Prayer: life with our loving Father

Barry1

I am delighted to publish the full text of Barry Dennis’s very helpful sermon this morning on prayer, based on Luke 11:1-13

I want to try this morning to ask a question to start with that has often bothered me and to also go on to try and give some tips that I hope might help with our prayer lives because we know prayer can change things.

A difficult question

Our text today is on the surface cosily reassuring. Ask and it will be given. But we cannot skim the surface of this text without considering some of the themes that lurk below the surface and we have to look at our lived experiences where we don’t always get what we pray for.

Sometimes the answer hasn’t been what we were hoping for or maybe we’ve been praying for something for years without seeing an answer but maybe all along the answer has been ‘no’.

And there’s so many in our world that we pray for who lack the basic necessities that others have and it is tough to square God’s will –  in other words, everything happens for a reason – with some of the horrifying stories we observe and experience.

So why do many of our prayers go unanswered? The truth is that there are no easy or simplistic answers and I don’t believe the pat answer that ‘God always answers our prayers only not perhaps in the way that we would want Him to’.

Perhaps to an extent that might be partly true and it certainly fits with our theory that we are nowhere near God’s wisdom or understanding and that He knows best.

So if prayers are unanswered is it then because “everything in life happens for a reason even though we don’t understand it, we see through a mirror darkly?”

Or is it simply like everything on earth, we’re liable to the laws of physics and the natural world with all its earthquakes and storms and of course there are the consequences of human error and we are certainly not immune to that.

Or are prayers unanswered because we’re not persistent enough? A lot of these thoughts and ideas trouble us but thankfully a lot of these ideas don’t  seem to fit with the description of the character of God revealed in scripture. God is love and ultimately God works all things for good for those who love Him.

God is moved by our need

So I think we need to approach this in a different way. The call for us is surely is to be persistent in our prayers. Or is it?

Jesus taught in many different ways, one of them being parables, but his parables were told in a range of different styles. This parable is not about us being persistent like the guy knocking on the door so that God will eventually get fed up of us and grudgingly give in to our requests.

This parable is an example of a ‘Contrast parable.’  If a man has a cold heart towards his friends just because he’s settled in for the night but can be moved by persistence how much more, in ontrast,  will your Father in heaven be moved by your need, by your relationship.

The guy in the  parable is moved by persistence but not so with God. He is moved through love to meet your need because you’re His child. God is a being who is all about love and relationship and engagement. The Holy Spirit is the conduit through which such relationship is made possible; and  not just possible, but more than that, is energised to become a creative force for good in the world through the Creator.  God partners with us in co-creating a world of peace, plenty, justice and love.

I think that is the way we need to approach out thinking about prayer.

Guidelines for praying

So let’s think about our prayers. We’ve seen that it’s not about being persistent.  Forget ‘persistent’ – it’s more about being consistent and it’s not about begging, Jesus says, ‘ask’.

Now many of us would confess that praying can be intimidating and difficult and we’re good at saying ‘I’ll pray for you’ and, though we mean it, then we forget. I know many of you pray faithfully but I want to speak just now to those who struggle with prayer. And I have four tips for you.

Place

Find a quiet place, somewhere private and comfortable where there won’t be distractions. Make sure you switch off phones and TVs or any other distractions. And that there’s nothing bubbling away on the cooker.

Posture

It doesn’t matter whether you sit or stand or kneel or walk about. I like walking about. If I’m too comfortable in a chair I’ll start to drift off!  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus told His disciples who were falling asleep to get up and walk about. And you’re not going to be excommunicated if you don’t close your eyes, clasp your hands and bow your head!

Time

Aim for 10 minutes. More if you can,  but start with 10 minutes. Find a time you can commit to and if you find you’ve aimed for too much, pull back. If you find you’ve been there 20 minutes,  great. Don’t put pressure on yourself. Scripture says ‘Pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Don’t go on a guilt trip but talk to God throughout your day.

