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Jun 21 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 19, 2011

It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1 (read Lk. 11:1-13)

INTRO: A few weeks ago, a friend asked if I saw myself as a spiritual director and I told him, “No, I talk too much”

I try to give too much help, provide too much information
– I have difficulty letting people struggle

One way to define spiritual direction is one believer helping another with his or her prayer life
– this is assuming that prayer is the central expression of our connection with God
– so spiritual direction would include bringing up all of the issues of our spiritual progress
– it is something we see Jesus doing all through the gospels and especially here

Luke marks verses 1-13 as a complete unit set apart from the text before it and after it
– he creates an envelope around Jesus’ teaching by beginning and ending it with, “Father”

What I want is for you to personalize these verses as if you were sitting with Jesus–your spiritual Director

Verse 1, How our appointment begins

Every story has a setting or backdrop

In the movie, “Throw Mama From the Train,” the plot is developed around Larry’s inability to find the best opening line for the novel he is trying to write. “The night was hot,” he says out loud as he types. “No, not hot. Hot and wet. Humid. Hot and wet is humid. The night was humid.” It is not until he finds himself on a train with Owen–one of the students in his writing class–and Owen’s mother. Once again Larry is struggling to find the right word for his first sentence and Owen’s mother says, “Sultry. The night was sultry.” Of course, that was the perfect word he had not been able to find and it sends Larry over the edge. It beautifully illustrates the writer’s intention to create a setting for the story he wants to tell

The setting helps to add a feeling or atmosphere in which the events of the story take place
– in this case, Luke does not locate the setting in time or space (as he does at other times; 1:5-9; 2:1-5). Did these events occur in a home? On a hillside? Was it in the morning? Or in the dead of winter?
– instead, Luke constructs the setting using an activity: Prayer
– we could describe the backdrop as sacred space and the atmosphere as reverent because, after all, this is Jesus who is praying

It is the activity taking place at the beginning of the story that prompts a disciple to ask Jesus “Lord, teach us to pray”
– this is what the spiritual director does – “as John also taught his disciples”

Luke does not name the specific disciple who asked the question
– he doesn’t want that to become a distraction for us
– observing Jesus in prayer, it became obvious to this disciple–and no doubt all the disciples–that his prayer could be more than what he currently experienced

There are lots of different opinions among Christians regarding prayer–whether to stand or kneel, fold our hands or raise them upward and open, and so on–, but there is not one right way to pray
– there is, however, a huge difference whether or not someone asks Jesus to teach him or her to pray
– there is a difference between those who want to move deeper into it–and into God through it–from those who are content with what they have

Verses 2-4, Jesus gives us the “simple form” of prayer

“Father” – we begin by calling to him
– we cannot walk or climb upward to God, we can only look in his direction and call (Lk. 9:16)

There are many titles we could use to address God in prayer – many theological designations
“Oh, omnipotent Creator and omniscient Judge!”
(I am reminded of a Simpsons’ episode in which the family was talking about God’s greatness and Homer blurts out, “God knows everything! He’s omnivorous”)

Jesus has us begin as children with a simple title of personal relation, “Father”

“Name” – in scripture is not merely a word, but a biography, a revelation, a presence

“Hallowed” – to be held sacred – we respond to the sacred with awe and respect
– if “Father” reflects a personal relation to God, the Name reflects a reverential relation to him
– “hallowed be Your name” is the prayer that all humankind will come to know and reverence God

“Your kingdom come” – this phrase does a lot! It:

  • carries me into God’s concerns – his “higher thoughts,” in which my life is only one tiny element
  • opens a door for the kingdom to enter the here and now–“Behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst” (17:21)
  • is a surrender – I lay down my will to control things
  • a cry for all the oppressed and suffering people on earth

“Give us each day . . .” – we are not always thinking God’s higher thoughts
– what holds our attention much of the time is the “little things”

Helmut Thielicke, “Now, just imagine that Jesus had forbidden us to relate all these things to our Father in heaven and to talk about them to him, simply forbidden it because they are too trivial for him, even though they mean so much to us. . . . If that were so, would we not be left terribly alone? Would not this simply leave the greatest part of our lives fatherless . . .?”
And later, “. . . this does not dishonor his divinity, but it does transfigure the trivialities. Does not this bread have a special dignity just because the Lord taught us to pray for it . . .?”

