Sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Larry Maley at Dardenne Presbyterian Church on September 10, 2017
“Lord, Teach Us to Pray”
Scriptures: Luke 11:1-4 and Daniel 9:4-14
Joanne Shelter, a Wycliffe Bible translator serving in the Philippines, noticed that the new Christians in the tribe she was working with not know how pray. So Joanne prayed, “Lord, do whatever it takes to teach these people to pray.” About a month later, she was in a helicopter crash and almost died. That event prompted the people to pray fervently. “Lord, don’t let Joanne die because her Bible translating work is not done,” they pleaded. From then on, the people prayed passionately. Hearing that story, do you dare repeat the words of Jesus’ disciples when they requested, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Such a request may have unforeseen ramifications.
Prayer is far more than repetition of familiar words uttered before a meal, or tagged along a pastoral prayer. Prayer is the acknowledgement that our need for God is not partial – it is total! If we really ask the Lord to teach us to pray, He may place us in situations which are so overwhelming that we recognize our only option is prayer!
Why did the disciples ask the question, “Lord, teach us to pray?” Presumably, they felt their prayers were inadequate. After watching Jesus pray, the disciples realized their need for instruction about prayer. They observed how often the Lord prayed. What does that say about our desperate need for prayer? Further, Jesus modeled a life of total dependence on the Father. Thus, His prayer life and instruction on prayer are foundational to the Christian faith. Another significant factor is the point that prayer can be taught. This gives us hope. If you struggle to pray, as I do, then our Lord’s instruction about prayer provides great encouragement.
Having spent considerable time observing, listening and being trained by Jesus, why didn’t His disciples intuitively know how to prayer? The answer is simple: they were just like you and me. We all are sinners who regularly fall short of God’s standard for our lives (Romans 3:23). We may be able to recite the greatest commandment about “Loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and our neighbor as ourselves” (Lk. 10:27), but none of us are very good at keeping those commandments. If we don’t love God and our neighbor well, there is a correlation to the meagerness of our prayers.
But there is another significant problem we encounter with prayer: we don’t see God face-to-face. Consequently, we perceive a barrier between us and God. Our inability to see God prompts all sorts of questions about prayer:
- We doubt whether our prayers are getting through to God.
- We wonder whether we are praying long enough or with enough fervor.
- We fear our sins erect a barrier preventing our prayers from being heard.
- Everyone here could add their own worries about the efficiency of prayer.
Thankfully, the answer Jesus provides to the disciples’ question gives us assurance that prayer is both a necessity and nutrient to our faith.
When we take time to study what Jesus taught about prayer, we discover that His instruction in Luke 11:2-4 (also Matt. 6:9-13) offers a “model for prayer.” Because it is a model prayer, the Church has labeled it “The Lord’s Prayer.” The slight variation in the wording found between the Gospels of Matthew and Luke show that Jesus did not intend for us to repeat His prayer verbatim. Rather, it as a pattern for our prayers. There is nothing wrong with repeating the Lord’s Prayer in worship or privately. However, we always need to be careful not to fall into empty repetition (Matt. 6:7).
A simple study of Jesus instruction about prayer reveals it is divided into two sections: First, the Father’s purpose that His name be glorified and His Kingdom come. Second, the family’s need for provision, pardon and protection from sin. Those two sections show that our prayers must go beyond personal needs to the needs of others. These same two sections (Father’s purpose and Family needs) coincide with Jesus’ summary of the Hebrew Law to “love God and our neighbor” (Luke 1:27).
- The Father’s Purpose
In order to pray rightly, we must sincerely address God as our “Father.” In the Old Testament, God was known as the father of His people Israel (Ps. 89:26). However, in all the Old Testament, God is referred to as “Father” only seven times, except indirectly. Yet in the Gospels, Jesus refers to God as “Father” more than 70 times. The term “Father” implies the intimacy and love of a personal relationship. The personal terminology is meant to encourage us to draw near to God and expect to receive mercy and compassion.
We cannot ignore that the term “Father” conveys another, equally important meaning. “Father” implies the respect and authority of a submissive relationship. The Jews of Jesus’ day considered God’s holiness inherent to God’s character that out of respect they refused to utter the holiest name of God -“Yahweh”(Exodus 6:2-3). They kept their proper distance in the Temple because if they touched any of the sacred objects they would drop dead (Numbers 18:3). Jesus introduced the radical idea that we should approach God as both a holy and loving father.
The words immediately following “Father” in the Lord’s Prayer, “hallowed be Your name,” describe the God whom we worship. “Hallowed” means to set apart as sacred or holy. We should want God to receive all the honor and glory which God alone deserves. This focus on God’s glory was a constant theme of Jesus’ ministry (John 1:14, 8:50, 11:4, 15:8, 17:4-5, 22).
In our day, it seems the reverse is true. Many American Christians think of God as their “Good Buddy in the Sky.” We don’t worry about His consuming holiness or fear His chastening hand. We’re more like the children who call their permissive fathers by their first names. We have cast aside the holiness of God! So while we draw near to God as His beloved children, we must always come before God with respect and submission to His sovereign authority.
Jesus said that our first focus in prayer should not be our needs. Rather it is the Father’s glory and purpose which directs our prayers. After the introductory salutation “Father,” the first phrase in the Lord’s Prayer expresses the idea that the main purpose of prayer is to have God’s will done on earth, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done” (Matt. 6:10). Prayer is not offered in order to get our will done in Heaven. Every child of God should be eagerly awaiting that glorious day when every enemy of God is put down and righteousness reigns on earth.
But God’s reign also applies to your own heart and life, during the interim before that glorious day occurs. Uttering those words, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done,” is a plea for God’s reign over your life. You cannot pray about even the most basic matters until first having yielded your own stubborn self-will to the rightful reign of the Father. Only after we have submitted ourselves to God’s authority and direction, do we proceed to the second section of the Lord’s Prayer which is about our prayers for one’s personal family, the family of God (the Church), our nation and the world. All of those areas are impacted by the Gospel being spread God’s will and power working in and through us. So whenever we pray, the primary focus should be on our Heavenly Father’s glory and purpose in our lives and in the world. After focusing on those primary areas, Jesus then directs us to focus on our needs.
Let me conclude with this challenge to your prayer life. It involves two basic questions:
- By a show of hands, how many of you have been praying for the Americans who have been victims of Hurricane Harvey and the potential victims of Hurricane Irma?
- By a show of hands, how many of you have been praying for the millions of victims of Hurricane Harvey on the Caribbean Islands, the millions of displaced people in India due to recent monsoons, and the millions being held hostage murdered in the Middle East by radical Islam, many of whom are Christians?
What are we Americans first – and Christians second? If we are praying as Jesus instructed, we will focus on the Father’s purpose: His name be glorified and His Kingdom come in all the earth. Therefore, “Lord, teach us to pray!”