revealed Word. For there alone, in His revealed Word, can we be sure that what we are hearing is from God, and not from the devil, or the world, or our own sinful flesh. God speaks first in the conversation, in His Word. And in His speaking to us, God teaches us to speak His language. He teaches us to pray.
This morning our Lord Jesus actually puts the words in our mouths, gives us the very prayer we are to pray: The Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is the most perfect prayer in all the world, being composed by the Son of God Himself. Beloved, pray the Lord’s Prayer daily, several times a day, when you get up, throughout the day, and when you go to bed. When you don’t know what else to pray, pray the Lord’s Prayer, for this prayer includes everything you need for this earthly life and for eternal life. Here we pray for the things that God has promised us and wants to give us; that His Name be kept holy among us so that we believe and speak right doctrine and lead holy lives; that His Kingdom come, that we believe in Him and in His Son Jesus Christ and that more and more people come into the fold of the holy Church; that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven, that He break and hinder every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, so that we be preserved in the one true faith unto life everlasting. And we pray for the concerns of this life, that God give us our daily bread, which includes not only food for our bellies, but all the needs of the body, including a dwelling place and a family and friends and good government and employment, all that belongs to this earthly life. So also we pray for forgiveness, for we daily sin much and deserve nothing for which we pray. We pray nonetheless that God would grant us all these things by grace, for Christ’s sake, and so we examine our own relationships and gladly forgive all who have sinned against us. We pray that not only would God forgive us our sins, but that He would preserve us in times of temptation, defending us against the crafts and assaults of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, so that we do not despair or become entangled in great shame and vice. We pray that God would grant us to overcome them and win the victory. And so our Lord adds, when He teaches this prayer in Matthew (6:13), “deliver us from evil,” or more properly, “deliver us from the evil one,” the devil. Deliver us and rescue us from every evil of body and soul, and finally, when our last hour comes, grant us a blessed death.
“Lord, teach us to pray.” He teaches us by giving us the very words. And He gives us more words, the Psalms, which we should also pray each day. Again, God’s Word, perfect words, so much better than our worthless words, words Jesus Himself prayed, words that are fulfilled in Jesus. We pray the Psalms in light of Jesus and our Baptism into Him. This is what it means to pray in Jesus Name
. We pray as those who have been united to Jesus Christ in Baptism and covered by His sin-atoning blood. This alone gives us the confidence to come before the throne of God and present our petitions.
So you see, the very Words of Scripture, the Word of God shapes and molds our prayer. Even the prayers we make up ourselves take their shape in light of the Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms and the rest of Holy Scripture. The liturgy of the Church is essentially Scripture set to music. Many well-meaning Christians say that prayer should come from the heart, and that the only prayers that come from the heart are the prayers we make up ourselves. The theological term for this assertion is hogwash
. First of all, Jesus is very clear about what comes from your heart: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). Do you really believe these make your prayers purer? We pray the words God gives us precisely so that we don’t pray from our own evil hearts, but from God’s heart, and the Word of God’s heart creates in us clean hearts so that we can pray in Jesus’ Name, according to His Word and will.
Of course this is not to say, either, that you can’t make up your own prayers. But now you know that the prayers you make up start with God’s heart, with the Word of God and what He says to you, and are molded and shaped by that Word. Jesus teaches us to imitate Him in prayer, to pray His Words, and so enter into communion and communication with our heavenly Father. While we are to pray at all times, everywhere, notice that Jesus sets aside certain times for formal prayer, in certain places. Don’t use praying at all times and places as an excuse for not setting aside a time and a place for formal prayer. Mimic Jesus. Learn from Him. He is teaching you how to pray. Use the prayer books of the Church, the hymnal, the Catechism, and most especially the Holy Scriptures. Pray the set prayers that others have written. Jesus prayed the Psalms. He tells you to pray the Lord’s Prayer. Mimic Jesus. He is teaching you how to pray.
And He tells you to pray persistently. Ask, seek, knock (Luke 11:9). If you knock on your neighbor’s door at midnight to ask for a loaf of bread, he will give you the bread out of sheer irritation. In contrast, God loves it when you ask, seek, and knock, even at midnight. He bids you, “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Ps. 50:15). Ask Him for bread. Ask Him for help in any time of need. Call upon His Name at all hours to pray, praise, and give thanks. He longs to hear from you. He has commanded you to pray, and He tenderly invites you to make your requests known to Him, as Paul says, “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” (Phil. 4:6). Pray as a little child to your loving Father in heaven. Pray for yourself. Pray for others. Pray for the Church. Pray for the government. Pray for your family and your friends and your acquaintances. Pray alone in a quiet place. Pray with your family. Teach your children to pray. Help them form that habit. Pray with those who need prayers. Pray in all circumstances. St. Paul again writes, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). And Paul, too, reminds us of the importance of praying the Holy Scriptures and remembering to give thanks when he writes, “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,” your newly created clean heart, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:18-20).
Most of all, pray because God promises to hear and answer. Even evil earthly fathers give their children good gifts. How much more God, our heavenly Father, who is holy, especially when we pray for that which He has promised? He will always grant His Spirit to those who ask Him. He will always forgive your sins. He will always hear you on account of the suffering and death of Christ, who is now risen and intercedes for you before the throne of the Father, along with the Spirit, who makes your prayers holy. You can pray boldly and with all confidence, because when the Father looks at you, He sees all the righteousness of His Son Jesus. Because you are baptized into Him. You bear His Name and you pray in His Name. And He Himself has taught you to pray.
So pray. It is your unique privilege as children of God. You name God as your Father (“God’s own child, I gladly say it!”) because He has first given you the family Name at your Baptism. And that Name is this: the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.