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Friday, July 26, 2013

Pentecost 10: "Lord, Teach us to pray"

By its very nature, today’s reading lends itself to teaching, rather than preaching.  Sometimes Jesus preached, and sometimes Jesus teached {I know that is grammatically incorrect, but it sounds better :-) }  The disciples come to Jesus (and today we come to Jesus) and say: “Lord, teach us to pray.”  

And in the first words of the reading, we find an important point: People often feel unable to pray and assume that the ability to pray is natural to some and lacking in others……the disciples are on the right track in realizing that we can be taught to pray.

Jesus divides His teaching into 4 parts, so I will too!
He teaches: 1. What to pray for (in verses 2-4)
                   2. The importance of persistence (in verse 5-10)
                   3. The certainty of a positive answer because of God’s love and goodness (in 
                       verses 9-13)
                   4. The ultimate gift, the Holy Spirit, who is the source and power for all right prayer (in verse 13b).
 

1.What to pray for

In this prayer, Jesus teaches us what is most important and necessary in life, and He suggests how we should rank them (remember looking at the importance of prioritising last week.)
  There are 5 requests; first come requests relating to God’s own interests, namely hallowed be Your name and Your Kingdom come.  
Then follow 3 requests relating to our needs, namely give us each day our daily bread, forgive us our sins……and lead us not into temptation.  
God’s interests are put first, followed by ours.  That is the true priority in the prayer life of a Christian.

God is addressed as a personal and beloved parent, whose holiness and sovereignty we acknowledge with gratitude and awe when we pray: Father, hallowed be Your Name.  
We are acknowledging and confessing that we are in an intimate relationship with God…….........are you?

When we pray: Your Kingdom come, we are stating that our deepest longing is that God’s honour be fully seen in all creation.  We are asking that the reign of God may not merely be a dream we have or something we look forward to, but rather that it is something that is a manifested reality in our midst, in our homes……in Alberton.

Turning to our own needs: Give us each day our daily bread, is an acknowledgement that life is meant to be good and that our physical needs must be met.  But our plea here is for more than food; it encompasses all the necessities of life.  Martin Luther said: When you mention and pray for daily bread, you pray for everything that is necessary in order to have and enjoy daily bread and, on the other hand, against everything which interferes with it. Therefore you must open wide and extend your thoughts not only to the oven or the flour-bin but to the distant field and the entire land, which bears and brings to us daily bread and every sort of sustenance. To put it briefly, this petition includes everything that belongs to our entire life in the world.

When Jesus teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive”, He’s not suggesting that God’s forgiveness is dependent on our forgiving.  Rather, He is simply assuming that those who seek to learn how to pray from Him will indeed forgive their enemies……do you?

The request lead us not into temptation is one that often confuses folk (and I invite you and encourage you to discuss this in more detail in your small groups).  It really is a warning against any smug assumption that we are holy or virtuous.  Without God’s help, we would all fail and fall in the face of temptation.  As a friend of tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners, Jesus knew well that temptation can simply overcome people.  And He knew that those driven beyond endurance by poverty, gender inequality, parental abuse, gang life and drugs are similar to ourselves.

Now, besides noting the instruction to put God’s interests first, and then only to pray for our own, we should also note that of the three things Jesus tells us to ask for ourselves, only one relates to our physical needs.  The other two relate to our spiritual and moral needs.  The order is significant: we ask first for our physical needs because meeting these needs is a necessary basis for higher spiritual and moral experiences.

But to the one prayer for our physical needs, we must add two for our spiritual and moral needs.  As simple human beings we need forgiveness each day, just as we need daily bread.  At the same time, the spiritual dimension is linked to the moral one……we are to pray that we may not enter into temptation.

The missionary Donal Dorr has written the following adaptation of the Lord’s Prayer that applies to our own context and embodies most of the principals we've looked at so far……you have received it in your insert today.

Our Father…May Your Kingdom come, and may we be active in promoting it
– a Kingdom of peace and love, founded on true justice…
Give us this day our daily bread, and strengthen us in our efforts to build a world where we all have an opportunity to earn our daily bread through meaningful work, where nobody
has to go hungry and no group lives in luxury while others starve.
Forgive us our trespasses – our failure to believe in Your Kingdom and Your call to us to bring it about, our sinful apathy in the face of injustice, our failure to work together,
our dissipation of energy in fruitless resentment rather than courageous challenge.
Lead us not into temptation: do not test us beyond our strength
by leaving us in our desperate situation.
But deliver us from evil: lead us out of bondage as You led Your people in the past
out of slavery and into the Promised Land; raise up leaders for us as you called
Moses and Deborah; inspire and strengthen them to lead us into freedom.

So Jesus teaches us what to pray for.  Secondly, He teaches us…

The Importance of Persistence

In the parable of the midnight visitor and the man who has no food to offer him, the neighbour knocks at his friend’s door and shamelessly persists until the neighbour gives him what he needs.  There is a link here to our parable from two weeks ago, the Good Samaritan, where the question was asked, “Who is my neighbour” and the answer given was essentially “anyone who needs something I have.”

The Jewish word that Jesus would have used here, which is translated as boldness or persistence, is the Yiddish word, “chutzpah” which means audacity, gall, cheek, brazen nerve, presumption, arrogance, persistence or just plain “guts.”  The interpretation Jesus gives to His own parable is that if someone who is reluctant to help will eventually help just because of persistence, how much more will God, who is actually eager and willing to answer our prayers.  
Be persistent……nag God!.........because, thirdly:

We have the certainty of a positive answer because of God’s love and goodness

Ask and you will receive
Seek and you will find
Knock and the door will be opened

This is TRUTH!  

We have the certainty of a positive answer to all our prayers…not necessarily our desired answer, but always God’s positive answer based on where our prayer began……namely that our first priority in prayer is Your Kingdom come……in other words, “Let what is best for the Kingdom of God happen in my life” and God promises here that His answers will always be what is best for the Kingdom of God and the reign of God.


And just in case we haven’t got the message, He tells another story in which He says no father will give to their child a snake instead of a fish….or a scorpion instead of an egg.  Our God will never do that……never……never!

Now, in my own life, I've sometimes felt that I’m getting a scorpion from God instead of the egg I’m asking for.  But I praise Him and thank Him that eventually I've always (eventually, sometimes after months and other times after years) come to see the truth, that, in a mysterious way I received what is best for the Kingdom of God and ultimately for me and my eternal salvation.  Last week, Martha seemed to get a scorpion instead of an egg when she asked the Lord to tell her sister to help her……but she didn’t, did she?

And so, Jesus ends His teaching on prayer by speaking on:

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

In a sense, He now gives us the most important perspective on prayer, which is:
If you ask for nothing else in prayer, ask for the Holy Spirit, because He is the source and the power for all right prayer.
He is strength for us to persist in prayer.
He is power for us to continue when it seems God is saying no.
He is the very source of life as we seek to live it to the glory of our Father, whose Kingdom we want to see coming on earth.

Ask for the Holy Spirit.

In conclusion:   Jesus has taught us what to pray for; He has asked us, encouraged us, allowed us, to be persistent,  to pray with “chutzpah”; He has assured us of positive answers to all our prayers; and He has promised the gift of the Holy Spirit.


Therefore:   Let us pray.

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