Every Christian feels that their prayer life is too shallow, but is it possible to learn how to pray? How important is prayer anyway? Is it just a Christian obligation that’s there to make you feel you’re useless, or is there something really great that you’re missing? All the great men and women of God that you’ve ever heard about had great prayer lives. But how does that happen?
Back in Luke 11, we skipped some verses on prayer so that we could take them in with things on prayer in Luke 18.
The two passages give us four truths to get hold of (like a delicious slice of Battenburg cake!).
You can pray (11:1-4)
Read Luke 11:1.
We sometimes think of prayer as just “asking God for things”. You might then wonder how someone could pray for an hour. More, you might wonder what Jesus prayed about, that’s all prayer is.
So what is prayer? The most simple statement is that prayer is time with God.
Specific time devoted to developing your relationship with him.
- There is a type of prayer often called “arrow prayers”
- you’re in some situation where your heart momentarily turns to God, in a plea for help.
- Such prayers are certainly biblical – see Nehemiah 2:4-5.
- But they’re built on a life of dedicated prayer time with God (see also Nehemiah 1:4-11, and his months of prayer).
The New Testament is littered with statements about praying always, without ceasing, in every circumstance: e.g. Romans 12:12, Ephesians 6:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
- But there’s never a mention of a “gift of prayer”. All Christians are expected to pray.
- You can’t become a Christian without praying: You repent of your sin, and ask God to forgive in prayer.
- Zechariah 12:10 speaks of God pouring out a spirit of grace and prayer on his people – you can pray.
But you can also get better at it. When Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus didn’t turn him away. Your prayer life can improve. We can all learn. That should be encouraging!
So Jesus gave them a model prayer.
The Lord’s (Model) Prayer
It’s not meant to be recited (though it can be). It’s a model of things to pray for. And it begins with God:
2 He said to them, “Whenever you pray, say: Father,
- An amazing gift! Knowing that you come to your heavenly Father affects your expectations and hopes of being heard.
your name be honoured as holy.
- A prayer for God’s name to be honoured, for the people of this town to praise God for who he is.
Your kingdom come.
- Looking forward to the day of Christ’s return, yes.
- But also praying for greater honour paid to Jesus, the Messiah, that his reign would extend in us, and around us.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
- It’s possible to over-spiritualise this, but it’s always reasonable to pray for the essentials of life.
- Prayer is, in part, “asking God for things”!
4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone
in debt to us.
- Debt was often a synonym for being sinned against.
- We pray that God’s goodness to us won’t simply stop at us, but flow through us to others.
- And certainly, that means forgiveness.
- Not least, we’re reminded that we come on the basis of forgiveness, not anything we’ve earned before God.
And do not bring us into temptation.”
- God won’t tempt you, of course. But we pray that he will even keep us from situations where we might be tempted to sin.
Martin Luther regularly structured his personal prayer time around the Lord’s model prayer. It helps you put first things first. You pray for specific things in this overall framework.
You can pray; and you can learn to prayer more richly.
God will answer (11:5-13)
There’s a danger when we think about prayer though. When you spend time with someone you love, you don’t tie yourself up in knots trying to find just the right frame of words. And the key to a better prayer life is this: focus on God!
Jesus has just taught you a model prayer that will help you. But then he immediately turns your attention to thinking about God, the one you’re speaking to.
Read Luke 11:5-8.
It’s not a happy scene. The person doing the knocking is doing all the work! The one inside can’t be bothered and only gets up to stop the other one nagging him.
But here’s the point: Prayer isn’t like that, because God isn’t like that.
“Whenever you pray, say, Father…”
- What are you like with your own children?
- Do you think God, your heavenly Father, could be less caring than you? Less generous than you? Less loving?
- Read Luke 11:9-13.
Your hope of being heard in prayer isn’t based in how well you can pray, or what kind of words you use. Your hope of being heard is grounded in the character of God.
He is your Father and he loves you.
- He will give you all you need, which is often not the same as all you want.
- In fact, in the Bible when God hands you over to all you want it’s often a sign of his judgment on you – it means he has removed his parental care from you.
And the NLT translates it beautifully:
“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”
That’s not so much about persistence (we’ll come to that). It’s more about the character of God – he will always hear all you ask; he will always be found by those who seek; he will always accept all who knock.
- His great love for you is shown in him giving you the Holy Spirit; he will be present with you always.
- And prayer is time with God.
As you contemplate God himself in prayer, the Holy Spirit will make God the object of delight in your prayer. You enjoy being with him.
As a side note to this, let’s agree to ban a phrase: Let’s agree never to say, “Prayer works.” We’re not saying magic words. Far better to say, “God answers prayer; God is good.”
