Summary: A sermon on prayer originally preached August 8 & 9, 1998 at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Garner, Iowa. Some material from Rev. Clyde Kieschnick.
Pentecost 9C/Proper 12 Luke 11:1-13 “The Secret(s) to Prayer”
Assistance from: Rev. Clyde Kieschnick
It never fails-you see someone doing something you’d like to be able to do-or something you’d like to be able to do better on your own. So you ask what the secret to their success is. For example, as much as Ken Krause has tried to help Pastor Kieschnick with his golf swing, something’s still definitely missing. Pastor Kieschnick will always be wanting to know what the secret is to consistently hitting a golf ball that lands in the middle of the fairway and travels over 250 yards. Or, how about the secret ingredient to that wonderful batch of chocolate chip cookies grandma makes. Somehow, no one else can do it quite the same way.
Do you know what else is like that? People’s prayer life. There are some people that seem to have the “secret ingredients” to a good prayer life and can offer the most beautiful prayers, and do them right off the cuff. That’s not something a good Lutheran is usually able to do-or at least that’s what the humorist Garrison Keeler would say. He’s always poking fun at Lutherans because they are afraid to pray unless their prayers are all written out for them. But, in all seriousness, ever notice how some people just have it all together when they pray? They seem to know the right words. They seem to know what to pray about. They seem to be able to do it with such confidence. They have such confidence in the power of prayer. And, well, to put it bluntly, they make prayer look easy and natural. We know that coming up with just the right prayer at just the right time, just ain’t all that easy!
The life of a Christian is definitely a life filled with prayer. But, unfortunately, we do not come naturally by prayer. We just aren’t naturally good “prayers.” Are you surprised by that statement? But if these are some of your concerns, and if you wish you could improve on your prayer life-maybe learn the secret to a good prayer life-don’t feel bad. Look again at the disciples in our Gospel reading for today. Notice the request they made Luke tells us “One of His disciples came up to Jesus and said ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’” And, Jesus did. So here goes-the secret to a good prayer life. We’ll make it easy for us to remember the main points of this reading by listing the 4 “P’s of Prayer”.
Secret # 1-Per Request
The first secret seems to be that we have the courage to ask someone to teach us to pray. That’s what the disciples did. They had often seen Jesus pray. It’s interesting just to note the number of times that Luke mentions that Jesus prayed. For example, Jesus prayed in the Jordan as He was baptized. Luke mentions that when the crowds who followed Jesus became overbearing, Jesus would often “withdraw to a quiet and lonely place to pray.” Once Jesus spent all night in prayer. Had the disciples seen that, I’m sure they would have made their request sooner.
The disciples not only felt awkward around Jesus when he prayed, Luke says they also felt awkward around John’s disciples who seemed to know how to pray. I could understand how awkward one might feel if you called yourself a disciple and really didn’t know how to pray. It seems then, that prayer is not a natural thing. It doesn’t “just happen.” It’s something that has to be taught. So if you struggle with “how to pray” at times, don’t feel bad-the disciples struggled with the same thing.
I’m not sure what their prayer struggles were. Maybe they weren’t sure of what words Jesus used-that often happens to us, doesn’t it? Trying to find the right words to say at times isn’t always easy. Maybe they were impressed with how Jesus positioned Himself when He prayed. Quite often when we see pictures of Jesus praying, He used a certain “prayer posture.” Jesus often knelt to pray. That doesn’t come naturally, either-that has to be taught. Maybe they were impressed with how much Jesus accomplished through prayer. But, the fact remained; they didn’t know how to pray!!! The disciples-and maybe at times that seems like us-were simply uncomfortable with their prayer life. They knew there had to be a secret or secrets to having a good prayer life. So they did what we ought to do-make a request to be taught how to pray. As a matter of fact, one of the lessons taught in 7th and 8th grade confirmation class-dealing with the lesson on prayer-is that Pastor Kieschick requests the students learn to write several different kinds of prayers. They have to be taught how to do that. That’s because until we are taught how to pray, and until we recognize the Holy Spirit’s power, prayer is not a natural thing. St. Paul even admitted in Romans 8:26 “In our weakness, when we do not know what we ought to pray for, the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”