What sticks in my mind from my childhood the most are not the things I did, so much as the things I heard over and over again. Think back to your own childhood. I’m sure there are some things that even today you can hear your parents saying to you. Things like “Get out of the cookie jar!” or “Have you finished your homework’?” One of my most vivid memories comes from a scene that was played out every night in our house. Just before I would go to sleep one of my parents would come into my room and ask me the same question they asked every night: “Have you said your prayers yet?” Of course I always had my answer ready; “Yup” It didn‘t matter if I had or not.
It’s strange, but I don’t recall when my parents stopped asking me that question. I guess it must have been around the same time they stopped coming around to my room before I went to sleep. All I know is that for the longest time I didn’t miss that question one bit. I always found it a little annoying. Praying is not an easy thing to do. That goes as much for adults as it does for children. And that is why for many people it is a thing of frustration. Something to be done only when absolutely necessary.
To the inexperienced it might not seem like such a daunting task, since it only involves reciting a few words, while folding your hands and bowing your head. Prayer is a memorized poem spoken before meals, or before bed. It can be done with a minimum of thought and effort. For those of us who have really tried to pray, not just with some words but also with our hearts and our actions, we know that it can be a very difficult thing to do sincerely. Luther himself said that it was harder to pray than it was to preach. I believe him.
Praying takes serious effort and thought. Praying involves having the right attitude and backing it up with the right actions. And often we just don’t know what to say. Sometimes we just don’t have time. Other times we just don’t want to. Whatever the reason might be, none of us pray as much as we could. None of us pray as much as we should. None of us pray with the boldness and confidence and persistence that we ought to.
So then, just how much more prayer should there be in our lives’? That would be the next logical question wouldn’t it? If we should be doing more praying, how much more should it be? The Muslims pray five times a day, each and every day, is that enough? The church, since ancient times observed nine separate hours of prayer in each day. Is that enough? Luke 18:1 states “And Jesus told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Rom. 12:12 says … be constant in prayer.” Eph. 6:18 says “Pray at all times … ” Col. 4:2 “Continue steadfastly in prayer … ” and 1 Thes. 5:17 “pray constantly! The scriptures seem to be very clear: a Christian is to be always praying. Already you begin to see the enormity of the task.
The next question to ask is “What are these constant prayers to be like?” If simply going through the motions is not enough then what is? Well, in our scripture readings for this morning we are given two very concrete examples. The first can be seen in the account of Abraham as he intercedes for the righteous people of Sodom. Abraham is relentless. He is bold. He is unwavering in his intent. This is a good example of Biblical prayer. The second example is found in the parable that Jesus tells right after he teaches his disciples the Lord‘s Prayer. In that story we hear of a man seeking bread for a guest who has arrived very late. He knocks on a friend’s door, waking him up. At first the friend doesn‘t want to give the man anything, but because the man won’t give up he finally gets the bread. Again we see a man who is bold, unwavering and relentless. Can we honestly say that the majority of our prayers follow this pattern?
Why not? I think part of the problem comes from a misunderstanding of our Gospel lesson for this morning. The disciples ask Jesus how to pray. He teaches them the Lord‘s Prayer and then tells them the parable we just spoke of earlier. It is this parable that has confused many modern readers. For one thing, the whole parable is a meant as a ridiculous story. In our society of today this story is not only possible, but rather likely to happen. There’s nothing funny about it. Within the context of the telling, however, it was a situation that would never have happened. Hospitality, in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day was the responsibility of the entire village. No one would have dared make a fuss, no matter how late someone came by with the request. So what is Jesus trying to say by this outlandish parable? He sums it up when He compares the good gifts of bad people with the even better gifts of God. If even someone who is so stubborn and wicked will give good gifts because of persistent asking, then how can we expect less from our Heavenly Father.
Unfortunately, all to often Christians pray to God as if they cannot expect any more from Him either. Prayer comes to be seen as a way of badgering, cajoling, or coaxing God into doing something for you. Too often it is merely a bold and persistent attempt to change God’s mind or His actions toward us. Is it any wonder that prayer would seem so hard and overwhelming. Who are we to change the mind of the Almighty Ruler of Heaven and Earth? Just how much prayer does it take to badger an eternal God into giving in!?! The problem with too many prayers is that they treat God as either neutral and uncaring or downright hostile. And prayer is our chance to change Him. To make Him see it our way. To get the things we want from the guy who can give them to us, but probably doesn’t want to.
To put it simply this kind of prayer is no prayer at all. It is a prayer of unbelief. As W. Herrman once said: “Prayer is not a cry of distress projected into an uncertainty. It is a real approach to God” Do our prayers approach God or use Him instead? Are your prayers motivated by belief or by unbelief? Prayer is not a work by which we can change the mind of the Creator. It is not an action by which earn some measure grace or favour in the eyes of God. Prayer is not brought about by doubts and fears. Real prayer is a matter of faith. It is words heart and action all working together in the believer’s life. Real prayer is not about How Much More we can get God to work for us. Real prayer is about how much more God is at work in us.
Prayer isn‘t about How much more we need to do It is about how much more God has promised to do! When we come to realize this we view prayer from a whole different light. It is no longer an overwhelming task, or draining experience. It is no longer a burden for us to do. If we look at the Lord’s prayer from this new light we see that it is not just a group of petitions by which we ask for the blessings of a reluctant God. It is also God showing us just How Much More His answer is to everything that we pray.
God is our Heavenly Father who has not only created us but who has given us His only Son that we might become His children in heaven. His name is praised and honoured by all whom He has given faith through the Holy Spirit. His kingdom has come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ His only Son. We have been made part of that kingdom through Baptism and believing in the Word of God. God’s will is done all over the world by faithful Christians everywhere. That includes Christ Our Hope Lutheran Church. God is at work in you helping you to live an active life of prayer even when you may not realize it. For everything that a believer actively does out of faith is a prayer to our Heavenly Father. God indeed gives us daily bread; everything that we need to live a happy and productive life here in this world. Food, shelter, clothing, friends, money, talents, minds, faith. Every good thing comes from God. He also gives us everything we need for the next life as well. He does forgive us our sins, when we misuse or neglect prayer. He does forgive us when we doubt in His goodness. Jesus Christ, God himself is the one who took it upon himself to die upon a cross as a prayer to the Father on our behalf. Jesus at work in our lives is the only reason that we can truly forgive others who have hurt us in any way. The Lord’s Prayer, from beginning to end is a constant reminder of How Much More God answers our prayers. More than we could even think to ask for.
Last Sunday we saw that the Word of God gives us true life. Today we have seen what the shape of that life is to be. God gives us life through the Word and we live that life as a constant prayer to Him. It is a life lived out in thought word and deed. Prayer is about giving back to God what He has first given to us in all of His eternal promises. Prayer is a constant asking for what He is already doing. Prayer is so much more than we usually think it to be. Prayer is a real connecting of God and mankind in a bond that is deep and personal, and everlasting. Prayer is the stuff of life. AMEN.