This morning, we continue our series on asking “what would it look like if we actually lived like Jesus?” This week, we ask together, “what if we prayed like Jesus?” Now, the amount of teaching about prayer that I will not be covering in the next 20 minutes will be astounding. To say that I am only going to graze the top of the iceberg is an understatement. Prayer is such a massive topic, that it is tempting to try and skim the surface, try to drink out of the fire hose, and end up accomplishing very little.
So instead, I want you to remember four words.
Four words about how Jesus prayed. Today’s passage helps us to catch a glimpse of Jesus’ prayer life, and is the source for our four words today. Four words to remember: continual, comfortable, God-centric, and trusting. Let’s parse each of those words in the next few minutes.
Continual. Look at the way Jesus prayed and you will see that it was continual, and not transactional.
A transaction is a one-time exchange. When we go to the grocery store, we conduct a transaction. We give the check out person at Checkers money, they give us groceries. Online, we click the button on Amazon to charge our account, and they give us a book. It is a transaction. We often think of prayer as a transaction. We give God the magic words, or promise to go to church more, or send in our tithe more regularly, God gives us what we pray for. Transaction complete. Prayer over.
Jesus never prayed this way. His prayers were really more highlights from a lifestyle of prayer. In today’s passage, the disciples come to Jesus as he is “praying in a certain place.” Jesus lived a life of prayer. Look back in the first ten chapters of Luke how many times Jesus prays – how many times Luke mentions that Jesus goes up into the hills to pray, or prays before an important moment. Jesus is living a lifestyle of prayer. For him it is a continual matter of habit.
And he teaches his disciples to pray in the same way. At the end of the passage, he commands them “ask, seek, and knock.” But the tense does not imply a transaction, but a continual life of prayer: “As you life your life, be asking…be seeking…be knocking.” It’s actually the only way that prayer actually works. Jesus is not suggestion that prayer is a transaction, that we can just go to God and ask God for anything and everything and he’ll give it to us. We know from experience that it doesn’t work that way. Instead, he commands his disciples (and us) to life a life of continual prayer…only then will we know what to ask for…what to seek…how to knock. Prayer is not a magical transaction and God is not a genie. If we pray like Jesus, we engage in a lifestyle of prayer. It is our habit and our way of living. Continual.
Next, comfortable. Jesus prayed in ways that were comfortable, not rigid.
I cannot count how many times I have heard from someone that they are not comfortable praying to God. The more I dig into why, it seems that there is an expectation that prayer is supposed to be a rigid, formulaic, formal enterprise. Even the disciples come to Jesus asking him for the formula: “teach us to pray like John does.” And what is the first word that he tells them? He tells them to pray to God as “abba” – the familiar, comfortable term for Father…like us calling God “daddy.” Prayer is meant to be a comfortable conversation with “daddy,” not something that terrifies us because we might not say it right!
One of my favorite comic strips is Brian Crane’s “Pickles.” The most common characters are a grandpa and grandma and their grandson Nelson. Last week, in a strip, grandpa is tucking in Nelson and told him to make sure he said his prayers. He offered a little theological teaching, remembering “I heard a fella say that there are only two reasons to pray: one is to say ‘help me’ and the other is to say ‘thank you.’” Nelson thinks about this a minute and offers a little theological teaching in response. He asks, “how about just to say ‘hi’?” The way that Jesus prayed was just to say “hi.” To live in comfortable prayer before God means that it is okay just to say “hi.” To share with God how your day is going, what your thoughts and prayers and fears and joys look like in that moment.
Now, this does not mean that there are not prayer formulas that can be meaningful. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are praying a set prayer. And even Jesus likely prayed formula prayers. He would have probably prayed the Amidah, a series of 18 prayers that were prayed during the week. He would have memorized the psalms and sung them as prayers. But he would have known them so fully, that they became comfortable. They became second nature. They were not a rigid imposition, but a well-rehearsed love song to a gracious God. The point of formulaic prayer is to become comfortable. We learn the formula so fully that it becomes second nature to us. Jesus would have almost certainly prayed in this way.
