Summary: "Lord, teach us to pray." In response, Jesus gives his disciples and us the model prayer, the "Our Father" or "Lord's Prayer." He continues with strong teaching to be persistent, knowing that God loves us more than we love our own children.
How to Talk to God
“Chaplain, will you teach me how to pray?” I remember that question like it was yesterday, even though it must have been at least a couple of years ago. It came from a Veteran on our inpatient mental health unit. I marveled at the time how simple and yet how profound a request it was. The man was in distress and really wanted to connect to a God who loved him. And it was a grand opportunity to help him to start that relationship.
In today’s story Jesus’ disciples ask him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” In Jesus’ day, rabbis would often craft prayers for their followers to memorize. But here it seems the disciples wanted more. They had watched this relationship Jesus had with his Heavenly Father, and they wanted it, too. They wanted to learn how to talk to God like Jesus.
Jesus didn’t give them some 1-2-3 steps to a great prayer life. He didn’t give them a block of instruction, or some notes on a tablet. He simply said, “When you pray, say...” And thus we have Luke’s version of what we call the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.” It’s a little different than the one we quote every Sunday from Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 6:9-13), but all the key pieces are there. Jesus gives them a model for a balanced prayer.
I think back to my own prayer life. Nobody taught me how to pray. But actually that’s not a true statement. Many taught by example. I learned to pray by watching others pray. I watched my father, who usually gave the blessing for supper, almost always with the same exact words, along the lines of, “Bless these gifts which we are about to receive for the nourishment of our bodies.”
JOKE: That reminds me of the frazzled woman who gathered all her company around the dinner table, then almost as an afterthought, said to her six-year-old daughter, “Lizzy, why don’t you say grace tonight?” Lizzy replied, “Mom, I don’t know what to say!” Her mother patiently responded, “Just say what you hear Mommy say, sweetie.” So Lizzy bowed her head and said, “Dear Lord, why the hell did I invite all these people to dinner?”
Little kids are observant! But seriously, I watched my father pray. I watched people pray in my Sunday School classes and in church services. Later in life I heard people pray in small Bible study groups and mentoring relationships. And I listened to my seminary professors’ prayers. I learned by watching and listening, much like Jesus’ disciples did.
We pray as we have seen others pray, and what better person to observe than Jesus? In his model prayer he points us to our “Father” or “Daddy,” a wonderful heavenly parent who wants to meet our needs and have a relationship with us. So Jesus says, “Approach God like a child approaching a loving parent.” Then he says, “Pray something like this, ‘Dad, we honor you on earth more than anything. Please come to rule our lives every day we have on this earth. Help us not to worry about the future; we ask for only enough bread for today. Don’t forgive our sins until we have forgiven every last one who has done us wrong. And please God, don’t test our faith too much because you know we are weak and will fail.’”
That’s the essence of the Model Prayer. It points us to a relationship with a God who should be loved and honored, to a God who cares, to a God who provides, to a God who forgives, to a God who saves.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He continues with a story about perseverance. In verse 5 Jesus says, “Suppose you wake up a friend late at night to borrow a little food for unexpected guests. Your friend tells you, “It’s late. Go away before you wake up the whole house!” But you keep on knocking, until finally she helps you, if not out of friendship, then out of desperation to get rid of you!
Remember, rabbis teach in extremes. Jesus is not saying God will answer your prayer just to get rid of you. Jesus is saying if a ticked off friend will come through for you, how much more will a loving God who wants what’s best for you? So when it comes to your prayer life, the point is simple: don’t give up. Keep asking. Jesus even gives a little acronym here: A-S-K, “ASK,” which stands for “Ask, seek, knock.” Keep asking God. Don’t assume heavenly silence means “no.” Until you hear otherwise, keep asking the Lord. Stay persistent. My mother-in-law prayed for my father-in-law’s salvation for 40+ years before it came to be. Don’t give up!