Lord, Teach Us to Pray
Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek
In previous years during the season of Lent we’ve set aside our usual preaching through a book to focus on a special series. We’re not going to do that this year. With all the transitions around here of selling an office building, selling a church building, buying a church building, renovating a church building, and temporarily meeting in a middle school, we thought it would be helpful to have continuity by continuing in Luke’s gospel during Lent. So that’s what I’m going to do this morning.
But for you and me to get the most out of this sermon, to take this passage in Luke’s gospel and, like a wet towel, wring out all the grace that it contains, I want us to start with a brief exercise.
If you take the sermon notes that are in the bulletin, and if you flip them over, you’ll see a list that I want you to fill out. It’s also on the screen behind me. We are going to pause for about two minutes to let you fill it out. And if you don’t have paper and pen, you can use a phone; but please do this because it will make the passage come alive.
“List one potential obstruction to The Kingdom of God’s Love expanding in . . . my own life, the life of those I love, our church, and this world.”
Don’t think about it too much. Just list whatever first comes to mind for each. In a moment I’ll read the passage, then pray, and we’ll study this together. Ben is going to play some music as we think.
If you have a Bible, please turn with me to Luke 11:1–13. I’ll read v. 1 now, and the rest later.
11 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.”
Let’s pray that God will teach us just as he taught his disciples. “Heavenly Father . . .”
At my former church, the youth pastor there was Dustin. Dustin has many skills in ministry. He’s a gifted Bible teacher, and he loves serving the community. One thing he also does very, very well was graphic design. For a year or two I would watch the material he would produce for our church, and I’d be in awe of the quality. I mean, he could have quit working for us and been hired by Apple as a lead designer, at least as far as I’m concerned. For a while I tried to make designs like he made. He’d be using photoshop, but I’d open Microsoft Word or Microsoft Paint and try to make something. That’s the graphic design equivalent of finger painting, by the way.
As Dustin and I became better and better friends, I said, “Dustin, teach me to do this too.” For the next year, when he would make something, he’d let me look over his shoulder, and when I would make something, he’d look over mine. In my case, the student never surpassed the master. But I’m glad I asked for his help.
Jesus was a master of prayer. We often think of Jesus’s three years of public ministry as a flurry of activity: healings, teaching and preaching, traveling, eating meals, throwing parties, attending parties, turning water to wine, and making three loaves into enough food to feed the masses. That’s a lot of activity. But as you look at Luke’s gospel closely, we see Jesus was also a man of prayer.
Consider his baptism in chapter 3. We read,
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
You almost don’t even notice the line about prayer because of everything else going on in these two verses. But while everything else is going on, he is praying.
I won’t take us to all the other references to Jesus praying, but I’ll mention a few of them. In Luke 5:16 Jesus is described as one who often withdrew to pray. And then twice in chapter 9 we read of Jesus praying, once by himself and once with his disciples (vv. 18, 28). And after this passage in chapter 11, there will come more times of prayer throughout the gospel. Even as Jesus is on the cross in agony, he’s praying.
This is not lost on the disciples. In v. 1 of our passage they come to him saying, “Lord, teach us to pray.” The disciples saw a quality in his prayers, and they saw an intimacy with the heavenly Father in his prayers, that the also wanted to have. So they go to the expert. And what does the master teach about prayer? He has three things to say. First, he gives an outline for what our prayers should look like. And then he gives two encouragements for us to pray.
1. The Outline of Prayer, vv. 1–4
Let’s look at this outline Jesus gives for prayer. Let me re-read vv. 1–4.
11 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.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread,
4 and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
There is so much to say here. We call this The Lord’s prayer, but it’s really the disciple’s prayer. Regardless, whole books have been written on this cluster of verses. Of course, to be fair, most of the books dedicated to The Lord’s Prayer are written on the gospel of Matthew’s version of The Lord’s Prayer, which might be why as I read it from Luke’s gospel, it felt like a few things were different. Let me address that just for a moment.
