One day Jesus was praying in a certain place…” That’s how our lesson starts, “one day Jesus was praying.” Do you know how many times the writers of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) record that Jesus prayed? If I counted right, I think it’s about 25 times. 25 times we come across Jesus in prayer, and it was often before or during really big moments in his life, like at his baptism, or leading up to his arrest, or before walking on water, or while on the cross. Jesus prayed – a lot!
And his first followers, the disciples, noticed that, so it was one day we read that “one of his disciples said to Jesus, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’” What do you make of that question, “Lord, teach us to pray.”? Is prayer hard? Do we need to be taught how to pray? Is it something that requires lots of practice to be able to do? Are there levels of prayer mastery? Like “I’m not just a prayer warrior, no I’m a four-star prayer general.” Is that how prayer works? How about this, do you pray? Maybe better, do you feel that you need to be taught how to pray? I’ll let you think about that for a bit. In the meantime, at least one of Jesus’ disciples didn’t feel like he had this whole praying thing figured out, and wanted Jesus to give them a tutorial, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
And, as you might expect, Jesus encouraged them to pray for “daily bread”, the stuff we need to make it through each day – your clothes, a house, food, safety, that sort of stuff. Jesus also wanted them to pray for forgiveness. Not just forgiveness for themselves, but for help to forgive others. “Forgive us our sins,” we read in verse 4, “for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” Forgiveness is something we all need. We need God to forever remove and delete the offensive things we have done. And we need God to give us a heart of forgiveness toward others, so we don’t expect payback and seek revenge against others when they hurt or harm us in some way, instead, we forgive.
These are two massively important prayers, right? Without daily bread, we starve. Without forgiveness, we can’t be saved. But, I’m guessing you noticed that I skipped something because either you’re following along in the text or you just know the Lord’s prayer by heart, though I should note this is an abbreviated version of that prayer (the full version is in Matthew 6). So, what did I skip? Well, before verse three’s daily bread and verse four’s forgiveness comes verse two, the start of our Lord’s Prayer. There is apparently something that Jesus believed mattered even more than starvation and salvation. God’s name.
Look at verse two. Here is the first thing Jesus teaches about prayer. “When you pray say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name’”. What Jesus wants us to pray about, before anything else, is the hallowing of God’s name. Now, even though the word “hallowed” isn’t one we use too often anymore, I think you know what it means. Jesus wants us first and foremost to pray that we see God’s name as holy, that we treat his name differently. That is the starting point of a powerful prayer, “God, let me think much of you today!”
There is this story – it’s not true – of this king who was rich, powerful, caring, and gracious. And this king he was riding through his kingdom, and he came across this poor beggar on the side of the road. The king stopped and said to the beggar, “Go ahead! Ask me for anything!” And the king was so generous he was willing to give him up to half his kingdom, but the beggar didn’t want half the kingdom, no. Instead, he asked the king for a warm meal. The king got him the meal and, as the man ate, the king wondered, “Why didn’t this beggar ask for something bigger…?”
Do you see the connection? There is nothing wrong with us praying to God for a warm meal, or to have a good day, or for a good job, but sometimes I wonder if we forget to whom we are praying, and we don’t pray big enough. That’s why verse 2 is so important: “When you pray say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name’”. That line is the key to Jesus’ prayer, the truth that makes the rest of the requests make sense. Why would I want God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done unless I thought of God as wonderfully different from me – smarter, wiser, and more qualified to call the shots? Why would I want to be forgiven if forgiveness only gave me access to a lame, uninteresting, boring god? Why would I care about temptation and sin unless God was so good that offending him would be truly offensive? Why would I offer him all the glory if he wasn’t all that glorious? The whole prayer hangs on that first request – God, let me think much of you today.
And – do you see this? – once you realize to whom you are praying and what he is capable of and has already done for you, that will drastically change how you approach him in prayer. Your prayers will become bold. Jesus makes this point in verses 5-10. I won’t read all of that section, but there Jesus talks about this man who bothers and wakes up his friend for some bread – some bread! – in the middle of the night, and that bothersome man, after some back and forth, got the bread. Do you know why? Not because he was annoying but, Jesus tells us, “…because of the man’s shameless audacity.” He was bold.