Voice

Someone told me this and it was a revelation. Pray out loud, especially when you’re on your own. None of us are as great at praying in our heads as we think we are. It just turns into thinking about praying and before you know it you’re thinking about something else.

Jesus said, ‘When you pray, say…..’  (Luke 11: 2) When your lips and mouths are working you’re more focused; m and with your ears you’re taking in what you’re saying so that it is reinforced. You know the old adage ‘You’ve got one mouth and two ears’. That’s so you can listen. An essential part of praying is listening.  As you begin to align your prayer life to God, and as you learn to listen God will speak to you.

Learning ‘how to pray’

Jesus here in Luke’s gospel is mentoring His disciples on prayer, on how to pray.

Part of us coming to Church is not just to worship together,  to sing,  to pray,  to listen to a sermon. It is all part of our training in the spiritual disciplines so that we can go home or go out into the world and perfect them.

It’s about learning the ‘how tos’. How to live these things out in our lives. Of course a major part of that is how to pray. The disciples had seen Jesus model His relationship with the Father and they ask Him to teach them so that they can pray like He does.

And we notice that He teaches them what we call the Lord’s Prayer. Basically this one in Luke (11:2-4) is the same as the one we are more familiar with in Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 6:9-13). In Matthew, there is different wording. Please note Jesus is teaching a model of prayer not just a mantra.

The counter-cultural focus of the Lord’s Prayer

It’s great we sometimes say the Lord’s Prayer together and there is power in that,  but the prayer is not meant just to be uttered word-for-word but rather to form a framework for our prayers.

There is nothing wrong with us all saying the Lord’s Prayer together but when we go home it is to be more like our model for prayer. And when you think about it this model for prayer is so counter-cultural.

Connectedness

We live in a culture of self and individuality. This prayer starts with us being connected to the Father and therefore to all our brothers and sisters.

Holiness

The world is all about the profane and the secular. This prayer is about focusing on the holiness of God which we allow to re-calibrate our view of the world around us.

Unselfishness

We live in a culture of me, me, me. It’s all about our greeds but we pray for the kingdom to come because we want to be ambassadors for that kingdom for others. ‘We pray for our needs not our greeds’.

Humility and forgiveness

‘And forgive us our sins.’ We live in a world where people are almost proud of their sin and they are always pushing the boundaries almost like a rebellion against God and a religious culture that talks about shame and can make people feel guilty.

But Jesus is giving this way of being honest about our failures and talking about them without having to hide them or suppress them. Jonathan was confessing all of his failures last week. Well I’m probably worse than he is …. well maybe not quite. But God loves us. We bring our failures to the God we call Father. We are an imperfect people and forgiveness is an essential component of relationship, between us and the God and between each other and we are to breathe that into our prayer lives every day so that forgiveness becomes part of who we are.   

Wisdom

Our culture embraces and flirts with temptation. Every advert pushes it at us. It’s delicious, you really need it, you really want it, it’s so tempting, you can’t escape, it will improve your life, come closer. But we are told to have the wisdom to go in the other direction, to move ourselves away from it.

We pray as daughters and sons coming to a loving Father

The Jesus expands His teaching on prayer with a parable.

Knock, knock on the door.

‘Go away we’re in bed.’

The man won’t get up because you’re a neighbour or friend but eventually gets up because of your audacity.

Knock, knock.

‘All right I’m coming’.

He tells you to get lost,  but answers if you are stubborn enough.

Now remember this is a contrast parable. God is not like this man. You do not have to plague him before he’ll grudgingly give in. Jesus is saying, ‘Think about someone who is not committed to you but still responds if you are persistent and then think about how much more your Father will respond to His children whom He loves.’

We pray for today’s needs

And it’s interesting that we are to pray this day for our daily bread. We don’t pray tonight for tomorrow’s bread. We pray tomorrow for tomorrow’s bread.