We don’t have to worry whether we actually have the “right” Lord’s prayer (cf. G. Ryken, Luke 1:1–4). Think about it like this: If you were going to give a presentation, you might make an outline. That outline won’t include everything you are going to say, but the outline will be the thing that guides everything you say. Jesus was an itinerant teacher. He traveled around saying and doing the same sorts of things all the time but with different audiences. Think about the way we parents repeat things to our children. My kids could tell you the sorts of things I say all the time even if every time I say them, I might say them a little different in one setting than an in another. And clearly, as I’ve mentioned, prayer was a subject Jesus returned to again and again. What we have here is not necessarily a manuscript of prayer, but an outline. And what are we to make of this outline of prayer?
It begins with a God-ward focus, and that God-ward focus then trickles down into the way we request things more directly related to us. The prayer begins with the word “Father.” We are to approach God as a father. And our Father’s name is to be hallowed. What does that mean? To have a hallowed name is to have a reputation that is regarded as special. When people speak and say God’s name and when they think about who he is, when people contemplate God’s wonder and holiness and creative majesty and his justice and power, when we think on these things, this prayer is asking that God’s reputation would be held in honor.
And the God-ward focus leads us to pray that our Father’s kingdom would come. And what does that imply? Two things. First, it implies that this Father is also a king. Kings have kingdoms. The second implication is that we are admitting our awareness that God’s kingdom has not yet expanded to its fullness. You know this already. Certainly the families and friends of Scott, Alyssa, Martin, Nicholas, Coach Aaron, Jaime, Christopher, Luke, Cara, Gina, Joaquin, Alaina, Meadow, Helena, Alex, Carmen, and Peter—the seventeen killed this week while doing nothing more than being at school—their friends and families know that the Kingdom of God’s Love has not advanced to its fullness yet. I’m guessing you, in your own ways, know this too.
This teaching on prayer is an outline of prayer to direct us to pray that The Kingdom of God’s Love would expand in greater and greater ways, which is a very different thing that praying, Lord, may my kingdom come and my name be hallowed.
But we do pray, as this outline of prayer indicates, for ourselves. We do pray about our needs. We have needs for daily bread, meaning the resources to live our lives in a way that honors God and loves others. We have the need to have our ongoing sins forgiven, even as we seek to forgive those who are indebted to us. And we have needs not to be led into situations where we might be tempted to dishonor our heavenly Father and, rather than advancing his kingdom, situations where we might be tempted to build another kingdom.
2. One Encouragement to Pray, vv. 5–8
Again, much more could be said. But let’s focus not only on the content of this outline of prayer, but Jesus’s encouragements to pray. In the next verses we read his first encouragement to pray. Look again at vv. 5–8.
5 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, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 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’? 8 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.
If the heavenly Father has a kingdom, perhaps he’s too powerful to be bothered with our needs. I mean, I know Jesus told us to ask for daily bread, but isn’t God so “hallowed” that it might annoy him if we ask about piddly things?
No, he’s not so great that we shouldn’t bother him. In fact, this kingly father’s greatness is that he’s never bothered.
In our culture families don’t normally sleep in the same one-room house. But if you went on a road trip with my family, and we happened to stay at a hotel, and in the middle of the night, you left your room and came up to the room my family was in, and pounded on the door, and you did this after a long 12-hour day in the car, and after my wife and I finally have gotten all six of our children asleep, then you had better have a good reason for being so imprudent, to use the word in the passage.
The point Jesus is making here is not a “one to one.” Jesus is not likening God in a “one to one” way with this annoyed neighbor-friend or with me annoyed in the hotel. His point is to say something like “one to negative one.” Jesus is saying if this guy, even though he doesn’t even want to help his friend and the friend himself had reluctance to ask in the first place, how much more will God, who is gracious and loving and not ever bothered by your prayers, long to arise so that he can show himself strong as he answers your prayer. That’s the encouragement from this passage. Even when you might be tempted to think that you shouldn’t bring a request to God because it’s a situation that surprised you, or you even had a fault in getting into the situation in first place, bring it to him. He wants to hear from you!
