A sermon by Randy Hyde, Pastor, Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ar.
July 28, 2013
Psalm 85:1-13; Luke 11:1-13
We don’t know the professions of all of Jesus’ disciples. The most notable, of course, were fishermen. That’s what Simon and Andrew, James and John were doing – fishing – when Jesus called to them and said, “Follow me.” Matthew, we are aware, was a tax collector. The rest? Well, we’re really not sure. Another disciple named Simon, we know, was a zealot, but that was less a profession than a radical political allegiance. We can probably be safe in assuming this… they were not necessarily praying men. Not all of them, anyway.
Oh, there’s evidence that they went to synagogue on the Sabbath. It was hard in that day not to do that. If you didn’t at least give some nod to the overriding religious faith of that place and time, you were branded by the religious authorities as unworthy. Chances are, especially for the fishermen in Jesus’ disciple group, their neighbors wouldn’t buy fish from them if they didn’t also see them at the synagogue on Shabbat.
But they had other things to do. Fishing, collecting taxes, whatever, took time and effort and it left little opportunity to do such things as pray. Leave the praying to the priests and rabbis, to the Pharisees and scribes… you know, the keepers of the kingdom. They, the men who would become disciples of Jesus the Nazarene, had other things to do.
But then, Jesus did come along and call on them to leave their fishing nets and tax collecting tables and whatever else to follow him. Immediately, he began to model for them a life of faith that was different from all the rest… a life and perspective that was refreshing and meaningful, and eternal.
And nobody – nobody – was busier than Jesus. Why, every day was filled with healing the sick and restoring sight to the blind. We know of at least two occasions when he fed the multitudes, but it’s quite possible that these were simply examples of events that occurred fairly often. Everywhere he went people followed after Jesus, and he accommodated them by weaving his fascinating stories and telling them of how it is in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus was the busiest person they had ever seen.
And he took time to pray… often. Luke, from whom we read a few moments ago, tells us that he “would withdraw to deserted places to pray” (5:16). He recounts how Jesus would go “out to the mountains to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God” (6:12 and 9:18). Before he did anything, especially of significance, Jesus stopped to pray. Why? His life was not his own. It was guided and directed, inspired and encouraged, by his heavenly Father. There were many a time when they, he and his Father, simply needed to talk, to be together.
The chances are pretty good that the disciples knew how to swear, but evidently, when it came to prayer, they were fairly incompetent. Or maybe Jesus prayed so much and so effectively that their efforts seemed so puny in comparison. Whatever the motivation may have been, after one of his prayer sessions with his heavenly Father, Jesus’ disciples approached him and said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray…”
Luke adds another detail. They said, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” That adds another level to this passage, doesn’t it? It lets us know that perhaps Jesus’ disciples were more devout than we might have thought. At least they were interested enough in things religious that somewhere along the line John the Baptist had gotten their attention.
Or maybe, because they were Galileans – and there is evidence for this – they were just naturally suspicious of the established religion that came out of Jerusalem. So when anyone, like the Baptist or the Nazarene, came along and revealed a new way of expressing one’s faith, especially if it ran counter to the norm, they were quick to follow along.
When Jesus came on the scene and was baptized by John, it did not mean that the Baptist immediately stopped what he was doing and quit conducting his ministry. He too had his own disciples, and they continued to proclaim the message of repentance. That gave Jesus’ followers, probably even before Jesus called on them to follow him, the opportunity to observe how John related to his disciples. They might have even attended a couple of John’s seminars down by the river. They watched and listened as John taught his disciples to pray.
Then, after following Jesus, and observing his prayer life, they looked in the mirror and realized how lacking their own prayers were. “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
Jesus didn’t tell them when to pray, or where. He told them how and what to pray, the prayer we have come to call the Lord’s Prayer or Model Prayer, the prayer we offer each week in worship. By telling them this, I do not believe Jesus is saying this is the only prayer they ought to voice to God, but that it is a framework of prayer that covers all the things that God is concerned about.
God wants us to value him. God wants his kingdom to be evident here on earth. God wants his human creation to be cared for, to have enough to eat. God wants to forgive us so our will is more in line with his will. That is impossible to do if we are not willing to forgive others, so we need to pray about that. There are trials out there just lying in wait to snare us. We need to pray to be saved from that.
It is indeed a model by which we can know, that if we pray along these lines, our thoughts will make their way to the kingdom and will indeed be heard.
Having said that, however, it has come to me that perhaps it matters less how we pray than that we pray.
