Lord, Teach Me to Pray

Very simply, prayer is talking to God with a heart that trusts in him.  To truly pray it takes some learning and a lot of practice. Based on Luke 11:1-13, we plead with Jesus, “Lord, Teach Me to Pray.”  July 28, 2019.

“Dad, can you teach me how to pitch?” Those were sweet words to this dad’s ears. Maybe you’ve heard a similar sentiment. “Can you teach me to drive, to tie a shoe, to play the piano, to make that face, to wink…” whatever it might be. Often it is a question that is asked when someone sees you doing it and would like to be able to do the same thing. 

Now I tell you, pitching is not a hard thing. It’s pretty simple. Just about anyone can do the basic mechanics of flinging your arm forward and releasing a ball. Doing it well, though, that’s where it’s hard. That’s where you need training. You need to know the right way to grip the ball, how to use your legs to push off with power, how to dial in your aim, and a lot of other important mechanics. But then just knowing the process isn’t the end. It takes practice, a lot of practice, to be good and to throw unhittable strikes. 

Today’s reading from the gospel of Luke records a similar request. “Lord, teach us to pray.” Those must have been sweet words to Jesus’ ears. The disciples of Jesus had seen him praying on multiple occasions, probably regularly. John the Baptist had taught his followers to pray. Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders, taught their followers how to pray. So, the disciples thought, “Jesus, teach us.”

That’s our request too. “Lord, teach me to pray.” Prayer is at the heart of the Christian life, but I realize that it is also the heart of a lot of Christian frustration, misunderstanding, and even heartache. Prayer is simple. But we often wrestle with it, like is it effective, does God actually hear me, what should I be praying for? To truly pray it takes some learning and a lot of practice. So, we plead with Jesus, “Lord, teach me to pray.”

But maybe we should start here. Why such a big deal with prayer anyways? Let me share a catechetical moment, a teaching moment. Martin Luther’s catechism defines prayer in this way. Prayer is speaking to God from the heart as a natural response of faith and an expression of our trust in the power and love of God. So very simply, prayer is talking to God with a heart that trusts in him. God invites you and expects you to pray to him. A good relationship demands good communication and trust. Prayer is just that in your relationship with God. 

This is prayer. This is what Jesus, the very Son of God, took time to do, even in the midst of the busyness of his ministry. He prayed to the heavenly Father. When the disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, he did.

The first thing he did was teach them the what. What should you pray for? What should your prayer look like? He gave them a template, a model prayer that I think might be familiar to you. It’s often referred to as the Lord’s Prayer. This beautiful prayer can be divided up into distinct requests and each request could be a sermon by itself, so for the sake of time today, I’ll summarize. It starts with who you are talking to, kind of like the greeting of a letter. Jesus says, call out in prayer to the heavenly Father, the Almighty Creator Lord God. That’s who you get to approach through Jesus. This name Father depicts not just the gracious relationship you have as a dearly loved child of God, but also depicts the way that you can talk to him about anything and everything like a little child does to his parent. 

Notice what Jesus encourages you to pray about with your eternal Father. “Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.” You can categorize these requests into two groups – requests for spiritual/faith life things and requests for earthly/physical needs. Look at the ratio of spiritual requests to earthly requests. It’s four spiritual to one earthly. If you add in the two other requests that Jesus included in the longer version of the Lord’s prayer it would increase the ratio to six spiritual to one physical request. Does your pattern of prayer look like this model that Jesus gives you? 

