“Lord, teach us to pray…” Oh boy. Notice here that the disciples didn’t ask “Teach us a prayer.” They said, “ Teach us to pray,” teach us to pray like your cousin John taught his disciples to pray, in case anyone ever asks.
What Jesus taught them was, of course, the Lord’s Prayer; not the prayer He prayed, necessarily, but the prayer He taught us to pray. There’s a lot going on in the Lord’s Prayer: it teaches us that God is our heavenly Father, and that He relates to us and we should relate to Him as Father. His Name is hallowed, made sacred. We want God’s kingdom to come, to come to fruition with all that means, we ask Him to hurry on up and make everything perfect again. Thy will be done, we say, giving up our own will and admitting that God knows better than us. We ask for our daily bread, our sustenance, asking especially for that living Bread of Christ’s Body in the Blessed Sacrament. We ask for forgiveness, forgiveness that’s dependent on our forgiving others as well. Lead us not into temptation, please don’t test us when not necessary, but rather deliver us, keep us safe from the wiles of the devil.
That’s a lot to ask for and a lot to comprehend, so Jesus follows up His prayer with a couple lessons on how prayer works, if I can say it that way. Jesus first teaches about persistence, about knocking on that door until that door opens for you. But there’s more to it than that: “Persistence has its place here, a revered place, and is an important attribute of the prayer. But, again, let us be most careful. The honored gesture here is not mere persistence, but persistence in a good cause. To be quite frank, persistence in and of itself is no real virtue at all. Jesus (if you remember from other lessons) affirmed neither the persistence of the rich man who made a fortune and sought to build bigger barns, nor the persistent interference of the Pharisees. No, instead he affirmed persistence in a good cause. The persistence of the friends who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus; the persistence of the women who traveled with him; and the faithful, persistent prayer of the father of the demon-possessed boy.”1
As Scott Heozee reminds us, “Prayer isn’t always polite… The “Friend at Midnight” story reminds us that prayer pops up all the time and does not wait for convenient seasons or moments. Prayer cannot be sequestered to safe corners of our lives. Life is bumpy and unpredictable. So also will be prayers that occur across the whole sweep of just such a life.”2
And who doesn’t love the A to B comparisons Jesus makes in this passage? If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? I always picture a small British boy asking for an egg like he’s in a Dickens novel.
But it’s not the A-B comparisons that matter but rather what matters is what God gives to us no matter what it is that we are asking for. “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
Jesus seems to be telling us that “whether we know it or not, in all our praying, in all our asking and begging and pleading with God, what we are finally asking for–and what we for sure will in the end receive–is nothing less than the indwelling Spirit of the Living God. We pray in the power of this Spirit, who is our sacred companion that brings to us the fullness of Christ Jesus in our hearts. And when we pray in the power of the Spirit, we find that same Spirit living in us and assuring us that no matter what happens, we serve a loving God who holds us tenderly every moment of our lives.”3
In just this short passage from Luke, Jesus does indeed teach us not just a prayer, but how to pray. What a wonderful thing to know that when we continually go to God with persistence, humility, dependence, and trust, He give us not necessarily anything we want, but everything that we need.
1. The Rev. Sam Matthews, Teach us to Pray, Day 1; http://day1.org/1053-teach_us_to_pray
2. Scott Hoezee, This Week