Lord, Teach Us To Pray
Luke 11: 1 — 13
This passage is, as we know, one of the great records of our Lord's teaching about prayer. It is a supreme example of teaching which remains a mystery unless actually prayed! If we do not meditate on it, we can never hope to share in its vast richness. Our brief notes are a mere introduction to the treasures the text contains.
Many readers, despite their Christian upbringing, may not be greatly familiar with the Lord's Prayer, the Our Father. In fact, they may be surprised to find Jesus commanding his disciples to recite, by heart, a formal prayer.
Others, again despite Christian upbringing, may be surprised to find two different forms of the same prayer in the New Testament. The explanation of this is not that Jesus taught it twice, with different wording. We need to recall that we recite this wonderful prayer not because it is in the New Testament, but rather, that the Jesus commanded it and that his command was handed down by oral tradition. The books of the New Testament were written some considerable time after this tradition was firmly in place. The writers of the two Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke recorded the oral tradition as it was then being taught in their different locations. That is a wonderful story about the growth of the infant Church, but we must leave that for another time.
We will offer a few thoughts for your reflection on the three divisions of the text:
Some Notes On the Text
A. The Lord's Prayer
St Luke begins this very important text on our Lord's teaching about prayer with Jesus himself at prayer. He was found in "a certain place", meaning one of the known quiet places he often retreated to for solitude and contemplation.
A disciple has approached the place where Jesus is at prayer and respectfully stands back waiting for the Master to finish. When it is obviously appropriate to do so the disciple moves forward, addresses Jesus with a title of befitting dignity and then makes his request.
"Would you teach us to pray just as John
He who is here at prayer, our very own example of prayer, gives us the perfect model of prayer.
We need to remember that the disciples already knew how to pray, both informally and according to Jewish practice. They were very much people of prayer and were well used to reciting the Psalms and other Scriptures in their devotions at home, in the Synagogue, and in the Temple.
The disciples were asking Jesus for a prayer from their own Rabbi, which would identify them as his faithful followers. All great rabbis provided one for their disciples.
Verse 2 — 4
To their delight, the disciples present discover that Jesus has just such a prayer already prepared for them. He was just waiting to be asked.
Our Lord does not introduce his prayer with some general comment such as — "Well if you want you could when you feel like it, recite the following". Rather he responds instantly with a strong directive:
"When you pray, say…!"
Thus before we go any further we need to let it "sink in" that for the disciples of Jesus, prayer originates in both the example and command of the Master himself. Our Lord's words above are a clear Jewish reference indicating that when the disciples offer the traditional morning and evening prayers, as his disciples, they should add the short prayer he gave them. For two millennia Christian practice has been to include the Lord's Prayer at least in morning and evening private and public prayer, as well as any other service of prayer, in faithful obedience to his command.
The prayer opens with a very privileged form of address, in our Lord's own language — "Abba" or Dear Father. It is a family name, and we are expected to use it!
In typical Jewish fashion, the mere mention of God's Holy name must be followed immediately by an attribution of reverence and due honour to God. Thus we have:
Then, in Luke's form of the prayer, three petitions follow
Some Christians who recite this prayer add the words, "For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever." These words were not taught by Jesus as part of his prayer. In the very early Church, following Jewish custom, a prayer of special beauty and importance was ended with a similar acknowledgement of God's holiness and glory as that with which it began. This was a very beautiful custom, in keeping with so much of the rich and wonderful Jewish heritage that it carried over into Christianity.
Actually, it was added to some of the early manuscripts as an act of respect and over time became recited with the Lord's Prayer. Provided we intend the addition to be an act of honour and respect to God, it is reasonable to continue to add the acclamation, if that is one's custom.
B. Parable of the Friend at Midnight
Verses 5 — 8
We need to recall that a parable subordinates all details to one truth, usually located in the final punch line. In this parable, that punch line is that the man's unhesitating shamelessness to go to his friend will bring him what he needs. It is this shamelessness (rather than his perseverance) which enables him to approach in humility and complete dependence on the kindness and mercy of his friend. That is what is being held up to us.
We offer below a very fine explanation of this parable by
M.F. Sadler (1886): paraphrased.
The situation in our text was very common in our Lord's time when travelers would arrive at their lodging during the night. This was because travel during the midday heat was to be avoided.
Our Lord here provides an amazing contrast between the conduct of the angry and churlish friend and that of God.
"The refusal and delay of the man within, in order that the man outside might go away and cease to disturb him, is in contrast with the mind and conduct of our heavenly Father, Who, when He seems to delay His answer, delays not for His ease, but for our sakes, in order that our faith may be strengthened, our habit of prayer increased, and our appreciation of the value of His gifts deepened because of the trouble and perseverance we have to exercise." (Sadler)
C. Ask, Seek, Knock
Verses 9 — 13 This section opens with our Lord being very specific to his disciples. We are to:
Asking with confidence and humility because we have needs or we know of someone else's needs.
Seeking with care and application because we are aware of a great absence and emptiness in our lives if we do not seek constantly our spiritual wellbeing centred in God.
Knocking with earnestness and perseverance because we are willing to be helped to cross the threshold of unbelief, and find our true rest — our true home, where we belong.
Finally, our Lord uses his technique of contrast again. "You fathers, when you know your children need something, are not going to give them something dangerous to harm them! If you then are evil (meaning in Aramaic, imperfect) know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven (who is perfect) give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
Is this not the most amazing high point of his lesson on prayer! The Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who, in a true spirit of prayer, ask him.
To some, this is outrageous! The greatest gift of God — the gift of the Renewer, Comforter, Revealer of God, and Giver of Eternal Life — is to be got for the asking! (Sadler 1886)
Unfortunately, in this age of taking short cuts, there are some who teach that all you have to do to obtain the Holy Spirit is to "ask". After all, Jesus said so. This is yet another part of Sacred Scripture which is plundered and misused. Our passage from Luke this week has a beautiful unity in its three parts. Those who select only a small segment of our Lord's lesson and emphasise it out of context have missed the point - and missed it because they have not truly listened to the Word in their heart.
Our plea is that you will read and reflect on this lesson from our Lord many times, giving equal status to all its parts. May it prove to be a great blessing to you.
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