Day 30 Luke 11:1-13
While a child is still very young, their parent may begin to teach them how to pray. From the mealtime “God is great, God is good, now we thank Him for our food,” to the nighttime “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep,” we teach our children simple prayers to remember. Later, we may teach them the more “mature” Lord’s Prayer to commit to memory. And the reason we teach our children these prayers is so they can learn to communicate with God.
Written and rote prayers have been used for centuries. There are many famous, eloquent prayers that have been preserved and shared throughout history, everything from the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi (“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace…”) to Reinhold Neibuhr’s prayer that has come to be known as the Serenity Prayer (“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”). People identify with these prayers and often can pray the same words from their hearts. This is the benefit of written prayers. Sometimes we may not have the words that express what we are feeling, but these wonderful prayers do.
The disadvantage to written or rote prayers, however, is that they can become stale, repeated words without thought or meaning. Having grown up in a church that used a written ritual filled with such prayers, I not only observed this but experienced it personally. Repeating the same words week after week, I found myself going through the motions and speaking the prayers without giving any thought to what I was saying let alone to Whom I was supposedly saying it. The prayers had no real meaning for me anymore.
That is not to say that the words were meaningless. Years after leaving the church where I was raised, I returned for a service. It had been a very long time since I had been in such a service, and yet as the responsive prayers were said, I found that I remembered the words. In fact, I was more aware of all the words in the service that were spoken and how meaningful and beautiful they were. If only I had been more intentional in my worship when I was attending these services on a regular basis, I would not have allowed the prayers I repeated to lose their impact.
Prayer is meant to connect us with God. It cannot happen if we do not engage both our hearts and minds. In the gospel of Luke, the disciples were with Jesus while he prayed. They had likely been with Him many times and had heard His earnest conversations with the Father. On this occasion recorded in Luke 11, one of Jesus’ disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). The disciple did not ask, “Lord, teach us a prayer.” The Jews were very familiar with written prayers that were included in their worship. This is not what the disciple wanted Jesus to teach them. He wanted to learn how to reach out to God as he had seen Jesus do and as John the Baptist had evidently taught his followers to do. Jesus responded by saying,
When you pray, say:
“Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.”
[Luke 11:2-4 ~ NKJV]
We recognize this as “The Lord’s Prayer.” The words we learned may have been slightly different depending on the translation or possibly the text as the prayer is also recorded in Matthew 6 with different wording. Nevertheless, as we hear these words, most can probably finish the prayer themselves without much thought. That is the concern.
When Jesus answered His disciple’s question, it is not likely that He was teaching them to remember these exact words so they could repeat them later. Rather, He was modeling the way they could talk with their Heavenly Father. It was to be a personal conversation, not a corporate request. This is more apparent when you read what Jesus said after these words.
In verses 5-13, Jesus describes how we might approach a friend or how a child may approach their father with a request. He indicates that, because of the relationship between friends or between a child and their parent, people will tend to answer one another with care and concern. He then emphasizes how God, our Father in heaven, cares much more for us than any earthly father or friend. He wants us to approach Him and even ask of Him. He doesn’t want us to come fearfully, but willingly because of the relationship we have. In other words, when we pray, come to Him as one of His own children. Share with Him from your heart. Don’t be afraid to ask of Him no matter whether the need is basic (our daily bread), about our behavior and relationship with Him (“forgive us our sins”), or, concerning our protection and spiritual well-being (“deliver us from the evil one”). We can approach God about anything and do so knowing He is a loving Father who wants to be with us.
Written prayers are good and have their place. What Jesus modeled, however, is that we are invited to spend time with our Lord and speak to Him from our hearts. Whatever form that may take, let it be sincere.