â€œFor What Do We Pray?â€
July 29, 2007 â€“ Luke 11:1-13
In a Kentucky church, the congregation watched an especially verbal and boisterous child being hurried out, slung under his irate father’s arm. No one in the congregation so much as raised an eyebrow — until the child captured everyone’s attention with his charming Southern accent, as he cried out, “Ya’ll pray for me now!”
Prayer… what is it? What is it for? We say to people, â€œI’ll keep you in my prayers!â€ We have a prayer book where we write prayer concerns each week, which I then use to help form my prayers of the people during worship. Prayer is obviously a big part of how we worship. So what is being said today about prayer in our reading from Luke?
We heard from Luke this morning about the benefits of persistent prayer. Jesus tells a parable about a man who has come to his neighbour in search of bread. A friend has arrived, and he has no bread to offer his guest. So he turns to his neighbour for help.
The neighbour, none to happy about being awaken from his slumber, tells him to leave. He doesn’t want to wake his family, who sleep in the same room, a typical arrangement in those days. But Jesus reassures us, the neighbour will indeed give what is asked of him. Hospitality is so central to the people of the time, to not welcome and offer a meal to a guest brings shame to more than just the household, but to the whole community. Hospitality was seen as the whole community’s responsibility. So the neighbour, out of his communal obligation, and to avoid bringing shame on himself, will help.
Jesus then turns and tells us that if we ask, we will receive. If we seek, we will find. If we knock, the door will be opened. God is so good to us, if we ask for something, he won’t give us something terrible. Just as a parent wouldn’t think to give a child a snake or scorpion instead of a fish or egg. God wouldn’t think to not give us what we ask of Him in prayer. Wouldn’t He?
Be careful with this line of thinking. If I pray for a sports car and a million dollar home, does that mean God then has to give it to me? What if we pray for someone sick in the hospital to be healed? If we believe that God will grant our prayers, that if we ask for something, He will deliver it. What then happens when we don’t get what we ask for?
I believe miracles can happen. I really do. But if I pray for God to heal a critically ill child, why should this child live instead of the millions of children who suffer hunger and oppression every day.
Many people will use this scripture to teach people that God will give us whatever we ask. Our prayers should be Christmas lists of things we want. Whole mega churches have been built on this style of preaching. They call is prosperity preaching. If we accept Jesus Christ as our personal saviour, then God will bless us with riches and possessions like we never knew before.
This bothers me, and here’s why. Jesus did not teach this. What did he tell the rich young ruler to do when he asked Jesus how to gain eternal life? â€œIf you wish to be perfect, sell all you have and give it to the poor. Then your treasure will be in heaven.â€ This man’s possessions were blocking him from having an intimate relationship with God.
When Jesus sent out the disciples to preach to the nations, what did he tell them to take? Nothing. They were to live off the hospitality of those they visited. And they were to take no payment for their works.
So if we expect God to grant us riches, or miracles if we ask, how does that affect our faith when we don’t get them. For some people, I know it has crushed them. They expected God to deliver their parent or child or friend from an illness, only to see them die. And it crushes their faith. Because they were taught God would answer their prayers exactly as they asked them to be answered.
What people tend to miss in this passage from Luke about prayer is the end of verse 13. The verse reads, â€œIf you then, who are evil (all of us sinners), 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!â€
â€œHow much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!â€
It doesn’t say â€œgive a car to those who ask him.â€ Or â€œgive a big house to those who ask him!â€
It says â€œgive the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!â€ If we ask God to give us the Holy Spirit, that is to accept God’s grace, to seek God’s guidance and strength, to welcome Christ into our lives,
and submit our lives to God, God will grant it to us.
So then, if we don’t pray for things, how then do we pray? Let’s look at the start of our reading from today, the Lord’s Prayer. We would more readily recognize the version from Matthew 6, which is closer to the prayer we offer each week. But the Luke version does contain the essentials of the prayer.
It begins with word â€œFatherâ€. The prayer opens expressing a desire for an intimate relationship with God, as a child to a parent.
â€œFather, hallowed be your name.â€ Holy is your name, God.
â€œYour kingdom come.â€ God, we yearn to be close to You and Your holy kingdom. We are reaching out to you in prayer, seeking closeness and intimacy in this world that pulls us away from you.
â€œGive us each day our daily bread.â€ God, the basic necessities of life, just as you fed your people manna in the desert, we look to you today for that which will give us life.
â€œAnd forgive us our sins…â€ We daily rebel against you God, falling short of your expectations. We seek your forgiveness.
â€œfor we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.â€ God, help us to overcome our grudges against our neighbours, we know we need to forgive others so we may receive the fullness of your forgiveness.
â€œAnd do not bring us to the time of trial.â€ God, we face strong temptations all the time. We need your help to avoid these situations, and when we do find ourselves in times of trial, we need your strength and protection.
Where is the word ‘I’ in this passage? Where is the word ‘me’? What about ‘want’?
This prayer is a community prayer. We don’t see personal petitions in here do we? Give us… forgive us… bring us… We are praying not just for ourselves, but the whole community. We are asking God for an intimate, holy relationship for the whole community.
We know Jesus prayed often by himself in various places. Some of his prayers are recorded in the Gospels. These prayers are prayers for guidance, and for those Jesus is ministering to.
In the book of Acts, the record of the early days of the church, prayer is mentioned 33 times, in a book 28 chapters long. It was a huge part of their ministry as they prayed for guidance and strength, and also for those they were reaching out to in their preaching.
Prayer is not just asking God for stuff. Our responsibility as Christians is to pray for our communities. Locally, and also globally. To ask God for the Holy Spirit to be known, for guidance and strength in our ministries, and most certainly now, for this church and the search process we eagerly wait to begin.
Friends, we need prayer in our lives, and we most definitely need the Holy Spirit in our lives. When we receive the Holy Spirit, we open ourselves up to an intimate relationship with God, from there we become aware of God in our lives, and the ministries we serve. If we are reaching out for an intimate relationship with God, then we are open to being led by the Holy Spirit to do what God wills us to do.