A Model for Prayer
Quarter: Acts of Worship
Unit 2: Learning to Pray
Sunday school lesson for the week of Jan. 4, 2015
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Scripture: Luke 11: 1-13
Happy New Year! How many times have you heard or said those words recently? The unit we begin today offers a marvelous way to fulfill what should be one of your New Year’s resolutions: a closer walk with God.
Praying was something Jesus did often. The disciples saw him taking time from his teaching and healing to go off to pray. Impressed, they asked him: “Teach us to pray.” He responded with the model prayer – the Lord’s Prayer. Luke’s version is shorter and a little different from the more familiar one in Matthew.
There are several characteristics about Luke’s gospel that are significant. He has more references to the Holy Spirit, women are far more visible and important, the people on the margins of society are prominent, and he has more to say about prayer than the other gospels.
The model prayer begins simply with “Father.” The word used is “Abba,” the affectionate, intimate word expressed in the family for a revered parent – almost like “Daddy” or “Papa.” Lest we become too intimate, Jesus immediately reminds us we are talking to GOD! God’s name is holy, and we must honor and praise God.
The first petition focuses on the rule or reign of God. Jesus teaches that the kingdom is “already-but-not-yet.” The kingdom began with his birth, but the fulfillment is yet to be. For that reason we are living in this in-between time. We like what Janice Catron says in the Lesson Annual: when we pray this petition, pray “your kingdom come – and let it begin with me!”
Praying for the kingdom to come recognizes God’s sovereignty, orients our lives toward God’s eternal plan, and shows us possibilities beyond what we think possible. Matthew follows the petition with “thy will be done on earth as it is heaven.” Living and doing God’s will is how we turn the prayer into action. The most powerful witness to the glory of God is the faithful life and true witness of a disciple.
Our next petition to a loving Father shows the Father’s concern for the physical needs of his children. As created creatures, we have physical needs that must be met daily. Like the manna in the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites, God provides not our wants, but our needs!
Starting with this petition, Luke uses first-person plural pronouns. The model prayer is for the community of believers rather than for individuals alone. Using the prayer in Sunday worship is not an automatic, ritualistic, rote habit, but at the heart of how we are to live together.
How critical then is the next petition dealing with our need to be forgiven, and to forgive! We cannot come fully into God’s holy presence until we confess sin. Confession opens the door for the holy God to accept us with “clean hands and a pure heart.” (Psalm 1) How freeing it is to have the slate wiped clean and begin again!
Immediately, the prayer brings us back to the reality of living in community. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. When we refuse to forgive, we have fallen back into sin that cuts us off from fellowship with the Father, and once again we are in a state of separation from the One who is Source and Sustainer of our life. How can we ask God to do for us what we are not willing to do ourselves for others? Moreover, the community cannot be in “unity” when there is fragmentation and brokenness. This is true in the family, the church, the community, and the world. Yes, “let it begin with me!”
Jesus’ final petition is ambivalent. Most scholars believe Luke’s version is closer to what Jesus actually said about the time of trial or testing. The more familiar version in Matthew has misled some to believe God is the cause of temptation, or believers can achieve temptation-free lives. Of course, neither is true. Still, we are not certain what Jesus had in mind – the daily temptations we all face or the great time of testing at the end of the age. Some have suggested he meant both. Regardless, God is the One to whom we turn for protection and strength.
Following the prayer, Jesus tells one of his stories. The parable is self-explanatory, and the picture is clear. The reason given for responding to the friend’s request is simply persistence. “Keeping on keeping on!” Jesus tells us God will not be bothered by our consistent, persistent practice of prayer. In fact, God wants us to enter into this dialogue with boldness, or as the CEB translation has it, “brashness.”
There are many biblical examples where prayer is used to remind God of who God is, the promises made, and God’s nature of mercy and compassion. Think about these: Abraham praying for Sodom (Gen. 18); Moses for the Israelites (Exodus 32); Jeremiah’s hurt and complaints to God; and Habakkuk (Ch. 1). Even Jesus in the Garden has the hope of another way besides the cross. With God, there is no subject that is out of bounds!
The Father to whom we offer our prayers is wiser, more loving, and understands better than we earthly parents what His children really need. So when we ask, seek, and knock with confidence we are not bothering God or interrupting something important God is doing!
If these words sound familiar, they should be. Matthew records them in “The Sermon on the Mount.” (Chaps. 5-7) Each of the injunctions is significant. Sometimes, we know exactly what to pray, so just ask. Other times we are bewildered, and, as Paul admits in Romans 8, we don’t know how to pray, so we seek, trusting in the Holy Spirit to intercede for us. And there are those urgent times when we are desperate and need God ASAP. Then we can knock on the door without hesitation.
Regardless of the circumstances, we are reassured by Jesus himself we can come to God anytime, anywhere, and we are coming, not as strangers but, as children to their father. When we are praying, Abba knows us so well the Father will finish our sentences for us! Glory! Hallelujah! Amen!