Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And 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 who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him 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!”
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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
Today for our meditations we have Jesus teaching on prayer. Very heart-warming and very challenging teaching. Not exactly what we would expect. Let’s begin with the challenging part first, and then we’ll look at wonderful and comforting promises that Jesus so abundantly gives to us.
Which words would people find to be the most appealing, the most promising, probably even the most comforting? What about these? “I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
Aren’t they incredible? If only you ask, it will be given to you. If only you seek, you will find. If only you knock, it will be opened to you. This is the key. This is the answer. Now we can get what we want.
Jesus Christ has promised that whatever we ask will be given to us, it will happen. Can you think about a sweeter and more comforting promise than this? It really is hard to imagine something greater, except, there is a problem. You know it, right?
The thing is that it doesn’t work that way. But why? Didn’t Jesus promise it? Do we pray too little? Do we have too little a faith? May be we are not persistent enough? There must be some explanation. What is the problem?
We are. We are the problem. More than we realize. Just ask yourself, why would these words “ask and it will be given”, pray and it will happen, – why would we find them so appealing, so encouraging? Because we are the problem.
Let me explain. We want to be like gods. Yes, more than we realize. However, we can’t be like gods for we are so, so limited. But just imagine, if we had some almighty helper, who has unlimited power, and if we could pray to him for what we want and it would happen, then we could be like gods.
People in all religions pray. People who have no religion pray. First, because every human creature knows that there is someone higher. Second, because from time to time we realize that we are not in control and we need someone more powerful to help us out.
When people pray this way, this is a prayer to ‘a genie’, it is like rubbing the magical lamp and asking ‘grant me my wishes, help me to change the reality according to my whims, help me to be like god’.
I’ll say it once more. Usually when people pray, they just want to tap into the power of someone much more powerful than us, and to change the reality according to their own preferences. That’s it.
And if we have this kind of ‘genie’ understanding about praying, then our prayers are nothing else than arrogant attempts to manipulate reality using someone else more powerful that we.
It is about us, about what we want. About being like gods. Be honest, how often do we pray this way, hoping that we could tap into God’s power to change things the way we want them to be?
Besides, and this is again something we can see around us, – if this is how people understand God, as a helper when we can’t control things on our own, then when will they look for this God? Yes, only when they have problems.
Only when they can’t be in control themselves. But as long as everything goes more or less fine… we don’t need Him. How many of those who think of themselves as Christians have this kind of understanding?
What they essentially believe is – I am like god myself, I am in control, and when I am not in control, I’ll tap into the power of the Almighty to get things fixed. This is not a Christian way, this is an arrogant, ignorant, manipulative paganism.
Jesus turns this understanding upside down. He is teaching that for His disciples, for children of God prayer is something totally different. When we pray we shouldn’t be trying to change the reality according to our will.
Instead, we are to pray that God the Father would change the things as He sees it to be the best, we pray that we could trust His wisdom and decisions and to receive them in peace and joy, knowing what kind of a person our God is and how much He loves us.
Once more, when unbelievers pray, they want to change the reality according to their ideas. When Christians pray we are to pray so that God the Father would do what He sees to be the best, and so that we would accept His will in peace and joy.
If we as Christians embrace this pagan understanding about prayer, and so many churches actually do so, then we will end up in disappointment. We’ll realize that this kind of prayer actually doesn’t work.
I why would it? To imagine that we have some kind of secret key to unlock God’s power and to use it according to our desires, is like writing a job description for God and then being disappointed that He doesn’t follow our guidelines.
Christian understanding about prayer begins admitting this fundamental truth – God is God, and we are not. He is not to be manipulated, He is not to be used to fulfil our dreams, He is, as dear Dr Luther put it in Small Catechism, to be feared, loved and trusted more that anyone and anything else.
It is first about our trust in our God. Trusting Him above all things. I know that it is not an easy thing to do. Especially when things happen with us or our loved ones that don’t look like God’s blessings, but rather as the will of the evil one.
This trust can come only when we get to know our God better and better, and the better we know our God, the more we trust Him. The more we learn about His self-sacrificial love to us, the more we are ready to put ourselves in His arms.
This is why we come together in the Divine Service and in our studies, to get to know Him better, so that experiencing His love and forgiveness our hearts would be changed and we would be able gladly entrust ourselves to Him.
