When it comes to our spiritual life; our walk with Christ; perhaps we can narrow the focus a little bit here. As I think about my own walk with Him, I cannot help but think about how I learned to do what, and who it was that taught me, and under what circumstances. For example, I am grateful for those people placed in my life who have taught me how to study the Bible, serve with excellence and humility, and to follow through with what the scriptures themselves teach me.
Forty-five years ago at the age of twelve, I lost my dad. His funeral was the day before my birthday, and my birthday that year, (as well as this year), fell on Father's Day. Just prior to my dad passing away from his battle with cancer, he wrote a poem, which includes a couple lines I have never forgotten:
Through life I stumbled and fell and lost my way,
Until ones like you taught me to pray.
In thinking about all that I have been "taught", it occurred to me that my very first lessons about prayer were taught to me by my father. Our chief subject in this article is this topic of prayer, this skill of prayer, this great privilege we call prayer. Let's consider some things Jesus says about the subject:
Luke 11:1-4 Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” So He said to them, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your Name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (NKJV)
Many of you will recognize this (verses 2-4 in particular) as what has become known as the "Lord’s Prayer" or the "Model Prayer". We see a nearly identical rendering of it in Matthew 6:9-13. Because of this, many have had the notion that Matthew and Luke are simply giving an account of the same historical occasion in their respective gospels. Indeed, Jesus’ words in both accounts are nearly identical, but friends, we are in error if we think that they are one in the same occasion. So how can and do we know this with certainty?
In Matthew’s account, Jesus teaches from atop a mountain to his disciples (known as the Sermon on the Mount) just after he has been swarmed by the multitudes and has just arrived there and been seated (Matthew 5:1-2). In Luke’s account, we discover that Jesus has actually been praying in a certain place and has just finished praying when a disciple comes and poses the question; “Lord teach us to pray…”. We know that this disciple is not alone because in Luke's gospel, Jesus (verse 2) then said to them.
The “them” in each case is different. The multitudes are actually present for the teachings of Jesus in Matthew (verses 7:28-29) whereas only the disciples are present in Luke’s account. The specifics of what Jesus teaches about prayer (not the pattern or recited words only, but the entire teaching) are completely different in each case. In Matthew, the context is, when praying, to do so in secret and not for “a show”. We are told to pray in secret, where our reward is from heaven, and not to put on a display in front of others. In Luke, the context is, when praying, to keep persisting in the asking. We know this from the parable Jesus shared in Luke 11.
From our main text in Luke 11:1-4, I must say that I marvel at something disclosed; a few things actually:
First, I have to wonder which of these occasions happened first? In either event, it is clear that Jesus has indeed, more or less, repeated himself to his disciples, at least with the model (pattern) words he used. Not unlike these first disciples, we also may need to be taught time and again about such important, and in fact crucial, subjects as this. I pray that you and I may listen each time, and learn from each lesson the Lord brings our way.
Secondly, it was just one of his disciples who posed the question about teaching them to pray. I have to wonder if they had discussed among themselves who would ask him? It is obvious from the account that either they had all been watching him pray, or the one disciple certainly had. It was clearly right on the heals of this particular observation that the question was asked. I suppose that this was not his/their first observation, either. Jesus has clearly displayed a pattern, and it is often patterns in people’s lives that grab our attention. I am also reminded that sometimes a hesitant but humble question will result in the entire group benefitting from the answer. Such is the case here; and not just the twelve, but the multitudes of people through the centuries who have had the privilege of knowing Jesus’ answer.
Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, I marvel at the subject matter itself in which the disciple asked Jesus to teach them. The disciples had observed so much: How Jesus spoke and taught with authority, the power of God on display in His miracles, the love and compassion with which he reached out to people. Amongst “all that Jesus began both to do and teach” (Acts 1:1) which the disciples had the privilege of witnessing and hearing, the subject matter with which we find this specific question, “please teach us”, being asked is this: LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY! The fact that praying was asked to be taught to them is not necessarily the only significance here. Apparently and according to Luke 11:1, John the Baptist had been teaching his disciples to pray. However, I marvel at the fact that the Bible states ONLY ONE TIME what the disciple(s) wanted to be taught about.
