17 August 2015

Luke 11:1-13

“Lord, teach us pray.” (v. 1)

Psalm: Psalm 69:1-21


How should I pray? Most people of faith will ask that question several times in their lives. The disciples of Jesus were no exception; they had attached themselves to a rabbi (a Jewish teacher) and they expected him to teach them to pray. What's more, the Gospels suggest that one of the ways in which Jesus made a deep impression on his followers was through his practice of prayer. Taking himself away from the crowd and giving himself time, Jesus radiated a prayerful unity with the one he called 'Abba', 'Father' (Mark 14:36). So, in response to the disciples' question Jesus gives both teaching on how to pray and illustrations on how prayer works.

This version of what Christians have come to call 'The Lord's Prayer' is much shorter than the one we find in Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 6:9-13) and the one in the slightly later Christian work, the Didache. It echoes traditional Jewish prayer, with its emphasis on the holiness of the divine name, the provision of bread and the centrality of forgiveness.

Jesus' main illustration is the parable of the insistent friend at midnight. What could be more irritating than being woken up when you have shut the house for the night and retired with your family? And yet, if the unwelcome caller is persistent enough you would probably get up and answer their request, if only to get rid of them. The message is not that God is fed up with listening to us, rather it is that God is much more likely than we are to respond to human need. Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and doors will open (verse 9). God wants to answer prayer and to give us what we most deeply desire and what we most urgently need. Of course, that doesn't mean that we attack God with a shopping list. Instead, it is when our prayer takes us to the desire for God's kingly rule, to a hunger for the poor to be fed and to a yearning for forgiveness, that we find our requests and God's response matching perfectly.

This understanding of prayer is close to the traditional Methodist teaching about Christian perfection. It doesn't mean that we get everything right, but it does mean that our love for God and for our fellow human beings has come as close as it can to the love that God shows us in Jesus. That is why God's great gift in response to prayer is the Holy Spirit - the gift that makes our prayers and our actions more and more Christlike.

To Ponder

  • What is your deepest desire? How can you express this in prayer?
  • What can you do to make more time and space in your life for prayer? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a minister of the Methodist Church in Britain but since 2004 has served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. His ministry has been divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga), Britain and Ireland.