Jesus teaches on prayer
A disciple asks Jesus to teach them to pray and he reiterates much of what he said on the Sermon on the Mount.
A disciple asks Jesus to teach them to pray and he reiterates much of what he said on the Sermon on the Mount.
Hello and welcome to Series 8 and Episode 10, in which 'Jesus teaches on prayer.' We're going to be studying Luke 11: 1 - 13.
Introduction and Recap
We've been spending quite a lot of time in Luke's Gospel in this part of our teaching in Series 8, as Luke carries the story forward during the time when Jesus is travelling south from Galilee, going through Samaria and Judea on an extended journey, travelling towards Jerusalem. We paused briefly and looked at a time when Jesus went into the city of Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles as recorded by John in John 7 through to chapter 10 but for the most part we've been following Luke's story as he is taking this journey forward. It really is a major transition in Jesus' life. Having spent so long in Galilee and having a base in Capernaum, where he and many of his disciples lived when they were not travelling around, it was a very different environment to the situation he was in now, where he is travelling in a relatively unfamiliar territory in Samaria in the central part of the country, in Judea in the southern part of the country and then at times across on the eastern side of the River Jordan in the district of Perea.
Jesus was heading south for a particular reason; a new phase of his ministry was starting in which he was preparing for his death and resurrection - his death at the hands of the religious leaders in Jerusalem and indeed the Roman authorities, who carried out the execution. He anticipated all this prophetically; he knew what was going to happen. He warned his disciples that the Son of Man must suffer, die, and be raised again from the dead. This journey has a sombre side to it, a serious side. It's very different; it feels quite insecure for the disciples and Luke provides quite a lot of details. Some of the details we've seen recently include the fact that Jesus sent out a group of 72 to preach in Samaria and Judea. This is described at the beginning of Luke 10, the previous chapter. This is a second group of people who've gone out. The Twelve went out in Galilee but now we have the Twelve plus 60 others and they are going out in Samaria and Judea and performing in 36 teams who preached and proclaimed the Kingdom of God all over the country. It was a considerable activity of mission and proclamation going on. Luke also records some important conversations and some important parables, such as the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which we studied recently.
He records some important personal situations and meetings such as the moving and simple story of Jesus going to the home of the sisters Martha and Mary, which is in the passage just before our passage now, at the end of Luke 10. In that story, which is relevant to what we're going to study in this episode, we see a huge contrast between two sisters who when faced with Jesus and his disciples coming to their home had completely different reactions. Mary was really pleased to seize the opportunity just to sit down at Jesus' feet - to listen to him, to talk to him, talk to the others in the room, to get a feel of what he was doing, what he was saying, what he was teaching and to learn from him; a unique opportunity she'd never had before. Whereas Martha, her older sister, was rushing around in a state of heightened anxiety, thinking about all the issues of hospitality, bedding, food, drink and everything else that needed to be organised. Martha almost rebuked Jesus for allowing her sister just to sit there and talk while she was so busy but Jesus said to her very specifically that Mary had chosen a better way and a better attitude, a better thing to do, which was to give priority to relating to Jesus, listening to him and engaging with him, rather than rushing around in a state of great anxiety. Mary becomes an example of discipleship - a good example of female discipleship incidentally, which I mentioned in the last episode - but an example of discipleship and attention to Jesus, and an appropriate attitude to learn from him, an example that has been taught about throughout Church history as a good example.
Relating to Jesus Through Prayer
We need to keep that in mind when we come to this next episode, which is loosely linked to the example of Mary because the topic here is prayer which of course is how we relate to Jesus primarily in the period of time when he is no longer with us on earth. We relate to him through prayer and through the activity of the Holy Spirit living within us, who connects us to the mind and heart of the Father and the mind and heart of Jesus in the Trinitarian nature of God. We already know that Jesus has taught very specifically on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount and we'll refer to that because there's a similarity between that teaching and the teaching we have here in Luke. By the way, as we often say as we go through the Gospels, if there's similarity in teaching, it usually means that similar things are taught on different occasions, which is a very likely outcome of Jesus' travelling ministry over a number of years. That is exactly what happens here. Things that were taught in the Sermon on the Mount are reiterated in similar form here. Jesus often repeated in various different forms or similar forms, things that he'd taught in other places.