First, let’s consider examples of what the critical question wasn’t; valid as these may be:
- Lord, teach us to speak to the people with the authority in which you clearly do.
- Lord, teach us how to study the scriptures which we hear you quote so often, and more than that, teach us what the scriptures really mean.
- Lord, teach us to know how to perform the miracles in which you have displayed time and again.
- Lord, teach us to have the mercy and compassion with which you always clearly demonstrate to people, which includes us. Teach us to have the patience which you have with all people.
In perhaps an indirect way, we discover here (again) that prayer must have preeminence in our lives; it must be chief among the items in which we have Christ teach us also. If he was willing to teach them, he is certainly willing and able to teach us also. The Spirit of God (Christ), the Holy Spirit, is here as our helper now. We are taught that He will teach us and help us in this critical endeavor we call prayer (Romans 8:26). Moreover, He will help us teach others, both by word and example.
I believe what Jesus taught here regarding prayer, as well as during the Sermon on the Mount, was not meant to become a recital to be quoted every time we prayed. Unfortunately, to some the words have been made into a sort of ritual which people believe have some special mystical power if quoted. I had a gentleman visit me in my office one time who had concerns about the activities that his wife was involved in. Despite the fact that this man was far from living a godly life himself, this was his proposed solution - his words went something like this: “Pastor, would you please pray the Lord’s Prayer over her?” I was so dumbfounded and struck at his recommendation that I honestly don’t remember what I prayed or if I adequately spoke to his ignorance at all. I found it hard to fathom how he could misconstrue Jesus' intentions so badly.
Moreover, we know that Jesus did not recite these words every time that HE went to prayer. There are plenty of examples in scripture to clear that up, John 17 being one of them. Why then would he teach his disciples to recite a ritualistic set of phrases? We can conclude, therefore, that what Jesus intended from this teaching, and in answer to the question, was to represent the motive and attitude with which we pray. Although he used nearly the same words on at least two occasions we know of, it is important that we be taught more than what is seen on the surface. From the writings of the well-known Jack Hayford, we read these thoughts:
Jesus’ words, “Your kingdom come”, are more than a mere suggestion to pray for a mere future millennial day, for everything in this prayer is current. This prayer is not a formula for repetition so much as it is an outline for expansion. For example, worship is to be longer than a sentence. Our petitions are not, nor should they be, confined to mere bread. Our forgiveness is to be requested with specifics, not mere generalities, and prayer for the entry of God’s kingdom into present –day realities and situations is not, and cannot, be accomplished in a momentary utterance. The “mood tense” in which Jesus states “Your kingdom come” essentially means, “Father, let your kingdom come, here and now!” This calls for an intervention in prayer, what we come to know as intercession. Motivation for such prayer comes when we recognize the importance Jesus placed on prayer in helping us serve OUR ROLES in asking for his kingdom to come.
This is learned not just from His words taught, but from His example caught. Most if not all of his early disciples "caught this" as demonstrated by the teaching that many of them provide in scripture about the absolute necessity of prayer in the life of believers. Peter, James, and Paul are only a few examples.
My prayer not just this moment, but one of endurance and until Christ shall come again, is what our message title suggests. Lord, teach us also (to pray)! It is also my prayer that there will be countless people in our lives who hopefully one day utter, or pen words similar to those my father once penned; “Through life I stumbled and fell and lost my way, until ones like you taught me to pray.”
Commit yourself again today to a life of prayer; for the sake of your walk with Christ, and that of your children, and of those you serve with in the family of God, and of those who as of yet have not yet been adopted into that family. Moreover, for Jesus’ sake, and for His kingdom, continue to ask - Lord, teach us to pray.