Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sermon: Luke 11: 1-13 Praying to Our Father

A recent survey found that only 1 in 7 people in the UK would never pray, even in a time of desperate need. 85% of the population pray, at some times at least. Is prayer just a last resort, after you've tried everything else yourself? Is God waiting around for us to come to the end of our own resources before we ask him to help?

As people following Jesus, prayer is hopefully more than just that last resort. But we all probably need some help. We could all pray more, and pray better. That was the experience of the first disciples. They were with Jesus, they saw him praying, and they asked him: 'Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples to pray.' These were Jews, they prayed daily, following their customs, and yet they wanted more. They wanted to pray the way Jesus did. Perhaps that's you today. You pray every day, but it can seem dry sometimes. You get into a routine which becomes a rut, and wonder how to improve. Listen in, as Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray, and why to pray.

First of all, we see the how to pray. And what Jesus gives them is a short and snappy version of the Lord's Prayer. We don't find the full version we used earlier in the service, but we find enough to recognise it. Often in our prayers, we begin by saying something about God - who he is, what he has done. Our collect this morning had the opening words 'Almighty God'. But here, Jesus teaches his disciples to approach God much more personally. This God who is almighty, and holy, and amazingly wonderful, is also our Father. Dad.

When we pray, we are coming to our Dad. Now when we say that, there may be some who shrink back. Perhaps you haven't had a good relationship with your dad. To think of God as a father makes you think that God is like your father. Hold in there. We'll see later on how God is so much better than any father, even the best. For now, just look at the privilege of calling God our Father. Fast forward a few years to when Prince William becomes king. He'll rule over the United Kingdom, he'll be watched by millions. He'll be king with all that means, but Prince George will know him as 'daddy.' God, the ruler of the universe, is our dad, our Father. Praying to him is to speak to our dad, who loves us.

So how should we pray to our Father? In the five sentences of this prayer, Jesus shows that we first pray for our Father's priorities, and then our own needs. Do you see the Father's priorities? 'Father, hallowed be your name.' We're asking that the Father's name be honoured, or made holy. So often we hear God's name used in wrong ways. The other day I was on a phonecall with a lady in England. She didn't know what 'Reverend' meant, so I explained that I'm a minister, I work in a church. To which she exclaimed, 'OMG, that's so cool!' She took God's name in vain!

It's easy to hear God's name being dishonoured. But could there be a danger that we also dishonour God's name - not in speaking it like my BT friend, but in how we live? If we are God’s people, do we show him honour in our lives? Our prayer is that God's name will be honoured. Connected to that, we also ask that God's kingdom will come. God is king, but not everyone recognises that. God reigns, but not everyone obeys him. As we pray to our Father, we ask that his kingdom will fully and finally come.

We pray to our Father for his priorities. But Jesus then goes on to ask for other things as well. You might think that it's a free-for-all, like a supermarket sweep where you can grab whatever you want. But the things that Jesus asks for in the Lord's Prayer aren't caviar and champagne; designer goods and luxury cars. He tells his disciples to pray for our needs, the things we really need for daily life.

'Give us each day our daily bread.' We need food to keep us going. There's an episode in The Simpsons where Bart is asked to say grace. So he closes his eyes and says: 'Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.' Jesus shows that God our Father gives us everything - we need to ask him for our daily bread.

'Forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.' As well as food, we also need to receive forgiveness. We can't sort out our sins ourselves. We need forgiveness - but we also need to give forgiveness as well.

The last of our needs is this: 'And do not bring us to the time of trial.’ We need deliverance. We need help. God provides.

In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus shows us how to pray. We pray to our Father for his priorities and our needs. But Jesus doesn't leave it there. He then shows us why we should pray. Here's why we can and should pray - so if your prayer life needs a helping hand, here's the encouragement to pray to our Father.

He tells a story of a man at midnight who's caught in a pickle, because he hasn't got any pickle, or anything to put it on. A friend has come, and he's got nothing for supper. So he goes round to his friend's house, asking to lend him three loaves of bread. His friend hears the door, but doesn't want to help him. He’s in bed, the security alarm is on. But even if he won’t help him because he is his friend, Jesus says he will help because of his persistence.

We get the point of the story in verse 9: ‘So I say to you (when you’re praying!): Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.’ We aren’t going to a friend, not knowing how they will respond. We’re coming to our Father, who will surely help - we just need to ask!

Do you see how verse 11 builds on this? Jesus looks at the disciples. Think of dinner time. Your child asks you a fish. Are you going to lift the lid on the plate and have a scary snake hissing at your child? Not likely! You wouldn’t do it. Or what if your child asks for an egg? Something hard on the outside, so you give them a scorpion? Not at all. You would give your child what they wanted, something that was good for them, not something scary or dangerous.

Look at verse 13. Here’s the contrast. Here’s the step up from the home situation to the heavenly situation. ‘If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children...’ Jesus is saying even bad dads give good gifts. Even in our wickedness, we are able to do good, at least for our children. Well if that’s so... ‘how much more will the heavenly Father give...’ How do you end that sentence? You expect Jesus to say ‘give good gifts...’ But he doesn’t. What is the good gift the Father gives? The Holy Spirit to those who ask him.

Do you remember how in the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for God’s priorities and our needs? We need the Holy Spirit to live for God. We need his power for each day. And God is our heavenly Father, the one who will give us what we need. We just have to ask.

So as you kneel or sit or stand or walk or run or wherever you do it; as you pray this week, remember who you’re speaking to - Almighty God, who is your dad, your father. Seek his priorities, and ask him for your needs. He will answer. He will provide, because he loves you and wants the best for you. So ask, and seek, and knock. Let’s pray.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 25th January 2015.

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