Keep On Praying

Keep on Praying                          Pastor Teddie McConnell                        7-24-22
Luke 11-1-13 and Philippians 4:4-9
Last week I asked if you are a human being or a human doing, then talked about how the Christian life is a balance between being in God’s company in prayer and doing God’s will with God’s help.
This week, we’re staying on the topic of prayer. In our passage from Luke, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray as John the Baptist had taught his followers. Jesus gave them what’s called a set prayer, one that is designed for a community to pray together in the morning and the evening. This is why the pronouns in it are all plural – us, our, etc. Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is slightly different from the traditional version we commonly pray together from Matthew’s gospel. It’s only five sentences long , and some of the words are changed. There’s nothing wrong with praying it when you’re alone, but it’s intended to bring us together before God with one heart and one mind.
The prayer opens by addressing God as Abba, or “Daddy” in Aramaic. This reminds us that our Creator loves us like the offspring we are, tenderly and patiently, ready to listen and help. If your dad wasn’t like that or you just had a mom, please understand that God is the perfect parent and doesn’t really have gender. Our God would never treat you badly out of temper or impatience. God might discipline you by allowing the consequences of your behavior to fall on you, but God won’t abuse you as a human parent could. This reference to God as our parent also reminds us of our complete dependence on God for even our most basic needs.
The prayer continues, “May your name be revered as holy. May your kingdom come.” These sentences ask that everyone might come to believe in the love and sovereignty of God, and that God’s kingdom may be established here. While God’s reign extends throughout the universe, it’s also intended for us on this beautiful and unique planet. Because God allows us to make our own choices, evil is also part of the human condition until Christ returns. We ask for this ideal world so we can work with God to bring it about.
Then the prayer Jesus taught them gets right to the human condition – give us, forgive us, deliver us. There is no indirect or obsequious language before getting to the point. There’s no “pretty please” or even “if it is your will.” Jesus knows that it is always God’s will to meet our essential needs, starting with bread, sustenance for our bodies on a regular basis. God wants us all to be fed.
Then Luke changes the word “debts” into the word “sins,” making this prayer about forgiveness, including our need to forgive others. Even though God forgives us immediately, whenever we ask, the word used here means that it’s an ongoing process for us. Forgiving someone who has hurt you deeply is like peeling a large onion. You take off one layer and cry while you do it out of anger and pain, only to discover more layers inside. It takes time and effort to let go of our anger. Mercy flows through the same channel in both directions, the gift of God’s mercy pouring into us and inspiring us to give our own mercy to others.
Finally, we ask God to “deliver us,” which is better translated as “preserve us.” Jesus wants us to be preserved and protected from the circumstances that can test or damage our faith, especially through persecution. God does not lead us into temptation. That comes from the constant influence from our sinful nature – or from the evil tempter, if you prefer.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus follows the prayer with a parable of the man who asked his neighbor for bread during the night so he could feed his guest. In the culture of the time, it would be unthinkable for someone to respond the way this neighbor did, inviting shame from the neighborhood by allowing his friend to pound on his door without responding to his need. This behavior was considered so weird that we know the story is a humorous exaggeration. Jesus uses it to make the point that if a friend would feel obligated to help us, how much more would God be trustworthy and responsive? God’s character is one of integrity and love, better than any human friend, more devoted than any family member. As a small child trusts a parent in a game where the child is thrown up in the air and caught on the way down, we can trust God to protect us and keep us safe. Jesus compares God to human parents, who would never give a child who asked for a fish a snake instead, another joke that makes a point.
The story of the persistent friend also reminds us that we are to intercede on behalf of others, as the person who is knocking asks for bread, not for his own family, but for the visitor he is hosting. Praying together for others helps us recognize what God has given us that we can in turn provide to others, becoming Jesus’ hands and feet to them.
We keep on praying because we know our own needs and those of others and can depend on God to supply them, knowing God’s character. Ask and God gives, opening doors for us. Seek and God supplies, allowing us to find what we need. The only danger comes when we think God is like a genie who is willing to grant our every wish. We must be asking out of need and for God’s will, acknowledging God’s holiness and sovereignty and ready to work for God’s kingdom.
Prayer binds us together and brings us closer to God. It reminds us that God is the source of all blessings, that God is God and we are not. It changes us, shapes us, and relieves our anxiety. As Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
So why do we need to be persistent in prayer? When God doesn’t answer right away, sometimes the timing isn’t right, or sometimes the answer is “no.” But I also believe that God uses the communication of our prayers to gradually change and mature us. The more we pray, the more God can work, sculpting us like the potter forms clay.
E. Stanley Jones said, “Prayer is surrender – surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. If I throw a boat hook from a boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Prayer is not pulling do to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.”
Paul told the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord always. That’s not rejoicing regardless of your circumstances, that’s rejoicing because you have a God who is always with you and loves you. That’s rejoicing that God gave Jesus to suffer in our place and give us eternal life. That’s rejoicing that we have Jesus as an example of what life can be like if we pray and follow God’s will, and it’s rejoicing that God gave us the Holy Spirit to keep us in that will.
Paul also told his friends to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent or praiseworthy. I’m sure his intent was to get them not only thinking about these things, but also putting them into practice as the will of God. Isn’t life more enjoyable when we focus on the good than when we look for problems? Look at this sculpture. Do you see the attached pieces? Or do you see what the background spells?
Prayer brings many good things to us from God. It brings the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. It puts our smaller problems into perspective. It gives us a chance to say “Thank you” for all the many things and people God gives us. It brings us courage to carry on, strength to bear one another’s burdens, guidance for the journey, and creative ideas for how to get the things of God done. We need to keep on knocking. Keep on seeking. Keep on finding. Keep on keeping on. Keep on praying.
Please pray with me. God of grace and glory, give us the power and the purpose to keep praying for your perfect will and the coming of your kingdom, to ask, seek, and knock knowing you love us and will provide for our needs and those of our loved ones and our church. Help us to pray even when things seem hopeless, even when life seems impossible, even when all we can pray is a simple cry for your help. Bring us your comfort in sorrow, your loving companionship in our loneliness, your power in our weakness. Help us to trust you to open the door to whatever we need to sustain your work in this world. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray. And all God’s people said, Amen.

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