Praying the Lord’s Prayer
George Buttrick wrote, “If God is not and the life of man poor, solitary, nasty, brutish and short, prayer is the veriest self-deceit. If God is, yet is known only as vague rumour and dark coercion, prayer is whimpering folly: it were noble to die. But if God is in some deep and eternal sense like Jesus, friendship with Him is our first concern, worthiest art, best resource and sublimest joy.”
Prayer. Our most powerful tool in connecting to God. Our gospel lesson this morning deals with this most important topic. The disciples see Jesus praying one day and they ask him, teach us to pray. The prayer Jesus teaches the disciples is what we now refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. A prayer we pray every Sunday morning. To say that the Lord’s Prayer is central to our lives as Christians would be an understatement. It is a formative prayer, central to our worship and our connection with God.
Praying the Lord’s Prayer – Audio Sermon
What is most interesting about this section of Luke’s Gospel is what follows the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus provides the disciples and us with a story that illustrates the Lord’s Prayer. The story also highlights Buttrick’s quote: if God is not, then prayer is simply self-deceit.
I think there is an element of doubt surrounding prayer. When you and I have a conversation, we can see and hear one another. We observe the silent cues that indicate we’ve heard one another. The nodding of the head, the rising of eyebrows; all the silent indicators of conversation. Then of course we have the opportunity to actually reply to one another. We can hear the response and it is based upon the words we have just spoken, it all makes sense.
But when we pray, when we talk to God all of these things are absent. God isn’t physically present the way we experience another person. God does not often respond in words to our prayer. In fact often we have difficulty in determining if God has indeed answered our prayer. So we might doubt, we might wonder why we bow our heads and pray.
So Jesus begins his story, with a neighbour who won’t answer the door. That the neighbour won’t get up out of friendship is intriguing. However, the neighbour will get up because you had the audacity to knock on the door at midnight. Theologian Cynthia Jarvis describes this as prayer arousing the slumbering God! This is what Jesus is describing prayer as; waking the slumbering God.
Jesus follows this story up with a command: Ask, search, knock.
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.
Jesus is telling us that this is what God wants. This is what God wants from us in prayer, for us to ask questions, for us to seek God, and for us to knock on the door and bring our prayers to God.
What happens when the second of Buttrick’s idea about God is encountered? A God who is present, but unknown to us. Is this the father who gives us son a snake, rather than a fish? Or a scorpion, rather than an egg? Are we left begging for mercy from a God that we do not know? From a God we cannot understand and who does not wish to understand us? But we know better than that and Jesus in his response indicates as much. However, Jesus also adds on how much more God will give to those who ask.
Which leads to the third of Buttrick’s ideas about God. A God who is like Jesus, whose concern is the relationship that we form with him. God gives to those who ask. Ask, search, knock and the door will be opened. God, Jesus informs us, is interested in honest communication with us.
After teaching the disciples the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says to them, “Suppose you have a friend…”
We can all relate to that, can’t we? Friendship, God is looking for friendship from us. God is looking for someone who can talk to him like a friend. The examples Jesus gives demonstrate a God who is interested in relationship with us. God wants us to knock on the door at midnight. God wants us to ask, to search and to knock. If we are listening to Jesus here, we realize that God craves these things from us. God is excited about being in relationship with us. It is part of the reason Jesus came to live on Earth with us; restoration of this relationship.
If God, as described in Buttrick’s analogy, is like Jesus then God is someone we can talk to. We can talk to God as with a friend: Through thick and thin, from the other side of a closed door, over the telephone, an intimate conversation on the couch. God is available for that. God will answer the door when we knock at midnight, searching for answers, asking questions.
Still some might say, but how do we talk to God? I am not sure if I pray right, if I do it correctly. I dare say I don’t think there is a wrong way, but let’s look to Jesus’ example. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus provides from fairly concrete things to pray for. An acknowledgement of who God is. A request for daily bread, forgiveness of our sins, and that we not be led into temptation.
I don’t know if you have ever paid attention or not on Sunday morning, but just about every prayer prayed has aspects of the Lord’s Prayer wrapped up in it. But I think the Lord’s Prayer is more powerful and meaningful by what is absent from it.
Notice that we pray, Give us each day our daily bread.
We don’t pray, God today I’m hungry, please feed me.
Notice that we pray, Forgive us our sins.
We don’t pray, God this week I was dishonest with a person I do business with, forgive my sins.
Notice that we pray, And lead us not into temptation.
We don’t pray, God, I am weak and prone to giving into my addictions, lead me not into temptation.
Give us our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins.
Lead us not into temptation.
God already knows the rest. God is interested in people who are willing to enter into a relationship; people who will ask, search and knock. God wants us to cut to the heart of the matter to ask, search and knock. Theologian Douglas John Hall writes of these three petitions that “one is dependant ‘Give us’; the second is guilty ‘forgive us’; and the third is lost and vulnerable ‘lead us’.” The one to whom we pray invites us to be open in our prayer, because God loves us. Because God forgives us no matter the sin, no matter how deep we might perceive the hurt to be, God forgives. God cuts through all the crap, all the garbage on the mundane everyday life and says be real with me. Be honest with me. Ask, search and knock for the way will be opened with me.
God says, I am that friend that you can depend on. You know that neighbour who you can always ask for sugar? That’s God. That’s God. You know that friend that you hurt, really deeply and really badly, but they still forgave you and loved you. Do you know that friend? That’s God, God does that. You know how men like to travel without a map, because they don’t get lost, but then they do. And they finally ask for directions from a stranger. That’s God, that’s God leading us.
God does these things for us. God gives, God forgives and God leads.
Friends, prayer is not folly or self-deceit. Prayer is not empty words spoken to an unknown God. Prayer is a conversation with a good friend. A friend we can depend on, confide in and trust.
This is the beauty of the Lord’s Prayer and what it teaches us. Prayer does not need to be some grand thing, we do not need special language or empty platitudes to reach God’s ears. Jesus tells us that plainly enough. And we are fortunate that Jesus after teaching us how to pray, reminds us of what that relationship with God is like.
Our Psalm (85) this morning also captured some of these aspects about God. About what God is like and why we should pray to God.
Love and faithfulness meet together;
Righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
And righteousness looks down from heave.
The Lord will indeed give what is good,
And our land will yield its harvest.
Righteousness goes before him
And prepares the way for his steps.
Friends, I can’t say it any better than Jesus himself did.
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. Amen.
Text: Luke 11: 1-13