Jesus' Prayer life
We'll keep that in mind but there is something else we need to keep in mind, before we actually get to the passage, and that is that Luke very specifically makes comments about Jesus and his own prayer experience. Although Jesus was the Son of God, it's clear from the Gospels that he prayed to his heavenly Father; he was connected closely with his heavenly Father, and spoke to his heavenly Father in prayer on a regular basis. On one occasion, he says that he couldn't do anything unless he sees the Father doing it. He seeks to obey the initiative of the Father as he carries out his ministry and follow his guidance and listen to his voice. Luke expresses it in a very particular way by describing circumstances in which Jesus makes a very conscious choice to pray. Bear in mind that Jesus is one of the busiest people you'll ever imagine in the whole history of humanity because wherever he went, he was thronged with crowds of people who always wanted to see him, if they could get any access to him.
Let us go through a couple of things that Luke says 5: 16, ‘but Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.’ This is Jesus making time. That's a conscious decision; it's not the sort of thing that happens by accident. Luke 6: 12 ‘One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray and spent the night praying to God.’ Jesus often chose remote places. This mountainside was a remote place. He was just about to make an important decision, which was the choice of the Twelve Apostles amongst his many disciples and he prayed for a whole night before he made that decision. Luke 9: 18,
‘Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”’Luke 9:18, NIV
Notice how this conversation is introduced: he was praying in private and his disciples were with him. The implication here is they're nearby. He is praying on his own, but they are close by. These are three examples of Luke emphasising the priority that Jesus had for personal prayer.
Teach Us to Pray
That is exactly what we find in this passage that we're going to study today. We see it in Luke 11: 1,
‘One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”Luke 11:1, NIV
You can see here that prayer is a definitive activity; it's not something that's sort of going on - you can see that it is happening. Jesus, when he is praying, he's concentrated; he's focusing; he's not talking to other people; and he's probably removed himself at some distance from other people. The disciples were nearby which is why, after he finished, one of his disciples was able to ask him a question about prayer because they could see that he had actually been praying. This is a bit like the incident in Luke 9: 18, Jesus was praying in a certain place. He was on a journey -, part of this long journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. The question of the disciple is interesting, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” John the Baptist used to teach his disciples to pray. We don't know exactly what he taught them and what his methodology was but it was common for Jewish rabbis or teachers to teach their disciples about all different aspects of life, including prayer. This question ‘teach us to pray’ is interesting in that Jesus had already given them some teaching on prayer, and this is recorded in Matthew 6 and 7, in the Sermon on the Mount. It's probably worth recalling quickly one or two of the things that Jesus said on that occasion, because that gives us the context of Jesus coming back to those things. But it's quite interesting that he'd been very specific in Matthew 6: 5 following,
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”Matthew 6:5-6, NIV
That's pretty specific isn't it? When you pray, you need to go into your room, close the door, find privacy, make time to engage in relational prayer, seeking out God as your heavenly Father. That's what Jesus had already taught them some months or years ago in the Sermon on the Mount, which we studied in Series 4. All these things have been carefully looked at already. When they said, ‘Teach us to pray’, what is actually happening here? They've already got some teaching; they've already had teaching on the Lord's prayer, which is going to be reiterated in the passage we're going to read now which comes also in Matthew 6. They've already had teaching about the attitude of prayer, the urgency, and the determination of prayer, which is taught in Matthew 7: 7 to 12. What does the disciple actually mean when he asks the question, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’?
I think what he's saying is that although we've had the teaching; we haven't really put it into practice. Help us, help us to know how to pray. Sometimes we need to be told things more than once. If you've ever had children, you can be sure that that's true in your relationship with your children. If you're a schoolteacher, you'll know that you have to say things many times to help people to understand them. If you have a position of responsibility, trying to shape people's behaviour, you have to keep telling them the same thing time and time again. In a sense, the disciples are asking Jesus to reiterate, to underline, and to confirm things that they have heard in the past. Jesus is very willing to do that, and uses much of the same material that we've seen in Matthew 6 and 7, when he teaches them.
Jesus Teaches Prayer
Let's read verses 2 to 4,
‘He said to them, “When you pray, say, “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come as each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we also forgive everyone who sins against this and lead us not into temptation”.Luke 11:2-4, NIV
This is what we call the Lord's Prayer. This is very similar to the statement of the Lord's Prayer given in Matthew 6: 9 to 13 but this is slightly abbreviated; there's a few phrases missed out but it's exactly the same framework that Jesus gives them. What I'm going to say now is very similar to what I said in the episode in Series 4, in which I covered that material but there's no harm in saying it again because as I said earlier on, quite a few of Jesus' teachings appear more than once in the New Testament, in the Gospels and so, therefore, it is good for us to come back to them.