I remind you of a conversation I had a few years ago with a woman across the street in our Fields Centre. Most of you know that we use the Fields Centre for ministering to folk who are here from out of town and are in need of a place to stay while they or their loved one is receiving treatment for physical difficulties. Her infant grandson was critically ill and being treated at Children’s Hospital. She told me her daughter’s Bible study class down in Gulfport, Mississippi was praying for all of them. The situation was not looking good for her grandson, and she told me she wondered if they needed to redirect the way they were praying; that perhaps instead of asking for healing they should start asking for acceptance of the inevitable. She told me she thought of this because one of the ladies in that Mississippi Bible class had said, “Maybe we’ve been praying for the wrong thing.”
When she said this, I was struck by the thought of it, and this is how I responded. I don’t know if you would agree with me or not, and quite frankly, I doubt that it really matters. I said to her, “I’m not sure there is such a thing as praying for the wrong thing. I think that God is probably grateful for any prayer we’re willing to offer. Just give it all to God, right or wrong. God knows what to do with it, and will respond with the kind of grace that only God can give.”
Do you ever wonder, as evidently Jesus’ disciples did, that you are saying the right kind of prayer? That when you pray for your loved one to be made well, or for your marriage to find reconciliation, or for a job opportunity to open up, or anything else that fits within the realm of your current need, that it’s all right to ask God about it? What if that’s not the kind of prayer God wants to hear? Do you ever wonder – or even worry – about that?
When Janet’s late Aunt Marguerite was a child, she contracted rheumatic fever and almost died. Janet’s grandmother – we knew her as Bandy – was a deeply faithful woman. She prayed and prayed that her daughter would survive, and she did. But the illness affected her mind, and Marguerite dealt with mental difficulties all her life. Those difficulties were often visited upon the family, so it was a struggle for them. One day Bandy was talking with Janet about Marguerite and said to her, “I realize now how selfish that prayer was. I should not have prayed for her to live but for God’s will to be done.”
People think about how and what they should pray for, especially when life becomes difficult. Do you? Do you find yourself asking the same question the disciples of Jesus’ put to their Master and Teacher? “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
You know what, I don’t think they’re so much asking Jesus to provide them with a technique that will work, or even an outline on which they can hang their thoughts… though that is what Jesus seems to have given them. I think they’ve seen in him a posture of prayer, an attitude, a way of going about it, that they have never before witnessed in anyone else, and they are so taken by it – by him – that they want to model their prayer life after his.
They knew what prayer was, at least as much as you and I know. It was a vital part of the fabric of their life and culture, as it is ours. They may not have been the most learned people around, but they had gone to synagogue before. They were devout Jews, at least in their own way. They were rough around the edges, maybe, but they knew their way around prayer. It’s not as if it was totally foreign to them, any more than it is to you and me.
But let me ask you this… If you were in the physical presence of Jesus this morning – this very moment – and it came time to pray, wouldn’t you be inclined to ask him to teach you how to do it?
Saying a prayer is one thing. Doing a prayer is another. Which is not easy when you consider that, according to the way Jesus frames his response to his disciples, we are praying to a God who doesn’t necessarily respond the way we want him to respond, nor does God seem to want to do it very quickly. The answer to prayer comes on God’s terms and God’s timing, and according to Jesus, God’s terms and timing are not always our own.
Evidently, that is why Jesus follows his model prayer with a story and some further explanation. First the story…
A certain man has unexpected company and he finds himself out of bread. So he goes to his neighbor in the middle of the night, knocks on the door, and asks his neighbor to help him out. The neighbor doesn’t want to do it because getting everybody down to bed in those days was not an easy chore. He doesn’t want his entire household to be disrupted by it. But the man keeps knocking and knocking until his neighbor has no choice but to get up and do what his friend asks him. He says that God is like that, that if we will keep on praying, God will eventually answer.
Not exactly the most welcoming and gracious concept of God, is it? It makes it appear that God responds to our prayers only when we pester him to do it. But let’s listen to what he says next…
Jesus provides further counsel to his disciples. When it comes to prayer, never give up. Never, ever give up. Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door of the kingdom will be opened to you. How do we do that?
I don’t know if we can say it any better than this… pray for what Jesus prayed for, try to live the way Jesus lived, continue to put one foot in front of the other in this journey we call life, and ask God to go with you. I don’t think you can do that without prayer, do you?
Lord, teach us to pray, not just what to pray for, but for the faithfulness to do it over and over again until our minds and hearts are one with yours. We ask this in the name of the one who teaches us to do this, Amen.