Teach Us to Pray

Sermon preached on Luke 11:1-13 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 03/20/2022 in Novato, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

Today we come to the topic of prayer. Jesus teaches us several things about prayer here. By way of introduction, let me note what is not taught about prayer here. Prayer is not about us trying to listen or hear from God. Last chapter ended by Jesus saying that Mary’s listening to him and his teachings was of chief importance. That’s true. But the way you will hear from God is in his Word. The way you will listen to Jesus’ teachings is by reading the Bible. Prayer is about listening, but amazingly it’s not about us listening to God but about God listening to us! Let us then dig into our passage today to learn more about prayer.

We’ll begin in our first point by considering the setting for this instruction on prayer. It’s there in verse 1. Jesus himself had been praying and that sparked one of his disciples to ask Jesus to teach them about prayer. The disciple notes how John the Baptist taught his disciples how to pray, and so he petitions Jesus to do the same. This is a petition Jesus gladly answers right away and we then have this whole section teaching on prayer. Right away we see that prayer is something to be taught. It is something you have to learn how to do. Pastors and elders certainly teach the church members how to pray, not only by specific instruction, but also by the example of their prayers. So too, parents teach their children to pray in the same ways. Christians have to be taught how to pray and hopefully our prayer life matures over time. So, there is great value in having passages like this to direct us in our prayers.

Let me also note that the setting here in verse 1 suggests that this is a different occasion than when Jesus taught what we call the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. I point that out because clearly the prayer Jesus teaches here in verses 2-4 is very similar, though much shorter, than the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew. Well, the setting there in Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is during the Sermon on the Mount during the early period of Jesus’ ministry. At that time, he had just recently called his disciples and had been conducting his ministry primarily in the region of Galilee. That sermon then began with the Beatitudes and eventually turned to the topic of prayer. In comparison, this setting here in Luke is much later in Jesus’ ministry, during his period of ministry “on the way” to Jerusalem, and the teaching time was sparked by a question from a disciple. So then, the different setting here suggests that this was a different occasion where Jesus again taught on prayer and made use of some material he had taught on previously. As someone who just reused a series on biblical decision making at our presbyter Snow Rally, I know it is not uncommon to reuse some material and that inevitably the teaching sessions are not going to be identical.

So then, apparently Jesus taught this slightly shorter version of his Lord’s Prayer here on this occasion in verses 2-4. That would help to remind us that Jesus’s purpose in teaching the Lord’s Prayer was not to give us a liturgical form. I’m not saying it is wrong to use the Lord’s Prayer liturgically. We do here and many congregations have down through the centuries. But to use it as a liturgical form does not mean that was the primary purpose that Jesus gave it. If it was, you’d expect that Matthew and Luke’s accounts would be identical. Rather, Jesus gave this as an example of how to pray in order to illustrate some of the kinds of things we might be praying for in our prayers. While we are on this subject, I would note that there are actually a number of ancient manuscripts that do have Luke’s version and Matthew’s version more closely matched up. Yet there are significant and varied manuscripts that record Luke’s version as what I read today, with the likely conclusion that a number of copyists of the ancient manuscripts added in various lines from Matthew’s version into Luke’s so that they more closely matched up. So, that is why you’ll find, for example, that the KJV’s version of Luke does almost entirely match up with Matthew’s due to the manuscript it was using for translation.

Let’s now then turn to consider this version of the Lord’s Prayer. I will walk us through the content and offer some brief reflection on it. It begins by addressing God as “Father.” This explains our relationship we have with God as his saved people. It also implies the prerequisite for such prayer that we are in such a relationship with God. That will only happen as we are reconciled to God, which in fact is what we have through faith in Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice on the cross. In faith in Christ, we receive several saving benefits, including being adopted as sons of God. This qualifies us to be able to pray unto God as our heavenly father who loves us and even listens to our prayers. This also reminds us how we should think of the great God to whom we are praying – as our father!

There are then five petitions. The first petition is “hallowed be your name.” Literally, this is a call for God’s name to be set as holy. Remember, that the name of God is shorthand for his reputation and renown. So, this is basically a prayer for God’s glory to be set apart for all to see and acknowledge. It’s put in the form of a prayer request but it effectively serves as praise to God.

