This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Luke 11:1-13
Confession: Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 45
Theme: Jesus teaches us about the value of prayer as a means to connect with God and grow in our thankfulness for who he is.
Sermon Prepared by Rev. William Tuininga, Bethel CRC, Edmonton, AB
Father Mariusz Zajac of Carrot River, Saskatchewan had been fishing for hours on Tobin Lake, north of where he lives, with no success. Before packing it in he decided to jig a little more while reciting a prayer, the Canticle of Mary, which gives thanks to the Lord for each day. It was then that he caught a world record setting walleye of 18.8 pounds, on January 4, 2005. Fellow fishermen now call him Father Walleye, and people have flocked to Tobin Lake to fish. Local business has improved. And since that time he has been inundated with requests for him to pray. A man living in Chicago who found out about it, called to ask for prayers for his cancer. And parishioners have brought fishing lures to his church on Sundays to have them blessed.
Is prayer such a ticket to success? Is prayer some kind of superstitious exercise – like owning a genie that pops out of a bottle and grants us our wish whenever we’ve been a good boy or girl? What is prayer? What role does prayer play in your life?
How we pray reveals a lot about our soul, just like how we spend money says so much about what we value. Our perspective on and practice of prayer speaks volumes about how we view God. It would be a worthwhile exercise for us right now to stop and have each of us write out how we view prayer – to express what we think prayer is.
And it would be an equally or even more revealing exercise to also share with others our practice of prayer. How often do we pray? How much time do we spend in prayer in a day (1 minute – 5 minutes – 30 minutes – one hour)? What kinds of things do we pray about? When do we pray? Do we have a quiet place for the purpose of prayer? As we shared most of us would likely feel somewhat inadequate. But in our sharing we would also learn from each other new ways of praying.
Generally the more we ask about prayer the more we realize that this part of our spiritual life has room for improvement. The disciples admitted their need to grow in the area of prayer when they came to Jesus with a request that he teach them how to pray. What likely created that desire was watching the Master pray. He often went to a certain place – a spot picked out for personal prayer. The disciples probably knew where to find Jesus when he wasn’t around. And it appears Jesus wasn’t to be bothered when he was praying, for the text says that “when he was finished” one of the disciples asked him: “Lord, teach us to pray?”
Has this ever been your question: “Lord, teach me how to pray?” Do you want to learn how to pray more or better? Maybe if we witnessed our Lord praying and saw what it did for him, we would want to pray more. While most people have some kind of connection with God, not as many people are serious about prayer. While there is a strong and even growing interest in spirituality, that hasn’t often translated into a longing for prayer. There are not long line ups of people at church doors asking to be taught how to pray. When prayer meetings are called, which isn’t often, they are generally not well attended. So the question makes sense: Why pray? Why learn how to pray? Will it make a difference?
Perhaps the lack of interest in prayer comes from an underlying assumption that prayer, being so personal, should be spontaneous and natural – something like we expect with any loving relationship. And yet isn’t it true that intimate or personal relationships take effort, openness and courage. Very often what people fear about prayer is what they most desire, namely, a close communion with God. In this way prayer can be a like having a one on one meeting with a famous or powerful person – we are both excited and frightened by the prospect of it.
And as a result many people hesitate to pray – to make that appointment with the almighty God. They might think: “Perhaps he is too busy – after all, he has a world to run. Besides, why should he be bothered to listen to my mumbling away?” Some hesitate to pray for fear of being perceived as a fake. They’ve heard someone ramble on in prayer and remember how they weren’t impressed with their many words. So to avoid hypocrisy they chose instead not to pray.
And yet, in spite of all the reasons and excuses we can make not to pray, we all know that prayer is essential to having a relationship with God. You can’t claim to relate to or be a friend with someone you don’t communicate with. This assumption about prayer is made in the question of the Heidelberg Catechism: “Why do Christians need to pray?” It recognizes our need for prayer. The Christian cannot survive without it. It is like Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica:
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Our walk with God is meant to be one where we are continually aware of God’s presence. The Christian is a person who is free to communicate with God the concerns and joys of the moment. Prayer is something like having a co-worker or friend who is stationed beside you. In this case our companion is the Holy Spirit who functions as a Counsellor or Comforter we can consult with so we are able to keep in step with God. Prayer is the Spirit’s tool to keep us living in communion with God.
