Teach us to Pray

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 11:1-13

Dear sons of God: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus teaches us to pray. Yes, He teaches us the words to what we call the Lord’s Prayer, but He also teaches us the right attitude with which to pray. Jesus tells us to pray with impudence, that is, with persistence and shamelessness.

Jesus provides an illustration to teach this attitude of prayer. Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and ask for three loaves of bread to set before a traveller that just arrived at your house? Who would do that? Who would bother their friend in the middle of the night for some bread? That’s pretty shameless. And on top of it, once the friend says no, who would keep on banging on the door? You’ve already bothered him in the middle of the night, and now he says, “No, keep quiet. I’m in bed. The children are in bed. The baby finally fell asleep. I can’t get up to give you some bread at this hour.” Who would keep banging on the door and ringing the doorbell? Who would keep knocking and asking for bread in the middle of the night so shamelessly? It’s embarrassing enough to go to your friend in the first place at such an hour and then to impudently, persistently continue to ask, that’s just shameless.

The thing is you wouldn’t do that to a friend. But if you did, he would not get up because he’s your friend. Jesus says he would get up because of your persistence and shamelessness. He’d get up and give you whatever you need because you won’t leave him alone. Your friend will give you what you need because he wants you to stop banging on his door in the middle of the night.

Jesus says that is the attitude with which we should pray to God – the attitude of persistence: praying without ceasing (cf. I Thess. 5:16). If you don’t receive that for which you pray, keep praying. Shamelessly continue to pray to God that He would give you what you need.

We can pray to God persistently and shamelessly, because when we pray to God, we are not praying to Him as to a friend. We are praying to our Father as His sons – and not just as any sons, but when we pray in Jesus’ name, we are praying as the Son; we pray as Jesus. We don’t pray in our own name; we pray in Jesus’ name.

If we prayed in our own name, God would have no reason to answer us. We have sinned against Him in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and what we have left undone. We have not loved Him with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves. We justly deserve His present and eternal punishment, not to have our prayers answered.

When we pray in Jesus’ name, however, we do not pray as sinners. We pray as those who are baptized into Christ, and thus clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27). When we pray in Jesus’ name, God has every reason to answer us, because we pray as His Son; we pray as Jesus. Jesus never sinned in thought, word, or deed. He did everything that the Law demands and left nothing undone. He loved the Father with His whole heart and His neighbour as Himself. Praying in Jesus’ name, our prayers will be answered. As Jesus Himself says, “Ask, and it will be given to you.”

What then about the prayers being offered up by God’s children who are suffering? Those prayers from nursing home beds and hospital beds? Those prayers from cancer wards and palliative care? What about their loved ones crying to God on their knees for healing and recovery? What about those who cried out to God for help but He did not answer them in the way they thought He should?

The answer for this is not to be found in the attitude of impudence that we should have in prayer. If impudence were the only attitude for prayer, we would have to conclude that whenever God does not answer our prayers, it is only because we didn’t pray hard enough or often enough or long enough. We’d have to conclude that God is the reluctant friend who we have to pester until he finally gets out of bed to give us what we need. But that is not what Jesus says. God is not reluctant to help us. God does not ignore our pleas until we finally have bothered him enough.

This is where the second attitude of prayer comes in – the attitude of trust – trusting that God knows what is best for us, and that He will give it to us. God is not going to give us anything that will harm us or be bad for us. He is not the father who gives his son a serpent when he asks for a fish. He is not the father who gives his son a scorpion when he asks for an egg. What sinful, earthly father would even do that? If even sinful fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, do you think God our heavenly Father will do worse? God will never give His children anything that will harm us or be bad for us. That is His promise to us.

We may not see or understand. What we see and understand is clouded by sin. We see illness; God sees the strengthening of faith through illness. We see need; God sees the increase of patience and contentment. We see the death of a loved one; God sees the opening of the gates of heaven to our loved one.

God will never give His children anything that will harm us or be bad for us. The Epistle to the Romans puts it this way, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (8:32) If God gave you the greatest gift of all, sending His only Son to die in your place for your sins, do you think that He will withhold lesser things from you? You think He gave you the greatest gifts ever and now He’s being stingy?

No, dear friends in Christ, God is not withholding anything good from you. He is giving you what He knows is best for you, whether you see it or not; whether you understand it or not. He has given you the forgiveness of sins because of Jesus’ death for you, and He gives you the promise that just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so you too will rise to eternal life. If God has given this wonderful gift to you, you know that everything that He gives to you is for your eternal good.

God will answer the prayers of His children praying for healing and recovery, even if it is not on this side of heaven. Jesus suffered and died so that we will not suffer or die in the life to come. Our suffering will end. Our prayers will be answered in the way and at the time God knows to be best.

As the hymn says:

What God ordains is always good: His loving thought attends me;
No poison can be in the cup that my physician sends me.
My God is true; each morning new I trust His grace unending,
My life to Him commending.

What God ordains is always good: Though I the cup am drinking
Which savours now of bitterness, I take it without shrinking.
For after grief God gives relief, My heart with comfort filling
And all my sorrow stilling. (LSB 760 st. 3, 5)

Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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