LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY
“One day He was praying in a certain place. When He finished, one of His disciples said, ‘Master, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.'” Luke 11:1. (The Message)
This was a strange request unless something significant lay behind it. What was it about the prayers of Jesus that caught the attention of His disciples? They were Jews who had been taught to pray the Jewish way from their mother’s knees. There were prayers they prayed every day and there were prayers they prayed on every occasion. What’s more, their prayers were ‘Bible’ prayers, making them more powerful than spontaneous prayers. They were praying God’s word which meant that they were praying God’s will.
But there was something different about Jesus’ prayers. Did they link His prayer life and His public life, His powerful ministry and His miracles to the relationship He expressed with the Father through His prayers? How much of His praying did they actually hear? Sometimes Jesus prayed one-sentence prayers out loud as in, for example, His prayer in John 12:27, 28, and the Father responded audibly.
Jesus answered them by teaching them a model prayer which enshrines all the principles of New Testament praying. In it He was taking them into a realm of prayer which was foreign to them because it opened to them the same privileged position of sonship which He enjoyed and which He had come to reveal in His incarnation.
Was this what they saw and wanted? There is no evidence that this moment added anything to them before His death and resurrection since they were the same quarrelling, competitive and failing bunch that denied and abandoned Him in His hour of need. Nowhere in the gospels do I read of any of them engaging in prayer as He did.
It would take the life-changing event of His death and resurrection to move them from being spectators to becoming sons and learning that the same source of power was available to them through the Holy Spirit who had come to live in them at Pentecost, as He had promised.
DON’T PLAY GAMES WITH GOD
“Here’s what I am saying: Ask and you’ll get; seek and you’ll find; knock and the door will open. Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in.” Luke 11:9-10 (The Message}.
If this story is about the reason why we pray, it is also about our attitude in prayer – honesty. Because God is spirit who lives in the realm of the unseen, it is very easy to be artificial in prayer. The temptation is to think that, because I can’t see Him, therefore He can’t see me. If He can’t see me, then He can’t know what is in my heart and He is confined to hearing my words in order to know me and what I need.
How foolish is that! God is omniscient. He knows what I am thinking and why I am thinking it. True fellowship with God can only happen on the basis of transparency in my heart. God hears my heart more than my words. How much better to express what is in my heart, even if it not what I think God wants to hear.
How does this fit in with asking for what I think I need? As much as God has issued an invitation to me to come to Him honestly with my needs, knowing full well that I don’t always know what is good for me and, therefore my requests are always subject to His greater wisdom, He has given me the gift of His Spirit. He makes all the difference to the outcome of my praying. It is far more important for me to pray with open-hearted honesty that to get my requests or even my words right. The Apostle Paul assures me that, because I do not know what to pray, the Holy Spirit accurately interprets my prayers to the Father.
So what is Jesus saying? Don’t play games with God when you pray. Be honest. Be direct. State your request and leave the answer to God. He is a Father. He knows what you need and He will answer according to His wisdom. His reason for inviting you to come to Him with your needs is not because He does not know.
He desires fellowship with you. The awareness of need in your life is a reminder that you are as dependent on Him as a baby is on its mother. If you get that right, you will be making a huge stride towards the intimacy with the Father that He longs for you to initiate.
DOES GOD ENJOY YOUR NAGGING?
“Then He said, ‘Imagine what would happen if you went to a friend in the middle of the night and said, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread. An old friend travelling through just showed up and I don’t have a thing on hand…'” Luke 11:5-10
Jesus concludes His teaching on prayer with a little story which, at first, seems to have little to do with what He has just said. What is He getting at? Is it about prayer and relationship? Is it about prayer and persistence? Why would one need to nag God about what He knows we need anyway? Is Jesus contradicting what He has taught elsewhere, that our Father knows what we need before we ask Him?
This parable is not a comparison but a contrast. Is God like the reluctant friend? No, not at all. Unlike human relationships which are fickle and selfish, God, our Father, always provides for our basic needs no matter what the time of the day or night.
So why, then, do we have to ask Him? Because prayer is about having fellowship with God as our Father, not about getting God to come into our space to meet our needs because He is not aware of what is going on with us until we inform Him.
God is smart.