So: You can pray (and get better at it); God will answer; And:
Prayer nourishes you (18:1-8)
The parable of the man who didn’t want to get up in the night is to show you that God is not like that: He’s generous Father. It’s about God’s generosity, not about your persistence.
But in chapter 18 we get a parable that is absolutely aimed at encouraging you to persist in prayer.
Read Luke 18:1-8.
The unjust judge brought justice to the widow because of her persistence. It’s the judge’s job to give the woman justice, and he got round to it in the end.
- So, says Jesus, “Will not God grant justice to his elect who cry out to him day and night? Will he delay helping them?”
- God is the perfect judge, executing perfect justice.
- It’s not his job, it’s his nature!
But Christians are still persecuted, rejected, ridiculed. Christian life is often hard. In the previous chapter Jesus taught about the time when he will return to the earth, the day of judgment.
- Life will be going on as normal, as in the days of Noah and Lot.
- Sin itself normalised in society; God rejected or ignored.
- And judgment will be swift and sudden.
But we don’t know when that day will come. The widow in the parable prayed for justice to come, and it came eventually. Likewise you’re to pray for God’s name to be honoured, for his kingdom to come, and you’re to persist.
Nourishment along the way
But here’s the thing, as you spend time with God you find you are nourished, blessed by him.
- The Holy Spirit in you helps you, comforts you, encourages you to pray. He intercedes with you, enabling your prayers.
- And you come to a throne of grace, to Jesus your great high priest who is always ready to dispense grace and help in time of need – he’s promised it.
- And you come to your Father in heaven, the eternal God, with all your cares and joys.
- Ephesians 2:18, “Through Christ we have access by one Spirit to the Father.”
And it’s his presence and help you need. Read Luke 18:1.
- Don’t give up on Jesus, on hope, on life.
- Keep on praying and persist in it.
- That is, keep on spending time with God himself, being nourished and encouraged by his living presence.
Learn how to pray in all of life. Try to work out some kind of organisation or routine. Time with God should hear from him, so read a little, reflect on what he is saying to you, respond to him in prayer.
But of course, God isn’t your genie in a bottle. We must approach him rightly: In Jeremiah 7:16, 11:14, and 14:11 God tells Jeremiah not to pray for Israel. They have rejected God so comprehensively that judgment is the only outcome, not mercy. But we’re not speaking about obvious rejection.
We’re given a parable about two men, one of whom appeared to be anything but rejecting God – and yet he was the one rejected.
Be thankful and humble (18:9-14)
This is the fourth quarter of our Battenberg cake on prayer. You can pray; God will answer; prayer nourishes you; be thankful and humble.
Read Luke 18:9-10.
Notice that. The New Testament has many, many reminders that you’re to pray always. But that wasn’t the case in the Old Testament. For the most part, the temple (or tabernacle) was where you approached God.
- As a Christian, you are the temple of the living God.
- The Holy Spirit dwells in you. You can pray always simply because God is always near.
So: Read Luke 18:11-12.
- There actually is some merit thanking God that you’ve been saved; you’re not what you were, and you’re not the same as the sinful people in the world.
- The Pharisee’s problem was that he boasted in it as his own achievements, not a celebration of God’s generous grace.
- God owes you nothing. Everything he gives you is grace.
- The Pharisee didn’t love God; if he did, he would love his neighbour too. Faith without works is dead.
Now read Luke 18:13-14.
- The tax collector knew he was a sinful man.
- That led to humility before God, not boasting.
- He didn’t pray as if God ought to be impressed with him; he prayed for mercy, knowing he deserved nothing.
And that is the heart of true prayer: Humbly coming in repentance and faith, crying out for mercy, in prayer that glorifies God – not the one praying.
Encouragements to pray
His prayer is so encouraging:
- Notice that he didn’t recite the Lord’s model prayer.
- Because prayer isn’t measured in time, or eloquence.
- Time with God is about your open heart before the living God, being nourished by his presence.
So you can pray; God will answer. Prayer nourishes you; be thankful and humble when you come.
But some closing encouragements:
- No-one jumps from hardly praying at all to praying an hour or more. It’s a journey. You’re learning to pray; there’s no time constraint, no pressure, no standard to reach.
- Some of you have young children and life is chaotic. Been there. Don’t beat yourself up with false targets and impossible standards: God is your Father, and he knows.
- Some work shifts, or awkward hours, and it’s hard to get a routine. Every day doesn’t have to be the same.
Remember that prayer isn’t a chore or a duty.
The Holy Spirit will increasingly work in you a delight in God as the object of your prayer.
As you have opportunity to learn how to pray, don’t miss out.
There is no higher bliss than to be in his presence.