Prayer, Luke 11:1–13, Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12), July 28, 2019

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Everybody thinks prayer is a good idea, I have never heard anyone, when told I would pray for them say “please don’t” or “I wish you wouldn’t”. Everyone welcomes prayers on their behalf, or on the behalf of a friend or family member. And yet, many people just don’t actually pray very much.

Why is that? Is it a failure of habit? Have we just never gotten into the habit of prayer?

Or is it a misbelief or doubt that prayer actually works or does any good?

Is it just because we are too lazy?

Maybe is it a failure of the will. We want to do it, but fail, like dieting or quitting a bad habit.

Or is it because we tried it once and we didn’t get the answer we wanted, so we just gave up on the whole idea?

Is it part of the “fast food syndrome”? Do we have the expectation that God must do it our way and He must do it right now?

Maybe it seems like the public prayers we hear are way too flowery, or maybe they seem like an alien language spoken by folks who are really different from you and me.

Do we not pray because we are just too busy to do something which doesn’t seem to be that productive?

Is it because we are afraid of God, just hoping to stay under His radar?

Is it because we’ve basically never been taught how to pray, or we don’t have a good model to use?

Is our failure to pray really a symptom of a failure to be immersed in the Word of God through Scripture?

Prayer is actually an act of the helpless. Our culture says that we are competent on our own, and really don’t need God.

What can we do to change the fact that many of us just don’t pray? Do we need to hear more about all the prayers that He answers? Would people pray if they heard us talk more about our answered prayers? We really are not very good at that either. We might be quick to say “please pray for me” but how many times do we come back with, “let me tell you how God has answered my prayers”?

There are some suggestions I would like to offer this morning that may assist you in your prayer life. The first suggestion is organization. One seminary professor used to say “unless you have regular times and places in which you pray, chances are, you don’t pray.” Make a regular time and place to pray.

The second suggestion is to pray often. We should never hesitate to say “let’s pray about it”, especially when we face any sort of questions in life.

The third suggestion is to include the Word of God, and connect that to a life of prayer. The Psalms are full of prayers and cries to God.

All throughout the Sundays after Pentecost our reading take us on a little tour of the Christian faith and life. We hear this whole idea of Jesus Christ as the one who defeats sin, death and the devil on our behalf. We also hear the whole idea of a Christian life, lived out explored in terms of a life of service.

This week our attention turns to prayer. As Martin Luther says in his explanation of the Lord’s Prayer, “God tenderly invites us to call upon him as dear children ask their dear father.” In light of that, there are a few more things I would like to suggest that we need to remember about prayer.

In truth, Luther also insisted that he could get nothing done if he did not start his day with a couple hours of prayer. I have always been convicted by that. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel terribly guilty, or even worse, just plain insensitive to it. But Luther also once noted that he wished he could pray like his dog watched him eat sausage.

Prayer is a real communication with the Almighty God, Creator of the universe. Too often, I think, we hear prayer discussed as a blessing to the one who prays. The classic line: “The family that prays together, stays together” may indeed be true but it tends have us seeing prayer as nothing more than a therapeutic or healthy practice for us. This loses sight of the fact that this is a real communication with the Lord of the universe.

Prayer is also a privilege. If we remember that it is a real communication with God, then it becomes a real privilege. God has graciously opened up a line of communication with us, with you! We have an opportunity which is pretty amazing if you think about it. The creature has a direct line of access to the Creator.

We often think about prayer as something we are supposed to do. But Luther sees the children asking their father as dear children, not out of a sense of obligation or duty.

Yes, God does command prayer, but remember He also commands love. To pray because it is the “right thing” may be noble but it is may not be the best of motivation. The best motivation to pray is that we have a chance to talk to our Savior who is always with us, who in fact, dwells within us.

We also know prayer flows out of our Baptism. It is not that God does not hear the prayer of the unbeliever, but rather the person who has been baptized has a special promise: God promises to hear you. God surely is able to hear all prayers, even the misdirected prayers of the pagan. But Baptism establishes a different sort of relationship with God through Jesus. Now the prayers we utter are heard differently. Now they are heard in the relationship of a father to a child.

