Uniform 01.04.2015: Teach Us to Pray

Luke 11:1-13

In Between the Gates, author Chuck Poole writes about how his family prayed when his father battled liver cancer. The cancer advanced at each step of the journey, requiring them to adjust their prayers. “Sometimes prayer changes our lives,” Poole says, “and sometimes life changes our prayers. Sometimes prayer changes the direction in which life is going, but sometimes prayer can only keep moving in an effort to catch up to life.… We start out praying for everything to be fine, and we end up coming to terms with what we must face, accepting realities we cannot change; adjusting, adjusting, adjusting.”

As believers, we can spend a lifetime trying to figure out the purpose of prayer—when to pray, how to pray, and whether prayer really works. We can question the purpose of prayer, wonder if God truly hears us, and feel disappointed when a situation doesn’t work out the way we wanted it to.

We can know for certain that people pray throughout the Bible: Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Hannah, David, the prophets, Job, the disciples, and people who needed healing or help. Even Jesus, God’s own Son, says prayers to God. It is clear that prayer matters, and that people who desire to be close to God are people who pray.

Our text contains the lesser-known version of the Lord’s Prayer found in Luke 11:1-13. Just like we might ask God how to pray, the disciples ask Jesus, and he gives them a simple prayer that seems to cover all the bases—praise and worship, God’s kingdom on earth, provision of needs, confession and forgiveness. But then he expands on what their attitude should be as they pray. Like a loving parent, God wants us to have what we need. There is nothing wrong with being persistent, with asking God for the same things over and over again.

There will come a time, though, when we see that God has answered our prayer. Whether or not it’s the answer we longed for, we can trust that God will walk with us through whatever we face. Life in our world has no guarantees. Trials come, marriages fail, people get sick, loved ones die, jobs are lost. We may never get an answer to the question of why certain things happen, and we may have to keep adjusting our prayers to try to keep up with life.

But life in Christ comes with the absolute guarantee: “everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (v. 10). We are promised that when we seek God, we will find God.

Chuck Poole, Between the Gates: Helpful Words from Where Scripture Meets Life (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2006).

Discussion

1. How often do you pray? Do you pray with certain words each time, or do your prayers change depending on your circumstances?
2. Do you find it easy to pray? If not, why do you think this is so?
3. Have you ever used Jesus’ model when you pray? If so, how is it helpful?
4. When have you prayed for something continuously but not gotten an answer? Have you ever had to “adjust” your prayers to keep up with what is happening in your life?
5. How much do you trust in the guarantee that you will find God?

Reference Shelf

Nobody prays the Lukan form of the Lord’s Prayer—not even anyone else in Luke, even though Jesus says “pray like this.” Christians normally pray the Matthean form, except when those who say “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Luke has “forgive us our sins [or trespasses, if you prefer] as we forgive our debtors,” so even there we are not following Luke very closely. Ironically, many who pursue the historical Jesus think that except for “forgive us our trespasses,” Luke’s form is more original and that Matthew’s form was modified for (and probably by) use in early Christian worship. That Luke preserves this form is curious: is this the way Christians in his part of the empire regularly prayed the model prayer? That is, did they really pray “Father” and not “Our Father,” and did they end the prayer so abruptly? Or did Luke think that he was providing a list of topics for prayer, or an individual prayer, never really intended for corporate use? We can’t know for sure; what we do know is that no evidence exists to suggest that any church or group of churches ever prayed Luke’s version of the Model Prayer liturgically.

This commentary section, like the lectionary reading, holds together assorted teachings on prayer. First there is the request for instruction on prayer (vv. 1-2a, found only in Luke); then the model prayer (vv. 2b-4); then the parable of the friend at midnight (vv. 5-8), also found only in Luke; and then the instructions “ask, seek, and knock,” with the analogy about the child asking for food, which is found in Matthew also, although not in the context of teachings about prayer (Matt 7:7-11). If there was a Q, then Luke will have drawn the prayer and “ask, seek, and knock,” from it, and some scholars think he preserved the order of materials in his source. Others are not so sure—maybe the tidiness of this section is due to Luke’s skill as an arranger.

Once again, Jesus is praying (5:16; 6:12; 9:18; 9:29; 10:21); by reminding his audience frequently of Jesus’ prayerful habits, Luke no doubt hopes to encourage others to imitate the Lord. On this occasion, Jesus’ own prayer leads one of the disciples to ask for instruction. This verse is the only reference to John the Baptist as a teacher of prayer. It is not implausible that John taught his disciples to pray in a way that set them apart from other Jews, since both Mark and Q testify to how John and his disciples fasted in their own way (Mark 2:18//Luke 5:33; Luke 7:33//Matt 11:18). If Luke knew anything about the content or style of Baptist-type praying, he gives us no clues, but the impression that we are to get from this scene is that this is common knowledge.

Given that Luke has already often shown Jesus at prayer and has made the point that it was his normal practice, why put in the part about John—what force does it add to the story? Luke considered John the Baptist the beginning of the gospel, and naming him here, in connection to prayer, pulls on elements as far back as the first chapter, where John’s father got his angelic message while offering the incense sacrifice at the hour of prayer. In Luke’s version of Mark’s question about fasting, the Pharisees say, “John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray” (5:33; Mark’s version lacks “and pray”). Jesus has already explained why his disciples will not fast until after he is gone, but it is entirely appropriate that they learn to pray, and appropriate, from Luke’s understanding of God’s plan for the gospel, that John was the forerunner in this regard (1:76-77).

Reference

Richard B. Vinson, Luke, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 359-60.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters (ages 10 and 8), and watching television shows on Netflix. Her goal for 2015 is to tackle the bass clef on the piano.

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