This is what Jesus did in His teaching about prayer. He tried to show that we can trust our God. Jesus uses this strange parable about a friend visiting at midnight and other friend refusing to give him some bread, because his children are in bed and doors are locked.
It may sound strange to us, and we could be wondering what does it teach about God. Is He like this angry friends who wouldn’t help, unless you push Him really hard. This parable is quite simple.
In the Middle East the law of hospitality was and still is something very central to their culture. Hospitality is everything. Story about the friend who hesitated to help with a few loaves of bread would sound ridiculous. No one would be that rude.
Here Jesus argues using the principle which is called ‘from smallest to greatest’. What He says is, – if you know that even such unbelievably rude a person would finally give you what you ask for, then how much more your Father in heaven who loves you.
If we, who are evil know how to give good gifts to our children, then how much more our Father in heaven, who is gracious and merciful, and abounding in steadfast love.
You can trust that He will always care for you and will never abandon you. Then Jesus gave His disciples the prayer which we all know, which we all use, which we say more often than any other prayer.
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 who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”
Luke has recorded the shorter version of the Jesus’ prayer, the longer one we have in the Gospel according to Matthew. And even if we know this prayer so well, it is so heart-warming to reflect on it.
Do you know, or have you known someone’s kid who was just so rude, selfish, disobedient, disrespectful, real embarrassment to his parents? Someone you much better see going than coming. Now imagine that this kind of kid would decide to address you ‘father’ or ‘mother’. What would be your reaction?
We can’t fully appreciate what it means, that we can call God our Father. We are like that kid, rebellious, rude, ignorant and arrogant beings, who imagine that the Universe revolves around us. He is the holy God.
Nevertheless Jesus gives to us His prayer. He is the only-begotten Son of the Father. We are simply God’s creatures. Fallen and selfish creatures. The Son of God comes and welcomes us into His family.
In Baptism He makes us adopted children of the Father, He makes us His brothers and sisters. He, holy and innocent Son of God, us – sinful and rebellious human creatures. And He makes us members of His divine family. Without any merit or worthiness from our side.
He gives us His prayer. It is not our gift to God when we call Him Father, it is undeserved gift to us that we can address Him this way. Thanks to Jesus you can be sure that He is also your Father, and He takes His duties very seriously.
It is hard for us to comprehend why, but He loves His rebellious creatures, us, and desires good for us. He has promised that you’ll be with Him in His eternal Kingdom, rejoicing with never ending joy together with all His saints.
This is what we need to remember when we pray this prayer. We are praying to God, who gave up His life so that we could live with Him, free from sin and death, from pain and sorrow. Celebrating and feasting, seeing our loving God face-to-face.
And the rest of Jesus’ prayer is similarly wonderful. Remember, Christian prayer is not about us changing the reality according to our will, it is about welcoming and rejoicing in the changes that the Father brings. They may not be what we expect.
It means that we can look at everything we pray for in Jesus’ prayer, as wonderful and precious gifts of the Father, who knows what we truly need. “Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.”
Luther explains in the Small Catechism that Jesus teaches us to pray so that we could hear God’s Word preached in its truth and purity. Because, remember, when we listen to God His Spirit is at work restoring and reshaping us.
This is how God’s Kingdom comes to you. In the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit. When your loving Father embraces you with His two arms, with the Word and the Spirit. This is when our faith and trust are created, this is when we are shaped to desire and to do what is good, to be a blessing for many.
“Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” We are to pray for and to receive from our Father both, all necessities of this life and what is needed for the life to come.
God abundantly gives us our daily bread for this life and His forgiveness for the life eternal. For where there is forgiveness there is salvation and eternal life. And when we allow our Father to act He also comes and destroys our idols, the sources of our temptation. And sometimes it may hurt, and it may seem that He is killing us, when in fact He is killing our idols, and saving us from temptations.
Gifts and more gifts, abundant gifts, unmerited gifts; that’s what our God wants to give us. We don’t need to change the reality according our whims, He knows what is the best for us and He desires it for us.
This is why Jesus concluded His teaching with these words. “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!”
This is what Christian prayer is about. It is first about knowing the person to whom we pray. It is about learning to receive the gifts of the Father. It is about being united with Him in His Spirit, about being transformed and restored, so that we thirst and hunger for what He has prepared for us; His presence, His peace, His joy and His wisdom. It is about knowing that all of this will be fully yours, when the true Son of God returns to bring forth New Heavens and New Earth.