If you were here last week, then you know we just started a sermon series focusing on Table Rock’s nine priorities. Last week, Ryan kicked off the series with a sermon about spreading. Next week, Don Straka will help us explore the priority of leadership. But for this week, we’ll be looking at the priority of prayer.
As Christians in America, we have access to an embarrassment of theological riches. In other words, we can easily access great sermons, blogs, articles or whatever from world class preachers and teachers. And often those resources are free! So I ask you, “How many of you would want to listen to a message from Jesus himself about prayer?” “How many of you would sign up for a seminar on prayer if you knew that Jesus was teaching it?”
Of course we’d all say, “yes!” Even if you don’t see yourself as a follower of Jesus, you’d probably still be interested to hear what Jesus had to say. Well, it’s your lucky day, because today we get to sit in on a teaching lesson from Jesus himself about prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer
“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”
And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, 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. 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? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”—Luke 11:1–13
Jesus has much to teach us about prayer in these verses. In particular, Jesus wants us to pray to the Father as his blood bought children. That’s the big takeaway Jesus wants for us. Pray to the Father as his blood bought children.
Jesus arrives at that take away by providing us with a model for prayer in verses 1 to 4. He also motivates us to pray in verses 5 to 8 and 11 to 13. And third, sandwiched between Jesus’s motivations for prayer, he mandates that we pray in verses 9 and 10. So, a model, motivations, and a mandate.
First, the model. In verses one to four, Jesus provides us a model for prayer. Remember, it’s a model, not a rigid formula. It’s like the templates you can use in Microsoft Office. For instance, Microsoft Office provides templates for writing a monthly newsletter for businesses or nonprofits. The templates give helpful ideas and suggestions, but sometimes you might omit something or tweak something based on the situation. In the same way, Jesus is giving us a model, or a template, for prayer.
Jesus’s model for prayer starts in verse one. We read,
“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’”—Luke 11:1
This verse sets the scene for what we often call The Lord’s Prayer.
The disciples are asking Jesus to show them what it means to pray in a distinctively Jesus way. As the verse says, John the Baptist had disciples, and he taught them to pray in a certain way. So Jesus’s disciples naturally want the same thing. So the Lord’s prayer answers the question, “What does it look like to pray as a Christian, a follower of Jesus?”
Verses 2 to 4
We find the answer in verses two to four. Jesus says,
“When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”—Luke 11:2–4
Jesus starts his model prayer by saying, “When you pray…” So Jesus expects that we will pray, and that we will do it together! When Jesus says “you,” he means “you all,” plural. So Jesus’s model prayer calls us—the local church—to be a praying community, a house of prayer.
Next, Jesus’s model prayer orients our prayers. In verse two he says, “Father…” Our prayers need to center on God, our heavenly father. This means prayer for the Christian has both awe and intimacy. This distinguishes Christian prayer from religions that view God as so holy and transcendent that it would be blasphemous to think of him as a father. This also distinguishes Christian prayer from religions that view God as so close and personal that there’s no sense of awe or fear. Instead, we find both awe and intimacy in the analogy of a Father and his children.
Third, notice how balanced Jesus’s prayer is. We find adoration, confession, and supplication. We see adoration in verse one, “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.” We see confession in verse four, “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” And we see supplication in verses three and four, “give us each day our daily bread,” and “lead us not into temptation.”
What do our prayers look like? Is there adoration, confession, and supplication? Do they center on God or on man? The kinds of prayers we pray say a lot about how we view and relate to God. For instance, do your prayers focus almost exclusively on supplication, asking God for things? If they do, you may be relating to God like he’s a business partner instead of relating to him as your good, heavenly Father. You may be viewing God simply as a means to some other end, instead of an end in himself.
Verses 5 to 8
After Jesus provides us with a model for prayer, he gives us two analogies to motivate us to pray in verses five to eight and eleven to thirteen. In verses five to eight, Jesus wants to motivate us to pray prayers that will make God look good. He does this by telling a story.
Starting in verse five, Jesus tells his disciples,
“Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.”—Luke 11:5–8
What’s Jesus’s point? To get there, we need to remember the culture of Jesus’s time. Unlike our American culture, that culture focused more on the group or community than on the individual. It was also an ‘honor and shame’ culture. Finally, the culture Jesus grew up in valued hospitality.
So, Jesus is saying that the neighbor will give his friend whatever he asks for. Why? Not because the neighbor is a great guy! But because the neighbor doesn’t want to look bad. If he doesn’t help his “friend” show hospitality, he will bring shame on himself and on the community. But if he does help his friend, he will bring honor to himself and the community.
Remember, Jesus’s story illustrates a greater truth. In other words, what I just said doesn’t mean Jesus is saying that God the father is a cosmic grump. Rather, his story shows us that God the Father likes to answer prayers that make him look good.
