Over the past couple of weeks as we’ve become better acquainted with Martha and Mary, and much more aware of Christ’s call on our lives, His call for us to be totally devoted to Him, with God’s priorities at the forefront of our lives, it’s become clear to us that we need the power of prayer, the confidence of answered prayer, to be those devoted, dedicated followers of Jesus.
Even Jesus’ disciples, who understandably, having been so suddenly called from their previous occupations and pre-occupations, didn’t always comprehend what Jesus was on about, were beginning by now to understand something of the depth and breadth of Jesus’ teaching. As we would expect, at the same time, they became aware that their usual offerings to God and observances of His law were thin and half hearted.
But we who have had so much longer than the original disciples to learn to trust, to dwell deeply in God, still invariably act as if we think we can fob God off with spasmodic attention, and offerings that cost us little.
Like Jabez, whose honest, assertive prayer is recorded in 1 Chronicles 4: 10, we want to learn to ask God confidently, assertively for all that we, and others, need, trusting deeply in God’s mercy and faithfulness. We will not settle for a half- time commitment, for even in our weakest moments we frail humans at least glimpse the grandeur and omnipotence of our Creator.
We, like Jesus’ original disciples want to know how Jesus Himself prayed (more on that, in April), and how He desires us to pray.
That is why, today, as we read through Luke’s Gospel, we want to learn from Jesus himself what he longs for us to pray about, and how we should go about it – in the ultimate model of prayer, known to us as the Lord’s Prayer. So, today, we, like the disciples ask ‘Lord, teach us to pray, and we wait on His answer.
In fact the whole of Luke’s Gospel is written, so that we may know the Truth, and live that Truth. Luke, writing in his prologue, possibly in the late 60s and early 70s of the first millennium, so that any muddliness or confusion that had started spreading about Jesus and the early Christians could be countered and clarified. The good news of Jesus had spread far and wide by this time, and distortions were circulating, so it was important for Luke to clearly present the facts, so that the real truth of Christianity could continue to flourish and change the world.
Jesus’ response to the disciples’ request, Lord, teach us to pray’, that Luke records for us, is no long, complicated lecture about the meaning of prayer. But it does make one stupendous assumption – that asking for things is the way of the kingdom of God. Incredibly, astoundingly, God, the creator of vast, unknown tracts of space and the shaper of leaves and shells, chooses, to listen intentionally to our prayers. It is God’s nature to be delighted that we trust him enough to bring our requests to His throne of grace.
When I was young my dad would sometimes ask me on a Saturday if I wanted to go to the dump with him to offload the garden rubbish. Nearly always I’d say ‘yes’ and we’d enjoy the trip together. But it often surprised me when Dad was so delighted that I’d choose to come with him. Now, all these years later, as a parent I understand that pleasure in my child’s company, and that helps me absorb the very heart of our Father God who cherishes intimacy with us, including knowing all our desires, fears and hopes.
No wonder there are millions around the world, in every nation on earth who know and love this prayer. For this prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples now and then includes everything from the weighty subject of the kingdom of God to our daily bread.
You might prefer the traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer. Who likes to say the older translation at least sometimes?
Ok, here’s the oldest translation I could find – back to about 650 AD, The Northumbrian Lord’s Prayer – will we all say this together – yeah?nah , maybe not!
But some of our Church Family here will have no trouble at all with this rendition – in Korean, or maybe someone can read this in Cantonese?
Closer to home are the words our brothers and sisters in Christ from Samoa, then Tonga pray to Father God.
Our tangata whenua pray like this… E to matou Matua I te rangi, kia tapu tou ingoa,
Kia tae mai tou rangitiritanga….
Now this may look more familiar – although it’s still a long time ago that these particular words were first prayed like this, in 1662 in fact.
Let’s pray in this way together now… Our Father, which art in heaven…
This prayer that Jesus teaches, whatever language you pray it in, embraces everything from the coming of the kingdom to our daily bread. Adoration of God is present at the very beginning, but the core of the prayer is built around three fundamental petitions – things that we ask for ourselves.
