If you have ever been on a long journey, you will know that it gives you plenty of time to talk to your travel companions. As we return to Luke’s Gospel this morning, we join Jesus and his disciples on their own long journey. In fact, what was to be Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem.
In our passage this morning we get to eavesdrop on one particular conversation they had whilst on the road south. A conversation started when his disciples said to him: “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples”
Jesus’ reply to their request is rich and full. Not only does he provide us with a model prayer – he also tells two short stories to illustrate what Christians’ approach to prayer should be.
To be precise, I think Jesus teaches us three things about prayer in this passage:
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Firstly, Jesus shows us that prayer is a privilege. Look with me at verse 1, which simply says: “One day, Jesus was praying in a certain place”. In other words, the Messiah made prayer part of his daily routine. God’s Son took every opportunity to speak to his Heavenly Father.
If even Jesus could not survive on this earth without prayer, what hope have we without it? Prayer is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with God, an opportunity for every Christian to invest in our most important relationship – a relationship that will endure for eternity.
We should not take the first words of the Lord’s Prayer for granted. To be able to say: “Our Father” to God is a remarkable privilege. To be able to personally address the Creator of the cosmos as “Father” is unprecedented and astounding. No other religion offers such intimacy between God and individual human beings. It is only through faith in Christ that we become God’s adopted children.
Bilquis Sheikh was the wife of a high-ranking government official in Pakistan. She was raised as a Muslim, but became a Christian in 1966. In 1972 she resettled in the United States, where she spoke widely about her faith until her death in 1997.
Her best-selling autobiography is called “I dared to call him Father”. For her, that sentence summed up what it meant to become a Christian. Through faith in Christ, Bilquis entered into a personal relationship with God. She came to know God as her heavenly Father, not just a distant deity. Let’s not neglect it!
But what things should we actually pray for? Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer in verses 2-4 of today’s passage suggests that our priorities in prayer should be God’s glory and God’s grace.
A concern for God’s glory is reflected in the two requests of verse 2: “hallowed be your name” and may “your kingdom come.”
To pray for God’s name to be “hallowed” means to pray that people would recognise how gloriously good and special God is. It means praying that we ourselves, and all those we know, will come to honour God as our awesome Creator and praise him as our righteous Lord. We should pray that God’s qualities and character traits will be held in the highest respect by all.
To pray for God’s “kingdom” to come, meanwhile, is to pray that his rule will extend over every person and over every part of creation. God is glorified and his kingdom grows when people turn to Christ in repentance and faith.
God is glorified whenever people give Jesus control of their earthly lives and entrust him with their eternal destiny. And so I hope we all pray regularly that family, friends and colleagues will become Christians. Pray that God’s kingdom will come into their lives.
To pray for God’s kingdom to come also means to look forward to the day when it will come in all its fullness. To the great day when sin, death and decay will be no more. For the day when’s God’s glory will cover the whole earth, as the waters cover the sea.
As well as praying that God will be glorified, Jesus teaches us that we should also pray for God’s grace in our lives. God’s grace can take many forms, and Jesus points us to three of his gracious gifts in the Lord’s Prayer.
• The first gift of God to ask for is “daily bread” (v.3). We are to pray to God for our most basic physical needs. In this part of the world it can be easy to sometimes take such things for granted, but the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that our food, our homes, even our very lives, are undeserved, gracious gifts from him.
• The next gift of God, described in verse 4, is forgiveness for our sins. These words of the Lord’s Prayer are a safeguard against spiritual pride and self-righteousness – they remind even the most mature Christian will still sin. But they also remind us that God is always willing to forgive us when we repent.
• The third and final gracious gift Jesus highlights is God’s ability to deliver us from temptation. Oscar Wilde famously said that “I can resist everything apart from temptation!” That may have been his experience, but God wants to give every Christian the strength needed to resist temptation. He wants us to ask for the Holy Spirit’s help to be holy.
So we should pray that God will be glorified in our lives and that he will be gracious to us. But Jesus also provides us with two short stories that teach us how to pray – the manner or tone in which we should pray.
Everyone loves a good story, not just children. They stick in the memory, touch the emotions and arouse our interest. Did you know, for example, that we spend over £4 billion on fiction books in the UK each year?
Jesus was a great storyteller, and his two short stories today teach us that we should pray persistently, and with childlike confidence.
This first story is told in verses 5 to 8. A man has just received a late night guest at his house, but has been horrified to discover that he has no food to entertain him with. In middle eastern culture, then as now, it was a great embarrassment to be unable to offer hospitality to a guest. So the embarrassed host hammers repeatedly at his neighbour’s front door, requesting to borrow some loaves of bread. The neighbour is understandably irritated by this request, and reluctant to disturb his sleeping family. But he does eventually help his friend because of his persistence, boldness and “shameless audacity”.
Jesus’ purpose in telling this story is to illustrate that if even a human will respond to bold and persistent requests, then God will certainly listen to our prayer requests. Unlike a human father, there is no inconvenient time for God – he never sleeps or slumbers.
The second illustration Jesus gives is of a child requesting good things from his father. In verses 11 and 12 we are told that no father would give a child a scorpion or a snake when it asks for a fish or an egg. In the same way, our Heavenly Father will only ever give us things that are good for us, like his own Holy Spirit.
Christians can have a childlike confidence that our prayers will always be answered with things we truly need, with things that will do us real good. We should not hesitate to pray for fear of asking for the wrong thing, or out of fear that God will give us something that will harm us. He will only give us what is good.
Some of you may have heard of the Traffic Light illustration of how God answers prayer? We all know that traffic lights are either red, green or amber – meaning ‘stop’, ‘go’ or ‘wait’. Well God answers prayers in a similar way.
He always answers our prayers, but his answer may be red, green or amber:
• In response to our prayers he may say ‘yes’ – and give us what we want.
• He may say ‘no’, because what we are asking for would do us no good.
• But often God’s answer is amber. He is telling us to ‘wait’. He will answer our prayer, but (for one good reason or another) not just yet.
We need to remember Jesus’ two stories today on those occasions when God’s answer to our prayers is either a red ‘no’ or an amber ‘not yet’. We need to trust in God’s goodness whenever he doesn’t give us what we want. And we need to persevere in prayer whenever we are waiting for an answer.
As I finish, I hope we’ve seen from today’s passage that Christians should pray because it is a privilege. We should pray for God’s glory and grace. And, with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, we can pray with perseverance and faith. Let’s pray now.
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