The next petition I will come back to. The third petition is “give us this day our daily bread.” Some have thought this should be spiritualized or eschatologized. But I think it means just what it sounds like in that translation. This is to say that we need to bring our prayers to God for our daily sustenance. By extension, we look to God for all our physical and material needs. This teaches us to rely on God. I also appreciate the daily emphasis, which surely reminds us that this is something to be daily praying about. That assumes by the way that we are praying at least once daily. Maybe for some people, that alone would be a good application to take from today’s passage.

The fourth petition is to forgive us our sins. Unlike Matthew’s version which speaks of our debts, here, Jesus uses the more normal word for sin. To sin is to literally miss the mark in terms of obedience to God’s law. This reminds us that forgiveness and grace is a chief need that we have. It makes this top list of petitions in such a relatively short prayer. Our standing before God and our relationship with him depends on our sin being forgiven, because ultimately our sin is against God. Apart from such forgiveness, we ought not to expect God to even hear our prayers, let alone relate to us as a father to a child. So then, we see that this petition then adds these words to it, “For we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” That reads like a basis for God to forgive us, though we know that the only true basis we can have for our forgiveness is Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. But Jesus does teach us that righteousness includes that if we expect God to be merciful to us that we should be merciful to others. So, for this prayer to say that we forgive others, is for us to begin to do what righteousness requires. Our prayer is literally that moment declaring before God that we are forgiving others. If our heart is not in that, the prayer then becomes an opportunity to bring that before God as well to seek his help to forgive. Surely, our imperfect forgiveness of others is also something that we seek God to forgive us of.

The fifth petition is to lead us not into temptation. This naturally follows from the previous one. Not only do we want to be forgiven of past sin, we want to not fall into future sin. So, this prayer request prays that God would keep us from coming into future situations where we will be tempted and tested. I would note a couple related truths here. On the one hand, we know according to James 1:13 that God himself does not tempt anyone to evil. But on the other hand, we know God may permit us to experience such temptation as part of his how he grows us and sanctifies us. Along these lines, Luke’s gospel even records the Holy Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness back in Luke 4 where he underwent Satan’s temptations. So, we are right to pray that God would not lead us into such times of testing and yet if God does, may we also then pray that to be delivered out of such and to even count such times as all joy knowing how God is maturing our faith through trials.

Let me return then now at last to the second petition which is, “Your kingdom come.” How fitting that right after the prayer for God’s glory is the prayer for his kingdom to come, because it is of such overarching importance. Jesus’s teaching is all about the coming of the kingdom. This prayer looks for both immediate and long-term answers. In the immediate, we pray that Christ’s kingdom would advance through making disciples and growing disciples, as God’s rule is being established over us. This prayer then includes that individually in our own heart’s God’s rule and reign would be more realized. And ultimately it looks to the future age to come when Jesus will return and usher in a final judgment and establish in consummate glory his coming kingdom of righteousness. At that point, when the kingdom comes in the full, all these petitions will be perfectly realized. Then, in that day, in that future kingdom, God’s name will be hallowed in the full by all in his kingdom. Then, in that day, we will always have our daily bread. Then and there we will never be tempted to sin again, and have no more need to be forgiven or to forgive others. Then, when the kingdom comes in the full, all our prayers and hopes will be answered. Let us pray unto that glorious end!

Let us now in our third point for today turn to verses 5-13 and consider this parable which is often referred to as the Parable of the Friend at Midnight or the Parable of the Importunate Neighbor. Jesus tells the parable in verses 5-8 and then afterwards goes on to explain it and apply it. The basic summary of the parable is that it envisions a friend having a late-night need and going to a neighbor-friend at midnight for help. Obviously, it is not normal to go to someone at midnight for such help. It falls outside of proper custom or even politeness to do that. As Jesus describes in verse 8, this is impudent of the friend to go to the neighbor friend like that so late and night and wake him and expect to get help. Some translations translate that word for impudent as “persistence” which has a more positive sound to it, but the Greek word here does generally have a negative connotation to it. One translation even translates it as shameless audacity! Jesus then says that the neighbor-friend finally helps him not because they are friends – though they are – but because of this impudence! You could imagine this neighbor-friend like that being so awoken in the middle of the night, so taken aback that his friend would bother him like that at so late at night, but that he doesn’t want to try to argue with his friend at such an hour, and so he ultimately gives in and gives him what he wants so he could get back to sleep. You could definitely imagine that scenario, and that is the picture Jesus paints.

