Monday, July 9, 2012

Following Jesus: We Pray

(A sermon based on Luke 11:1-13 for Sunday, July 8, 2012. Third in a series.)

Richard Foster said, “Prayer catapults us onto the frontier of the spiritual life. Of all the Spiritual Disciplines prayer is the most central because it ushers us into perpetual communion with the Father” (Celebration of Discipline, p. 33).

We see the truth of that statement when we look at the life of Jesus.

Had we been among the people who followed Jesus during his sojourn on earth, we would have often seen him praying; we could also have assumed that, if he was not around, he was likely off somewhere by himself praying. Prayer, therefore, was central and essential to the life of Jesus.

If we are his followers, then let’s make prayer central and essential to our life as well.

Let’s make prayer central to our individual lives.

Let’s make prayer central to the life of the church.

And not the kind of prayer that is just a sharing of a list of the things we want or think we need.

I’m a little nervous about the word “make,” even though prayer is a discipline, a practice, and thus it can be adopted and developed.

Prayer is first and foremost a relationship thing. Prayer happens because of a relationship that exists, it emerges from a relationship that exists, and it contributes to the growth of a relationship that exists.

So, prayer is first and foremost about our relationship with God.

Notice that our passage begins with Jesus teaching his disciples, including us, to pray to our “Father” (v. 2) and closes with Jesus reminding us of our heavenly Father’s gracious generosity toward us. We approach God as our heavenly Father, as our perfectly loving parent, and we do so with great confidence and faith that are based in God’s great love for us.

We pray because God is our heavenly Father and we pray to God as our heavenly Father.

Jesus’ prayer life was a vital aspect of his communication with his Father. Communication is key to the development of a relationship and spending quality time together is key to communication.

While in Ft. Worth for the CBF General Assembly a couple of weeks ago, Debra and I had dinner with some friends from Louisville, Kentucky with whom we had spent no quality time in about twenty-five years. Now, we had enough common interest and enough memories and enough catching up to fill a long conversation. But our relationship would be much deeper and fuller had we maintained it through regular conversations and visits over the past two decades. In a similar way, our relationship with God is deepened and enriched through our regular and purposeful communication more than it will be through sporadic and unfocused contact.

If you stop and think about it, you realize that no one had a closer relationship with God the Father than did God the Son. Yet Jesus intentionally spent untold hours in prayer. The relationship was that important.

So was integration. By that I mean that Jesus was very interested in integrating his will with the will of his Father. It seems, given the example of Jesus, that one of the most important roles that prayer plays in our lives is to help us to be aware of what God wants so that we can order our lives according to God’s will.

We assume, don’t we, that Jesus, being the Son of God, had a special insight into his Father’s will, and no doubt he did. Still, Luke tells us that before making a big decision or confronting a major issue, Jesus spent time in prayer.

So, before choosing the Twelve who would be his closest followers, Jesus spent all night praying to God. Then, he chose the Twelve from among his followers (Luke 6:12-16).

Even as we understand that the story teaches us to spend time in prayer before making major decisions, we also hear it sounding a cautionary note. After all, after spending all night seeking God’s will and no doubt coming to understand it, Jesus chose Judas. That choice was not a misunderstanding of God’s will but was rather a part of God’s will.

Being in and doing God’s will does not always mean having easy things and helpful people come into our lives; it can mean having difficult things and hurtful people come into our lives.

It was while Jesus was praying alone with his disciples nearby that he decided to ask the question, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”; it was a question that led to Simon Peter’s famous answer (“The Messiah of God”) and then to much important discussion about what that meant, namely, that the Messiah must suffer and that his followers must take up their crosses and follow him (Luke 9:18ff).

Jesus’ prayer life led him into and guided him in the making of vital decisions. So can ours; so should ours.

Then there is Jesus’ prayer in the garden in the moments leading up to his arrest (Luke 22:39ff). There he struggled to comprehend and to carry out the will of God.

When we in prayer become better able to comprehend and to accept the will of God, the way we pray changes. We come to see our prayers as less about what we think we need and more about what our needs really are as they relate to the will of God. As Jesus’ two parables in our text this morning teach us, God really will give us what we need and what we really need is the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit communicates the will of God to us.

Perhaps the main thing we should notice about the prayer life of Jesus is that he took time to get away and to go aside and to pray. He would go off by himself to pray; sometimes he would spend all night in prayer. His life was in its entirety a life of prayer as we want ours to move toward being; but part of that kind of life is taking time to pray regularly.

“Our Father, thy kingdom come.”

Now, what that means for me is…

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