Saturday 23 July 2016

Luke 11 v. 1-13

The Gospel reading for Sunday contains the giving by Jesus of the Lord’s Prayer.

I am often in mind of a scene broadcast on the Christian Broadcasting Network in America when I say or hear this prayer. It is of the first English settlers who landed at Viriginia Beach in April 1607.planting the Cross and reciting the prayer. They were the forerunners who were joined by others to make that such a great and powerfully Christian nation.

We read that a disciple asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. This is a reasonable request for praying is hard for a lot of people. I had a Vicar who was masterly at praying at any given time for any possible reason, but others find it hard to do so without a book of set prayers.

Jesus gave His disciples and by extension us, a model prayer simple in its composition but profound in its teaching. The prayer begins with us thinking about God and our relationship to Him, and then moves on to our own concerns.

We have to remember that prayer is talking to God, who we are encouraged by Jesus to call Father, so we begin by recognising God as ‘our’ Father who cares for and loves us just as an earthly father cares for his sons/daughters. The Jews would not recognise such intimacy and not until Jesus spoke to us had anyone ever done so.

We recognise His holiness and that He reigns in heaven, and approach Him in reverence. We also acknowledge that in being holy, God is above and beyond us. In Jewish thought a name reflected the character of the person so we recognise God’s holiness and seek to display it in our lives. We cannot see God but He is present in heaven and all authority is His. If we trust in Him He is always ready to hear us in time of need.

We pray for the time to come when God’s name will be honoured on earth as it is in heaven and His rule will be established. This is the mission of the Church which is often overlooked as other (worldly) causes are pursued.

In saying ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done’ we are praying that God’s rule be established more and more. We want God to be fully present in life and not just an invisible hope. We want to see more and more people converted and obey His will and that those who disobey and hate His commands will decrease. We are praying that all God’s plans and purposes will be fulfilled.

We pray that God will provide for our daily needs, bread being the basic food which sustains our physical life, so we are asking God to supply for us as He did for the people of Israel when in the wilderness and He sent manna from heaven. This reminds us of our dependence on God and approach each day as a separate entity in our life.

We recognise God’s grace as we seek forgiveness for the debt we owe to God for sinning, and lay our sins on Jesus Christ. The Bible states ‘there is no one righteous, no not one, we all fall short of the glory of God’, so here we confess we are in fact sinners. There is the need to forgive those who offend us, forgiving the person not the sin, for only God can do that. This is a hard call for many people and even harder to put into practice. It is important to remember that the word ‘sin’ has a far greater meaning than just sexual matters, which people usually have solely in mind.

Finally, we plead with God to so order our lives that we do not face temptation beyond our ability to resist. God will never lead us into temptation, but we face this every day of our lives and will do so as long as we live on this earth. At this point we also want Him to protect us from evil which abounds so much all around us, and so order our lives that we may not be faced with anything we cannot bear.

The words of this prayer have passed over our lips many times. How many who recite it, sometimes automatically, really desire is petitions to be granted. Do we really see God as our Father and truly care for His will and name, and wish for the kingdom to come.

This prayer is read at almost every funeral service and said by people who have little if any religious faith and do not appreciate its wonder or meaning. The prayer is factually for believers who are entitled to call God ‘Father’, for Jesus stated no one can come to the father except through me.

Jesus went on to give a parable. In Palestine travellers often travelled late in the day to avoid the heat. Jesus tells of one traveller who arrived at his friend’s home at midnight and put his friend at an embarrassment.

In the East hospitality was a sacred duty, it was not sufficient to give a basic meal; the guest had to be given a full spread. Bread was baked at home because if it was kept it would go stale and be uneatable. The late arrival meant the householder had en empty larder and could not therefore fulfil his obligation of hospitality. He went out and asked a neighbour to help but no one would normally knock on a door which was shut for that was an indication that the householder did not want to be disturbed.

The home would have been one room with two thirds on ground level and the other third raised. It was also the custom to bring their animals into the house at night, so when there was persistent knocking on the door the whole family would be disturbed. The neighbour gave what was asked of him.

Jesus said the lesson of the parable was that we must persist in prayer and knock on God’s door until we can persuade God to answer. Jesus was pointing out that if a rather unwilling man can eventually give what was asked of him, how much more can a loving God give to supply His children’s needs.

This does not mean we can treat God as something like a heavenly beneficiary and make a list of things we want. We often pray for things to happen and sometimes God will not answer directly because He thinks they are not for our own good, just as an earthly father will deny his children because they make come to harm or not be for their good. We must pray with intensity and passion knowing we are asking the One who knows all our needs and will act for our best interests.

In Church intercessions some think it necessary to pray for every conceivable person and thing, or to use flowery phrases, whereas Jesus in this prayer He gave was a model of simplicity. We share this prayer with millions worldwide.

Our Lord’s prayers were short when offered in public but when alone with God mean a whole night in prayer. Long prayers in public can weary listeners. The publican’s prayer was, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’. The Syrophenician woman was shorter still, ‘Lord help me’ and her prayer was answered. Let our prayers be to the point, just telling God what is on our mind.

Some people try extemporary prayer and then find it hard to terminate. The secret is to keep it short and get to the point of the prayer. There is a lady in my Church who is quite superb in her prayers; she is concise, relevant to the intercession, simple and brief. I don’t think she has had theological training, and in fact I don’t think she realises how good she is.

This passage shows how wide and encouraging are the promises which the Lord holds out to prayer. Ask and you shall receive seek and you will find knock and it shall be opened unto you.

Be at Church on Sunday and may God bless you

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