SCRIPTURES – Genesis 18:20-33; Colossians 2:6-15; Luke 11:1-13
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father…’” (Luke 11)
It’s hard to believe that it was three weeks ago that Lorayne and I flew to Scotland to visit Tina. The flight was overnight and I didn’t sleep, so when we arrived in Aberdeen I was tired. After getting our luggage I exited the airport and followed a long walkway to the rental car building to pick up the car I rented. After signing various papers and getting the key I walked out to the car. Getting in, I went to put the key in the ignition but didn’t see a slot. “Is this a digital key?” I wondered as I looked at it. Then, I noticed that there was no steering wheel… for I was on the left side of the car, which is the passenger’s seat in Scotland. I wasn’t going anywhere until I sat in the right seat! That’s the driver’s seat!
Are you getting anywhere with your prayers? “Lord, teach us to pray.” Why did Jesus’ disciple ask Him this? Surely they had been to the temple many times and participated in the prayers there. As children they would have been taught prayers by their village rabbi, as well as by their parents. What did they want to learn? I think that they wanted to learn how to pray with confidence, to know that their prayers were pleasing to God and so would be heard and answered by Him. And so, Jesus began by putting them in the right seat. “When you pray, say: ‘Father…’”
True prayer – by this I mean prayer that is pleasing to God, and so will be heard and answered by Him – begins with seeing Him as your Father. Only when you believe that God is your good Father who loves you will you want to pray and be able to pray. Without such confidence you’re in the wrong seat. You have no steering wheel, no gas pedal, no way to get anywhere. If God isn’t your good Father who wants to listen and help, then it doesn’t matter if your prayers are short, or long; the reciting of beautifully written words, or simple thoughts spoken from your heart; accompanied by the burning of incense in a church, or spoken on your knees in the silence and stillness of your bedroom. If you don’t know God as your good Father, you’re not getting anywhere with your prayers. You’re praying from the wrong seat, and God won’t listen.
“When you pray, say: ‘Father…’” This is the right seat. It’s Jesus’ seat, His place. By the life of obedience to His Father that He lived for you, and by His death and resurrection for you to forgive your sins and create a new life for you, Jesus prepared a seat for you in His Father’s presence. And in your Baptism, which Paul calls “the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11), your sin and death were cut off and you were raised with Christ and made alive with Him. Scripture says that “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” in Christ (Col. 2:8), and “you have been filled in him” in your Baptism. And so, Christ’s seat is your seat, and you can truly call God your Father. “Our Father, who art in heaven…” What right do we sinful mortals have to call upon God in this way? We have the right of sons! The Son of God has canceled our debt of sin and in Baptism fills us! God truly is our Father in Christ, and so it is right – it pleases Him – that we confidently call upon Him as our Father.
Call upon God as your Father! This is good and right; the right thing to do, the “right” seat to speak from. But, realize what you are saying when you address God as your Father. As your Father, He is in charge. We are children who know only a little of what our Father knows and who do not have the authority and responsibility that He has. When you don’t see an answer to your prayers, or see the opposite of what you want happen, it’s easy to get frustrated and to think that prayer has little value. Remember: God is your Father. He knows what is best for you, and will always do this. You are to listen to Him, trust Him, obey Him, and accept His will. Keep Jesus and His works in your heart and mind, and you will be able to do so, for the Father sent Him for you. In Him you will see God as your good and loving Father.
There is also something else about God as Father that is very important to realize when it comes to prayer, and that is grace. Think of your earthly father. Did you choose your father? Did you go through a list of candidates, review their backgrounds and their résumé’s, and then say, “He’s the one. I’ll be his child.” Of course not! Whether it was by birth or adoption, your father chose you and took upon himself the responsibility for you.
So it is with your heavenly Father, and it is very important to realize and remember this. The eternal God and the ruler of all creation chose you to be His child and made you so when He joined you to His Son in your baptism! Even if this happened when you were an adult, this was God’s choice and work, not yours. God chose you:
In spite of the sin which was part of you even when you were in the womb;
In spite of your times of doubt and weak faith, of which God is very aware even before you are;
In spite of your hesitancy and lack of urgency in prayer;
In spite of that fact that you get sick and age and may perhaps decline mentally;
In spite of that fact that you will one day die.
God chose to be your Father and take you as His child. He is your Father by grace, solely by His choice and work of salvation in Christ. When you are hesitant to pray because you haven’t been a good and faithful child of God, remember that God is your good and gracious Father in Christ. When your doubts, or perhaps simply the routine of faith and prayer and its seeming lack of excitement tempt you to doubt your prayers and not pray, remember that God is your good and gracious Father in Christ. He will never fail to hear you and help you! Jesus promises: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Ask for the blessing of His Holy Spirit above everything else, for this is the greatest gift your Father wishes to give you.
I got in the wrong side of the car a number of times when I was in Scotland, even on my last day there. It’s hard to overcome years of routine. Don’t be surprised when you find yourself in the wrong seat in your prayers – focusing on yourself, and not upon God as your good, merciful, loving and forgiving Father; or, doubting your prayers, and turning them into little more than routine repetitions. Maybe you even stop praying.
When you recognize this, repent! Turn away from yourself and get back in the right seat! Focus upon your good Father and His good gifts, and not upon your own desires. Every day you can do this anew in Christ, for in Him God has canceled the record of your wrongs. Every day is new in Christ!
Pray every day, and when you do, gladly and confidently begin by saying: “Father.” “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” He will gladly hear you; for the sake of Jesus, the Father’s Son and our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, our God forever! Amen.