Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Prayer 101

Christians have a unique problem. They know some verses of scripture so well that they can’t see clearly what it says.

For example, the Lord’s Prayer. Even non-Christians I know can recite the words, “Our Father, who is in Heaven; Hallowed be your Name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread…” etc.

But repeating the words from memory isn’t the same as understanding what is being said. The familiarity we have with the passage can actually become a barrier that prevents us from really seeing and receiving the truth that Jesus wants us to practice.

So, let’s try to see this passage (Luke 11) through new eyes.

First, His disciples see that He is praying and then they ask Him to teach them how to pray. This alone is surprising because most of the time the disciples are asking selfishly to be the greatest, or to sit at his right hand, etc. Here, they actually ask Jesus to teach them to pray the way He does.

So, in Luke chapter 11, Jesus begins his teaching by instructing us to remember that God is our “Abba” or “Daddy.”

What an astonishing way to begin. Instead of using a formal title to refer to God, Jesus uses the intimate word “Abba”. Literally, He is telling us to address God as our “Papa.”

In short, He wants us to start off with the realization that God loves us dearly.

Next, he instructs us to meditate on the Holiness of God. We’re commanded to pray that the Name of God be reverenced and held in the highest esteem, but only after we have first understood that God loves us as His children. This reminds me of the verse in 1 John which says:

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the Children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)

After this, Jesus asks us to pray that God’s perfect will be accomplished here and now: “Your Kingdom come.”

So far we’ve not even entered into the part where we ask God for something. We’ve simply put ourselves into the right frame of mind by taking the time to realize that: God loves us, He is Holy, and He is in control.

Then we get to the petition part. This is where things get interesting.

Jesus tells us to pray for “Daily bread”. In other words, we’re to ask only for what we need today. Nothing extra. Nothing beyond what is necessary to survive. Just simply for “enough.”

This seems to stem from Proverbs 30:

“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” (Prov. 30:7-9)

Here, the idea is that we want to remain content. We want to stay continually thankful for what God has given us for today. We actually want to depend on God for everything we need.

Then, Jesus gets down to business:

“Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” (Luke 11:4)

Our forgiveness is linked to our ability to forgive others. In Matthew Jesus takes it even further by saying:

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt. 6:14-15)

The essential idea here is that unforgiveness is a sin. If we are still holding on to our grudge, then we have not actually repented of our unforgiveness and our sinfulness remains. Until we forgive others, we cannot be forgiven of our sin of unforgiveness.

Finally, Jesus asks us to pray that we will not be lead into temptation.

Now, go back and read Luke 11:3-4 and you’ll notice something astounding – it’s not about you.

Notice: Jesus does NOT tell us to pray for “MY daily bread” or to “forgive MY sins” or “Lead ME not into temptation.” Instead, what does Jesus say? He instructs us to pray this way:

“Give US our daily bread…”
“Forgive US our sins…”
“Lead US not into temptation…”

This is a prayer for one another. It’s an instruction to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Certainly we are included in the “Us” but we are not the subject. We are only included because we are members of His Body.

The beginning of the prayer is about God – He loves us. He is Holy. He is in control.
The rest of the prayer is about community – Feed us. Forgive us. Protect us.

This is how Jesus wants us to pray. He wants us to begin by taking the time to remember who God is, and then he wants us to take the time to lift up one another because we all have physical needs, spiritual needs, and emotional needs.

After this, Jesus shares a parable about a persistent friend. The point of this, I believe, is that Jesus wants us to pray continually – but NOT in a selfish way. Instead, I think Jesus wants us to remain persistent in praying the prayer he has just taught us.

In other words, Jesus wants us to continually pray persistently this prayer about God – because we need to remind ourselves constantly that He loves us, He is Holy and He is in control. Then, Jesus wants us to pray persistently for one another – because we’re all weak and we all need to remember that our brothers and sisters need food, and forgiveness, and protection.

I think this theory is especially likely considering how Jesus ends the parable of the persistent friend in verse 8:

“I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.”

The themes of bread and “as much as you need” point us back to the earlier “daily bread” reference.

The last two points are simple. Jesus says that those who ask receive, those who seek find and those who knock open doors. Then he concludes his teaching with this:

“If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give you whatever you ask for.” (v.13)

Actually, no. That is not what Jesus says. If you read the passage yourself you’ll see that what Jesus says is actually this:

“…how much more will your Father in heaven give you the Holy Spirit.”  (v.13)

Why is this last part significant? Because Jesus wants us to ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit leads us into all truth (John 16:13); The Spirit comforts us (John 14:6); The Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:27); The Spirit empowers us to follow Jesus daily (Acts 1:8; 1 Sam. 10:6); The Spirit bears fruit within us that includes “Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control.” (Gal. 5:22-23).

Want to know one other awesome thing that the Holy Spirit does for us? Check this out:

“Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:6-7)

How cool is that? The whole thing comes full circle. Because we have the Holy Spirit within us, we are able to cry out “Abba” which is how the Lord’s prayer begins.


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