Living as Disciples Worship Series: WEEK 3
Seventh Sunday After Pentecost – July 28, 2019
This week in our series on “Living as Disciples for the Transformation of the World” we will consider Jesus’ teaching on how disciples are to pray.
As Christians and as United Methodists, most of us assume that we are expected to pray. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, listed prayer as one of the spiritual disciplines to which we are to attend to daily. According to a Pew Research report, 55 percent of American Christians say they pray every day. These persons rely on prayer when making personal decisions and consider prayer and essential part of their identity. There are literally millions of books of prayers, books on how to pray, and books about the power of prayer. We assume that since Jesus prayed, that means that we also should pray.
And the disciples apparently thought the same thing. They saw their teacher praying and they asked him to teach them how to pray.
I think this is a very important teaching, in part because as I think about it, I do not really remember anyone ever specifically teaching me how to pray. Perhaps that is an unfair statement, as a primary way we learn is by observing and doing. The Latin adage lex orandi lex credendi, means “the law of praying is the law of believing.” This is to say that we learn what we believe as disciples of Jesus Christ through the act of praying together, particularly in the corporate worship of God. Praying together leads to belief, as participating in the liturgy of the church leads to theological understanding.
In addition to what I learned about how to pray through corporate worship, which included praying The Lord’s Prayer, I also learned some things by watching my family members pray. We prayed before meals, although in my family of origin, we had a “set” mealtime prayer that we took turns offering. I observed my grandmother praying on her knees by the side of her bed every night before retiring whenever I visited her home. My grandmother prayed aloud, so I learned by listening to what she said in her prayers.
I could go on with my own examples, but I am only offering them as a way of encouraging you to think about how you learned to pray, and to consider what kinds of things you tend to include in your prayers.
- Are your prayers different when praying alone than they are when you are praying aloud in worship?
- What is different? Why is it different?
- How does this teaching challenge you in your own practice of prayer, both privately and corporately?
The standard Jesus has given us for how we are to pray is the rubric of the Lord’s prayer. But notice here that Jesus doesn’t actually instruct the disciples to pray. He simply answers their question about HOW to pray. Jesus says when we pray we should approach God like a child going to a parent. He says, “Pray like this: God, we honor you on earth more than we honor our own flesh and blood parents. Please come to rule our lives every day that we have on this earth. Help us to not worry about the future. We ask only for enough bread to get through this day. Don’t forgive us our sins until we have found a way to forgive every person who has done us wrong. And please God, do not test our faith too much because we know that we are weak and that we will surely fail.”
In Luke’s account of the teaching of The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus follows his teaching on how to pray with a teaching on the importance of perseverance. It is not clear whether the call to perseverance is related to the teaching on prayer, but from Luke’s placement, we might conclude that it is. Starting at Verse 5, Jesus says, “Suppose you should go to a friend’s house after midnight and wake her up to borrow three loaves of bread because an unexpected guest has just dropped by and you have nothing to feed him. And suppose that your friend on the other side of the door on which you are knocking says, ‘Go away. We’ve already gone to bed.’ I tell you, keep on knocking. Even if she will not give in to you out of friendship, she will finally let you in because you are not ashamed to keep on asking.”
If we apply this teaching to prayer, it means that when we pray, if we don’t get an answer right away, or we don’t get the answer we hoped to hear, we’ve got to keep trying. We must persevere. We are to keep asking patiently, day by day, and we are not to take God’s silence as a sign of rejection.
Jesus then says that when we pray, we are to take the attitude that we are God’s beloved children. This business about the fish and the snake, and the egg and the scorpion, is a way of saying that God is like a loving parent who already knows our needs even before we ask. And it is an assurance that God always has our best interests in mind.
My 20-year old son, who lives a couple of states away, has been visiting us for the past week. This morning he slept in (again. He is on vacation, after all). Since I am working from home right now, I worked quietly downstairs, listening for him to wake up and stir so I could prepare breakfast for him. I do not often cook breakfast, so I knew that making him breakfast would carry special meaning for him. It would not be expected and he would never ask for me to make him breakfast. But it would be welcomed, and it would be a special treat for me to do this for him.
Even though he has been out of our house for over a year, as his mother who carried him in my womb, gave birth to him, and raised him every day of his life, I know how he is wired. I can anticipate what he wants and needs. He doesn’t have to ask. I dare say, sometimes I might even know his needs before he knows them himself! And what I say of my relationship with my son, I can also say of my relationship with my own parents.
(Note here: not everyone is fortunate to be raised by attentive and loving parents, so in preaching we must be sensitive to this reality. If a person was raised by abusive parents, or had parents absent from their life, they will hear this teaching about God in a very different way from the way that I do. This is not to diminish the teaching, but only to raise awareness about the varying experiences of the people who sit in our pews.)
The point Jesus is making to his disciples is that God loves God’s children as a parent loves her child. God loves us and wants the best for us. God anticipates our every need and desire, even before we may know them ourselves.
For me, when it comes to Jesus’ teaching on prayer, I think Jesus kind of “saves the best for last.” In the final sentence he says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13 NRSV).
God knows that as disciples of Jesus Christ who are working for the transformation the world, what we need more than anything is the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide our hearts, minds, and actions. That’s what we need to be praying for with perseverance and regularity. If we are going to pray anything beyond what Jesus has taught us to pray, then what we need to ask for, every day, is simply that God would give us the Holy Spirit.
- How might these teachings from Jesus influence the way we pray, as individuals and as a gathered body in worship?
- If God already knows our needs and has the best intentions for us, do we still need to remind God of what our needs are in our prayers?
- If not, then what purpose does sharing our joys and concerns before the pastoral prayer or other prayers of intercession serve? Does it serve our prayers to God, or does it primarily serve our need to share the joys and concerns of the community of faith?
- How can the way we pray help shape us into disciples who are transforming the world into the Kingdom of God?
As you consider your own responsibility as a pastor for teaching disciples of Jesus Christ how to pray for the transformation of the world, think about offering some church-wide or small group studies on prayer. There are many great resources from Cokesbury and Upper Room Books. One great resource I would highly recommend for teaching and leading intercessory prayer in your congregation is Mark Stamm’s recently published book, Devoting Ourselves to the Prayers: A Baptismal Theology for the Church’s Intercessory Work (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2015).