He knows that we are essentially independent. He is a passionate Father who longs for fellowship with His children. How else can He get us to come to Him if He automatically meets every need without our having to ask Him? Like babies dependent on their mothers’ breasts, we are dependent on God for our very breath. Our needs drive us to prayer just as a new-born child’s hunger drives it to cry out for milk.
This is where prayer begins but it should never remain at this level. Jesus was teaching His infant disciples the first principles of prayer like the ABC of Grade 1 learners. This attitude of total dependence is the foundation of prayer but we must build on it the superstructure of fellowship with our Father as mature sons, not whining and begging for “things” but sharing with the Father His heart for the world and learning to bring “up there, down here” by imitating our Rabbi in His disposition and mission.
HOW TO DEAL WITH ENEMIES (PART 2)
“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behaviour: Ask yourself what you want people to do for them; then grab the initiative and do it for them!” Luke 6:31 (The Message).
What on earth was Jesus saying? How did this fall on the ears of His hearers? He was demanding a complete transformation in their philosophy of life, a radical paradigm shift from, “What can you do for me?” to “What can I do for you?” It involved disregarding external differences and relating to all people from a new identity and a new disposition.
In the natural world people react or respond according to the attitude or behaviour of “the other person”. If people treat me well, I treat them well. If they misuse me, I misuse them. Jesus said, “No more of that. Live out of who my Father is because you are His sons and you have been given His nature.” To treat or respond according to the way people treat us is to mirror people who have never encountered and been transformed by the power of God.
But then He takes another jump forward. This is the tough part. “Take an active step towards those who hate you.” Our human nature requires a return for what we put into someone else, a sort of “tit-for-tat” philosophy. If I actively reach out to someone who dislikes me, I expect some sort of positive response – even if it’s only a “thank you”. Why do I do it? Do I want them to like me?
Jesus never courted the favour of His enemies but He reached out to them in mercy. If I recognise someone’s need, even if he doesn’t like me, and do something about it, just because it’s the right thing to do, that is righteousness. When I do that, something happens on the inside of me. I have a better understanding of my Father’s heart! I am getting to know God.
It is God’s passion that we put His splendour on display. What is that? His capacity to look beyond the flaws and failures of the people He created in His image, and to see their potential to become mirrors of His disposition and active participants in a life of generosity and kindness to everyone, regardless of their responses, because that’s the way He treats us.
This is revolutionary stuff! No other rabbi represented God like this. It was an “in your face” revelation they had to grapple with.
What about you?
How to Deal with Enemies – Part 3
“It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbour’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt?” Luke 6: 41,42a (The Message).
What is Jesus really getting at? When we forget where we came from and where we were before He touched our lives and set us on a journey to wholeness, we were in darkness, alienated from God with our lives unravelling and in disarray. When the Holy Spirit opened our eyes and revealed to us that the barrier of sin has been removed and we are reconnected to God, we were brought near and reinstated as children of the Father. All of this happened because of God’s grace. No amount of effort on our part changed our status from slaves to sons, or gave us favour with God.
What credit, then, can we take for the changes that have happened in our lives? All we can produce in our efforts to reach God without His intervention is futile because it is all stained with sin and falls short of His perfection. To adopt an “I-am-better-than-you” attitude is to show contempt for Jesus’ atoning sacrifice through which God accepts us.
How can we point the finger of criticism or judgement on the smudge on our opponent’s life and disregard the filth in our own which Jesus’ pure robe of righteousness has already covered? How hypocritical is that! This kind of treatment of others exposes our real heart attitude – self-righteous pride.
Once again Jesus reveals the Father’s heart by showing His hearers what really ticks God off. He has no problem handling our blunders. Our ignorance, even our wilfulness is covered by Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. We continually allow our fallen natures to gain the upper hand but, if we set ourselves up above others and judge them against the standard of ourselves, we are guilty of the pride that the blood of Jesus cannot cover because we are out of unity with God.
When our faces reveal the contempt we feel in our hearts for the smudges we see on someone else’s face, AND WE ARE NOT AWARE OF IT, we are the biggest hypocrites of all. God resists us when we treat people like that. He readily responds when we stand beside our brother and acknowledge that both our faces have stains that only Jesus can cleanse.