‘Our Father’ or ‘Father’ - this is really the foundation; it's the relationship with God that forms the basis for a meaningful prayer life. So many people in traditional religious contexts struggle with prayer because they don't have any connection, any real sense of what their relationship with God actually is. Jesus indicates that for his followers, those who have been born again, the Spirit is living within them. They've repented of their sins and believed in the Gospel. Those people are able, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to understand that God is their spiritual Father. He is like a human father, only much greater and much more perfect - more wonderful than any human father could be. He cares for his children. He wants us to have a relationship; he wants us to be able to call out from the bottom of our being, ‘Father!’ or some similar word in our own language, whatever that word is that is both intimate and respectful when speaking of a father.
‘Hallowed be your name’ - let your name be considered holy and respected and honoured. Help me to respect and honour your name. Make people believe, so that they honour your name. This is a prayer for God's glory through our attitude towards him, through other people's response towards him, so that he may be greatly honoured and respected.
The prayer about your kingdom coming is tremendously important. This is both now and in the future. The theme of the Kingdom is very central to the Gospels, as we've said on many occasions. After all, as Jesus sent out the 72, he told them to proclaim to people, that the Kingdom of God was with them, was at hand, and was around at that very time. God is gathering people together into his Kingdom; people who believe are going to be the subject of his Kingdom. Your Kingdom is coming, which means we want your people to be more numerous; we want them to obey your will more fully; we want your authority God to be seen in this through the people of God.
‘Give us each day our daily bread’, a reference to God's concern for our human provision, our practical provision. It's so good to pray, ‘Lord give us enough to eat, enough to live by,’ and for some of us we could take that for granted. For others of us, it's a daily battle to be certain that we've got enough to live on but we can ask him for provision.
We can ask him to forgive our sins and an indication that we're serious about that is that we forgive others - we don't hold any grudges, or bitterness, or unforgiveness against other people. That of course is a huge topic. I am aware of that and we have studied it in some considerable detail a few episodes ago, when we looked at the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18. If the issue of forgiveness is a really big issue for you, can I encourage you to go back and consider that episode because the issue of forgiveness comes up time and time again in the New Testament and in the Gospels. Indeed, Jesus made the point very clearly when he first taught on the Lord's prayer, in Matthew 6: 14 - 15, when he comments on the Lord's prayer. He says
‘For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.’Matthew 6:14-15, NIV
Forgiveness of others is important if we want to have a living, dynamic and open relationship with our heavenly Father.
Finally, ‘Lead us not into temptation.’ Matthew's account of the Lord's Prayer adds on ‘and deliver us from evil’ or ‘from the evil one.’ We need to stay clear of falling into the temptation of sin and falling under the power of the distraction and deception of the enemy. In order to do that, one of the best things we can do is to pray ‘lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil’.
All these points are dealt with thoroughly in the episode in Series 4 in which I cover the Lord's Prayer, where a slightly fuller version is given. I'm summarising them briefly here and it's interesting that when he's asked to teach them to pray, he gives them a form of prayer. This form of prayer turns out to be very important. It's a framework for regular praying, and we'll come back to that point in our final reflections.
Attitude to Prayer
Our attitude in prayer, is what the next section is about as we read from verse 5 - 13,
‘Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. 9“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. 10For 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 a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If 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 11:5-13, NIV
This is very similar to the teaching given in Matthew 7: 7 - 12 on the Sermon on the Mount. A vital key to a fruitful prayer life is persistence and determination. The story of the friend coming at midnight and knocking at the door, demanding help because he urgently needs extra food to give to a traveller who's come to see him - a friend who's dropped in unexpectedly and is staying over. This story is remarkable and I find it a bit shocking to think of the sheer persistence of this man because actually to go to somebody late at night and to knock on their door at midnight is quite bold isn't it? In many cultures people's doors are locked by 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock at night, fast asleep at midnight, and the last thing you want is a knock on the door. I'd be very reluctant to go and knock on any of my neighbours' doors at midnight. What's amazing about this story is not about the first knock; it's about the follow-up. It's about the audacious request, the shameless audacity. Even though he will not get up and give the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shamelessness or audacity, he'll surely get up and give you as much as you need. You simply pressurise the person by knocking, shouting, calling, ‘Please, please help me! I do need your help. I need it now. Please come down from your bed and give me some food to give to those who've come to see me.’ Jesus goes on to emphasise this point with the next statement, ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.’ As we stated when we discussed this in Series 4, these words are strong words. Ask with urgency; he's trying to get something from someone with urgency. Knocking has an implication of insistence and the tense of these verbs is the present imperative, keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. That's the feeling of this particular statement.