So then in verse 9, Jesus begins to explain and apply this to us in terms of our prayer life. He says to ask, and to seek, and to knock. Three closely related words that express a bold fervor and earnestness that we are to have when we pray. By the way, I again point out that prayer is largely defined in the Bible as about asking things from God, not about listening to God. While things like praise and confession of sin are also parts of prayer, the core definition of prayer is that of making requests to God. Isn’t that wonderful to see how God greatly encourages us to come to him with our desires? In the parable, it is rather impudent for him to come so late and night and ask for a favor at a time like that. Yet the man asked, sought, knocked, and got what he wanted. But God never sleeps. We need to bring our requests to God. We need to bring them at all hours whenever the need arises. We need to be persistent in our requests.

And we should have faith in making those requests because Jesus says here in verse 9 that you will get what you ask for. He says that basically three times in verse 9. In case you missed that point, he then says it another 3 times in verse 10. Jesus calls us to have faith in our prayers. Believe that God will answer you.

Jesus further applies this parable on prayer when in verses 11-12 he turns to use an analogy of a father-child relationship. Here Jesus says that if a child asks for a good gift, a father won’t give them a bad, even dangerous, gift. This is a reminder that parables are not to be understood in a one-to-one correspondence. There is some analogy to be made between the friend who goes to the neighbor-friend at night and ask for help in an importunate way. But that doesn’t mean that God is some reluctant-to-help friend who only helps because he doesn’t want to be bothered. That parable teaches us to ask and encourages us that we’ll get answered, but that doesn’t mean God is necessarily like that reluctant neighbor-friend. Rather, it is a sort of “how much more” type argument. Because, as Jesus goes on to describe here, our relationship with God is not so much as a friend to a friend but as a child to a parent. God as our heavenly father loves us so much. He wants to give us good gifts. And he wants us to be asking him for good gifts so that we can learn to depend on him and to look to him and to rely on him. So then, if even a reluctant neighbor-friend would grant someone their request as in the parable, how much more will our loving heavenly father bless us as we come to him with our requests?

That how much more idea is stated by Jesus in a different way in verse 13. He takes his analogy of God as a father to us and reflects back on earthly fathers. He says that we humans are inherently evil, and yet as earthly fathers we still look to bless our children with good gifts. If we sinful parents love our kids and want to bless them, how much more will the righteous and merciful God be quick to give us good gifts as we ask him. As a side note, we see the doctrine of total depravity here when Jesus just bluntly calls all us humans evil in verse 13.

I like to note here that a truth about prayer that is implied here is that God is only going to give us good gifts. In other words, if we ask for bad gifts, God as our heavenly father is not going to give us those. Every so often I’ll get questions from Christians along these lines – like do they have to worry that they’ll pray for the wrong thing and that God will give them that wrong thing and it will badly mess up their life. While it is true that part of growing in our prayer life is to learn about the good things to ask for, surely this passage teaches us that God has our best interest in mind. He loves us. If we ask for a serpent or a snake, so to speak, he’s not going to give it you. Surely this is why often we don’t get the things we think we need when we pray for them, because God knows what is best. So then, let us as children bring our manifold requests to God. And let us trust that God knows best in how he chooses to them.

This passage reminds us that the chief of God’s good gifts for us is the Holy Spirit, verse 13. We are commended to be asking God for the Holy Spirit. Indeed, at Pentecost in Acts 2, we see how Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit boldly on Christians. And God continues to give us Christian’s today the Holy Spirit. It is by the Spirit that we can first come to know God and trust in Christ as our Lord and Savior. It is according to the Spirit that he gifts us for service in the church. It is through the Spirit’s work in our hearts that he bears fruit of godliness in our lives. Let us pray that we know the Spirit in the full in our hearts and lives. If we are ever in doubt on what we should be praying for, praying for the Holy Spirit to be at work in our hearts is always going to be a great request!

Trinity Presbyterian Church, I hope you have been blessed by Jesus’ teaching on prayer here today. As I look back on this passage, beyond the chief end of God’s glory, two things from here really stand out as the highest significance in our prayer life: the gift of the Holy Spirit and the coming of the kingdom. These two things really stand out as so significant here for us. Yet, is such significance featured in your prayer life? I ask that question for the purpose of application. Surely all of us could be encouraged today to reset our priority in our prayer life. To the glory of God, let us pray for the kingdom to come, with all that such entails. And to the glory of God, let us be praying for the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts, to gift us greatly and to bear much fruit. Let us be asking, seeking, and knocking especially for these things.


Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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