As Dear Children Ask Their Dear Father

Click here to listen to this sermon.

 “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!” (Luke 11:13).
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
The other day, I painted my twin two-year-old granddaughters’ fingernails. My wife, Aimee, couldn’t believe it. “You never did that for your girls,” she said. “That’s right,” I answered. “They never asked me. Madyn and Briyr did.” “Papa, will you paint fingernails,’ they asked, emphasizing their request by wiggling their little fingers. So, I told them “Yes, I will, as soon as I finish feeding Boden.” They squealed in glee, and then asked me a couple of more times as they were waiting for me to get to it. Somewhat the opposite of their personalities, Madyn chose a subdued pink and Briyr a vibrant red, as you can see in the pictures I just happened to include in the bulletin for today.
But it did get me to wonder: Why didn’t my girls ask me to paint their fingernails? I suppose we could ask one or more of them after the service, but I suspect it was because they thought I would say no. I might have said no on so many other occasions, they just assumed that would be my answer. Maybe they felt their poor behavior did not merit my consideration of their request. Perhaps they thought I already did so much for them already, they didn’t want to ask for anything more. Maybe they thought I couldn’t do it because I lacked the skill. Or that I wouldn’t do it because I lacked the will—perhaps I thought it unmanly to do so or I didn’t think I had time for such foolishness. Maybe they thought I didn’t really care. It’s hard to say; hindsight isn’t always 20-20, especially when dealing with hypothetical situations. But whatever the reason, my granddaughters had no such barriers. They fully expected Papa to paint their fingernails if they asked.
So what does this have to do with prayer? A whole lot! Aren’t many of these possible barriers to making requests of our loved ones similar to those you and I experience (or anticipate) in our prayers to God? Do you fail to pray for something because a guilty conscience tells you that you don’t deserve anything good from God? Do you ever hold back on your prayers because God has done so much for you already? Have you ever wondered if God really cares about your worries and concerns? Have you ever failed to ask God for something because you’ve reasoned it is such a small thing that it is hardly worth His time or concern? Have you ever held back on asking God for something because it seems like such an impossible request? I bet you have! I know I have. I’ve often failed to pray for one or more of these reasons. In fact, I’m probably guilty of failing to pray as I ought for all of these reasons and many other at one time or another. That’s why Jesus teaches us to pray. Well, that and because one of His disciples asked Jesus.
“Lord, teach us to pray…” he asked. And Jesus taught them to pray. He gave them His prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. The “Our Father” it is also called, though not so often in contemporary Lutheran circles. And that’s too bad, because “Our Father” reminds us of the proper posture of prayer. As Martin Luther explains in the Small Catechism: “With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.” Or if you permit me a little literary license: “As dear children ask their dear Papa.”
That’s an important place to begin. Little children ask for help because they realize they need help, that they are utterly incapable of making it on their own. They also quickly begin to trust in someone who is able to help, and who does consistently answer their cries and whispers for help. As they grow up, they lose that dependence and trust as they learn to do more for themselves or as someone consistently fails to deliver on their requests.
Now, to a certain extent, that is good in our day-to-day, temporal lives. It is important for us to grow up, to become more independent. The world already has enough adult children still living in their parents’ basement or on the public dole. But it’s a dangerous path to walk in our spiritual journey, where maturing in our faith actually means becoming more dependent upon the Lord.
As Lutherans, we confess that we believe in justification by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet too often we fail to live by grace and faith. This is especially true in our prayer life, where we all to easily fall back into justification by work and reliance upon our own performance.
Unfortunately, our old Adam is too often steered back to his own works and filthy rags of self-righteousness. Go into a Christian bookstore looking for resources on prayer and you are more likely than not to find literature that only reinforces the idea that improvement in prayer depends upon you—your knowledge, your faith, your discipline, your attitude, and your expertise. These teaching are popular because they promise to be practical, pragmatic, and powerful. But they fail to acknowledge an important truth: your own spiritual impotence. They present prayer as something you do yourself, your own willpower, your own persistence, and your own performance. These teachings divorce prayer from Jesus and what He has done and is doing for your salvation with His perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection. They seldom teach that prayer is God’s doing, something that He produces in you.
Jesus’ teaching on prayer was much different from the other religious leaders in Israel. He taught little about the theory and practice of prayer. He didn’t spend much time on when, where, why, and how to prayer, but emphasized repeatedly the importance of faith in Him and His Word. Jesus taught that God-pleasing prayer depends entirely on Him, from beginning to end, rather than the person praying. We see this very clearly in our Gospel today, Luke 11:
Now 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, 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’” (v. 1-4).
Seeing Jesus pray, at least one of His disciples was motivated to learn more about prayer. And he started in the right place by asking Jesus for help. We do well to follow his lead. Like Jesus’ disciples, we are all inept and inexperienced when it comes to praying. Left to ourselves, we can’t pray properly, nor do we know how to pray effectively. Jesus needs to teach us. He is the only expert in prayer.