– we are encouraged to pray our thoughts, and fears, and worries, and hopes
– “each day,” God interacts with us in the present moment and we receive from him in the present moment (receive him), not once in our lifetime, or once a week, or even once a day – it is ongoing

“And forgive us . . .” – when we get close to God it is not unusual to suddenly realize our need for forgiveness! (Lk. 5:8)
– Jesus lets us know it’s alright to ask for it – again and again
– but when you receive it, be prepared to pass it on
– your heart cannot just take blood in, has to pump it out, and the same holds true when receiving forgiveness

“And lead . . .” – temptations do not refer only to enticements and seductions
– they are also tests, they are the kind of hardships that create temptations

Simone Weil, in a person letter, revealed how she had once read the Lord’s Prayer in Greek and fell in love with it. She decided to memorize it and then to say it daily. She said, “It is impossible to say it once through, giving the fullest possible attention to each word, without a change, infinitesimal perhaps but real, taking place in the soul.”

Verses 5-8, Jesus gives us a parable to show us something

This is not an allegory where everything is a symbol for something else
– for instance, Jesus doesn’t portray God in it
– he is simply trying to create an impression regarding our prayers

At the same time, there are hints in it of what prayer is like
We begin prayer outside a closed door (God stirs within)
– “from inside,” and, “the door has already been shut”
We call on God to open the door to us
– “he answers,” and at first it may not be the answer we want

Perhaps, most importantly, Jesus illustrates prayer in a context of friendship
We find here, two friends speaking loudly to each other in the dead of night

What is the point? “persistence” may not be the best translation
– Jesus is dealing with the tension between skepticism and hope
– he is telling his disciples, “You will get an answer. You will get results. So pray with confidence that God will hear and respond”
– this is the approach to prayer that opens the door

Verses 9-10, Jesus clearly explains the application of the parable

One Sunday night in our small group, a woman observed, “We seem to be playing on two different game boards”
– God has his game board and we have ours
– he makes a move on his board, but then we misinterpret it and make a move on ours that takes us off course
– so we are constantly finding ourselves baffled, frustrated, or upset

To ask, seek, and knock is to find our way to God’s game board

The challenge is not that we have to go on believing when we don’t see an answer
– but to learn how to discern the answer when it is given
– God speaks everywhere and all the time

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the works of His hands.
Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge. . . .
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their utterances to the end of the world.
(Ps. 19:1-4)

In contemplative prayer we are learning to become more attentive and, hopefully, more sensitive to the subtle messages of grace
– our objective is to become aware of God’s voice in ordinary activities

Someone might say, “Why bother to pray? Look, you prayed and nothing happened. Everything is just the same!”
– not everything! I am not the same (Eze. 46:9)

Verses 11-13, Jesus seals his teaching with an argument

Don’t overemphasize “evil” in this passage – it does not always have the connotation of moral evil or hopelessly evil
– in comparison to the perfect Father in heaven, we are, well, not so good
– Jesus’ point is that we know the difference between a good gift and a cruel joke

“how much more” – the logic of Jesus’ argument is typically rabbinic
– but there is a surprise at the end of this argument and it is the gift Jesus tells us God will give (cf., Mt. 7:11)
– we do not receive the Holy Spirit as an “it,” the way we would a vitamin capsule

The Holy Spirit is

  • heaven come down to earth (3:22)
  • God at work in us (4:1, 18)
  • the very atmosphere of prayer – we can’t pray without him

With such a firm guarantee from Jesus, we can confidently pray, “Father, please give me Your Spirit”

CONC: Jesus says nothing about special feelings in prayer

Nothing about hearing a voice or seeing a miracle
– rather, prayer in this teaching is connection and calibration (to a right relationship with God and others, “For we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us”)

Go to prayer looking for the joy of God’s presence and it is not likely that you will find it
– but go to prayer looking for him and you will find his presence – and much, much more

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