God delights to hear our prayers. God does not have limited band width which we will be wasting or is somehow distracting Him from something more important. It is just not the case that our prayers compete for God’s attention amid the millions of others who pray at that moment. We have His complete and undivided attention.

He also has infinite love means that He really does want to hear from you about whatever you want to talk about. He delights to hear from the child who prays for his lizard, or the woman who beseeches God for a parking space as she is circling the lot. They are not wasting God’s time; they are exercising their faith in the temporal moment in which they exist. The lizard may indeed be ill and the woman may very well need a parking spot. The faith piece is that they believe God cares about such things and will act on their behalf. What is more, He delights to hear a “thank you!” when that parking spot is found.

Prayer is at the very center of our relationship and our faith. We pray because God loves us and we pray because we believe that God cares about us and has the loving resources to do something about it.

Prayer is acting on the reality which we believe to be true. God has the ability to answer prayer and acts upon our prayers. If we don’t believe that, we will not pray. The Christian who does not pray has much deeper issues at work than simply a problem of a defective prayer life. The Christian who does not pray has a deep spiritual sickness. Faith simply prays.

While we were at the National Youth Gathering I was reminded of a little acronym that Amanda was using to help the kids to pray. If you are not familiar with the little acronym ACTS, you might find it useful. Healthy prayer usually involves four elements.

A – Adoration: This is the most neglected part of prayer. This element of prayer simply makes a statement about God. It starts with “You have done…” or “You are….” It is a statement of the truth about God. The person praying stands in awe and adoration of Him.

C – Confession: This is the statement of the human condition. Again, we often neglect this element of prayer and can sound very much like we are coming to God on equal terms. This element of prayer simply says, “I’m afraid” or “I’m weak” or “I don’t know what to do.” This element of the prayer does not have to be, “I am a terrible sinner.” It can simply be a statement of the condition of my current state. “God, I’m broken”.

T – Thanksgiving:  This is where the person thanks God for specific elements in his or her life. This prayer is specific, not generic. It looks to the past, preferably the immediate past, and it sees God’s hand at work behind the blessings of life.

These first three elements can be mingled and rearranged. But it is important that they take place prior to the last element, or at least that the last element of the prayer is embedded in them.

{S – Supplication:} The last element of an ACTS prayer is of course supplication. God is not some divine vending machine from which blessings come if we ask. God is in a living, loving relationship with His people. Just as we praise, confide in, and communicate with our family and loved ones, so too, the conversation with God is much more than simply “gimme gimme gimme…”

After having adored, confessed our condition, and thanked God for His gifts of the past, we now know we are able to come to Him, earnestly and humbly.

Prayer is not a concept one teaches in a single sermon or even a bible study series and then expects it to be done. This is a habit, a way of life, and our life is stubbornly resistant to change. It takes time, discipline, accountability and practice.

The disciples’ request in our Gospel reading might seem reasonable and natural; it could have been prompted by the anxious desire to “get prayer right.” They had experienced the demands of ministry and knew they needed to become confident prayer warriors.

So they asked, and Jesus answered their request. Jesus did teach them to pray, but He also taught them that the heart of prayer is not just technique, structure, and terminology. The heart of prayer is our relationship with God, our Father.

Jesus challenged the disciples to rethink the very nature of prayer. A Christian prayer is NOT like the prayers of the people of this world. Prayer is NOT a negotiation process with a superpower. Prayer is NOT an appeal to God’s ego with flowery speech and generous portions of praise. Prayer is NOT an appeal to God’s greed with promises and pledges. Prayer is NOT an appeal to His sense of justice in the hope of shaming Him into action.

The fact that God is our Father changes everything in our prayer. Now, we are bold in our petitions to our Father. The ultimate expression of confidence in our heavenly Father is our trust in God to give us good gifts as He determines best for us. We can be at peace knowing that every good gift comes from God our Father. Amen.