Deuteronomy 32:1-9, Luke 11:1-13
March 16, 2014
You’ll notice some familiar words in our scripture for today. Here in Luke 11, we have a mini version of the Lord’s Prayer. And it comes in this passage where the disciples have asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. Now, you may know that, in Matthew’s Gospel, the Lord’s Prayer comes in the Sermon on the Mount. And I know it bothers some people that this prayer is found in two different places in the two different Gospels. But think about it. It’s a good prayer! Why wouldn’t Jesus use it in two different ways on two different occasions?
Well, here in this case he’s with his disciples, and they’ve asked him to teach them how to pray. Now let’s think about that for a moment. Why did they ask him that? I think that’s an important question in understanding this passage. Because, remember, these were “good Jewish boys.” They certainly had prayed before. They were taught to pray from their earliest ages. Why would they ask Jesus to teach them? Was it because he was their rabbi, and that’s one of the things he’d be expected to teach them? Was it because they needed to be taught what to say and what words to use in prayer? I know sometimes we’re concerned about that. Sometimes we think our prayers are not effective unless we have the right “formulaic” words. Or we think we’re not very “good at praying,” or that someone else is better.
Was that it for them? Or did they see something in Jesus’ prayer life that made a difference for him? And did they desire that for themselves? I think that’s the case here. We see that because they had just observed him praying when they asked the question! And we really see it when we look at what he taught them! I believe he had some peace, and some closeness to God that they wanted themselves. Do we have that in our prayer life?
I was sent a quote the other day on the internet. It was written as words from God, and it said this. “As you sit quietly in My Presence, I shine Peace into your troubled mind and heart. Little by little, you are freed from earthly shackles and lifted up above your circumstances. You gain My perspective on your life, enabling you to distinguish between what is important and what is not. Rest in My Presence, receiving Joy that no one can take away from you.” Isn’t that great? And I wonder if that’s the kind of thing the disciples saw in Jesus and his prayer life.
So, he taught them. And notice, that the first thing he taught them was to say “Our Father.” And for centuries after that, our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters have referred to this prayer by those two words. They call this prayer the “Our Father.” And in a way, I’m glad. Because that is the crux, that is the focus of this prayer. Jesus is telling his disciples that calling God “Father” is the way to the rewarding and fulfilling prayer life that they saw in him.
Now some people have thought that Jesus was the first to call God “Father.” But that’s not really true. There is evidence in Judaism that they also used that word for God. But it doesn’t happen often in the Old Testament. And when it does it’s more along the lines of “Father of all,” or “Father of nations.” We sometimes use that idea when we think of the Trinity. We think “Father of all creation.” But historians tell us that the Rabbis began to use the term “Father” more often as an address for God as the time of Jesus approached. So for “Rabbi Jesus” to use it would not seem so unusual.
The difference is that Jesus used the term much more intimately. There were even times when he even taught his disciples to use the word “Abba.” (Which was not, by the way, a Swedish rock group!) “Abba” was a very intimate form of “father.” It was more along the lines of “Dad” or “Daddy” or “Papa.” And even though Jesus doesn’t use that term here, this is still a more intimate use of the word “Father” than they were probably used to. And from his explanation that follows, he’s telling them that is the kind of intimate relationship with God that made that difference they saw in him.
First, he gives them the example of the man who has a friend who asks for food at midnight. There is a sharing of needs with a close friend. There is a “give and take” between friends. That’s the kind of exchange in prayer he’s telling them about. Then he goes on to say “Ask and it shall be given, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.” And the idea is that the same close, personal, “give and take” relationship with God is the basis for the asking, seeking, and knocking. Then he brings it all back to that family kind of connection. He says “For what father if his son asks for a fish will give him a serpent?” And he concludes by saying “How much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?!”
That familial relationship, that closeness to God, that sharing of needs and the heart’s desire, that’s the key to Jesus’ prayer life. And because of that, they saw that Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life. The end of that sentence is not a random thought about what God will give. “How much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?!” I believe it’s that Holy Spirit they saw in him and desired for themselves. That’s what they would receive!
So, do we want that same spirit in us? Do we seek that closeness to God in prayer? Think about that. We pray the Lord’s Prayer – every week. It is arguably the most used prayer in all of Christendom! And it may be the most often used prayer in all of history. But when we say the “Our Father,” do we think of God as father? And do we talk to him like a father? And I don’t just mean a father by birth or creation, but a real parental father, a father with whom we have a familial relationship?!
That’s the key. Again, that’s the focus of this prayer. In it’s various statements and petitions, thinking of God as Father is the center. In praying that prayer, we’re seeking to “live life with God in a father/child relationship.” We’re asking him to “Fill our daily needs,” to “Forgive us and teach us to forgive,” and to “Protect us from temptation and evil.” And we’re saying “Do all those things, our Father, because we are your children.” That’s the relationship which leads to the peace we seek.
Let me suggest something to you. Try this, in all your prayers for this next week in Lent. When you pray to God, use no other address than “Father.” Don’t start, “Dear God,” or “Lord,” or anything else you might ordinarily say. Just say “Father,” or “Dear Father.” Say “Father, here is my need.” “Father, watch over my friend.” “Father, guide me in the time ahead.” See if that makes a difference in your intimacy with God.
The focus of the “Lord’s Prayer,” the focus of the “Our Father,” is truly on God being Father! And I hope you see how important that is in prayer! And I hope you discover, or rediscover, what it means for God to be your Father in heaven. And I hope you’ll seek to have more of that “give and take” with God. I hope you’ll tell him your needs, like you would an earthy parent. And I hope that makes the difference for you, like it did for Jesus.
Well, the other part of this is that Jesus got into trouble by calling God his father. And that was part of this theme of “The road to the cross.” His opponents said that was way too close to calling himself God. “That’s blasphemy!” they said. And as we go down this “Road to the Cross,” we’ll see how that was the real issue for these people. Yes, Jesus upset the social, religious, and political order of the day. But what really “got him into trouble” was who he said he was. He was the Son of God. And yes, sometimes he cloaked that in the words “Son of Man,” a term they would have known from the prophecy of Daniel. But eventually, they knew what he meant! And that brought him closer to the cross.
Regardless, though, that relationship he had with the Father was so important. And he wanted us to know that our relationship with God should also be one of Father/child. We are all children of God in much the same way he was. That might seem far fetched. How can we say we’re children of God the way Jesus was? Well, maybe not in our creation. That, of course, was unique for Jesus. But it can be much the same in our father/child relationship with God. And that’s what he wants for us!
So, learn from Jesus. Pray the “Our Father.” Concentrate on thinking of God as “Father.” Share your life with him in that way. For “How much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask!”
Heavenly Father, help us to know the closeness to you that Jesus had when he was here on earth. Help us to share our lives with you in such a way that we know your peace and your spirit in our hearts. Help us, our Father, to know that we are your children. For this we pray in your Son’s name, Amen.