Last week, I referenced a book by Ed Dobson, The Year of Living Like Jesus. In it, Dobson writes that this was one of the most important lessons as he tried to live like Jesus. He had resisted formula prayers, thinking that free-flowing prayer was the only spiritual way to pray. But after praying many of the same Hebrew prayers that Jesus would have prayed, he learned the power in shutting down the part of your brain that was trying to figure out what to say next, and letting your spirit connect to the Holy Spirit in enlivening ways. These prayers became second nature to him, and in that comfort, he discovered a new connection to Jesus and his teachings.
Thirdly, Jesus’ prayer was God-centric.
Now, this might seem obvious, but how often is our prayer actually pretty me-centric. Here is my list of demands, God. Get to work. But Jesus does not pray this way. Notice that when the disciples ask him to teach them about the nature of prayer, he instead teaches them about the nature of God. Most of the passage teaches the disciples that God is a generous God, a sovereign God, a powerful God.
Alan Culpepper writes that Jesus’ teaching is that prayer is an act of worship. If prayer is about you, then you are doing it wrong. When Jesus prayed, he spent time learning who God was, listening to the Spirit to be formed and transformed. Barbara Brown Taylor speaks of prayer in these terms of worship, as well. She constructed a prayer altar in her home to help her focus on God in worship. She describes her experience at her altar:
Prayer overtakes me there. I am utterly swamped by the presence of the Holy. I would bend my head to the ground if I could take my eyes off the beauty. As it is, I do not even know for sure if I am breathing. The altar is giving me more life than I know how to ask for. I can no longer tell the difference between need, fear, thanks, and want. In this light, I see how they are all facets of the same sparkler. I see how they are all faces of the same love. This answer to prayer is so far beyond my doing that I cannot find the words to forswear my own input.
Prayer for Taylor becomes God-centric worship. Just like it was for Jesus.
Finally, prayer for Jesus was trusting.
This one takes some explanation. Understanding the parable in the middle of the passage requires an understanding of an ancient Hebrew culture of shame and hospitality. The story goes like this. It is the middle of the night when a man receives a knock on the door. It is a friend who has been traveling a long way, and now finds himself in need of a place to stay. The host must invite him in. There is no Hollidome here. There is no cell phone so he can texted ahead to make sure that it was okay that he stayed and let him know when he was arriving. None of that…he just shows up in the middle of the night. And so the host is taken by surprise. He invites him in, pours him a glass of wine, looks to pull out some bread to eat with his olives and fish, and the cupboard is bare.
So, the host tells his guest to make himself at home, and he runs next door to ask his neighbor for bread. Another knock on the door, this time the host is doing the asking. Now, remember how important shame and honor is in this culture. If the host does not find some bread, he will be dishonored because he is a bad host. If his neighbor refuses to share his bread, he will be dishonored because he is a bad neighbor. Neither of them wants to do it, but they are trapped by the power of shame. And so both relent and give the guest some bread. In verse 8, the word that is translated sometimes as “persistence,” and sometimes as “boldness,” is actually best translated as “shameless.” In other words, a knock on the door will yield results because shame culture demands it.
But Jesus then uses the metaphor as a comparison. If a knock on the door will bring results, even from these resentful, grumpy, awakened-in-the-middle-of-the-night homeowners, what do you think it will bring from a loving, gracious God? When you knock, knock trusting that there is a God who wants to give you good gifts. Luke amplifies the passage by reasoning that even an average, decent father would not give his son a snake or a scorpion to eat when they are hungry, how much more can we expect from a loving God?
And so, when we pray, Jesus teaches, we pray trusting that God hears us. We pray trusting that God loves us. We pray trusting that God wants to give us what we need.
Four simple words. Just the tip of the iceberg on the subject, but perhaps meaningful nonetheless. When we pray, let us remember these four words: