Shaped by Prayer: Reflection on Luke 11:1-13
7-28-19  Michael Barrett

Jesus and Prayer

He prays at his baptism (3:21).

He prays after he heals others (5:16 and before feeding thousands (9:16).

He prays all through the night before he calls his disciples (6:12)

He prays before Peter’s confession (9:18)

He prays before the Transfiguration (9:28-29)

He prays during the Last Supper (22:17,19)

He prays on the evening before his death (22:41)

He prays with two disciples at Emmaus after his resurrection (24:30)

He prays from the wilderness (5:16) and from mountain tops (6:12) and even from the cross (22:34)

And my sisters and brothers, these are a few examples taken solely from the gospel of Luke.

Jesus’ life is a life shaped by prayer.

Today, just as he finishes praying, one of his disciples asks, ‘Lord teach us to pray.’ (11:1)

The Disciple’s Request

Why this request? Certainly, one of the disciples is impressed with the distinctive prayers and patterns of petition used by the followers of John the Baptist. Most 1st century religious sects have discrete prayers that serve to distinguish their sect from the worship of other communities.

It is likely then, that he speaks for those disciples who yearn for a unique prayer that will set them apart, as well. Many disciples witnessing the degree to which prayer sustains Jesus likely seek a way to secure that same blessing for their own lives. As a body, all of the disciples are committed to learning and the art of effectively praying seems an important lesson. And yes, a few of the disciples may be hoping to acquire some best prayer practices, proper prayer techniques, and precise arcane language with those sure-fire words that are guaranteed to grab God’s attention and unsure His satisfactory answer for the matter of the prayer they offer.

Jesus’ Response

Jesus answers his disciple’s request in a way none expect or anticipate. He fashions a simple communal prayer that does not require anyone to be more than they already are. His words are intended mostly for use first by people in dire need.

He advocates a pattern of prayer that strives to build a nourishing relationship with God. He is clearly less interested in correct technique or impeccable format. Jesus’ simple prayer emphasizes gratitude over guilt.

When we pray, Jesus teaches us to strive to do three things:

  • Recognize the nature of who we are dealing with and shape our prayer to whom we are offering it;
  • Ask for the things we need, but include three things we all need always;
  • Approach prayer with the attitudes of both expectancy and confidence.

Before we consider those three teachings, let us first acknowledge the two different renderings of the prayer appearing in Scripture.

Versions of the Prayer Jesus Teaches Us

In the Christian Testament, the prayer that Jesus teaches us appears both in Matthew (6:9-13) and in Luke (11:2-4). Matthew’s version appears within the context of the Sermon on the Mount, while Luke’s is presented within the context of Jesus’ own praying as he and his disciples are making their way to Jerusalem. Matthew’s is more polished, more ecclesiastical in sound, longer and more complex and is usually preferred for inclusion in liturgies.

Luke’s version, on the other hand, is simpler, much shorter, and more direct. Luke’s version is more vernacular in tone and God’s compassion comes through somewhat stronger. Missing from Luke are the ‘Our’ before “Father,’ the ‘who art in heaven,’ the “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,’ and the ‘but deliver us from evil.’ Luke assumes these phrases are all inherent from the phraseology preceding. Matthew’s version is embellished. Luke’s unadorned version is likely closer to the prayer Jesus taught.

Why are their two versions? Probably, because Jesus taught his disciples how to pray on more than one occasion. Both versions are valuable and important for our understanding. [Just as for some, Mark speaks to an active body, Matthew to a deliberating mind, John to an inspired soul, and Luke to a loving heart]. Because Luke’s version is so directly blunt in its delivery, it helps us recover some of the potency of what Jesus is trying to teach us in this prayer.

Recognizing Who We Are Dealing With

Father, hallowed be Your name, Your Kingdom come.

Three things stand out:

  • The use of the word Abba for the term ‘father.’ Jesus deliberately chooses not to use the term Elohim (creator God) or the term Jehovah (covenant God). The term Abba directly challenges the expected character of fathers –authoritative, coercive, judgmental, and aloof – in the patriarchal society of the 1st ‘Abba’ is closer in meaning to our use of the terms like dad or daddy, or papa, terms emphasizing generosity, compassion, attentiveness, loving concern, and nearness. Embedded within the meaning of Abba is a feeling of loving trust – dearest dad or beloved daddy. This is how we are to address God – as Abba. Note there is no need to gussy the title with flattery or bribery or manipulation. In Luke, there is no “who art in heaven,’ that is assumed and the closeness and approachability of God are emphasized instead.
  • Hallowed be your name.’ God’s name is not a label. God’s name is the embodiment, the reality, and the essence of his character. In a sense we are asking God to act like Abba by recognizing his character in honoring his name. We long for the day when all God’s children will revere God’s essence– sanctify it and regard it and treat it as holy. This is how we ultimately praise God in word. We hallow God’s name in action by the way we live out our lives in righteous relation to his will and the teachings of Jesus.
  • ‘Your kingdom come.’ We acknowledge God’s supremacy. We admit that only God can overcome the powers of suffering and evil that are at work in this world. But, this phrase is much more than an expression of some future hope – it stands as our commitment on our part. We are saying that we want to partner with God. We are asking God to take charge of our lives. We are asking that God’s kingdom come within each of us. ‘Here I am Lord,’ redirect my soul. I will follow Jesus. Your kingdom, Abba, is my top priority!

This is ‘whom’ we are dealing with and it determines what and how we ask.

