Learning to Pray

Text: Luke 11:1-13
Date: Pentecost X (Proper 12) + 7/28/13

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; for He comes to reconcile us to God, to reunite us with God by revealing the grace and mercy of God toward us. When we pray to Him it is always with a faith informed as to God’s name, His person and revealed will.

When the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples,” was it because they did not know how to pray already? They had seen the Lord quite often go off by Himself to pray. Were they looking for some magic formula by which they could be the more sure that their prayers would be heard? And how did John the Baptist teach his disciples to pray? It must have been including something more than the basic temple and synagogue prayers with which they were already familiar. And that something more we could conjecture would be in line with the Baptist’s calling and ministry, namely, the emphasis on a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and preparing to welcome the King who comes in the name of the Lord, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Jesus didn’t ask why the request. He simply responded by proceeding to teach. He taught in a simple way. He taught with the words He had previously spoken in the Sermon on the Mount, but now in a shorter form. As St. Luke has taught us thus far in his Gospel how to receive Christ as pure gift without our works or preparations, and how He must first speak His word to us before we can have anything to say or do to or for Him (just ask Mary and Martha!), so now having received Christ and His word we are taught how that He changes us, how our new relationship with God in Christ is reflected in our life, in our conduct, in our relationships with family and fellow believers and with the world.

It was and is the usual way for the children of God to address God as “Father.” Maybe especially in our day when faith is increasingly viewed as a merely private matter based on only an individual’s personal opinions it is good to emphasize that God calls us into a fellowship of faith in “our” Father as is stated in Matthew’s version and our commonly used version of the prayer and not just “my” Father. We are called into “koinonia,” or, as our Synod is currently calling it, “Life Together.” We may say further to these sometimes strange times we live in, that God is Father not Mother according to His own revelation of Himself. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Recall how the catechism tells us that to hallow God’s name primarily means to teach God’s Word in its truth and purity and to lead holy lives according to that Word. It follows then that we learn to pray in line with the revealed Word of God and even, sometimes to use the very words God has inspired and given as when we pray the psalms or these very words given to us by the Lord.

Jesus would have us ask God to continually send us His kingdom, that is the operation of His Holy Spirit to work and sustain the faith we need to know and understand and love God’s gracious rule according to His revealed Word.

With such weighty issues as saving faith in God’s Word and its pure teaching,
however, it may strike us as odd for our Lord to include in the middle something as mundane or ordinary as a petition merely for daily bread. Yet there are not only two things certain in life, “death and taxes,” but fundamentally our physical life and need for food and nourishment and everything that belongs to our entire life in this world. When you think about it in that way, besides food “daily bread” includes clothing, house, home, bodily health, a loving family, our work or occupation. When you pray for God’s provision of daily bread you are also praying for government rulers and protection from threats of enemies, war, and the devil. But not only that, let us also include our need for the bread of heaven, God’s spiritual gifts for our eternal life and destiny, chief of which is the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of faith, the gifts given by the very sacrifice of the body and blood of our Lord and Savior on the cross, these gifts brought forward through all of history as through a centuries long funnel or channel, and given to us today regularly in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Most important for both our koinonia, our life together here, and for our admission into the fellowship of the kingdom of God, is this forgiveness of our sins. This is the chief issue of the Christian life, that is, learning how to live in the forgiveness of sins as “we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us,” and so it deserves a place in this most important of all prayers. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Then we are taught to pray against the devil, the world, and even our own waywardness, against false doctrine or also faithless despair—“lead us not into temptation.”

To emphasize God’s mercy, grace and love Jesus finally appeals even to our own, albeit feeble sense of mercy of responding to the needs of neighbors and our own families and children. “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” You shall love your neighbor as yourself, for this demonstrates your living faith in God’s love for you.

Besides formal petitions in words, our very life of faith is prayer. For every act and word and thought is to hallow God’s name, demonstrate trust in God’s grace, live in divine forgiveness. We do that, however, only insofar as we live in God’s Word as the avenue, the channel or conduit of the Holy Spirit, His power, His mercy, His love and grace for us; for you.

Let us live. Let us pray.

Blessed Lord, You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and take them to heart that, by the patience and comfort of Your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.

O grant that nothing in my soul
May dwell, but Thy pure love alone;

Oh, may Thy love possess me whole,

My joy, my treasure, and my crown!

All coldness from my heart remove;

My ev’ry act, word, thought be love. Amen