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“Learning to pray” (Lk 11:1-13)

I feel something of a fraud standing here this morning, about to deliver a sermon on prayer. when I know how much I struggle with prayer. So often my prayers are half-hearted, sporadic, self-centred or trivial.

But fortunately this morning our teacher on prayer is not me, but the Lord Jesus. Thankfully my role is merely to point us to his example, to simply explain what he has taught us about prayer. But to do even that I need help, so let me pray before we begin: Lord Jesus, teach us to pray. Help us to truly understand all you want to teach us today, and then put it into practice. For your name’s sake, Amen.

Introduction

If you have ever been on a long journey, you will now that it gives you plenty of time to talk to your travel companions. My family went on a four hour round trip to Leicester yesterday for a friend’s wedding, so we had plenty of opportunity in the car to chat!

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. Because after the glory and splendour of Jesus’ transfiguration, which we heard about last week, Jesus began a long walk south to Jerusalem. The end of Luke chapter 9 (verse 51 to be precise), tells us that Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem and his date with destiny. He deliberately and determinedly set in train the sequence of events that would culminate in his death and resurrection.

The second half of Luke’s Gospel describes some of the encounters and conversations that Jesus and his disciples had on this journey south together. In our passage this morning we get to eavesdrop on one particular conversation they had on the subject of prayer. 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:

  • Firstly, in verses 1 and 2, Jesus shows us that prayer is a privilege.
  • Secondly, in verses 2 to 4 he says we should pray for God’s glory and grace,
  • And thirdly, in verses 5 to 13, Jesus encourages us to persevere in prayer.

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

1. Prayer is a privilege! (v.1-2)

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.

So if we claim to be followers of Jesus today, then surely we should follow our teacher’s example! Jesus obviously made prayer part of his daily life, and surely so should we.

If we had time to go right through the Luke’s Gospel this morning, we would see that Jesus prayed constantly. It sustained him throughout his ministry and mission. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before his betrayal and arrest, Jesus was on his knees in prayer. Even hanging on the Cross, moments from death and with the full weight of the world’s sin on his shoulders, Jesus could still be heard praying!

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, then or now, offers such intimacy between God and individual human beings. It is only through faith in Christ that we can become God’s adopted children. It is only through the work of God’s only-begotten Son that we can call our Creator, “Father”. Christ went to the cross to restore our relationship with God and make prayer possible.

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.

Thanks to Jesus, every Christians can dare to call God our Father. Prayer is an amazing privilege – please don’t neglect it!

2. Pray for God’s glory and grace (v.2-4)

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:
• You see, God is glorified whenever people trust in Jesus their Saviour, Lord, and King.
• 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. In our prayers, Jesus wants us to look forward to the great day when sin, death and decay will be no more. We are to pray eagerly for that day when all God’s purposes and promises will come to fulfilment. For the day when’s God’s glory will cover the whole earth, as the waters cover the sea.

Many of you will know that our new baby daughter’s middle name is Grace. We thought long and hard what her middle name should be, consulted a few books, and sounded out our closest relatives. Ultimately, we settled on Emma ‘Grace’ because God’s grace is a wonderful thing! God’s grace refers to all the good things he gives us for free. All the things he gives us that we don’t deserve and could never hope to earn.

So as well as praying that God will be glorified, 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. This side of Heaven, even the most mature and godly Christian will sin from time to time. But God is gracious and always willing to forgive if we sincerely ask for it in prayer.

• 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.

3. Persevere in prayer! (v.5-12)

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.

Conclusion

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 need to pray with perseverance and with faith.

Let’s pray now: Heavenly Father, we thank you for the privilege of prayer. Please help us to pray boldly and confidently for your glory and your grace. In Jesus, name. Amen.

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