Perhaps it is not so strange that the Bible doesn’t contain the request “Teach us to preach” or “Teach us to perform well.” Only “Teach us to pray.” For the truth is that if we can do the last thing, then the first two will take care of themselves.
Here’s the context in Luke 11:
“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:
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 no food to offer 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; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, 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!’” (Luke 11: 1-13)
The passage is slightly different to Matthew’s account. Matthew emphasises the aspect of forgiveness: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6: 14-15) Matthew underlines the way we are before God. Luke notes the forgiveness clause but omits this explanation, telling instead the story of the audacious friend who just knows he will get what he wants!
And then Luke adds the famous A.S.K. passage: “Ask, seek, knock…” and the wonderful picture of good fathers who can be trusted to give their best to their children.
If Matthew is underlining the way we are before God, then Luke emphasises the way God is before us. Matthew shows the need of forgiveness. Luke shows the opportunity of grace.
For this is what we must learn, if we would ask Jesus to “Teach us to pray” – we develop a childlike confidence in the One to whom we have come.
There’s a lot of humour in Jesus’s stories here. The friend pounding on the door at midnight is absolutely confident about the graciousness of the woken sleeper! The listening parents are fully aware of their own shortcomings (“though you are evil”) but know full well tht they would NEVER shortchange their own kids.
They would die for them!
And that stuff about snakes and stones, plates and scorpions -.that’s just Jesus being playful in order to make the most serious point you can imagine.
Here it is: Parents know how to give good gifts! And so does God.
This is what Jesus told them when they asked him to teach them to pray. Pray like kids at Christmas, knowing that you are loved, knowing that you will be heard, knowing that your parents are longing to bless you!
And let your confidence, your trust and your excitement grow in the asking! Be persistent, if you like! -not in the nagging manipulation of someone wheedling his own way, but just in the excitement of a child asking “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”
The joyful anticipation of a sure thing!
And we are just mere human parents, flawed and faulty, muddy in our motives…. And even we know how to give good gifts to our children.
So “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’”
This is the climax of the passage that my Bible headlines as “Jesus’s Teaching on Prayer.” It’s not a different point but the same one. When God gives the Holy Spirit, He is giving His very best. He is giving love for our lovelessness, joy for our misery, peace for our anxiety… and “forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”(Galatians 5:22-23)
When God gives the Holy Spirit He is giving a gift that He will not take away.
When God gives the Holy Spirit He gives the gift of Himself.
For this is where every prayer finds its answer and every heart finds its home. This -He!- is what we were designed for and we can never be truly happy until we find our way there. “Our hearts are restless till we rest in thee.”
So, as a start, -as a mere beginning this morning! – Lord, teach us to pray!