Monday, September 20, 2010

Teach Us To Pray

Monday after Pentecost 17
September 20, 2010

The Lord be with you

Martin Luther is quoted as saying, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” I would have to say that my experience agrees with this observation. Every single Christian I’ve ever met from every denomination, non-denomination, independent, or whatever stripe they might wear, “believes in prayer.” Not only that, but they actually pray (some more than others, of course).

You don’t have to be a Christian to believe in prayer. Moslems, Jews, Hindus, New Age adherents, and so on, all incorporate prayer to their chosen deities as an important factor in their faith.

The Bible bears out the importance of prayer. In Genesis 4:26 we read “At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.” This is a reference to corporate worship, but it is also a reference to prayer, which is part of corporate worship. We see the same in Genesis 12:8, 13:4, etc. Calling on the Lord as reflecting personal prayer can be found in places like Judges 15:18, 28; 2 Kings 20:11, etc. This doesn’t even touch the book of Psalms or the New Testament.

With this natural inclination to prayer, it comes as something of a surprise when the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). This is even more surprising as the Jews knew scads of prayers. They have a prayer for everything, and they memorize those prayers. This point was humorously made in “Fiddler on the Roof.” There is a scene where someone asks the rabbi, “Is there a prayer for the Czar?” The rabbi, after only a moments pause, says, “May the Lord bless and keep … the Czar far from us.”

What, then, motivated the disciples who knew how to pray and had been praying since they were small children? Part of that motivation was surely their observation of just how important prayer was in the life of Jesus (Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:35; 6:49; Luke 5:16; etc.). It seems Jesus was forever slipping away to pray.

It might also have been motivated by the difference between Jesus’ prayers and the prayers they had said and heard so many times before meals, in the temple, and so on. While formal memorized prayers are great, they can also slip into mindless repetition. While Jesus, no doubt, used the formal memorized prayers, he never prayed them mindlessly. Of course the disciples also heard Jesus pray prayers that were not written out ahead of time. He prayed extemporaneously. But whether he was praying extemporaneously or a memorized prayer, Jesus was always praying from his heart.

The disciples request might also have been motivated by the connection they saw between Jesus’ prayers and his actions. Before he fed the 5,000 he prayed (Luke 9:16). Before he selected his disciples Jesus prayed (Luke 6:12). On the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus was praying (Luke 9:28). Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead he prayed (John 11:41-42). Before instituting the Lord’s Supper Jesus prayed (Matthew 26:26). In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed (Matthews 26:36). Even from the cross Jesus prayed (Luke 23:34, 46). Other examples could easily be cited.

From a Christian point-of-view it is also wonderful to notice that this prayer life of Jesus did not cease with his ascension. His prayers continue, and they continue in the same vein as when he walked among us 2000 years ago. His prayers are kingdom prayers for us. In Luke 22:31-32 Jesus says, “31Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Jesus prays for Peter that he may be restored and strengthen the Church. In his High Priestly Prayer (John 17) Jesus prays “I am praying for them” (i.e. his Church). He prays that we are kept safe from the “evil one,” that we might be sanctified by his word, and so on. Just so we don’t think that Jesus is praying only for those sitting at table with him, Jesus specifically prays, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

That our Lord’s prayers continue in the same vein as when he was walking with the disciples is revealed in Hebrews and Romans. “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Notice that Scripture says Jesus is interceding for us. “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). Paul agrees, Jesus is interceding for us. These prayers for us are kingdom prayers.

Satan seeks to turn us from the Father. Christ seeks to turn us to the Father. For both it is not only us, but all humanity.

So the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and the Lord responded with the Lord’s Prayer. When Jesus taught this prayer he said, “When you pray say …” (Luke 11:2). Jesus expects us to pray the Lord’s Prayer, but he does not want us to pray it mindlessly. We are to pray it with understanding, from our heart. To help us pray this prayer “from the heart” the Lutheran Service Book provides an expanded form in the fifth setting of the Divine Service (page 215-216) as the Prayer of the Church. I would like to share it with you. P = Pastor; C = Congregation.

P: Friends in Christ, I urge you all to lift up your hearts to God and pray with me as Christ our Lord has taught us and freely promised to hear us.

God, our Father in heaven, look with mercy on us, Your needy children on earth, and grant us grace that Your holy name be hallowed by us and all the world thorugh the pure and true teaching of Your Word and the fervent love shown forth in our lives. Graciously turn from us all false doctrine and evil living whereby Your precious name is blasphemed and profaned. Lord, in Your mercy,

C: hear our prayer.

P: May Your kingdom come to us and expand. Bring all transgressors and those who are blinded and bound in the devil’s kingdom to know Jesus Christ, Your Son, by faith that the number of Christians may be increased. Lord, in Your mercy,

C: hear our prayer.

P: Strengthen us by Your Spirit according to Your will, both in life and in death, in the midst of both good and evil things, that our own wills may be crucified daily and sacrificed to Your good and gracious will. Into Your merciful hands we commend name(’s) and all who are in need, praying for them at all times: Thy will be done. Lord, in Your mercy,

C: hear our prayer.

P: Grant us our daily bread, preserve us from greed and selfish cares, and help us trust in You to provide for all our needs. Lord, in Your mercy,

C: hear our prayer.

P: Forgive us our sins as we also forgive those who sin against us so that our hearts may be at peace and may rejoice in a good conscience before You, and that no sin may ever frighten or alarm us. Lord, in Your mercy,

C: hear our prayer.

P: Lead us not into temptation, O Lord, but help us by Your Spirit to subdue our flesh, to turn from the world and its ways, and to overcome the devil with all his wiles. Lord, in Your mercy,

C: hear our prayer.

P: And lastly, O heavenly Father, deliver us from all evil of both body and soul, now and forever. Lord, in Your mercy,

C: hear our prayer.

P: We trust, O Lord, in Your great mercy to hear and answer us; thorugh Jesus Christ, our Lord.

C: Amen.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

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