Icebreaker: Think about a conversation that you have had recently with someone who you are close to – it could be a friend or a member of your family. What kind of conversation was it? Were you relaxed or frustrated when it was taking place? Did you do most of the listening or most of the talking? How did it leave you feeling afterwards?
Introduction: All of those questions that I’ve just asked you could have been questions that I asked of how it was last time you prayed. Prayer is an on-going conversation with God, where we talk and listen; where, depending on what we are praying about, we can be very agitated or very calm, and can indeed move through a range of thoughts and emotions. Prayer always leaves us with something too - this can be anything between a deep sense of calm and peace, to a deep sense of not having understood what God wanted to say to us in that moment. It is a vital and essential part of our relationship with God, and yet many of us struggle with it and have times where we may feel that our prayers are unheard or unanswered.
There seems little doubt that this is why Jesus taught so much about the prayer that was at the heart of His relationship with His Father. The disciples saw the aliveness of His prayer-life, and even asked that they be taught to pray as He did, because they could see how important it was to Him. Here is what Jesus said to them in reply to their question:
Text: Luke 11: 1-10
The spiritual discipline of prayer is a life-time journey for us, and because of that, it takes commitment and determination, it takes passion and a desire to be in sync with God’s will and his desire for our lives – things that are rooted in the gift of the Holy Spirit. There is so much that we could say about prayer but there are 3 things that we can see in Jesus’ teaching here:
1. Prayer has many faces and we need all of them
The first part of today’s text contains words that may be very familiar to us, even if we didn’t grow up believing in Jesus and in fact if we grew up in the church they may have been a form of words that we said every week as part of worship, (although I am not certain that Jesus ever really intended that they would be used in that way.) What Jesus is teaching here is that prayer does not have one face, but many faces and His teaching gives us a helpful signal about what they are. He begins with praise, with giving the Father His rightful place in our lives as Lord and Master. He continues with a prayer for daily needs to be met by God, which is followed by prayer focused on the two sides of forgiveness– a prayer that comes from our understanding that we have much to confess and to be forgiven for; also that this understanding should be actively at work in our relationships with others. Finally there is a prayer for help in our struggles.
When I look honestly at my prayer-life, I know that too often I skip straight to the help bit, or even to praying for the struggles of other people, without making very much time for anything else. Is that true for you too? Does there need to be more of a balance of focusing on how awesome God is, and worshipping Him in prayer more deeply when you pray?
"Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference." - Max Lucado
2. God calls us to persevere and to be bold in prayer
I love the image that comes in the illustration that Jesus gives here, of the man banging on the door of his neighbour and asking for blessing, even though it isn’t a convenient time! Sometimes people wrongly get the picture from this part of the text that we are like annoying kids saying to God “Dad, Dad, Dad, can I have….. please can I have…. Go on Dad, let me have…..” over and over again until God, like a harassed Dad, gets fed up of us asking and lets us have whatever we want, for a quiet life. But this isn’t what it means.
To understand what it does mean, we have to start from the place where we should always start – with God. He loves us, he knows that we are living in a broken world, He knows that we have troubles and struggles and concerns and He wants us to rely on His love in a way that makes us unafraid to pray about those things. He wants us to keep praying with a perseverance that comes from our confidence in His goodness, rather than from our desire to have our own way. At the beginning of Chapter 18 of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus taught His disciples that they should pray and never give up – this is the perseverance in prayer that we are working towards as we learn to pray.
The Bible also tells us that the Holy Spirit within us helps us to pray even when we can’t find the words, and that Jesus intercedes for us, bringing His concerns for us to the Father and acting as the ultimate Advocate for those who believe in Him. Those two truths, mean that we can have confidence and boldness to do what is really unimaginable when we stop to think about it – which is to come right close to God and tell Him what is in our heart and our minds. Even more amazing is that God knows us so well that he knows what our hearts and minds are full of – and yet He wants us to come, because He knows that our relationship with Him will grow in the way He longs for, when we are talking and listening to Him.
3. Is there such a thing as unanswered prayer?
In the final part of the text Jesus talks of asking and receiving, seeking and finding and knocking on doors that will open. This too can be easily misunderstood; this does not mean that we have a ‘genie of the lamp’ God, who will grant all our desires and wishes, or who is at our command.
How many times in your life have you prayed and prayed for something to happen or not happen and it seems that the prayer has not been answered? This happened recently to someone close to me. A Christian friend of theirs is suffering from an aggressive form of cancer – for over 12 months there has been persistent and bold prayer for healing , until this week, the person sent a message to say that their life is coming to an end. At every turn, when we prayed for things to change or get better, or for them not be as bad as we feared, things didn’t get better. At these moments, it seemed that our prayers had gone unanswered, but actually that isn’t true. God has answered, He has made it clear that although our hearts were set on this person being healed, in some kind of temporary way in this life (because we know the path that we all have to take one day) , that their time here is coming to an end, and although that is desperately sad for their family and friends, this person will soon know total healing, beyond anything that is possible in this life.
Is it easy to take that? No it isn’t! Our desire was for healing in this life – but the truth is that human death is the reality of living in this broken world, and a life that goes on beyond that moment is the reality of living beyond this life. God had answered our prayers for healing, before we even asked them, by sending Jesus to conquer death. The prayer for healing in human terms has been met with the truth that God knows best, and that He is in control even though it isn’t what those of us who were praying for this person wanted.
When we see Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, His prayer is so fervent and so passionate – He says to His Father, if I don’t have to go through this horror, please let is pass me by, but what He says next is the key to our prayer-life growing and maturing – He tells God that He will obey His will, even if it means that He has to pass through this suffering that He would rather not face. When we pray, we need to grow in our acceptance that sometimes the deepest prayers of our hearts are not in sync with God’s will and purpose and that this will mean that they are not answered in the way that we would like.
No prayer eventually goes unanswered, but when the answer we get is not “Yes”, it’s tempting to think that we haven’t been heard, or that we didn’t pray passionately enough for whatever it is we have asked. God may say to us – “I want you to pray some more about that”, He may say “No, that’s not what I have planned” or even “Not yet” but he does not leave us without an answer if we are open to hearing it. As we grow and mature in the life that we have through the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, we will become more ‘tuned in’ to God’s will and our prayers will become increasingly in sync with that.
"The reality is, my prayers don't change God. But, I am convinced prayer changes me. Praying boldly boots me out of that stale place of religious habit into authentic connection with God Himself." - Lysa TerKeurst
Prayer is a life-time’s work. We can grow and mature through the power of the Holy Spirit, but we have to do our part by laying aside time to pray, by focusing on and worshipping God first, before we present our requests to Him, and by listening to answers even when they aren’t what we wanted. Do you want to ask God to help you to do that today? Let’s pray……