Sermon on Luke 11:1-13
The 10th Sunday after Pentecost
Sermon by Vicar Phil Moldenhauer
Lord, Teach Us to Pray
1. What to say
2. What to expect
Text: Luke 11:1-13
A few years ago, the Mayo Clinic, the world-renowned hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, did a study on whether prayer was effective. They took 800 heart disease patients and divided them into two groups of 400 each. 400 were prayed for-by five people for six months at least once each day-and the other 400 were not prayed for. At the end of six months, the study concluded that there were no noticeable differences between those who were prayed for and those who weren’t.
Maybe that’s surprising to you. In the second lesson you heard James say, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” So is prayer effective, or isn’t it? Should I pray at all? If I do, will my prayer be answered? Does God even care what I have to say? Does God even care about me at all? What should I pray for? How should I pray? We have all sorts of questions about prayer. So, like the disciples, it’s good for us this morning to say, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and then listen as Jesus teaches us about prayer.
Jesus had a custom of going out by himself to a quiet place where he would pray. When he returned from one of those times, one of his disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just like John the Baptist taught his followers.” A perceptive request! This disciple was no doubt acquainted with all of the ritual prayers of the synagogue. But he noted in Jesus something different–that Jesus wasn’t concerned with outward form and praying where everyone could see him. And who better to ask about prayer than Jesus, both true God who hears our prayers and true man who prayed perfectly to the Father during his time on earth?
Jesus obliges. He says, “When you pray, say this.” The first thing our Lord teaches us about prayer is what we should say when we pray. In fact, he gives us a prayer to use–a prayer far superior to any prayer that we could ever come up with ourselves! By the way, if you glance over verses two, three, and four, you’ll notice that what Jesus teaches here is a lot shorter than the Lord’s Prayer we say every Sunday. No doubt Jesus taught the prayer with slight variations at different times and different places. Maybe that’s a good reminder that we shouldn’t get too hung up ourselves on whether we say the old or the new version of the Lord’s Prayer!
“When you pray, say this.” I think it’s fair to say that all of us struggle with what to say when it’s time to pray. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that most of the time our prayers center around ourselves and our situation in life. We pray that God would help us to get a job or to get a raise so that we can afford that new car or that bigger tv set. We pray that God would make our struggling relationship better. We pray that our kids would behave better. We pray that we could afford to go on vacation. We pray that God would take away our aches and pains, that he would cure our diseases, that he would give us just what we want so that we would be happy.
There’s nothing wrong with those prayers in and of themselves. In fact, our God tells us to cast all of our troubles on him, because he cares for us. But now notice the striking difference between our earthly-centered prayers and the prayer that Jesus teaches us to pray. All of our prayers about food and drink and clothing and friends and family and possessions and money, which probably amount for ninety percent of the prayers we say in a week, Jesus sums up in just one short phrase: Give us this day our daily bread. And it’s bread he asks for! It’s not: Give us this day our daily filet mignon, or give us this day our daily swordfish steak. No, it’s simply bread. Just what we need for our day-to-day life.
All of our earthly needs are taken care of in that one petition. There’s six other petitions in the full Lord’s Prayer. Jesus makes an important point in teaching us what to pray for: first and foremost, pray for spiritual blessings.
What spiritual things does Jesus tell us to pray for? He says that when we pray, we should pray, “Hallowed be your name.” Hallowed probably isn’t a word that you throw around at the dinner table. It means “to regard as holy.” In other words, we’re praying that God’s name alone may be holy. Well, fine, but what does that mean for you and for me? It means this: realizing that God’s name is the most sacred and precious treasure we have. When we realize that, then our attitude to God’s name must be that we keep it holy. How dare we use his name like a curse word! How dare we who are Christians do anything that would cause God’s name to be thought of as less than holy–you’ve heard the scorn in an unbeliever’s voice as he says, “And you call yourself a Christian! How could you fill-in-the-blank!”
Just in this one small petition there’s plenty for us to pray for. But Jesus goes on:“Your kingdom come.” When you hear the word “kingdom,” think of it in this way: God’s gracious rule in the hearts of his people. What we’re praying for is that God would send his Holy Spirit into our hearts to create and strengthen faith in Jesus as our Savior.