In case you and I missed this point, Jesus follows up the story with three present imperatives in verse 9, “Ask…seek…knock.” Those are bold words of prayer – ask, seek, and knock! – and you can even sort of see the progression there. Asking involves pleading and presenting your requests to God. Seeking means you’re following up on those requests and you keep bringing them up. Knocking means you’re standing there outside God’s throne and you’re pounding, “Lord, remember I keep asking? Remember I keep seeking? You have to answer me!” That’s praying boldly!
So, now go back to my questions from earlier. Let’s start with that first question, do you pray? Um, did you notice that Jesus said this in verse two, “When you pray…”, not “if’, but “when.” Jesus’ expectation is that God’s children will pray. And you see this throughout Scripture, God tells us to pray continually, to pray for one another, to pray for others. So, if you’re not praying at all – you just don’t do it – you’re neglecting a great gift God has given you and, more importantly, I wonder if you don’t think much of God and what he can do, or perhaps it’s that you don’t think much of yourself. That brings us to the second question, do we need to be taught how to pray? The answer is, yes!
I mean think of what hinders your prayers. Maybe you’ve been praying for something, and nothing has changed, so you stop praying. Perhaps, you think your wants and needs aren’t important enough for God – I only bother him with the “big” stuff. Do you ever think you can’t pray to God? You’ve been embracing a sin and it feels a bit awkward praying to God right now, I need to shape up first. Sometimes too, we maybe just don’t think praying is going to do much. “It’s not like God’s gonna swoop in and take the cancer away.” Again, in these moments, we are not thinking much of God, and we also are forgetting what God thinks of us. All of this is why we need to be taught.
When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray what was the first word he said – the very first word? “Father.” “When you pray say, Father…” Notice what Jesus did not say. He didn’t say “When you pray, make sure your life is all put together.” He didn’t say, “When you pray, I need you to be on your knees head to the ground.” He didn’t say, “When you pray, you better speak eloquently and ask for all the right stuff.” No, when you pray say “Father.” That address is something you and I must be taught, and only Jesus can teach us.
You see, by nature, we don’t know our Father. By nature, we don’t call to him; we can’t call to him – our sins separate us from him – but through Jesus, he becomes known. Jesus taught you your Father’s name. He did that for you when he prayed on the cross “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” and washed your sins away. He did that when he sought you in his Word and knocked down the barriers of sin that kept your voice from being heard by your heavenly Father So that now, whether your prayers are bold and powerful or whether they are limp and lame, your Father hears your voice; he listens to you.
Thomas Goodwin, a seventeenth-century Puritan pastor, wrote that one day he saw a father and son walking along the street. Suddenly the father swept the son up into his arms and hugged him and kissed him and told the boy he loved him – and then after a minute, he put the boy back down. Was the little boy more a son in the father’s arms than he was down on the street? Objectively, there was no difference, but subjectively and experientially, there was all the difference in the world. In his father’s arms, the boy was experiencing sonship.
There are going to be moments in our lives when we don’t feel like we deserve to talk to God. There are going to be times when we doubt he’s listening and question whether he will give us the answer we want – let alone that he will answer us at all. But then we remember to whom we are talking, this is your Father, and whether you feel close to him or far away from him, that doesn’t change who you are to him; You are his child. And that means this: God thinks much of you – let me say that again – God thinks much of you! And, here is Jesus, God’s one and only Son, inviting you to call the God of all things, “Father.’ Which means you are not praying to some abstract, uncaring, unsympathizing, divine being. You are praying, you are talking to someone whose attention is entirely on you and your wants, and your needs, and your hurts, and your joys.
And, if you peek, at verses 11-13 Jesus is clear that your good Father is going to give you good things, including his very own Spirit to embrace you and assure you of your place in his eternal family. I mean think about it, if someone as all-powerful as God loves you, delights in you, has gone to infinite lengths to save you, says he will never let you go, and is going to glorify you and make you perfect and take everything bad out of your life – if all of that is true – why would he not want to hear about anything and everything that concerns you? And why would he not answer your prayers in the way that is best for you?
So, when you go to God in prayer – and he wants you to do that; he wants you to pray to him! – you can be bold, you can ask, you can seek, and you can knock because Jesus has taught you how. He, Jesus, has led you to hallow the name of God, to think much of God! And he, Jesus, has shown you your own worth in the eyes of your heavenly Father. So, when you pray, say, “Father, hallowed be your name…”Amen.