How to pray

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Message Manuscript for “Lord, Teach Us to Pray”  Luke 11:1-13
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, July 28, 2019

“Lord, teach us to pray.” Amen. There, I guess that actually counts as a prayer. And not a bad start. It wasn’t so hard, but why do we identify so much with the disciples of Jesus who made that request of him one day when they found him out praying? Is there more to prayer than what we see or think? As always, it is easy for us to find ourselves in the pages of the Bible, especially in words like these we’ve heard today from Jesus to his disciples. When it comes to prayer, we can easily identify with the disciples, having that same request of Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

We may identify with those disciples because we too don’t know what prayer is to look or sound like. Did Jesus look a certain way when they found him out praying alone that day? Did he have a certain look on his face or were there particular words or phrasing they heard him use in his prayers, as a southern drawl or KJV with a British accent? We may wonder if we should sit or kneel, look up or look down, close our eyes or look at the skies. Our feelings of inadequacy are increased sometimes when we are around people who have no trouble praying, launching out there with words of intimacy you never thought of using for the God you’ve always referred to as “the man upstairs.”

We may also identify with those disciples because we don’t know where we should pray. Luke reports that the disciples found Jesus in “a certain place.” Perhaps he and the other disciples thought there was something to that place; that there was power there not in other places. Maybe they even thought of trying out that place on their own, coming back later to see if it worked for them. Don’t you sometimes wonder if you are praying in the right place, like the feeling you get when you are in one of those dead pockets between mobile phone towers? Are our prayers more powerful when in church or driving down the street; when during Worship or in the shower; where things are going well or where nothing’s going right? We wonder about the place of prayer, don’t we? The great help here in Luke’s gospel is that Jesus doesn’t talk about where; just the “when.” He answers their request for a lesson on prayer by beginning with “when you pray . . .” Focusing on the when of our prayers will take care of our questions about the where of prayer.

The Insistent Friend - Luke 11:5-8

The Insistent Friend – Luke 11:5-8

Not knowing what to pray and where to pray are definite points of identification for us, but there’s a third one that stands out the most, one Jesus hones in on with the disciples–how to pray.  Like the disciples, we want the practical steps. Do this, then this, and then this will happen. So Jesus tells them a story! He loved doing that when they wanted him to spoon-feed them. He tells about a man who needs bread to feed an unexpected guest and goes next door to ask for it. The neighbor he asks has already put the kids to bed and is about to nod off himself and says no. The man keeps knocking, knowing that his persistence will pay off. And it did, as the man gets up to give him bread just to get him to leave him be. Before the disciples could start making the annoyed neighbor out to be God in the story, Jesus invites them to be the man who kept knocking. He challenges them to pray like that man, knowing how bad he needed something the neighbor had and continued knocking until he got it. Jesus said they could expect the same thing if they prayed like that—persisting with asking, seeking, knocking.

That’s what we are to hear as well as we look to Jesus for help with how to pray. When you pray, be an asker, willing to get out there with your request and unafraid to ask for help. Jesus said that whoever asks receives, so wouldn’t that mean that those who don’t ask don’t receive? What are we missing when we don’t ask God for what we need? What more could we have (and I don’t mean that just materially, as I don’t think Jesus did) from God if we just asked?

Also, be a seeker, knowing what you are looking for and where to find it. This comes from knowing who it is that you are asking, just like the man who knew that his neighbor had some bread in his house. We are to know who God is and what God has for us. Maybe the reason we aren’t better at asking God for things is that we have no idea what God is really like; that God is good and a giver, just like Jesus said.

Finally, be the knocker, unapologetic about banging on the door until you get an answer. If you’re like me, you are the impatient kind of knocker. If I don’t hear some feet shuffling on the other side of the door or see any motion through the window, then I’m out of there and on to looking elsewhere or settling for something less than what God has for me.. I’m afraid to say I do that with God sometimes in my prayers. What about you? Are you the kind of knocker who gets discouraged when nothing seems to be happening on the other side or are you the kind who won’t stop knocking until the door is opened?

In an article written for The Sciences magazine, Susan Guise Sheridan, a biological anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame, reported how she studied the skeletal remains of a large community of monks who lived in fifth-century Jerusalem.  After examining more than 6,000 skeletal pieces removed from the crypt below St. Stephen’s Monastery, she found that the Byzantine monks who lived and died shared an unusual common trait—they almost all had bad knees.  Indeed, nearly all had some form of damage to kneecaps, leg bones and heel bones.  “If you consider prayer an occupation,” she said, “then we have a case of occupational stress.”[1]

Now that’s a group of disciples that learned how to pray. Their knees showed it. And so will ours when we learn from Jesus how to ask, seek, and knock.

Video of the sermon is here on the Church for the Highlands site


[1]  “Divine Inflammation” by Ellen Walterscheid, THE SCIENCES, July/August 1997, 11, found on https://illustrationexchange.com/illustrations?category=162&search=&page=8

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