For just like we need to talk directly with our co-worker who is stationed beside us, in the same way we need to regularly converse with God. Sometimes we need to take an official time out in order to pray. As Jesus practiced and taught his disciples, there are to be regular times where we stop to pray – like a couple sets time aside to look intently in each other’s eyes and share what is on their heart.
And an essential part of communication in relating as spouses or friends is expressing our appreciation for each other. It is in this same vein of thought that the Catechism says, “Prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us.”
Prayer is first of all an act of worship – a expression of our adoration of God and thanking him for who he is. In the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, he gives us a pattern of praying that begins by paying attention to God. Jesus taught us to first pray that God’s name be hallowed, that His kingdom would come and that His will be done. Then he teaches us to come to God with our need for daily bread and God’s grace and protection. An attitude of gratitude is built into the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer.
You may have heard of the helpful ordering of prayer using the letters A – C – T – S. ACTS refers to Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. We do well to begin our prayers with adoration or worship of God. And so often when we reflect on who God is, we quickly become aware of how unholy we are. This is why adoration can move into a time of confessing sin.
And when we purge our soul before God and bathe our spirit in the cleansing grace of God, such freedom moves us into saying thank you to God for his goodness and mercy. And once we have spent time adoring, confessing and thanking God, we are in a good or healthy position to ask God to supply our need – which is supplication.
We would do well to use this order of ACTS, even if for a month or two, as a way to structure or order our prayer time. It can liberate us from having self-centered prayers and help us center our thoughts more on God. First adore God for things like his wisdom, his power, his compassion and love, his patience, his majesty, his incredible mercy and grace, his holiness, and you fill in more. Then spend time in confession, sharing your deep burdens, naming your sins and being honest with God. Then give thanks for all God has given: “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God has done.”
And when you get to supplication – to making your requests known – take the advice of the Catechism. The Confession instructs us that the most important thing we can ask for is God himself. That is, ask for his Spirit. Ask for the Spirit to enter and fill you completely. Here we get to the heart of why we pray. We pray “Because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them.”
This is a prayer for spiritual renewal – for the Spirit to come and pour God’s grace into and fill us with Christ’s presence. This is a prayer for both personal and corporate renewal – even a prayer for revival. Do you think such prayer is necessary? Or do you think the church can just keep going along as we are? What is your assessment, is there too much apathy in the church, that is, are people taking God for granted and themselves too serious?
There are those who are quite satisfied to keep Christ’s church just as it is. Yet God’s desire is for the church to be alive and growing. God wants renewal, like happened at the time of the Reformation when the Catechism was written. And for such renewal to take place, we need to grasp how “God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them.”
Renewal begins with a longing to pray – with a desire to live in fellowship with God! We pray because we want to know God and enjoy him forever. In prayer we ask God to come and feed us until we want no more. We ask God to take away whatever apathy has set in and to wake us from any spiritual sleepiness brought on by affluence or indifference.
We also pray because the only way to stay united with God is by faithfully listening for him – by opening our spirit up to his Spirit. We pray so our life can be centered on Christ. We persist in prayer because this is our lifeline – this is our pulse beat. Prayer puts and keeps us in sweet communion with God. When we pray we worship our Lord, thankful for his grace, confessing our sin and groaning inwardly for the Holy Spirit to fill us.
This is the message Jesus sends in the parable of Luke 11. In this story Jesus asks us to imagine that guests show up at our house late at night. This happened more frequently back then since they didn’t have phones or email to let people know they were coming. So when guests showed up late, especially in a culture where hospitality was critical to social wellbeing, people would be quick to take them in.
But what if you take your guests in knowing that when morning comes there is not a box of cereal or loaf of bread left to feed them? In that culture it was understood you would go over to your neighbor and bang on his door and ask if he could spare some food. And since in that warm climate the windows were open, the fellow might call out from his bedroom: “Hey, do you have to bother me now? We are all tucked in for the night. Couldn’t this wait until the morning?” But you are a very persistent fellow, so you explain how your guests came in late and you don’t want to send them away in the morning with little to eat, so couldn’t he please get up and give a bit of food.
