July 24, 2022
When the Lord teaches the disciples to pray, he offers one small prayer with five different petitions. The power is not only in the words the disciples are taught to pray but also from how they pray. Jesus teaches the disciples to pray not once or twice, but to keep on praying. Those who follow Christ should embody the same practice, offering our prayers over and over again.
There are some things in life that we are good at asking for. If the cashier at the grocery store hands us a $1 bill when she owes us $10, then we are quick to ask for the $9 still owed to us. If we buy a new pair of pants only to discover a hole on the side seam when we are taking them out of the shopping bag, then we have no problem returning the pants to the department store to ask for a pair without a hole. Daughters often ask their fathers for the more expensive wedding dress — the $1100 gown instead of the one on the sale rack for $399. Grandchildren have no trouble asking their grandparents for an extra scoop of ice cream with hot fudge on top and a chewy brownie below. Small children find it easy to ask their favorite babysitter if they can stay up an extra hour past the bedtime established by the parents.
There are other times, however, when the asking does not come so easy. It is hard to ask the human resources manager for more money when she has just told you how high your salary is compared to other employees of the company. It is difficult to ask the person from whom you are buying a house to fix everything on the home inspector’s list of items to be repaired — especially when the cost of the repairs totals thousands of dollars, and the owner is being forced out of her house because of finances. It is tricky to ask your new employee to leave when you have concluded that he is just not working out, especially when the employee has just told you what a privilege it is to work for you. And while it was easy to return a pair of pants you bought at the department store, it is hard to ask for a refund on the chair you bought from the old man in the woodworking shop, explaining to him how the chair he carefully crafted with his own hands broke the moment your 11-year-old son sat on it.
Today’s scripture lesson is about asking. Jesus tells his disciples that asking is not only appropriate, but also a necessary part of being a child of God. Amongst the things we are to ask for from God are bread, forgiveness, and protection. And not only are we to ask once, but we are to keep on asking.
The disciples had seen Jesus pray. They had gone away with Jesus to a deserted place to pray. They had watched as Jesus blessed five loaves and two fish and from them fed 5,000 people. They had seen Jesus communicate with his Father in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening. Some of the disciples had ascended to a mountaintop to pray with Jesus before he was transfigured. Still, the disciples want to be taught how to pray. Do it one more time, Jesus. Show us again. “Teach us how to pray as John taught his disciples.”
The request posed by the disciples in today’s text demonstrates how Jews were used to set prayers. The Jews regularly prayed the same, memorized prayers in the temple. The worship liturgy was often repeated. And, while we are not sure what kind of prayers John taught his disciples to pray, most of us have memorized the prayer Jesus teaches in this text.
The prayer as recorded by Luke — a much briefer version than the one found in Matthew’s gospel — starts with the emphasis being placed on God. God’s name is to be hallowed, and God’s kingdom is to come. The emphasis is then moved from the one to whom the prayer is offered and placed upon the one who is offering the prayer as we are taught to ask for bread, forgiveness, and protection. Jesus teaches the disciples one simple prayer with five petitions. This is how to pray.
Jesus’ lesson on prayer does not stop with one prayer and five petitions, however. The lesson continues with a word on persistence. Just as a mother will eventually give in to a whining child who persistently begs for candy at the grocery store, capturing the attention of the people in line behind them, so God will eventually give us what we ask for if we stand at the doorstep and knock over and over again. We must simply keep asking God for what we need — placing our request within the realm of God’s will and kingdom.
“Ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened.” Our Bibles often translate this portion of the scripture as if we are to ask, search and knock once or twice. However, the Greek verbs in this account are in the present tense. They suggest that we should keep on asking, keep on seeking and keep on knocking. We must ask, seek, and knock over and over and over again.
Think about it. A child is taught how to write by using a large pencil and copying letters from a chalkboard onto pieces of paper filled with wide lines. The teacher shows the student how to make the letters, but the only way the writing is perfected is for the student to copy the letters onto the pages of the notepad over and over again.
A swim coach demonstrates the breaststroke by standing on the side of the pool pushing her arms up high in the air and then around her body, as if swimming through the water. The students in the pool watch the instructor move her arms, but the only way for the students to learn how to swim is to move their arms through the water over and over and over again, hoping to finally be able to swim without choking on water filled with chlorine.
A dance instructor performs many new moves to be included in the upcoming recital. The students watch as the teacher performs the moves a few times, rehearsing them in their minds as they watch, but the students must mock the teacher’s moves over and over again in front of the dance studio’s mirrors in order to be ready for the performance.
Practice is essential. We, too, need to repeat his words and his actions over and over again. We must keep on praising the name of the Lord. We grow in faith as we keep on reminding ourselves that it is God’s kingdom and not our kingdom that is to come. We must keep on asking for forgiveness while also forgiving others. We learn to keep on seeking God for the things we need.
God is found in the slow, hard, diligent work of those who believe the world is ruled not by kings and presidents but by Christ himself. If we believe our lives are ruled by Christ, then we need to also do the slow and hard work of accepting our place as obedient children, trusting God’s ways and wisdom to be stronger than our own ways or the ways of this world, practicing forgiveness time and again, and waiting for Christ’s in-breaking kingdom to be fully revealed on this earth.
And while the process can require as much patience and persistence as learning how to write or even how to dance, God continues to listen to and for us, responding with good and perfect gifts.
In his book, The Lord & His Prayer, New Testament scholar N.T. Wright writes, “… although we are given the Lord’s Prayer in our baptism to be our own prayer, a special personal gift for each one of us, this prayer is not just the spiritual version of the baby’s mug and spoon set, though it is surely that as well. It is the suit of clothes designed for us to wear in our full maturity. And most of us, putting the suit on week by week, must acknowledge that it’s still a bit big for us, that we still have some growing to do before it’ll fit.”1
We may still have a lot of growing to do before we have the kind of prayer life we need. We might have a lot of growing to do before we come anywhere near fitting properly into the Lord’s Prayer. In the meantime, we can keep trying on the suit, pulling up the pants that are too big around the waist and buttoning the jacket with sleeves rolled up.
We can again do what Jesus taught us to do. We can acknowledge God as our father, saying “God is great, and God is good.” We can beg for God to come and do God’s thing, not our thing. We can seek forgiveness and forgive others. And we can ask for God’s help in staying clear of temptation. We can do these things again and again and again. For this is how the Lord has taught us to pray.
Go ahead. Ask the Lord for what you want. Ask the Lord for what you need and keep on asking over and over and over again.
1 N.T. Wright, The Lord & His Prayer (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1996), 12.