On a very basic level prayer is communication: Communication with God. So over the next three weeks I want to look at Jesus teaching on prayer through the lens of a basic way of analysing communication: Looking at the receiver the transmitter and the message. If we were talking about this sermon as a piece of communication, the transmitter would be the one speaking, the one listening the receiver and the medium would be preaching and the message would be opening up the scriptures to us. In the case of prayer we would talk of the one we pray to, the people doing the praying, and the prayer being offered. Today we are going to start with the receiver the one being prayed to… because the hope for prayer is the very character of God.
Jesus teaching comes in response to his disciples asking him ‘Lord, teach us to pray’ they had seen Jesus prayer life and they wanted that in their own lives. Jesus had a close relationship with God and they wanted it too. Jesus teaching on prayer in Luke can be split into three parts…
Firstly Jesus provides them with a pattern for prayer. This pattern shows us the priority of our prayer life. First that it is to see God’s name glorified, that we desire to see God’s justice and Kingdom established on earth, that we are dependent on God for our basic needs: Both physical (our daily bread) and Spiritually (forgiveness and reconciliation and protection and guidance). We will pick up this in a couple of weeks as we look at prayer as communication.
Secondly, Jesus gave a parable about perseverance in prayer: Picking up a picture of going to a neighbour when you are in need as a way of showing us that God hears and listens to prayer and can be trusted to respond.
lastly with a principle about prayer, that, God is good and will respond to our prayer and knows how to give good things to his children: In Particular the Holy Spirit, the means by which we can know God’s abiding presence in our lives and be enabled and guided to be disciples of Jesus.
But as I said before today I want to focus on the person we are praying to, on God and how God’s character is the basis for hope when we pray. The basis that we are heard, that we are cared for and we are answered…It’s about who we pray to … that makes the difference. In fact you could say that Jesus teaching on prayer revolves around encouragement to pray because of who God is.
Jesus does that by presenting us with two pictures of who God is. The first is that we are to address our prayer ‘to our Father’… That we are called into a relationship with God where he is our heavenly father and we are his children. It is an invitation to come with a childlike faith and to trust God. In the exodus story in the Old Testament of God bring the people out of Egypt we see that God tells pharaoh to let my people go because Israel was his first born. It is a relationship of father to his children. He has come to give them liberty and freedom. In the prologue to John’s gospel we have Jesus incarnation presented in big picture terms and we see that in Jesus coming and his ministry and his death and resurrection we are given power to become sons and daughters of the most high. Jesus invites us to share his relationship with God as father. AS children depend on their parents for food and protection and guidance and shelter so it is we can depend on God for those things. In the Ancient near east being part of a family meant that you upheld the honour and the values of that family, that was attached to the name of the father of the family and in Jesus prayer we see that reflected in wanting our fathers name glorified and our fathers values and justice and kingdom to come.
I remember listening to a man who worked in prisons one day who talked of a prisoner saying ‘if God is a father then I don’t want anything to with God’. His experience of his father was so bad… Perhaps in our increasingly fatherless society and in a society where there are large numbers who have been abused and abandoned or hurt by their fathers then this image of God as Father is hard to identify with. Some have wanted to find other ways of addressing God. Feminism has meant that many women want to look for other ways of addressing God. But Jesus does not leave it simply as a title in the last section of his teaching on prayer he picks up the idea of a good father who will look after his children, will give them food when they ask not abuse them. Not give them harmful things and says if we who are human and broken and yeah sinful can give good gifts to our children how much more your heavenly father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” We see that instead of projecting our broken images of fatherhood on God, we are to see that God is a good Father, Approachable not distant or absent, caring and forgiving not abusive and violent, affirming and loving, not full of criticism and put downs, even when he corrects us it because he loves us. In fact knowing God as Father praying to God as father can be liberating and healing, it can be inspiring for those of us who are fathers and parents to aspire to be better because we experience the love of our heavenly Father.
The image of God as Father is complimented in Jesus teaching with the picture of God as a good neighbour or friend. Jesus tells the parable of someone who has unexpected guests show up in the middle of the night when there is no food left in the house, and well there was not the 24/7 shopping we take for granted. Hospitality in the Ancient Middle East was of paramount importance to people and it was shameful if you didn’t have enough to care for your guest. So the picture here is going to the neighbour and pounding on their door to get some bread. In most Ancient Near Eastern Houses everyone slept on the ground floor. Usually on a raised platform all the children would be sleeping there as well as the adults. Also animals were kept in the ground floor as well. So it was quite a task getting up and opening the door in the middle of the night. Everyone and everything would end up awake. The neighbour would be well within his rights to say go away. But if you keep on persisting even they will get up and give you what you need. The picture of God here is that he will be a good friend and neighbour and answer your prayer. God cares and will answer our prayer and help us in time of crisis. We have a God who will open the door when we knock, who isn’t going to hide away and be distant but who will be found if we seek him, who will respond when we ask.
Not only does Jesus teach us about the very character of God in his ministry we see it as well. We see it Jesus revolution of grace. In that good news for the poor recovery of sight for the blind, freedom and release for the prisoner and oppressed, that Jesus demonstrated in loving and welcoming back and touching and healing, this is what God the Father is like. We hear it in his teaching love ‘ Be merciful as your father is merciful’. It is demonstrated in the cross, ‘father forgive them’ today you will be with me in paradise, That while we were yet sinner God died for us, it’s power is seen in the resurrection. Its truth is seen in the sending of the Holy Spirit on God’s people…. How much more will God give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?
I think in the Christian church we can forget that love of God, the amazing reality of having God as our Father. This week I’ve seen some videos of Muslim’s who have converted to Christianity. It was refreshing to hear afresh from these testimonies the uniqueness and wonder of knowing that God is a loving and caring Father. Mario Joseph was a Muslim cleric, who began looking at what the Koran said about Jesus. In fact I was interessted to hear Mario Joseph say that as he studied the Koran he saw it has more to say about Jesus than Mohammad. The Koran says Jesus is the word of God, that Jesus died and rose again and that Jesus will come again. He went on a retreat to study the gospel and was amazed at the passage from John’s gospel we mentioned before and Jesus teaching on Prayer. He said ‘In the Koran Allah is always seen as master and people were his slaves, but what liberty in knowing that we could be children of God, that we are loved by and cared for by our Father in heaven. Another women talked of being amazed that God was Love, she said she had always prayed and said her prayers at the right time, and one night after a year of bible study she decided she would pray like Christians did and found real joy and life in being able to pour her heart out to God and know he heard and cared. She became a Christian that very night. Another woman talked of Allah always feeling distant and angry but through a miracle of a Christian TV evangelist praying for her mother and her mother being healed of Multiple sycosis she knew that this Jesus and his father cared for her. Let’s not forget it, the awesome truth of prayer is that the creator and sustained of the universe invites us to be his children and to boldly approach him to know him in prayer. We can come to Our Father…