Look at what you pray about. So often we have a laundry list of things that we pray for – good weather, health, relationship problems, good grades, a good job, a win for your team, financial help, car repairs, and so on. What happens is that six to one ratio is flipped to be six earthly things to one spiritual thing. We get so tempted to focus on this earthly life, the day to day visible walk, that we lose sight of what’s truly important and eternally lasting. Jesus teaches you to change that mind set. I challenge you, like Jesus, to let your prayers focus more on your spiritual life. Pray for God’s will to be done in your life and eyes to know and to see God’s will better. Pray for a repentant heart that finds the comfort of forgiveness in Jesus the Savior of all and a heart that is willing to forgive others. Pray that God be with you and strengthen you to overcome the temptations you are faced with each day. Pray that God would give you just what you need for each day and a heart that is content with his blessings. These requests don’t overlook your physical needs, but allow you to focus on what’s truly lasting, your relationship with God. Through faith in the Lord, you grow to have peace in all situations, contentment, and understanding. The more time you spend in God’s Word, the more you get to learn the heart of God and things you can focus your life of prayer on. This takes time and patience and practice. But you will be blessed! This is a model that works!

Once you learn the what of prayer, you can begin to focus on the how you should pray, in other words, the attitude you have. If you are anything like me, this is just as challenging as prioritizing my requests because I wrestle with things like whether God will hear or answer or care. I’m tempted to worry and to be afraid that God can’t or won’t always help. But that is often Satan screaming lies in your ear to keep you from coming to the Lord in prayer. 

Jesus wants you to know the truth. You can pray with bold confidence. Jesus told the disciples a short parable in which a guest unexpectedly stops by a man’s house in the middle of the night and that man had no food to share with the friend. So, he went to his neighbor, knocked on his door in the middle of the night, woke him and his family up from their sleep, in order to ask for some food. The guy knows that it’s late and he shouldn’t bother his neighbor, but what else can he do? Pick N’ Save is closed and his guest is famished. So, he boldly seeks help from his neighbor. 

Guess what?! The neighbor helped him. At that moment he helped him not because of their friendship, but because of the man’s shameless audacity, a boldness that came from familiarity. You knocked on my door in the middle of the night. That’s bold. It must be important. Let me help you.

God wants you to come knocking on his door at any time, day or night, with the same boldness in prayer. There is nothing too little or too big to bring before the Lord. There are no depths of guilt too deep or worries too insignificant that God doesn’t want to hear about and help you with. Be bold in your prayer to the Lord.

Look at Abraham from the first reading from Genesis 18. God was gracious enough to let Abraham in on his plans to destroy the wicked and ungodly cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham boldly asks God to change his mind. He asked God to change his mind! Abraham’s dear nephew, Lot, and his family lived there. “Will you not destroy it for 50 righteous, god-fearing people, Lord?” If that wasn’t a bold enough request, he continued…for 45, for 40, 30, 20, how about just 10 people, will you spare it? Yet God didn’t reprimand Abraham. He seemed to welcome his bold request. 

Pray boldly because God invites you to. You have this amazing connection to God through faith in Christ Jesus the Savior who has removed all of your sin and imperfections with his perfect life, death, and resurrection. Because of Jesus, you can approach God. Because of Jesus, you can pray to God boldly.

Jesus himself said, Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. This is the confidence that you can have when you pray. God hears and answers every prayer. This is God’s promise.

But this doesn’t mean that he will answer it in the way that you always want or expect. Remember, Abraham boldly prayed that God not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. God did burn down those cities with fire from heaven. But God answered Abraham a different way, by sparing Lot and his family from that destruction. Like a father who gives only good gifts to his child, God gives the best gifts and perfect answers to you his child. He promises! “This is the confidence that we have before him: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 Timothy 5:14). Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father (James 1:17).

Lord, teach me to pray.” It’s a prayer in and of itself. A prayer that Jesus loves to hear and answer as he has today as we listen to him speak through his Word. He tells you what and how. But that’s as far as I can take you today. Just like I can teach my son how to pitch, it is up to him to put in the practice and become better at it. It’s up to you with God’s strength to grow in your life of prayer. Practice often. You may not throw strikes right away in your prayer life, but grow in it. Maybe it’s praying more regularly, or growing more confident in your trust of God, or bringing everything to him. Pray with bold confidence. You will be blessed. Amen.  

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on July 28, 2019