Prayer: Back to the Basics

July 24, 2016

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
10th Sunday After Pentecost – Proper 12
Luke 11:1-13

(Gospel Text provided below)

Today I’ll be sharing the pulpit with a couple folks who will be talking about Stewardship of Relationship. One is a member of Daughters of the King and the other is in the Order of St. Luke – both are prayer ministries at Christ Church. I don’t think the date was chosen based on the lectionary, so the fact that we’ve been provided with the quintessential gospel text for prayer gives some extra creds to the Holy Spirit!

And while prayer is certainly a way that we can be stewards of relationships with one another, it’s also a good way to be stewards of our relationship with God.

So with that in mind, what does this passage from Luke’s gospel tell us about prayer?

Prayer, in its simplest definition, is a way of connecting with God. Yet interestingly, the passage points out that it’s not instinctive. Prayer is actually a learned behavior. Even the disciples, these learners that are following Jesus, ask to be taught how to pray.

banner21Like anything you learn, whether it’s how to hit a baseball, or how to play a musical instrument, you first find an instructor and ask for guidance. That’s what the disciples are doing with Jesus.

Then, as any good teacher would do, Jesus starts with some fundamentals. He gives some specific words as a starting point. These familiar words have become the foundation for the Lord’s Prayer that we say each week. In it

  • We acknowledge God and God’s place as Holy – that is, set-apart.
  • We ask for our basic needs, like daily bread.
  • We ask for God’s grace in our lives, to forgive us when we fall short – yet not just because we want to be forgiven – we ask for this as we also convey our willingness and effort to do likewise – to forgive others.
  • And lastly, we ask to be protected from hardships and difficulties in life.

So, step one – Jesus gives us the fundamentals of prayer.

But he doesn’t stop there. He then tells a story. It’s an odd story that doesn’t seem to be connected to prayer at all. It talks about someone who goes and asks for bread from a friend in the middle of the night but is told “No.” Yet, then it says:

I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of [the requester’s] persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

The New International Version, puts it this way “because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.”

cdba8e75fb2a74110a4dddc1509f719dThe story is emphasizing the importance of persistence. Of PRACTICE. Like anything we want to be good at, we have to do it repeatedly. The results may not be immediately apparent, but with persistence – with shameless audacity – of continued faithfulness to our connection with God, prayer is fruitful.

So, we are to keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking through prayer.

And if we do this, what’s the payoff? Do we always get what we ask for? Let’s see what it says:

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 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!”

So, it kind of sounds like God will give us what we ask for – but it sure doesn’t feel that way, does it? We’ve certainly been praying for an end to the terrorism and acts of violence in the world. We’ve asked for resolution to the unrest and divisiveness in our country right now. If God answers all prayers, these hardships would all be gone, right?

524492f115e27256cd45d09cc258dd4bBut look again at the end of the text… the answer to our prayers isn’t a specific thing we are asking for. Instead, when we pray, we are asking for guidance, for God to be revealed, for us to be connected with God. In response, God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. The provider of insight. The breath of God in our lives that allows us to know God’s truth.

God’s faithful response to our shamelessly audacious prayer is the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When we are faced with hardships and difficult situations, we rely on this practice of prayer; this connection to God in the Holy Spirit, to strengthen us and sustain us. The Holy Spirit will guide us in right action. Action grounded in God’s love for us and Jesus’ command for us to love one another.

So, as we continue to be faced with difficulties, don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking. And then, act from a place of connection with God. That is what prayer is about.

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Gospel Text:

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name. 

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 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 11:1-13)

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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