Love: The Nature of God
2/17/2019 4:00:27 AM
February 10, 2019
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Luke 11:1-4
Another video of Megan! She was about 2 years old and learning how to talk. She would say “woof woof” for dog. Amy was trying to get her to talk to the camera and say “hi mommy.” The end, though, is what I want to highlight. Megan wanted off her toy horse. She needed help. What did she say? “Help you.” She didn’t say, “Help me,” but “help you” because that’s what she always heard US say! “Do you want me to help you?”
Did her lack of grammar affect our understanding of what she needed? Not really. Did it affect our desire to help her? Did we demand she say it right? Of course not! But she was clearly still learning to talk. Now, at 5, we expect her to talk normally! Sometimes she uses baby-talk and we get annoyed, “Use your words!” She’s more mature now. She can communicate more effectively with us. We expect her to mature in her communication.
As babies we must learn how to talk. As baby Christians we must learn how to pray. Megan, at 2, was learning to talk. Now she’s 5. She can talk well!
Notice, in that video, Amy and I were delighted at Megan’s attempts to talk! We were so glad she was trying. We were excited to communicate with her! à Huge affect on our relationship! We knew we would have to teach her more and more, but that didn’t affect our love for her. But our broader, bigger desire was, long term, for her to learn to be articulate in her speech, to be able to communicate clearly and effectively. Why? Because we want the best for her, so we want her to develop and grow in her communication skills. This isn’t so that we will love her, but because we already do!
Communication is a key ingredient to relationships. This is true in marriage relationships. This is true in parent-child relationships. (How many parents of teenagers wish their kids would talk to them?) This is true in international relationships which is why we send ambassadors to other countries, etc.
This is true of our relationship with God too.
We’re going to look at Luke 11:1-4 today, which contains the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is found in both Luke’s Gospel and Matthew’s. The context in Matthew is the Sermon on the Mount- early in Jesus’ ministry. There Jesus warns not to pray in order to be seen or to babble on and on, but instead to make it about you and God.
Let’s see what Luke tells us about the Lord’s Prayer, here later in Jesus’ ministry.
What It Says
There are four things I want us to see in this text. First, Luke tells us “one day” these things happened. This wasn’t part of a broader message Jesus was giving in public, or major event like in Matthew. This was an ordinary day.
Second, notice that Jesus was praying! Here he is, the Son of God, and he is praying! Jesus himself needed to pray in his relationship with the Father. Jesus wasn’t in trouble. He didn’t “need” anything from God. Prayer was a regular part of his everyday life. (Recall “one day….”)
We frequently see Jesus praying. Often he went off by himself to pray! Rarely do we see Jesus praying publically. But Jesus prayed a lot. He was fully divine during his ministry, but he still prayed. This is a sobering example for us if we think we don’t need to pray, or if we only pray when we’re in trouble!
Third, a disciple asked Jesus to teach them all how to pray. Specifically, “like John taught his disciples.” It’s possible this was Andrew who had been a disciple of John the Baptist before following Jesus! Many Rabbis (including John the Baptist) taught their students how to pray- methods, forms, etc.
Jesus didn’t respond dismissively, either. He didn’t say, “Oh, it’s just talking to God.” Nor did he say, “What do you mean? Can’t you pray?” No, he gave them a useful, simple model to follow.
Fourth- Jesus said, “When you pray….” àJesus expects his followers to pray. Jesus didn’t say, “When
you’re in trouble, say…” He didn’t say, “When you need something, say…” He didn’t say, “When you feel down, say….” He didn’t say, “When you’re at church or Bible study, say…” On an ordinary day, Jesus was praying and taught his disciples to pray on ordinary days! As we will see in the coming weeks- Jesus expects us to be praying daily! (We are instructed to pray for “daily bread!)
Jesus then instructs his disciples, many of whom may not have been present at the Sermon on the Mount, by teaching them the famous prayer we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” Legitimately, we could probably call this “The Disciples’ Prayer” because it was given to them and for them to learn from!
The Lord’s prayer can be used as is, or as a model for how to create our own prayers. Luke records “say…” indicating that it’s totally ok to pray the Lord’s prayer as a prayer of your own. Matthew records Jesus saying, “in this manner” making it a model. The differences in the two Gospels’ accounts also shows us that Jesus modified it between those two contexts! In Matthew, as we will see, Jesus is specifically countering mindless, empty, wordy prayers. It is ironic that we sometimes recite the Lord’s Prayer on “auto pilot” without thinking about the words, when the context in Matthew is against using empty words! But that abuse of the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t mean we can’t pray it, just that we should understand it and pray it sincerely when we do!
The Lord’s Prayer is short in length, but broad in scope. Over the coming weeks we are going to look at the different parts of the prayer, the different “petitions” or requests.
The English word “pray” actually comes from Old English for “ask earnestly” or sincerely. So prayer has something to do with asking God things, but we will learn what sorts of things and in what manner it is appropriate to ask God things.
The scope of prayer ranges from God’s glory to our physical and spiritual needs. First, we pray that God’s name to be kept holy- more next week, but remember God’s name means his character. We pray that God’s kingdom come- remember kingdom in Scripture is not a realm or geographical region, but rather means the “authority to rule.” So we ask that God’s authority be recognized everywhere. We pray for daily bread- regular, mundane, daily physical needs. We pray for forgiveness and deliverance from sin even as we commit to forgiving others. We see the prayer has a broad scope from big to small, from physical to spiritual, from past to present to future, from our relationship with God to our relationship with others.
What It Means
First and foremost, though this series, I want us to all learn to be better prayers. Luther “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Christianity is about relationships- with God and one another. Prayer is a key ingredient to our relationship with God!