How about the last two spiritual requests Jesus mentions? “Forgive us our sins.” It’s pretty clear from the preceding petitions just how much need of forgiveness we have. “And lead us not into temptation.” God doesn’t tempt anyone, but this short little prayer is a shield that you can use when you are being tempted to do something wrong. It is a prayer that says, “God, you have promised to give me strength to resist temptation. Now strengthen me to resist this temptation!”
Jesus teaches us that first and foremost in our prayers should be our spiritual lives, our relationship with him. In fact, that’s exactly what makes this prayer and every prayer special–our relationship to God. Did you notice the one word of Jesus’ prayer that I didn’t mention? Look right at the beginning: “When you pray, say this: Father.”
I’ll bet that often in our prayers we’d rather address God as our divine butler than as our Father. We pray that God would do what we want–like we’re trying to order God around, even if it’s something as mundane and foolish as asking God to make the fish bite or my next drive to land smack dab in the middle of the fairway–because that’s what I want.
But “Father?” Oh, what a word! How can poor and miserable sinners like you and me with all of our self-centered prayers possibly stand before the holy perfection of Almighty God and address him as “Father?” Because “Father” encapsulates our whole relationship with our God. Yes, because Jesus came to earth and lived the perfect life we never could, because Jesus always prayed perfectly, because Jesus always regarded God’s name as holy and asked for his kingdom to come and received his daily bread with thanksgiving, because Jesus went and died on the cross to take away all of our failings, because Jesus rose and again and ascended to heaven and intercedes for us before the throne of God, because of this we can call the holy, perfect, almighty God FATHER!
And that is a great comfort to us, because praying to a loving Father means that we know exactly what to expect when we pray.
Look at verse 11: 11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
You and I understand the relationship of a father to his children. You know that a father always does what is best for his child. But you also know that human fathers sometimes fail to live up to their role. But not God. God is the perfect Father. Unlike our human fathers, God never fails to be a perfect, loving Father to us. He never fails to listen with loving concern to his children’s requests. He never fails to answer our prayers with exactly what is best for us.
What is best for us is exactly what we can expect when we pray! But Jesus is even more specific than that. He says, Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. But God, you ask, I’ve been praying for months that you would do this-or-that for me, and you haven’t. How can you say, “Ask and it will be given to you?” If you want to know what to expect when you pray, then understand this principle: when you pray for something that God has promised, God will answer your prayer. How could he not? He’s promised it!
That’s why people get frustrated and think that God isn’t listening to their prayers. They’ve failed to distinguish between what God has promised and what they want to happen. God hasn’t promised in his Word that 400 patients with heart disease at the Mayo Clinic in the twentieth century would recover. God hasn’t promised that you’ll be able to afford a Mercedes Benz instead of a Toyota. God hasn’t promised that you’ll land your dream job with all the perfect benefits and an old-fashioned pension plan to boot.
But consider what he has promised. He has promised that you will have what you need for this life. So when you pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” you know that your prayer is answered. God will give you what you need. And by the way, it’s alright to pray for those things that you want. Just understand that God might not answer those prayers in the way that you would like him to. Remember that he answers those prayers knowing what is best for you.
The really great things are what God has promised us spiritually. Look at the promise Jesus makes in verse 13: The Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. That’s a promise! A prayer that God would give you the Holy Spirit is nothing other than holding God to his promise. And God will not go back on his word!
So too all of the spiritual blessings we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer are things which God has promised to give us. Praying the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday here, then, is not just time for all of us to say our memory work together. You have full and certain confidence that God will give you everything you ask in the Lord’s Prayer!
And my prayer for you as I leave Palm Coast is nothing other than that God would pour out his Holy Spirit on you in Word and Sacrament here at Christ the King, so that your faith may be strengthened and so that you can reach out to your community with the saving message of the gospel. What’s really great is that I can pray that prayer and expect that God will do just that–he’s promised to.
We have a lot of questions about prayer. But Jesus gives us the answers we need. He teaches us what to say when we pray-that we pray not just about our earthly lives but also about spiritual things. And he also teaches us what to expect–that when we pray for something he has promised, he will always grant our request. And when we pray for something we want, God will answer our prayer with exactly what is best for us.
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