Sunday Lectionary: Teach Us To Pray

Today I’m going to cheat a bit.

Shocking, I know…

I’m in the middle of writing several other blog entries at the moment, so rather than spending time writing a brand-new entry for this Sunday’s Gospel, I’m going to recycle something I wrote a few years ago.

The Gospel in this Sunday’s Lectionary continues on from last week in Luke’s Gospel:

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him,”Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.”

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,’ and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’ I tell you, if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” – Luke 11:1-13

Below is a reflection I gave on this same passage at a “Cheltenham In Prayer” service back in 2004…


The passage we’ve just heard is not some obscure piece of scripture; it’s quite a well-known passage.  However, its message is one that we need to be reminded of because it’s so encouraging, and you can always go deeper into the truth it holds.

“Now it happened that [Jesus] was in a certain place praying, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said, ‘Lord teach us to pray’”

Have you ever been around someone who prays a lot?  There’s something almost tangible about it.  You can tell, merely from being in that person’s presence, that they have been in the presence of God.

Prayer was a characteristic habit of Jesus – we see throughout scripture that he regularly went off to pray as well as praying at particular events in his life such as his baptism, his arrest and even during his execution.

“one of his disciples said, ‘Lord teach us to pray’”

I often wonder what the prayer-life of that disciple had been like.  When I read this passage, I always imagine the disciple to be having difficulty in prayer, a very dry, desert-like experience.  And that’s why I think the he asks for teaching because he was longing for prayer to be so much more than he was experiencing.  He saw what it meant to Jesus and saw the kind of person Jesus was and he was so attracted by his character that wanted to imitate him.

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘When you pray, this is what to say:  Father, may your name be held holy.”

I have to remind myself of how radical the start of this prayer is.  Traditional Jewish prayers would have begun ‘Lord God of Israel’ of something like that, but Jesus begins it with ‘Father’, ‘Abba’, a very close familial, loving term.  The best equivalent I could come up with was being asked to dinner at Buckingham Palace and calling the Queen “Liz” all night. When we say “Our Father” do we fully understand the closeness of relationship that is on offer?  Also, if God is our Father, we are his children and therefore we are brothers and sisters.  Do we fully understand that when we say “Our Father” we are acknowledging the person that we are sitting next to as our brother or our sister?  This prayer is a prayer said by members of God’s family.

“Father, may your name be held holy”

Even after he has just shown us the closeness of our relationship with God, Jesus is reminding us that he is still God – the one who formed the world, who sustains our life and who reigns in heaven, the one who is always worthy of glory.

“your kingdom come; give us each day our daily bread”

I love how those two statements are side by side.  We are taught to pray for God’s Kingdom, pray for the big things – God’s will to be done and the needs of the world.  But we are also taught to pray for the smaller things.  It is proper to petition the Father for the basic necessities of life – food, clothing, shelter.  There is nothing too small to pray for, which is a good thing because I remember praying very earnestly during my exams at school.

“forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us.”

This is the opportunity for repentance.  An opportunity to receive forgiveness from God and to draw closer to Him.  The statement about forgiving others is about the removal of any block which would hinder God’s Grace.

“ And do not put us to the test.”

Scripture tells us that we will not be tempted any more than we can bear, but we pray for temptation to be avoided.

The parable that follows explains something of the nature of prayer.  It isn’t that God is like the neighbour who doesn’t want to get up to help his friend – it is saying that if a little persistence will get someone out of bed at midnight to help you then how much more will God, who is not reluctant to give, according to His will, respond to prayer.

The passage ends with a really encouraging affirmation.  Each of the things we are told to do is more radical than the last – ask, seek, knock.  Approach prayer with boldness and expectation and in the knowledge that God is longing to give us good things:

“…Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened”


Postscript

At the prayer evenings where I gave this reflection we used to pray the “Our Father” towards the end of each service.  Since this was an ecumenical event we were initially a little worried about this.  Some Christian groups use the more traditional English words such as “art”, “hallowed” and “thy”, but other groups use more modern renderings.  Protestants usually add the doxology (“For thine is the kingdom, …”) but Catholics generally do not.

To avoid upsetting any particular group, Amy and I wrote a new rendering of the “Our Father”, based primarily upon versions I used at my university chaplaincy.  Here it is:


Our Father, Lover of us all, most Holy One,

The wonder of Your presence fills us with awe,

Help us to respond to You,

To live as one Holy Community,

To create the Kingdom you desire for us here on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us,

For the hurts we inflict upon one another, forgive us.

In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.

From trials too great to endure, spare us.

From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For Your ways of love, compassion, power and glory are eternal.  Amen.

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