Jesus teaches His disciples and us to pray by giving us His prayer. He alone has the right to speak to God as Father. He alone has access to Him as His only perfectly obedient Son. He alone can legitimately come to God with His prayers and petitions “as dear children ask their dear father.” But in His great love and mercy, Jesus shares that special access with you and me, by sharing His prayer.
Jesus doesn’t just teach you a few fundamentals of prayer and then turn you loose to work on it yourself. Instead, He gets you to join in with Him as He prays to His heavenly Father. In giving you the Our Father, Jesus gives you much more than a set prayer that is to be the model for all of your prayers; He gives you His own status as God’s Son and allows you to share in all of the privileges of His unique relationship with His Father. By giving you His prayer, He includes you in His relationship and allows you to act as if you were Him.
But that’s not all! The prayer Jesus gives you to pray with Him is, in fact, His prayer for you and for the whole world. Notice how He doesn’t just address God as His own Father, but as “our” Father. Jesus goes so far as to pray for “our” daily bread, “our” forgiveness, and “our” protection in temptation, even though He Himself needs none of these things. He identifies Himself with us and our needs, our sins and our temptations. He joins Himself to us so that we can join Him in prayer and borrow everything from Him. In “the great exchange,” Jesus trades places with us so that we can be where He is before God the Father. He takes our sin and disobedience to the cross, pays for it all by His death, and then credits us with His righteousness, holiness, and standing before God as beloved Son. 
Jesus also teaches you to pray by sending you people to pray for. That’s the point of His parable:
“Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs” (Luke 11:5-8).
Jesus, rather ironically, compares God the Father with a grumpy next-door neighbor. Like the person in the parable, you are often confronted with friends and acquaintances who need something from you, physically or spiritually, that you are unable to provide for them. For example, what help can you offer to someone who is battling cancer or an addiction or who has lost faith in God? You want to help them but you’ve got nothing to give them. But you do have access to a friend next door—God the Father—who has everything that you lack. You may shamelessly borrow from Him by praying for them, even using Jesus’ own prayer.
Jesus teaches you that the point of praying is to receive God’s gifts:
 “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10).
You don’t need to use prayer to wear God down, like demanding children do with their reluctant parents, nor do you need to inform Him about what you or your neighbor needs as if He is unaware. The point of prayer is to receive from God the Father. Jesus gives you His own prayer so that you can use it and your faith in Him to receive the good gifts He has promised to give you. God is not stingy or reluctant to give. The problem lies in you and me, who are too reluctant to ask for what He wants to give to us. Jesus helps you pray by commanding you to ask for what you need and promising that God the Father will give what you ask for.
Yet, when you pray with Jesus, the Father gives you even more than you ever ask. Jesus explains this by comparing prayer to knocking at the door of His Father’s house. When you knock on the door of your parents’ house, they don’t ask what you want; they invite you in. Like your parents, God the Father opens the door for you when you ask Him for something and He lets you in. Therefore, you don’t just get something from God when you pray, you receive God the Father, His company, and life with Him. That is the unexpected bonus of prayer!
Actually, that’s just one unexpected bonus; there is one gift that is even better. God the Father gives you His Holy Spirit to help you pray:
“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 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!” (Luke 11-13).
On the surface, this promise of the Holy Spirit seems to have nothing to do with teaching us how to pray. Yet, on a deeper level, it has everything to do with praying. Jesus recognizes that the basic problem you and I have with prayer is our inability to pray as we would like and God requires. His solution is to send the Holy Spirit as our helper, the one who prompts and enables us to pray.
So, to overcome your inability to pray properly, Christ not only gives you His prayer, He gives you the power to address His heavenly Father as His dear children by pouring out His Spirit in your hearts. When you pray, you don’t just join with Jesus who carries you along with Him; you go along with the Holy Spirit who moves within you and leads you with Jesus to God the Father.
St. Paul explains this more fully in Romans 8:26-27. He writes that even though you don’t know how to pray, or what to pray for, the Holy Spirit helps you in your weakness and intercedes for you in accordance with God’s will. The Spirit helps to articulate your hidden needs and prompts you in what to say. And when you can’t come up with words, He brings your sighs and groans to God as proper prayer. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of prayer (Zechariah 12:10). So it’s no surprise that the best help that Jesus gives to you for your praying is His Holy Spirit.
And if the Father gives you the Holy Spirit, He gives you faith in Christ. If He has given you faith in Christ, you are His beloved child. And so you are—all for the sake of Jesus. So pray: and as you pray, rejoice that the Lord has already answered in Christ. And if He has already answered in Christ, then you’re His dear child and He will not cease to hear your prayers and answer them in the way that’s best for you. He has answered in Christ. He will answer in Christ. And He does even now, for He declares that in Christ, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Much of the teaching on prayer in this sermon is drawn from John W. Kleinig’s “Grace upon Grace: Spirituality for Today” copyright © 2008. Published by Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, 161-166.


Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A Solemn Promise from God and before God: A Sermon for the Wedding of Greg & Jessi McCormick

A Wonderful Mystery: An Address for the Wedding of James & Rebecca Dubro

The Lord Is My Shepherd: A Funeral Sermon