Time after Pentecost #17 (C)
As we have heard: “(Jesus) was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
How many of us know how to pray? How many of us feel comfortable in our prayer life? To Jesus, praying to God was as natural as breathing. But for most people, including probably many of us, prayer is anything but natural. Many of us would like to have a better prayer life, but we don’t know how. We too, like the disciples, need to ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” “Lord, teach us to pray.”
I am sure that the disciples were like most of us. As good Jews, they knew how to pray the formal, ritual prayers of their faith. Most Jews of that day prayed a prayer known as “The Amidah” at least once and often as many as three times a day. Many of them, like us, also knew and prayed a number of the Psalms on a regular basis. Yes, the disciples at least in some sense knew how to pray.
But they didn’t know how to pray like Jesus. It was obvious to his disciples that for Jesus, prayer was much more than just a ritual exercise – it was rather an experience that gave him comfort, power, guidance, and peace. The disciples could see that prayer was an essential part of Jesus’ life with God – and they found themselves more and more wanting to have that kind of a life for themselves as well.
And so they ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” “Teach us how to pray – not just in a formal way, but in a way that will help us to become more like you.”
And in reply Jesus begins by saying, “When you pray, say: “Father…” Jesus wants his disciples to understand that prayer first and foremost is a relationship – an intimate, loving, and caring parent/child relationship. To Jesus, prayer is not a ritual exercise, nor is it like “putting coins into a vending machine” in order to get God to do what we want. Jesus teaches us that prayer is rather a conversation – a relationship - with a God who loves us. A “Father-God” whom we want to talk to because we know how much he loves us. A “Father-God” whom we want to talk to because we love him too.
That is the kind of a life Jesus had with God – a relationship of love and complete trust that his “Father-God” would always take care of him. And that is the kind of relationship that Jesus invites us to have with God – our heavenly Father – as well.
Next, Jesus teaches us to pray “Hallowed be your name.” “Help us to worship you, glorify you, and praise you!” If we really love God as our heavenly Father, we want to do this! We want to tell him how much we love him and appreciate him!
And so the very first request that Jesus teaches us to make to God in his model prayer is that his Name will be held in reverence – will be HOLY – especially by us! As one commentator puts it, Jesus is teaching that it is only when we first give God his place, that all other things will then take their proper place in our lives.
How different that is from how we usually pray! Usually we immediately begin our prayers by making requests for ourselves instead of first giving God our worship and praise. But Jesus teaches that, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name.” “We love you, we worship you, and adore you!” “Help us to keep your name holy in all that we say and do!” “Hallowed be your name.”
The next request in Jesus’ model prayer is “Your kingdom come.” In other words, pray that God’s ruler-ship will extend to every part of the world – and especially that he may rule US in our lives. Pray that every thought, word, and action in our lives may show that God is truly our king and that his will is being done among us and through us.
Again, how different this is from how we usually pray! If we are really honest, we have to admit that in our prayers we are usually asking God that “my kingdom come, and my will be done…” Our prayers are often an effort to twist God’s arm so that he will give us our will instead of surrendering ourselves to God’s will.
But Jesus knows a secret that he shares with us in this prayer request – that true happiness in life happens when we live according to God’s purpose and will. When our lives are truly in tune with his will (his “kingdom”), THAT is when we abide in an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father which gives us joy, happiness, and peace.
And so Jesus teaches us to pray, “Your kingdom come.” “Father, rule in my heart and in my life – rule in the hearts and lives of people everywhere in the world – so that we can all abide in your love and know your peace.” “Your kingdom come!”
The next request in Jesus’ prayer is “Give us each day our daily bread.” The wording in this request sounds rather odd, but it is intentional. “Give us each day (that is, day by day) what we need for the day.” This is a prayer of trust that we do not need to worry about the future. If we truly believe that God is a loving Father who cares for us as his children, we can be confident that he will give us whatever we need “one day at a time.”
An example of this is how God fed the Israelites with MANNA when they were wandering in the wilderness of Sinai. Day by day, there was always enough for the people to gather and eat. But when some of them tried to hoard and store it, it bred worms and became foul (Ex. 16:20). God wanted his people to learn that he would provide for their needs each day, but that they should not try to take too much or worry too much about the future.
And so it is with us. That is why Jesus teaches us to pray “Give us each day our daily bread.” “Give us each day what we need. Help us to be satisfied with what you give. And help us to trust that because you love us, Father, you will always continue to provide for us as your children.” “Give us each day our daily bread.”
The next part of Jesus’ prayer teaching is perhaps the toughest one for many people. He tells us that we should pray, “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” Or as a four year old child supposedly put it, “And forgive us our trash baskets, as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.”
A loving relationship must always be characterized by forgiveness. As human beings, we constantly fall short of being the kind of people we should be. We constantly sin against God by our thoughts, words, and actions – by what we do and by what we fail to do. But because we trust that God is our heavenly Father who loves us, we know that he will always forgive us when we ask him to – and our relationship with him will be restored.
But there is a “catch”, however. If we should then refuse to forgive others who have hurt and sinned against us, we will be shutting ourselves off from God’s forgiveness! If our hearts are filled with bitterness and anger at others, there is no room for God’s love and forgiveness to dwell there. But when we forgive others, what we are doing is to refuse to let bitterness and anger rule us and shape our lives. When we forgive others, we are making a statement that we want to truly be God’s children – that is, to be like God! To be loving towards others in the same way that God as our heavenly Father is towards us. Yes, “forgive us our trash baskets, as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets!”
And finally, the concluding request of Jesus’ model prayer is, “And do not bring us to the time of trial.” That is another way of saying, “keep us safe from whatever would hurt us.” Jesus encourages us to ask God as our heavenly Father to protect us from all harm, both physical and spiritual.
Sometimes it seems that God does not answer this request – at least in the way that we would like him to. Every one of us has experienced times of trial (sometimes great trials!) – be they issues of health and well-being, or in the area of relationships, or finances, the loss of loved ones to death, or just over-all depression and despair.
But yet, even in the midst of our trials, may we always know – as Jesus did – that our “Father-God” still loves and cares for us and is always working for our good. Our Father will take care of us and bring us through even the very worst that this world can throw at us – just like he did for Jesus. Believing this will give us the strength and courage and peace that we need to face each day.
And so Jesus gave his disciples – and us – a model prayer to help us to grow in our life with God. Through this prayer, may we grow each day in knowing that God is our Father who loves us. May we honor and reverence his name, may his kingdom rule in our hearts and lives. May we with total trust know that he will provide us what we need each day. May we confess and receive forgiveness for our sins – and also be willing to forgive those who sin against us, so that hatred and bitterness will not rule in our lives. And may we know that God will always take care of us and bring us through all trials.
“Lord, teach us to pray.” “Jesus, help us to grow in our prayer life so that we can become more like you – so that we may know your love, your trust, your joy, and your peace – now and forever. Lord, teach us to pray. Amen!”
George R. Karres,
Pella Lutheran Church
418 W. Main Street
Sidney, MT 59270