3. Another Encouragement to Pray, vv. 9–13
Let’s keep going. We read another encouragement. Look again at vv. 9–13.
9 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. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 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!”
This encouragement is stuffed with evocative imagery. Ask, given. Seek, find. Knock, opened. And there’s the imagery of snakes and scorpions too. That’s a picture. Jesus is saying, “I told you in my outline of prayer that you speak to the Father but let me remind you of what kind of father he is. Even though you are evil, you can’t imagine a son going to his father and asking for something to eat, and that dad saying, ‘No, you can’t have something to eat, but here, take this black mamba. Think fast!” Or, ‘No, you can’t have an omelet. But here’s a scorpion. Watch out for that tail! Hahahahahah.’ ”
This doesn’t happen. The point is not that fathers here on earth are perfect, and some of them aren’t even that great, in fact, again, Jesus calls us evil. But still, no father does this. So how much more will the heavenly Father give good gives to those who ask. In this case, not “one to one” but “one to ten” or “one to one hundred.”
Just a quick word on unanswered prayers. This teaching on prayer is a formative teaching on prayer, meaning that it should shape all that we do when we pray. But it’s not the only teaching on prayer we have in the Bible. Just to bring in one other passage, in James we read of God not answering our prayers because we ask with wrong motives, seeking not God’s kingdom but our own (4:3). Now, certainly every time you don’t have a prayer answered in the way you hoped, it doesn’t mean you are in sin. You might be without even realizing it, but that’s not the only reason God might not answer a prayer in the way you expect. Again, there’s more in the Bible about prayer than what’s here in Luke 11. This is a formative teaching on prayer, but it is not an exhaustive teaching on prayer, and so I won’t make my sermon that way either. But certainly what we do see in this passage in Luke is the encouragement to pray boldly and with the belief that God will do more than we could ask or imagine according to his great might.
I’ll close with this. When I first began pastoring, I remember being overwhelmed by the deluge of prayer requests. I didn’t really know how to handle it. It was an aspect of ministry that seminary hadn’t prepared me for. I was overwhelmed. Completely. The gravity of the prayer requests and the sheer tonnage of the requests—they just kept coming. It was overwhelming. I didn’t know what to do.
This paralyzing feeling even continued after I arrived here to pastor. Then I remember I saw on Twitter someone post a picture of the little email icon on his phone. This person had over 36k unread emails. I didn’t even know the icon could make a picture that high. I looked at it and was immediately anxious for this person. My heart started pounding. I was getting frazzled. And it made me think, in an unexpected way, about God and about prayer. I thought, You know, God is never overwhelmed. If every Christian in this world would pour out their heart to God at the exact same moment, the heavenly Father wouldn’t break a sweat.
As much as this passage is about what we do in prayer, it’s more about the one to whom we pray. This passage is about the Father who is never bothered. This passage is about the God who is always good. This passage is about the King who delights to meet the kingdom-needs of his children . . . if they would only ask.
And speaking of good gifts, notice the way God gives us himself. Luke says, “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (v. 13). The Holy Spirit is not a force; he’s a person. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. The Life Explored class we have been advertising asks the question, “What is the greatest gift God could give you?” The answer, of course, is himself. And that’s what we have in the gospel. We have the story of a savior who lives and dies for evil people. And then rises again, ascends to the throne of the universe, and for all who would pray to him in faith, acknowledging their sin and need, he will give them the gift of himself. And that is good news.
Time of Prayer
I think it would be strange to teach about prayer, and not give time to pray. At the beginning, I had you note down potential obstructions to The Kingdom of God’s Love expanding in various areas. What we want to do now is give you time to pray through these. I’ll have the band come up. They are going to play an instrumental song for about five minutes where you and I can pray through these things. I’ll begin in a few minutes, then Ben will lead us all in prayer and a closing song.
Pray with me as Ben and the music team comes back up. Let’s pray . . .