Jesus prayed- he was and is God! God is a Trinity- also, God is love. This means God is relational in his very nature. Here we get insight into the relational side of the Trinity – that the Son and Father regularly communicated!
Prayer is important. Prayer is relational. Relationships matter. Prayer matters. It’s something Jesus expects of us and, frankly, we should expect of ourselves!
Prayer can be simple. The Lord’s Prayer is not complex in wording or form. Prayer can be simple, but that doesn’t mean it comes naturally to us. The disciples needed to be taught how to pray. Jesus presented the Lord’s prayer on more than one occasion, and in both recorded instances it was in the context of teaching people how to pray appropriately. Prayer was something Jesus wanted to teach.
This shows us that prayer is something that can be learned. Jesus twice used this to teach prayer- to Jews! Jews prayed a lot already! Prayer wasn’t foreign to them. But Jesus’ Jewish followers wanted to know what it means to pray as a follower of Jesus. How would the Son of God teach us to do it?
At Alpha we had a person commit his life to Jesus. When somebody asked him, “What did you pray?” He replied, “I didn’t pray, I just talked to God.” This was great! He hadn’t made the concept of prayer a barrier to actually doing it! On the one hand, prayer is “just” talking to God. It’s not “hard” in that sense. No special words needed. But on the other hand, prayer is talking to GOD! That’s a big deal!
Prayer doesn’t change God, but it changes us when we do it well. Prayer isn’t about informing God of anything- he already knows everything! So learning to pray better isn’t about learning how to coerce God better or change his mind more.
So what is prayer about? CS Lewis uses a helpful image- think of yourself in a little boat or dingy out on a lake. Your boat is tied to the dock with a long rope. As you pull on the rope, it appears that you are drawing the dock to yourself! But in actuality, you are drawing yourself closer to the dock!
Prayer is about bringing our lives under God’s lordship. It’s about submitting our thoughts and desires to God. [Westminster Catechism Q 178] It’s about arranging our priorities properly. It’s about coming to God and acknowledging Him in every area of our lives and recognizing all that comes from God. Thus we pray for God’s glory first, then our own needs. We pray for our physical needs, our need for forgiveness and protection because we see that all this comes from God! Prayer is about submitting ourselves to another. This is the very opposite of autonomy, which lies at the heart of sin. Sin means putting ourselves on the throne instead of God! Prayer, done well, puts God back in his rightful place.
What are we to do with this? First and foremost, I want to reassure everybody in here – God’s love for you is NOT based on your prayer life! You may be really good at praying. That doesn’t make God love you more. You may be terrible at praying. That doesn’t mean God loves you less!
Prayer is not about obtaining God’s love, but about experiencing it. God’s love for you is already secure. In the image from CS Lewis about the boat and the dock, God is the shore. His love extended to you is the dock extending into the water. Prayer draws you closer to God, it doesn’t make God love you more!
That said, I think most of us would like to experience God’s love more! So developing our prayer life is a really valuable use of our time!
Sin is about rebelling against God. Prayer is about submitting everything back to God. When we pray, we begin with God’s glory and authority. That’s submitting! We then submit our needs to God’s care. This is very humbling and part of experiencing the restoration Jesus brings!
I want us to see the need for prayer and see the value in learning to pray as Jesus taught us! Marriage in which you never speak to one another is going to be horrible!
Prayer is something to learn and practice. Practice praying. Start out awkward? That’s ok! Megan started talking awkwardly. We still loved her. And she learned!
There’s a member of our congregation who asked me to give him a “pray out loud challenge”! Whenever we met, he told me to tell him to pray for lunch, or to open the meeting, etc. Why? He wanted practice! Over the years, he has improved in his prayers and appreciated the challenge to not only pray, but to pray outloud!
I had a seminary prof with the gift of prayer- Dr. Knowles. He would pray for people in his office and his prayers would reflect insight and knowledge you hadn’t shared with him! I asked him how he did it?!? “I listen,” he replied. He listened to God as he prayed and prayed what came to mind. It was uncanny! One time, there was a woman spending time in the Div College lunch room. It turns out she had been a Muslim and recently converted to Christianity. Her brother was still Muslim and he was angry she had converted. I spoke with her for a while and then realized she needed prayer. I took her to Dr. Knowles. He spoke to her briefly, then started to pray. He specifically prayed about her family and her brother’s anger. But the thing is, she hadn’t told him about her brother! She was amazed. So was I! Dr. Knowles had practiced praying for years and had practiced listening to Jesus about what to pray for and how to pray.
Listen to Jesus about how and what to pray. Notice in the text, the disciples ask Jesus how to pray. Jesus is God! So let’s ask God how to pray and what to pray! And then listen.
Learning to pray is like learning to speak a new language (or learning to speak for the first time!) Practice, practice, practice! Step one- listen to what he says in the Lord’s Prayer- we will be examining this for the next few weeks!
But prayer is not a formula! It’s about communicating in a relationship. In relationships, we listen. Listen to God as you pray. Learn to stop talking long enough to listen to the one you’re talking to! Sometimes Megan asks me for stuff. That’s good. I want her to learn to ask! But what if that’s all she ever said to me? That would get old fast! Don’t just make your prayers a shopping list! Take time to learn what and how to pray. Spend time with Jesus in prayer. Learn from him. Converse with him.
At first it may seem like learning to speak for the first time, or speaking a new language. You may feel like you’re saying, “Woof-woof,” and “Help you.” But you will learn and it will become dear to you. Amen.
Benediction: The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Amen.
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