Luke has been using this section of his Gospel to teach us about Christian discipleship. In last week’s Gospel proclamation Jesus taught that disciples must realize there is only one necessary thing – sitting at the feet of our Lord, listening to his word. The passage before us this Sunday, in Luke 11, begins with Jesus praying. When he finished praying, one of the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. John the Baptist apparently taught his disciples how to pray and now they want Jesus to teach them how to pray.
Jesus begins by calling God, “Father.” The disciples are instructed to speak intimately with God, speaking with him as “Father”.
God is holy and we are his children, holy sons and daughters. That’s how Jesus begins his teaching on prayer; by reminding us that God is our Father. Prayer is about relationship and presence. We’re not telling God something he does not already know. We are reminding ourselves of what already is, always has been, and always will be.
That relationship means that our life, our existence, our very being, comes from our Father. Jesus speaks of that as “daily bread”. We are too often convinced that we are, or must be, independent and self-sufficient. Prayer reminds us that we are “un-selfsufficient.” We ask each day for our daily bread. That does not mean we are deficient but that our sufficiency comes not from ourselves but from God. It acknowledges that God sustains and nourishes our life.
If prayer, as Jesus teaches it, is all about relationship and presence then there is only one answer to every prayer – God. This means not simply that God answers our prayer but that God is the answer; God’s presence, life, love, beauty, generosity, compassion, forgiveness, wisdom, justice, and mercy. God gives God’s self as the answer to our every prayer. Jesus tells us that. If you, he says, know how to give your children good gifts “how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?.”
Jesus continues to teach his disciples that God can be trusted to respond to prayer by telling a parable about a friend who calls at midnight. Hospitality was of paramount importance in the ancient near eastern culture, and when a guest arrived — even unexpectedly, even at midnight — there was no question that hospitality must be extended. So when the man in the story finds himself without enough bread for his guest, he goes to a friend and asks to borrow some, even though he must wake up his friend’s entire household.
“Do not bother me,” the friend answers from within. “The door has already been locked, and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything” (11:7).
Jesus says that the man will eventually respond to his friend’s request, not primarily because he is a friend, but because of his friend’s shameless persistence. This verse, verse 8, is the crux of the parable. Jesus’ point is that disciples pray boldly with shameless nerve.
This shameless boldness in prayer is not for selfish requests. Rather, it is that in doing so we are revealing our complete dependence on God. Verse 9 tells us to ask and keep asking. We are given the invitation to seek and keep seeking. Pursue God and his will, seeking the goals and purposes of the kingdom. Knock and keep knocking.
If we, “…are wicked people” and yet know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will our heavenly Father give us the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! Notice the interchangeable use of “good gifts” and “Holy Spirit” in this passage. Luke’s focus is on the good gifts that were promised through the Holy Spirit. The prophets wrote that the Holy Spirit would be poured out and the imagery signified the restoration of God’s kingdom, the restoration of God’s fellowship with them, and the restoration of God’s blessings to his people. This promised restoration of God’s blessings to his people is in view here by Luke.
Ask God boldly for the things we need. God will provide for his children. He is not going to give a scorpion when we need an egg. God will give us the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty in prayer is that sometimes we just want to offer our coins, as if God were a vending machine, and push the button. We don’t want God. We want something from God. We want God to change our circumstances.
While God can and sometimes does change circumstances, God, more often than not, changes us. God’s self-gift sustains, nourishes, strengthens, empowers, emboldens, and enables us to face the circumstances of life. We do so, sometimes with joy and gratitude, other times with pain and loss, but always with God. The love of God is not less because something did not result from our prayer.
We may not understand how prayer works but we should know this. It is not about the coins. It is not a mechanical process. It is not a transaction. In the midst of not knowing or understanding maybe the most and the best we can do is to echo the disciple’s request, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
We are always beginners, always learning to pray. In and through prayer we are invited into relationship with a loving God who wants to give us life. A prayer in faith quiets and establishes the heart in God who is life.