Our church’s construction project has hit a little delay. We’re still waiting for approval from the Department of Transportation. So, I asked the contractor who’s trying to work through all this what I could do to help. I was thinking he might tell me to make a phone call or supply some documents. His answer? Pray.
So simple, right? And so powerful. But how often don’t we look right past it? I’d maintain that prayer is one of the most underutilized power tools in existence, and not just on a building project. I’m talking about for our lives, too. We like to concentrate on what we can do. Today — our reading from Luke 11 reminds us we have much more power when we are concentrating on what God can do and does do for us. Luke 11 gives us the record of Jesus answering his disciples when they asked him to teach them to pray.
And if you open up your Bibles and read that whole section, you’ll notice that Jesus doesn’t once give them some outward ritual or ceremonial rite to go through. He focuses on the how and why of prayer. Even in the example (the Lord’s Prayer) he gives them, he uses different verbiage than he had when he gave them that same prayer in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
Here’s what he teaches: Pray boldly and pray confidently. And that boldness starts when he gives us the Lord’s Prayer, and basically tells us to demand stuff from God, stuff that God has promised, like faith, food, and forgiveness. And then he tells a story to bring home the point.
There is a neighbor who bugs his neighbor in the middle of the night to get up and make him some bread. In the story the guy gets his way, but Jesus makes clear why: " 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs" Luke 11:8).
Here’s the key: He got it because he asked boldly, even beyond what was culturally acceptable. He didn’t have any right to ask, but he did, and he got it.
Now think about this. To an infinitely greater degree, we don’t deserve to get what we ask for from God. How could we even think we could ask him for anything? The Bible tells us that we were born his enemies and you and I know how many times we’ve acted on that. Every mistake, every harsh word, every selfish thought send spit shuttling towards God’s face instead of the sweet incense of prayer he wants. And then we think we can turn around and ask him for something!?!
Yes, he tells us we can pray boldly because we can pray confidently. And here’s where he brings in the picture of the Father. Think about what it means that we get to call him that — "Father." Like we can ask our fathers for anything knowing that they won’t give us something harmful — our perfect father is absolutely dependable to give us what is absolutely best for us.
He is our Father because of what the one who is teaching us to pray did. Jesus gave us our relationship with our Father by sacrificing his. Jesus left that position of power and authority to become one of us, and he took on all our sins of shaming our Father’s name. Jesus sacrificed his position as son to the point that he had to cry out: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me," so that we never have to feel that. And then, do you remember that most beautiful prayer on that cross? "Father, forgive them." That’s what he came for. That’s what he prayed for — to be the perfect pray-er in our place and to wipe away all our failures and to give us this status as God’s children to pray. Jesus’ blood earned our access and his resurrection proves that God is listening to us.
So let’s pray. (Insert your own heart-to-heart talk with God here.) In Christ, Amen.
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.