In a way, this story reminds us of Jesus’s model for prayer centering on God and not man. For instance, whose name does Jesus ask to be hallowed? The Father. And whose kingdom does Jesus ask to come? The Father’s. And notice who is absent from those prayers. Us! It’s about God and making him look good! So pray in a way that will make God look good because those are the prayers God likes to answer.
Verses 11 to 13
A few verses later Jesus gives us another analogy to motivate us to pray. And it shouldn’t surprise us that the analogy is about fathers and their children. Starting in verse 11, we read,
“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? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”—Luke 11:11–13
What is Jesus’s point with this analogy? It’s this: to assure us that our heavenly Father will answer our requests for what’s good and necessary. Notice, the son isn’t asking for frivolous or unnecessary things. He’s asking for food. That’s something he needs. A father likes to give his children good things that they need when they ask for it. For instance, a father will be much more likely to give his son some broccoli if he asks for it, versus a twinkie.
Likewise, our heavenly Father likes to answer our prayers for what we truly need in light of his kingdom purposes. For instance, God likes to answer our prayers with a “yes” when we ask for things like boldness to share our faith, courage to stand against injustice, and knowledge of the truth. That’s why it also shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus closes with the Holy Spirit in verse 13. Apart from the empowering of the Holy Spirit, we won’t be able to make God’s name holy, or hallowed. We won’t see God’s kingdom come. We see this with Jesus himself in the gospel of Luke. Time and time again, we read about Jesus being “full of the spirit” before he engages in ministry. The same theme crops up in the book of Acts—the Holy Spirit comes and empowers the early church for ministry. And what did the Holy Spirit come in response to? You guessed it, prayer!
All of this is moving us to Jesus’s mandate to pray in verses 9 and 10. Remember, Jesus wants us to pray to the Father as his blood bought children. So in verses 9 and 10 we read Jesus telling us to,
“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.”—Luke 11:9–10
What does Jesus mean? Pray! He’s urging his disciples to pray. He’s urging us—Table Rock—to pray. That means you! Are we the kind of church characterized by prayer? Would other people call us a house, or church, of prayer? If not, why not?
I wish I could stand up here and tell you that I have this figured out, but I haven’t. So often I don’t pray for a number of pathetic reasons. Sometimes it’s because I prioritize other things over it. I forget about the priority of prayer. Is that true for you? Do you forget to make prayer a priority? And remember, this sermon series is about the what of Table Rock? The priorities of Table Rock! So, as a church, we should probably prioritize prayer! We need to if we want to see prayer become a living, active reality for our church.
Tim Keller, a pastor in New York, helps us at this point. He tells the story of how this finally clicked for him and his wife. They were going through a really challenging season of life. Like us, they had just planted a church. They were busy. But then Tim was diagnosed with cancer. Add on top of that the fact that his wife, Kathy, has Crohn’s disease, and you’ve got a really hard situation.
Finally, at the end of their ropes, Kathy urged Tim that they had to pray. They weren’t going to make it without prayer. She said, “imagine you were diagnosed with a fatal illness, but it had a cure. And you needed to take medicine twice a day and everyday, and it had to be once in the morning and once in the evening for the rest of your life. If that was true, it wouldn’t be a question of “having enough time” to take your medicine. You would make time for it.” Do we approach prayer that way?
For that to change us and to move us into action, we need the Holy Spirit to remind us of who we are in Christ and what it cost for us to pray to God as a good father. Remember, what was the first word out of Jesus’s mouth in his model prayer? Father. Almost every time we see Jesus praying, he addresses God as “Father”.
But I said almost every time. When was the one time Jesus addressed God as “God”, and not as “Father”? On the cross. On the cross Jesus cried out to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” On the cross God disowned Jesus so he could adopt us into his family. Because of our sin, it should have been us on that cross.
Up until now we’ve almost assumed that we’re automatically God’s children. But that’s not true. Ephesians chapter two tells us that we are by nature children of wrath, not children of God. God should forsake us. But he didn’t, because of Jesus. On the cross God made a way for rebels to become his sons and daughters, who can call on him as father.
We see this truth in Galatians 4. It says,
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”—Galatians 4:4–7
So Table Rock, let's pray as the Father’s blood bought children.
And let’s not forget that as the Father’s children, we’re heading to his house. Right now, we can only taste part of our adoption in Christ. But one day we will completely experience what it means to be the Father’s children. Paul writes about this in Romans 8:23. He says that we
“who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”—Romans 8:23
When we remember who we are in Christ and where we’re heading as his children, then prayer becomes sweet. Prayer starts to look like the hymn, Sweet Hour of Prayer.
Sweet hour of prayer,
Sweet hour of prayer.
The joys I feel, the bliss I share.
Of those whose anxious spirits burn
With strong desires for Thy return.
With such I hasten to the place
Where God, my Savior, shows His face.
And gladly take my station there,
And wait for Thee, sweet hour of prayer.