The first, in verse 3, is ‘give. “Give us each day our daily bread.” In some ways it seems an incredibly trivial, almost unworthy thing, to ask for. We might feel selfish, and a little embarrassed, praying for such small things. It’s like the old Peanuts cartoon when Charlie Brown is kneeling by his bedside. ‘Dear, God’, he prays, ‘Please bring me a new bike for Christmas.’ Then he pauses… ‘and world peace’ he adds. Then he pauses again. But mainly a new bike.’
When you think about it however, this type of prayer reinforces what we know of Jesus from the Gospels. Jesus was concerned about people’s every day matters. He noticed Zacchaeus’ needing to perch in the tree to get a good look at him. He turned the water into wine at a wedding party to save the hosts embarrassment, no doubt making the guests happy at the same time. (John 2: 1 – 12). He noticed a small boy in the crowd on the hillside at lunchtime when tummies started rumbling, and transformed his lunch into plenty for around ten thousand, counting the women and children, with 12 basketfuls left over.
(John 6: 1 – 13) Jesus noticed and cared for those who others ignored – the poor, the sick, the outcasts. Jesus understands and accepts our prayers for our children to make friends, for our income to cover our expenses, and for peace with our neighbours when they are complaining about our noisy visitors. The God who came to this messy world, in Jesus, born to a young virgin, cares deeply about all the complexities, and the trivialities of our lives.
Jesus teaches us in this prayer, as he also does in the Luke 12, that everything about us matters to him “Five sparrows are sold for just two cents, but God doesn’t forget one of them. Even the hairs on your head are counted. So don’t be afraid! You are worth much more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12: 6-7).
The second petition in this passage is ‘forgive’. ‘Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.’ I love the order of these phrases. They seem to imply that when we’ve asked God to release us from the weight of what we’ve inflicted on others, we then become aware of how much we need to offer ourselves to God.
Maybe you’ve sometimes pondered as you prayed this second section, in verse 4, if it means that God only forgives us if we forgive others – are there strings attached?
I don’t think this means that we have to put pressure on God to forgive us. There’s nothing begrudging about the grace of God. Rather, when we open our hands, and learn to give up our carefully rehearsed resentments, then there’s space to receive forgiveness. As Augustine says, ‘God gives where he finds empty hands.’
God’s forgiveness is complete. But as an old injury can give you pain in the winter for some time after it has healed, we sometimes remember long after we have been forgiven, or have offered forgiveness to someone else. Forgiveness doesn’t mean pretending that what we did was alright. Forgiveness is all about grace, so that what we’ve done no longer poisons the relationship between us and God or us and others. It is the grace of God that makes forgiveness real and lasting. Forgiveness is in the business of restoring relationships, ensuring a healthy future, with a clean start.
Thirdly, and finally, in the last phrase of verse 4, we ask to be delivered from temptation – not to be led into it. When we sing it, in the version we often sing here, the words are ‘do not bring us to the test’, or we say ‘Save us from the time of trial.’ We know those times when we feel like we’re standing on the edge of a cliff, and disaster is imminent. This is a prayer for those times when our lives seem about to be derailed. Save us, God, we pray, from those things that are simply too hard for us to endure.
Being able to pray like this, being told to pray in this way by Jesus, affirms that God is in control. Praying like this, the way God wants us to, is a gracious and powerful reminder that God is deeply concerned for every part of each of our lives. Astounding! How reassuring.
This is not rocket science prayer. This is the heart of God meeting our hearts prayer, the type of prayer that delights God, and a prayer which everyone can pray.
This prayer is summed up in the shortest prayer of all ‘your kingdom come’. In this glorious kingdom, disciples can expect their Heavenly Father to provide daily bread, to forgive us our sins, and give us the strength to forgive others, and to forgive ourselves, and to lead us away from temptation. God loves each one of us so much that He will do anything to hold on to us. God wants us to be reassured of that, in times of ease and times of terror.
‘Give, forgive, deliver’ – three main petitions.
If you’re walking or swimming or driving or running, or cycling later today, or later this week, try praying the Lord’s Prayer as you move. Pray each petition slowly, asking God to guide your prayers, and to give you concrete situations of what you need to ask for, what you need forgiveness for, to whom you need to offer it, and what you need to be delivered from.
God, your Heavenly Father will listen, will answer and will act, in love, towards you.
Let’s prepare for that now, as we pray in silence, listening for the help, the reassurance, the forgiveness and the deliverance that we need, and praising God for these lavish gifts, showered upon us.