When We Learn to Pray

Luke 11: 1-13

Jesus prayed and that prompted his disciples to ask him to teach them to pray. They asked him to teach them. A retired minister made it a practice to visit the parish school one day each week. The fourth graders were learning about the states, so when he dropped in on the class, he asked them how many states they could name. They could only come up with about 40 states. The minister told them in his day students knew the names of all the states. To which one little boy replied, “Yeah, but in those days there were only 13.”

John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray. Rabbis did the same evidently. “It’s significant,” Fred Craddock in a commentary on the gospel of Luke wrote, “this text treats prayer as a learned experience and not simply the release of the heart’s natural longings.” We’ve always considered the Lord’s Prayer as part of our liturgical tradition to incorporate in our times of prayer in our worship. What follows in Luke 11 addresses the need to persevere in prayer, perhaps an expression of our heart’s natural longings.

William Barclay wrote in his Daily Study Series in the gospel of Luke that Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that covers all life. This prayer “covers present need. It tells us to pray for our daily bread. . . Only enough for the needs of the day might be gathered. We are not to worry about the unknown future, but to live a day at a time.” This prayer “covers past sin. When we pray we cannot do other than pray for forgiveness for the best of us is a sinful human coming before the purity of God.” Finally, this prayer “covers future trials. Temptation means any testing situation. It covers every situation which is a challenge to and a test of a person’s integrity and fidelity. We cannot escape it, but we can meet it with God.”

When learning to pray, pray this: “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. (vss 2-4)” When learning to pray, pray the Lord’s Prayer.

When learning to pray, also, we find out perseverance is necessary. A Hasidic parable concerns a hungry boy traveling with his father through a dense forest. Suddenly the boy spots a patch of ripe berries and begins picking them and eating them. When the hour grows dangerously late, the boy can’t bring himself to leave the patch. What could the father do? He loved the boy in spite of his childish behavior. The father says, “I’ll start out; you may stay a few minutes longer. But to make sure we don’t get separated, keep calling, ‘Father! Father!’ I will answer you. But as soon as my voice begins to fade, come running.” The rabbis used this parable to teach the need to keep united to God through prayer. When we learn to pray it’s good to have a form of prayer that keeps us focused in appropriate intentions and grounded in the humble expression of a child of God. It’s good Jesus gave us a templet to follow. We soon learn in our prayer lives determination and steadfastness are as much of our prayer lives as our focus and language.

Suppose one of you goes to a friend and knocks on his door and asks persistently for food to feed an unexpected guest. The friend in the house only gives in to give food to the friend at the door because of the persistence. The persistence, the perseverance is what tips the scales. When learning to pray, we learn what tips the scales.

An elderly lady was known by her neighbors for her regular display of Christian devotion by shouting from her porch, “Praise the Lord!” An atheist lived next door and grew angry every time the woman shouted her praise. He started shouting his own response, “There is no Lord!” Hard times started to come to the elderly lady. She started to shout something new from her porch: “Praise the Lord. God, I need food! These are hard times, praise the Lord, but send me some groceries.” This went on for days and days. One morning, groceries appeared on her front porch. She stepped out her door and saw the groceries and shouted louder than ever, “Praise the Lord!!” At that, the atheist neighbor jumped out of her bushes and said, “Aha! Told you there’s no Lord! I did it! God didn’t bring you food. I did!” At that, the lady jumped up and down, slapped her thigh and said with great joy, “Praise the Lord. Not only, Lord, did you bring me groceries, but you made the devil pay for them! Alleluia!”

There’s a phrase in this lesson from Luke that puts a cap on Jesus’ teaching on prayer. It’s in the last verse: “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!” When learning to pray, we are left a model to use in prayer that keeps us focused and grounded. When learning to pray, we learn that perseverance is necessary. And when learning to pray, we learn to believe how much more the heavenly Father will give to those who ask him. If a loved one asks you for a fish, will you give them a snake? You and I know how to give good gifts to those who ask, and we’re not perfect nor righteous in all we do, but we know how to do that. HOW MUCH MORE WILL THE HEAVENLY FATHER GIVE TO THOSE WHO ASK! When we learn to pray, we learn to trust in God. We learn that answers or directions come as our heavenly Father directs – and how much more will our God give to those who ask.

Finally, when learning to pray, we learn something else. We are fruit of other people’s prayers. Are you aware of what you’ve become because of your parents’ prayers, your family’s prayers, your friends or church’s prayers? I remember having conversations with my father particularly when I left the ministry ten years ago. He expressed understanding, but he also would ask me if I thought I’d ever return to ministry. I’d tell him I wasn’t sure. My father passed away at the age of 100 in 2019. It was at his passing and particularly after I gave testimony of my father’s life at his funeral that I felt a prompting from the Holy Spirit to begin the process of returning to the ordained ministry. I believe the root of my return to pastoral ministry came from my father’s prayers. I believe a woman by the name of Pat in Albertville survived cancer because of a particular moment of prayer I had with her. I believe a boy by the name of Cooper was healed at a church I pastored when his parents brought him to the altar during worship, and we prayed for him. When we learn to pray, we learn prayers of others bring God’s grace to us, and we learn our prayers bring God’s great love to others. When we learn to pray, we learn God hears and God loves.

(Preached at St Mark UMC in Anniston, AL, July 24, 2022)

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