“Who Taught You to Pray?”
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning, Pastor
Calvary Baptist Church
February 16, 2020
This morning, let’s turn our attention toward prayer, the importance and role of prayer in the spiritual health of every believer. If I were to draft a list of disciplines that would strengthen our faith and help us to reflect the heart and nature of God in all we say and do, praying would be on that list.
It very well could be at the top. I would be hard pressed to think of anything more important to our spiritual formation than a devout prayer life.
I have chosen as our guide what is commonly referred to as The Lord’s Prayer. There are two places you will find the Lord’s Prayer in the New Testament, Matthew 6:9-13 and today’s text.
There are noticeable differences in the two accounts. Matthew’s version is longer and more formal. Luke abbreviates the Lord’s Prayer and makes it more personal.
Matthew included it as a part of the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus taught on a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Luke has Jesus responding to a request by his disciples when they asked him to teach them to pray.
Luke attached two parables to the Lord’s Prayer, both intended to reveal the character and nature of God. If a man would grudgingly disrupt his family’s sleep in the middle of the night to help a neighbor, how much more would a loving and generous God respond to our pleas for help at any time of the day or night? If an earthly father who is capable of making mistakes would never intentionally deceive or harm his son, how much more can we trust our wise and caring heavenly Father to do what is best for us?
There is another contrast between Luke and Matthew concerning Jesus’ prayer life. Luke frequently mentions Jesus praying, in contrast to Matthew who doesn’t mention Jesus praying until the fourteenth chapter.
Luke has Jesus praying after he was baptized, prior to calling his disciples, on the Mount of Transfiguration, before talking to his disciples about his impending death and while he was on the cross. Obviously, Luke wanted his readers to know how important prayer was to Jesus and should be to them.
It is apparent Luke believed no decision should be made without asking for guidance, and none of life’s provisions should be received without saying thanks. According to Luke, devotion to God and dependence upon God required fervent and faithful praying.
The most intriguing and contrasting part of our text for me is found in the request the disciples made of Jesus after observing him praying. “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)
Didn’t the disciples know how to pray? Of course they did.
What they didn’t know was how to pray like Jesus did. There was an element of wonder and awe that overcame the disciples as they watched Jesus pray.
I am confident they had never witnessed anyone praying like Jesus. There was something about the way Jesus prayed on that occasion, and perhaps many others, that contributed to the timing of this request and the longing to know more.
“Lord, teach us to pray,” the disciples said to Jesus.
If someone asked you to teach them to pray, what would you say? I pondered this question for some time last week and came to the conclusion I would frame the answer around three questions: Why do we pray? When should we pray? How do we pray?
Why do we pray? I think there is a difference between the reasons we pray and the purpose of prayer. While there are many reasons to pray, there is only one purpose.
We pray because we are confused and need clarity, we have decisions to make and need guidance, we are sick and need healing, we are grieving and need comforting, we are frightened and need courage, we are discouraged and need encouraging, we are weary and need strength, we are stressed and need peace, we are sinners and need forgiveness, we are blessed and need to offer gratitude, we are concerned about family members and friends and want God to help them and we are disturbed about the level of greed, corruption, injustice and violence in our world and need wisdom and power to be an agent of change.
Of course, there are other reasons for praying that are valid and legitimate. When we put names and faces to our petitions, they become more numerous and specific.
Prayer, however, has only one purpose, and this is to develop and maintain a close relationship with God. Strengthening this relationship of trust based upon unconditional love exceeds any request. This is why prayer naturally flows out of a heart that yearns for God.
When should we pray? This depends on how close you want to be to God.
The more you pray, the deeper your relationship with God will grow. This is why I urge you to carry on a conversation with God throughout your day and to allow the Holy Spirit to be your constant companion.
You don’t have to be in a church to pray or alone in a secluded place, as Jesus often was. You can pray in the marketplace or during a meeting. You can pray in the school building or on the ballfield. You can even pray on the golf course or in Rupp Arena, which I have done on many occasions.
