“Lord, teach us to pray…”
In my very short time as a pastor, I have done a fair amount of teaching about prayer. Most recently, I spent more than a couple of weeks this past year with the confirmation class talking about prayer. We reached a point where we would begin each class with a moment of prayer – I found that it helped us to focus on our task at hand and gave the students an opportunity to see prayer outside of worship. And at the end of each class, I would take a moment to pray for each student and their families: asking for guidance, love, a blessing, or thanks depending on what was shared in class.
Let me tell you, I am incredibly proud of our recent confirmands: they have something that I didn’t at their age. They not only knew and have memorized the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed before I came along, but many of them will tell you that those two things are their favourite parts of worship. I live in hope that this will carry on with them through their latter teen years and into adulthood.
Prayer is not something that has always been a part of my life. I grew up in a church where the children left the worship space right before the gospel lesson, went down to the basement, and had school. By the time I graduated from Sunday School in grade six, I don’t think I actually knew the Lord’s Prayer. I can remember sitting in the pew with my family and feeling incredibly sheepish as all the adults around me recited the words to the Lord’s Prayer during the second half of the worship service.
Out of a deep sense of shame, I committed myself to learning and memorizing that prayer as quickly as I could. A particularly big task because I have such a poor ability to memorize any amount large amount of words. The only other prayer I had memorized was my grandfather’s table grace.
And, perhaps, that other one that everyone knows: “Hey God, if you do *insert current desperate want here* for me, I promise I will *insert topical chore, habit, empty promise here*. Amen.”
Oh, I know that we talked about that prayer, downstairs, in Sunday School, but I don’t think it was a regular part of my experience growing up. Or, at least, maybe not for me personally. What I do remember learning about prayer was the how, the when, and the where of it. From my grandparents, I learned that prayer was done at the kitchen table, after breakfast, following a devotion, read from the daily devotional booklet. From my mother I learned that prayer was a time of quiet, and perhaps something intimate between you and God. From various family members I learned that prayer happened formally around the dinner table, and that grace is music to the ears in any language.
In Sunday school I learned that there was a formula: you pray for J.O.Y. – For Jesus, for Others, and then for Yourself.
Why that formula?
In some part, I think it was an effort to instill the notion that we love our neighbours before ourselves, and our actions in prayer ought to reflect that.
So, like a child learning the logistics of prayer, the disciples observe Jesus at prayer in a certain place. When he finished, one of them asks Jesus to teach them to pray, as John the Baptizer has taught his own disciples. Perhaps more specifically asking for a prayer that would mark them clearly as Christ’s disciples to all and any who would hear them pray.
And then we are given the main elements of the Lord’s Prayer.
That God would be as a parent to us – more than just any ol’ human parent: a paragon of parenting: a deep relationship or love and care.
That the name of God would be holy – more than just in the spaces beyond our comprehension: also in the every day, the mundane, and the comings and goings of regular people.
That the kingdom of God would come – more than just a new, yet perishable, empire: a breaking into a world in time through the Word and faith and in eternity, through the final revelation.
That we would have the bread we need for today – more than just what we need to survive: recognizing that ‘daily bread’ means the land, the workers, the flour and oven. Luther stated that we “ask for everything that is necessary in order to have and enjoy daily bread and, on the contrary, against everything that interferes with enjoying it.” It’s no small thing.
That God would forgive our sins – more than just what we admit to God: recognizing that God is already forgiving us. Before the thought of sin even crosses our mind we are soaking wet with forgiveness. We pray it so that we remember and so that we accept it.
That God’s forgiveness would inspire us to forgive everyone who has wronged us – more than just the ones we can easily forgive: recognizing that as a sign of God’s promise of forgiveness to each of us, we have the power to forgive all who have ever wronged us.
That God would keep us from temptation – more than just living lives free of all temptation: recognizing that it is God who gives us the strength to keep ahead of temptations of every kind.
The National Bishop, Susan C. Johnson, shared her thoughts about prayer in the March 2014 issue of Canada Lutheran, saying that “The WAY you pray is not what matters. THAT you pray, opening yourself up to God and interceding for the needs of those around you and the world – that is what matters.”
The thing I love most about Jesus teaching about prayer is that the first thing he teaches is not the how, why, or when of it. The first thing Jesus teaches is that we are all invited into this incredibly intimate relationship with God through prayer. Prayer is the opportunity for us to connect with the Almighty, the Creator, the God above all gods. Through prayer, that One God who is so beyond our understanding and grasp, bends down to our level and meets us in the depth of our needs, our thanksgiving, our wants, our grief, our hopes, our pain, and our deepest and carefully protected desires.
When you think about prayer in this way it begs the question: why don’t we pray more often?
Jesus gives us this base to work from, and then tells the disciples, as us, what we should be like when we pray through this simple parable of the neighbour waking the neighbour. “The pray-er is like this friend of a friend who shows up unannounced and in need and asking for the pray-ee to supply what is lacking.” We should all pray with the same fervour as the one who knocks on his neighbour’s door – shamelessly. Shamelessly ask of God in prayer, and God will be there, bent low, God’s ear to your mouth. Everyone who asks of God, receives God’s attention. Shamelessly seek God in prayer, and you will discover the Almighty fully present in that intimate moment. Whoever seeks God, discovers this overwhelming and incredibly intimate relationship of love with God, through Christ. Everyone who knocks so shamelessly, so impudently and persistently, with a need for the service of the other will discover a door that opens in response and such an outpouring of love that it could only come from God.
Because, as Jesus points out in the third part of this gospel reading, God is ready to do so much more than just any ol’ parent. How much more? The only way to find out is to say a little prayer. Amen.
Let us pray,
Holy Trinity, thank you for being so much more than we could possibly ever understand. Thank you for bending your ear low to each and every one of us who cries out to you, aloud or in the silence of our hearts and minds. Attune us to a practice of daily prayer before you, so that we may live into the wonder and beauty of an incredibly intimate relationship with you. Encourage us to open our eyes and ears to the needs of all those around us so that we may discover the joy of lifting others before you as we pray. We ask this all through Jesus’ name. Amen.
- Davis, D. Mark. “The Pray-er and Pray-ee of Prayer.” Left Behind and Loving it.
- Johnson, Susan C., Bishop. “Our Prayer Lives.” Canada Lutheran, March 2014, 34.
- Kolb, Robert, and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000.
- Lose, David. “Commentary on Luke 11:1-13.” Preach This Week, Working Preacher.
Today’s image is entitled “Girl Praying,” and is created by the printmaker Kaoru Kawano. You can learn more about the artwork here, and about the artist here. This image is modified and presented under Fair Use.
 The Large Catechism, The Lord’s Prayer II.53 in Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 489.
 The Large Catechism, The Lord’s Prayer IV.72 in Kolb and Wengert, 449.
 Bishop Susan C. Johnson. “Our Prayer Lives.” Canada Lutheran, March 2014, 34. http://elcic.ca/csr/documents/CLMarch2014_BISHOP.pdf
 D. Mark Davis. “The Pray-er and Pray-ee of Prayer.” Left Behind and Loving it. http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.ca/2016/07/the-pray-er-and-pray-ee-of-prayer.html