We don’t pray today for that test or interview or whatever that’s coming up on Friday. We pray for it on Friday. We pray today for our studies and preparation and on Friday we pray for the test.

We don’t pray far into the future, we pray for this 24-hour period.

Obviously that is a principle that and will not apply to absolutely everything but by and large we pray ‘Lord supply our needs this day’. ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’

We pray that others may be blessed through us

Now this guy in our story isn’t actually wanting the bread for himself but for someone else. You see we are to pray for our bread, for our needs, so that we can be a blessing to others.

The things we ask for are not just for self but to equip us to bless and serve others. We are to share our bread. ‘Lord pour out your love on me so that I can pour out that love on others.’ We’re not just praying, ‘God, go and feed the poor.’ God is asking us, ‘Can you partner with me so that together we can feed my friends.’

How great the Father’s love

In verse 9 onwards Jesus says:

‘So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 ‘Which of you fathers, if your son asks for[f] a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ (Luke 11:9-13)

How much more is our Father’s love than our love. God’s love is so, so much more. Our love is like a dirty rag compared to God’s love. It’s all part of the wonderful contrast in the parable.

A Father’s gift

And what gift is God giving to us in answer to our prayers? He gives the Holy Spirit  to those who ask Him. A wonderful gift, an amazing gift. And notice how in verse 11, it’s not a friend who is asking now as in the parable it is a son. ‘If your son asks.’

It is part of our daily needs, for the spirit to replenish us daily that we might live for God. This is where Jesus is leading us the whole time. Our daily bread is the Spirit of God, it is more of God’s presence, it is more of Jesus. To those of us who often struggle this is good news, Jesus calls himself is the bread of heaven.  (John 6:35, 51)

Praying the Lord’s Prayer

So sometimes if you’re not sure what to pray,  let Jesus guide you with his model of prayer otherwise you’ll probably find yourself filling in  with your own thoughts. Let the Lord’s Prayer be your guide and remember it’s not a mantra but a model and I think if you do that you’ll find yourself being led into  much bigger conversation.

Our

Can I perhaps give you a little example of what I mean by using the Lord’s prayer as a model? We break it down into words or phrases. We start with the ‘Our Father.’ The first word is ‘Our’ and it reminds me that I’m part of something much larger and I begin to pray for my own family and my spiritual family.  For example: ‘Thank you Lord that you’re my Father and thank you that I’m part of an our. That I belong to this family, this community here. You have given me friends and brothers and sisters that care for me and accept me for who I am. Lord it’s amazing to me that I can go to any country in the world and I’ve got brothers and sisters there as well – you’ve made us part of a global family.

But I want to pray for this church that you would bind us together and bless our minister and leaders. Help them each day to follow you and to know you better. Grant us clarity and wisdom to know what it is you’re calling us to. Equip us all to be the best people that we can be.

I wonder if you can commit to this kind of praying each day for even 10 minutes? 

Ask, seek, knock

Prayer does change things but ultimately it will change you. We’re trying to align ourselves with God. Be consistent, seek: you don’t just wait for something to come to you. You go out to seek it. Ask, don’t beg, God loves you and hears you just fine.

Knock. I believe in knocking on every door in front of me and then seeing which one God opens. Sometimes God opens all several doors and then I’m in a pickle but I think God is saying ‘I don’t mind which door you go through. You choose.’

The encouragement here this morning is to start talking to God, start pulling down the walls we have built, the barriers. Start aligning ourselves with God, opening ourselves up to new and wonderful possibilities. We find that it’s no longer our desires we’re praying for but God’s desires. Prayer is one of the most important spiritual disciplines and is a great antidote to worry or fear.

When we worry or fear it means that we are in control and we’re told that worry is a sin. When we pray we leave these things at God’s feet. We give over control to God. We don’t pray and then pick them all back up again and repack them in our backpacks of woes and troubles.

God is not going to give you a stone or a serpent or a scorpion. God gives good things to those He loves. Ask and you will receive.

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