Asking for the Things We Need

Jesus teaches us to always remember to also pray for three important things that we always need:

  • Give us each day our daily bread.’ Underline ‘each day,’ and ‘daily.’ Anytime Jesus repeats the same word in a sentence it is very important. We need God’s generosity and blessings every single day, not just once a week, or every other Sunday or twice a year. We are dependent on Abba at all times. This phrase is both a request and a confession of reliance. This is the point where we may identify and add all the simple or complex, personal or collective needs we feel to our prayer.
  • ‘Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.’ Please note this wording – it’s very different than the ‘forgive us our debts or trespasses as we forgive others, Jesus is speaking about sin — ‘debt’ in Hebrew religious use is a metaphor for sin, as is trespassing as used in this prayer. When Jesus is talking about sin, he is talking about broken relationships. Sin is abandoning God and sin is also abandoning one another. Sin is when we don’t treat God or others as our family and kin.

It is important that we realize that Jesus is telling us that forgiveness is not some sort of quid pro quo system of repayment and debt. Abba’s forgiveness does not depend on human activity. Our acts of forgiveness will not force God to forgive us. Instead, God’s forgiveness stimulates forgiveness in our selves – our forgiveness is an expression of God’s faithful mercy. We are already forgiving others when we ask to be forgiven. Underline ’everyone.’

Yes, my brothers and sisters, at some times and in some circumstances, most of us will have great difficulty wrestling with forgiving a particular someone for a specific thing. Just remember that very struggle to forgive another is evidence of God’s good grace in your life. At least we are trying to forgive. It may take some time to forgive. But as long as we struggle to try and (to) forgive, we aren’t giving in to hatred and we are not saying that we will not forgive nor have any desire to forgive.

  • ‘And lead us not into temptation.’ Jesus is talking about temptation – the enticement to do wrong or to do evil.  Jesus is not talking about every trials test. A trial is the action or process of trying or putting to the proof an experiment to test the quality, value, or usefulness of something. Trials are not always evil. A test is a critical examination, observation or evaluation of something, measuring its skill, knowledge, intelligence, capacities, or aptitudes. Tests are not always evil. A serious temptation always has to do with evil.

This phrase has probably been as misinterpreted as any other in the Bible. A much more accurate phraseology might be something like and let us not fall into temptation.’ This is not a plea for Abba to stop deceiving us or for God to cease trying to mislead us. God is not the prime mover behind temptation. In its original sense, this phrase meant for us to seek God’s close presence with us when we face temptation. Life is full of temptations and still will be for some time. And yes, resisting temptation can serve to develop better moral character, but to do that we need to rely on God’s help to fight evil.

These then are three things we always need to ask for – bread, forgiveness and deliverance. Our Abba is especially attuned to those needs.

Approaching Prayer with an Attitude of Expectancy and of Confidence

In Luke’s version, Jesus now goes on to provide two brief parables dealing with our attitude while praying. Jesus asks the rhetorical, ‘which of you would…?’ Any member of his audience would have immediately answered ‘no one.’ By inference, Jesus is then telling us what Abba will not do either.

The first parable deals with a neighbor’s request for bread, inconveniently made in the middle of the night. When we pray, we need to act just like that noisy neighbor. Go ahead and bother God. Do it with ‘shameless audacity!’ Be bold, rap loudly, be insistent, and be persistent. Bring lots of energy and passion to our prayer God hears us and will provide what we truly need. Go into prayer expecting results.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be open to you.

Note the increasing intensity – to ask is to make a humble request, to seek is to ask and also take action, to knock is to ask and to seek and to be persistent and passionate. Trust in God’s good response. Yet, remember that God’s kingdom is a partnership. God is ultimately not just after a conversation. Abba wants a relationship. Yes, God may give, God may allow us to find, and God may open doors. But, Abba may also ask of us, seek us out, and knock on our doors.

In the second parable, Jesus circles us back to the imagery of Abba, reinforcing a child’s justified attitude of confidence. The importance here does not lie in the metaphors. Sometimes people get stuck on these images. Yes, both a fish and a snake have scales. Yes, both an egg is round and so is a scorpion if it balls itself up just right. Nobody, especially not God, is going to mistake a snake for a fish or a scorpion for an egg and give out the wrong thing. Fish and eggs are nourishing. They are good for us. Snakes and scorpions are poisonous. They are bad for us.

Jesus is telling us that we can count on Abba to always give us nourishing good things and not poisonous bad things. We can count on God for a good response. God will always give us things that are necessary and beneficial, but may not always give us what we desire most at the moment. God’s priority is to give bread to the hungry, forgiveness to the sinner, and deliverance from evil to all of us. Abba’s goodness always exceeds our own no matter how good we are. In fact, God is so good, he not only gives himself to us in Jesus, but he pours himself out to us as Holy Spirit.

This is how Jesus teaches us to pray. Some call this prayer the “Our Father” because those are its first words. Others name it the “Lord’s Prayer,’ because Jesus authored it. Still others entitle it the “Disciples’ Prayer’ because Jesus gave it to us and it belongs to us now. Whatever you choose to call it, it is as perfect a prayer as has ever been composed. It, however, was never meant to be mindlessly reiterated, recited, and repeated.

`The prayer that Jesus taught us is meant to be prayed shamelessly, persistently, passionately, expectantly, and confidently. It both reminds us of to whom we pray and of what is most important to ask for. It is also an invitation and a summons for God to shape our lives. May we be blessed that Abba, as he hears our prayers, will make it so. Amen