So what do you think will happen? Will your good and friendly neighbor deny you? No, even if it is to get rid of your persistent knocking, he will grant your request. And so how do you think God will treat you when you come knocking on his door? Will he deny your needs? Not at all!
"Ask and it will be given to you; (What is the “it” he speaks of? Well, Jesus makes two more explanatory remarks) seek and you will find (find what?); knock and the door will be opened to you (opened to where?). For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Question is: what will we receive, find and enter into?)
Jesus goes on to supply the answer to our questions:
"Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Luke 11:9-13
The primary purpose of prayer – of our asking, seeking, knocking – is that we might receive the Holy Spirit. And if we, who are not so inclined to be kind are yet willing to help those in need, how much more will the Father help us in our spiritual need and freely give us his Spirit. Yes, as the Catechism says, God grants his grace and Spirit to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for this gift.
So why pray? We pray because prayer expresses our inner longing for God. We pray as a way to get God before we try to get things from God. This is why Jesus teaches us to pray in order to ask for the Spirit, for he is the breath of God re-creating life within. We pray to express our groan for God, who comes to all who seek him. Prayer is our life line. Without him, we die. With him, we live.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, teach us to pray, that we might know God and live. Thank you, God, for your Holy Spirit. Fill us with your Spirit. We hunger for your full presence – for you to dwell fully within us. Holy Spirit, come and purify our spirit, renew our mind with your truth and remove whatever is unholy. Christ Jesus, be shaped in us so we will love others and obey God as you have loved us and obeyed the Father. We pray this, for we want our lives to bring you glory in all we do and say. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Suggested Order of Worship
GATHERING FOR WORSHIP
Call to Worship
God calls us to worship him through these words of Psalm 116:1,2,12,13,14
*Greeting: Please pray with me. Father in heaven, we have come to worship you for to you belongs all the honor and glory, and because you alone are good. Grateful for the many ways you have blessed us, we again humbly ask, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that your grace, mercy and peace be with us. Amen.
*Opening Song - #116:1,2,4 “I Love the Lord, for He Has Heard My Voice”
REMEMBERING OUR COVENANT
Prayer of Confession
Lord, you are perfect – you are holy, while we struggle with sin; you are faithful and we can be so inconsistent; you are loving – you are LOVE – while we do not love you with our whole selves or our neighbors like ourselves; you are generous with yourself and your possessions, and we can be so stingy and withhold from others; you are free, while we can be enslaved to habits, addictions, possessions and one another; you are patient, while we do not like to wait on others or your promises; you are truthful, while we cover up and speak half the truth; you are joyful, while we can become bitter and resentful; you are gracious, while we hold grudges and keep our list of wrongs. Thank you for your grace. We claim your mercy and cling to your love for us. We rejoice that because of Christ our Savior you see us as saints – holy, washed cleaned by the blood of the Lamb. Help us to declare your wonderful Name, in word and deed – through our lives and relationships. We pray in the Name of Jesus. Amen
Hymn of Assurance – 462Amazing Grace - How Sweet the Sound” or 560 “Like a River Glorious”
Will of God (Psalter Hymnal, p.1018)
Leader: What is the great and first commandment?
People: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
Leader: What is the second commandment like it?
People: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Leader: What does this mean?
People: Love is the fulfilling of the law.
Leader: To what does this call us?
People: To a life of faith working through love.
Song of Dedication – 547 “Fill Thou My Life, O Lord, My God”
HEARING GOD’S WORD
Scripture – Luke 11:1-13
Confession – Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 45
Message – “Why Pray?”
*Hymn – 421 “Spirit Divine, Inspire Our Prayer”
LEAVING TO SERVE
*Doxology – 556 “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”
Scripture Reading: Luke 11:1-13 (Today’s New International Version)
1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples."
2 He said to them, "When you pray, say:
" 'Father, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.' "
5 Then Jesus said to them, "Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' 7 And suppose the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
9 "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened.
11 "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 45
Question 116: Why do Christians need to pray?
Answer: Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us. And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them.