There is never a time when it is wrong to voice a silent prayer. There is no place where it is inappropriate to include God in your thoughts and ask for God’s leadership. There is no reason to face any of life’s challenges without guidance from above.
The more you converse with God throughout the course of a day the closer you will be drawn to God, as Jesus was. Your heart will overflow with gratitude and praise for God’s goodness and faithfulness.
Having said this, how should we pray? I’ll share what has been helpful in my own prayer life.
Talk to God the same way you talk to the person you love and trust the most. Perhaps the most radical thing Jesus included in this memorable prayer was the way he taught his disciples to address God as Father.
This is the word a child would use when speaking to a parent. It paints a picture of an intimate relationship based upon mutual love, trust, respect and appreciation. It describes prayer as a conversation with God about this journey we are on and opens the door for a meaningful partnership.
I’m not sure we understand how radical this concept of God and prayer are. For the most part, ancient Hebrews had not been taught God was this approachable. Even the Temple was designed to keep people at their proper distance from God with strict boundaries for Gentiles, women and priests, with no place for the sickest among them.
According to Jesus, though, anyone could talk to God at any time or place, regardless of their status in life. It made no difference if they were female or male, rich or poor, sick or well, educated or uneducated, Jew or Gentile, a part of the ruling class or a commoner, citizen or alien; all had equal access to God.
No wonder the common people embraced the prayer in our text and some religious leaders mocked it. It opened the door for those who felt they had been forgotten to sit in God’s lap like a child would a loving mother or father, and it stripped those who claimed religious superiority of their arrogance and control over the masses.
What would I tell someone about how to pray? I would start where Jesus did. Talk to God like a child sitting in a parent’s lap.
Approach God the same way you do the person you admire the most. Intimacy does not undermine majesty or respect. To refer to God as Father doesn’t make God any less God. Certainly, God is greater than we are in every way, but this doesn’t make God unapproachable or inaccessible.
God is eager for us to know him and to join us on our pilgrimage. God wants to be involved in our daily lives to help us achieve our noblest dreams, which should make us even more grateful, humble and respectful.
Be candid and tell God how you feel and what you need the same way you talk to your doctor, counselor or best friend. Be transparent. Be honest. Be specific, whether you are talking about the necessities of life, your feelings, your relationships, your health, your struggles, your failures, your fears, your urges, your fantasies, your anger, your frustrations, your disappointments, your hopes, your dreams or your mortality.
Do not hold anything back. Put it all on the table.
Nothing you tell God will make him love you more or less. Neither will it surprise him.
God’s love is unconditional and eternal. God’s passion is to help you to become the best person you can be at all times, in all places, under all circumstances.
This process begins with prayer as you share your inner most thoughts and seek God’s counsel. I am convinced Jesus would tell us this based upon his experiences.
I have often wondered how prayer impacted Jesus’ life. What difference did it make in the choices he made and the way he conducted his ministry? I think it made a big difference.
I believe praying made it possible for Jesus to keep his eyes on God when others drifted, to resist temptation when others caved in, to accept stiff challenges when others turned them down, to take risks when others backed away, to be strong when others grew weak, to be of service when others demanded to be served, to make sacrifices when others refused to do their part, to be generous when others became stingy, to be truthful when others chose to be deceptive, to build bridges to people when others erected walls between them, to remain humble when others boasted, to expose evil when others ignored it, to right wrong when others accepted it, to seek reconciliation when others held grudges, to forgive when others became vindictive, to give people another chance when others condemned them, to console the grieving when others forgot them, to heal wounds that others inflicted, to respond to pleas for help that others tried to silence, to feed the hungry when others let them starve, to persevere when others quit and to build God’s kingdom on earth when others built their own.
In other words, prayer brought the best out in Jesus and enabled him to reflect the heart and nature of God at all times, in all places, under all circumstances.
I wonder if our prayers can do the same for us.
There is one way to find out.