The Gift of Holy Spirit
What will God give to those who are persistent? In the parallel statement in Matthew, it says that God will give good gifts but here when Jesus reiterates this statement in a different context, he says God will give the Holy Spirit. What does that mean? The Holy Spirit already lives within the believer, but the Holy Spirit is manifested in us through a number of possibilities: one is power - the energy and power of the Spirit to do a particular task. A second thing is the fruit of the Spirit, as described in Galatians 5: character, mature character, ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness’. A third thing is gifts of the Spirit: the miraculous powers of the Spirit that enable us to see miracles happen. Another thing is the guidance of the Spirit, the voice of the Spirit, saying do this, do that, wait here, keep praying for this, pray for something else. The Holy Spirit will come and guide us as we seek God over a difficult issue which we're praying about. Very often, the voice of the Holy Spirit will speak quietly to us and just give us a perspective on what God is doing, what the timescale is, what an appropriate prayer is, what an act of faith would be in this particular situation. He will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. God isn't here being promised as the person who is able to fulfil all your needs and just tick off your wish list. No, we're praying for Kingdom issues and we're praying for urgent personal needs, those are the two priorities of the Lord's Prayer. ‘Your Kingdom come’, the top priority, and ‘give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins’, personal needs that we have.
As we conclude this talk and think about what we've learnt in this episode, here are a few reflections. Ultimately prayer is relational and it's only the Holy Spirit living within us who is able to reveal to us the full and amazing wonder of the fact that God is our Heavenly Father. He's adopted us into his family, if we are born again of the Holy Spirit, we've found the salvation of Jesus, and we are members of his Kingdom, and members of his Church community. This is not just a traditional prayer that you pray mindlessly through some liturgical framework; this is a prayer that is prayed from the heart and is prayed to God our Father.
My second point is to say, as I said when we dealt with this in Series 4, the Lord's Prayer is an ideal framework for regular prayer. In fact, my testimony would be that for much of my Christian life I've used the Lord's Prayer on a more or less daily basis as a framework for prayer, praying each phrase through in the fuller version based on Matthew's Gospel. I've used that prayer as a framework, and the way I use it is to pray through the phrases slowly; think about each one; expand each one with other supplementary prayers or offers of thanksgiving to God, or whatever's appropriate, confession of sin, application of detail of each point; and go through it step by step. This, I find a wonderful framework for prayer, and I can't think of any reason why we shouldn't regularly use it, given that Jesus is unambiguously clear about it. When his disciples ask him how they should pray he gives them the Lord's Prayer. He's already done it in the Sermon on the Mount - his authoritative teaching about the Christian lifestyle, where he teaches unambiguously about prayer and fasting and giving, and he puts them all together; the Lord's Prayer is right there in the middle of it.
Our attitude to prayer is vital. It's not about traditional prayers, or seeking the approval of others, fulfilling duty, or hoping for the best. It's about a close relationship with our loving heavenly Father, and our desire to obey him and bring in his Kingdom. As we conclude, I want to come back briefly to this shameless audacity, Luke 11: 8, the shameless boldness of the man who keeps knocking on the door and calling out his friend well after midnight, please come and help! That is our attitude to our heavenly Father. You and I have had, and will have in our lives, issues of intense urgency where we desperately need God's help. You may have those issues there before you right now. What I've learnt is that I can come to my heavenly Father with shameless audacity, with utter boldness and ask him, and seek him, and knock on his door. The Holy Spirit will be given to me, who would give me a perspective on the issue, either a quick answer, or an answer in the long term, or a prophetic perspective on what God is doing in that situation. God our Father wants to give us the Holy Spirit to renew and energise our prayer lives on an ongoing basis. I invite you again, to reflect on Jesus' teaching on prayer, just as I did when we were looking at it in the Sermon on the Mount. It's good that Jesus reiterated these teachings again. This underlines the importance. His disciples needed to hear it again because they were still on a journey of learning how to pray, as you and I are also on that similar journey. Let's continue on that journey; let's follow the example of Jesus; let's follow his principles here; and see how he will bless our prayer lives as a result.
The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.
- How can God’s Holy Spirit help us to pray?
- Why do we find so many references and teaching to prayer in the Bible?
- Can you think of a time when you have shown ‘shameless audacity’ in prayer? (boldness and persistence)
- Refresh your memory about what Jesus taught about prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:5 - 15 Series 4 Episode 12 and Matthew 7:7 - 12 Series 4 Episode 17