Jesus' Paradigm of Prayer


Today I want to talk about prayer. When one considers Christian practice, what we do as a Christians, prayer is really key. It may be the central Christian practice. It is certainly foundational to worship which itself is central to the life of the church.

Prayer was central to Jesus as well. He had a rich prayer life. He is often described in the Gospels as getting away to pray. Prayer was a respite for Jesus, a time to quiet himself and nourish his heart and mind. His prayer-practice provided him sustenance and strength for the ministry he was doing and leading. Prayer grounded him and reconnected him to God, who he regularly called and understood as Father.

Jesus’ prayer-practice is one that we ourselves can incorporate into our own lives. In fact, we are called pray. It is good for us.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus introduces how we should pray. He gives us a version of the Lord’s Prayer which we pray in church weekly. Indeed, praying the Lord’s Prayer is something we should do. It goes all the way back to Jesus and his earliest disciples and so praying the prayer connects us to the lineage of Christ. We shouldn’t forget this. It is an honor to pray as Jesus taught us to pray. It is something we do that Jesus did. If we went to the Holy Land, we could walk where Christ actually walked. Well, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are paying in Christ’s own words. Granted they have been translated into English. Yet, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are praying the Lord’s words and meaning and truth. What a blessing!

Behind the actual words, Jesus also gives us a paradigm for how to pray. Because the rendition of the Lord’s Prayer here in Luke, as opposed to the longer rendition in the Gospel of Matthew which we know better and actually pray each Sunday, we are able to see that paradigm more clearly.

Let us go through it.

“Father,”

We begin with the invocation, the call, the naming of the one we are praying to. Jesus here uses the simple title of Father. As we know, Christ’s preferred name for God is Father. He sees God as a loving parent directly involved in his children’s lives. God for Jesus is a father who is present and active in his children’s development and growth. No, I should mention that this understanding of God and fatherhood was sort of revolutionary to those in Jesus’ day. Jesus understanding of fatherhood mirrored in many ways motherhood. For Jesus, God is just as motherly as God is fatherly. Christ’s understanding of fatherhood was way ahead of his time. He saw God as more Mr. Rogers than John Wayne. God is a a father-mother God, a loving parent. This was novel and new in Jesus’ day.  

So, God is intimately connected to us, according to Jesus. We don’t have to go searching high and low for God. We don’t need to ponder who God is or what God is like. God is the one raising us. God is the one loving us into being, as Mr. Rogers liked to say. God is the one who tucks us into bed and is there when we wake up in the morning. 

As you might notice, I like to invoke God in prayer with these words, O God who is love ever with us. It gets at the same meaning of Father, but avoids seeing God as a male being.

“hallowed be thy name.”

This is a phrase that while we know it and say it and it will never change, many don’t understand its meaning. A better translation of this phrase is “may your name be honored and glorified.” Or “Father, may your name be revered and holy.” When we pray, it is important to recognize who it is we are praying to, that the one we are praying to is holy and perfect and to be revered and offered our gratitude. By doing this, we declare what we are doing, the act of prayer, as holy work, as a sacred activity. We are naturally humbled when we do this, when we acknowledge that we are connecting to and communicating with the divine one, the Love that put it and holds it altogether.

So, we call God’s name and we honor that name. Next comes the ask. In this case, it begins with a big ask.

“Thy kingdom come.”

Basically, Jesus is praying with these three words that God’s way come and be here amongst us. Do you know the camp song, Kumbaya… Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya… Well, kumbuya comes from the African dialect. We would know Kumbaya as come by here in our dialect. It is the same idea as thy kingdom come. Come by here, Lord, and bring your kingdom with you. Bring your heaven and make it real here and now. Definitely a big ask! But an essential one. It is an ask that makes all the difference.

Jesus later in this passage makes the rather unbelievable statement, “ask and you shall receive, seek, and you shall find, knock and the door shall be open to you.” Often, we see this as Jesus making the fantastic claim that all we have to do is ask for someone to be healed, and it will happen. Or seek to be rich, and you will become rich. No, Jesus is being specific. He is referring to the big ask in the prayer he just introduced. 

In some of the ancient manuscripts, instead of thy kingdom come, it reads in translation as, “thy Holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us.” Our Gospel passage ends with Jesus saying that the Father, if we ask, surely gives the Holy Spirit to us.

The context, in other words, of the whole passage is the holy, the sacred, the divine, spiritual power. When we invoke the holy, when we call upon the sacred, when we invite God to be here with, in the mere invoking, calling, inviting, God is with us in this very present moment.

When Holly, who is my wife, and I were first dating, we lived in different states. I was here at college in Cedarville up the road a bit in Ohio and she was in Florida. Maybe you’ve had the experience of being apart from someone you love. When we were apart, there was a sentimental power in her name for me. I would recall her name or even say it, and I’d sense she was with me in some way. There was a song I liked at the time. It’s chorus went, When I call your name, I will never be alone… I will never lose my way.”

It is a similar idea here. Call on God to come by here, and God is here. Ask, and the Holy Spirit is received. Seek, and the Holy Spirit is found. Knock, and the door to the Holy Spirit is opened.

Does this mean we will get everything we want when we want it. No. But we will know God’s presence. And God’s presence will help us get through life’s hardships and struggles.  

Jesus is not talking about just physical needs and desires when he says, ask, and you shall receive, seek and you shall find. For Jesus, the spiritual and physical life are intertwined. Jesus is saying our spiritual life is primary. Our spiritual lives and how we respond spiritually to our life in this world with its earthly demands makes all the difference. If we focus on God’s presence, God is here with us. And the knowledge that God is with us, eases our burdens and it gives way to us getting by somehow. We see this again in the next phrase:

“Give us each day our daily bread”

Again, the daily bread Jesus is referring to is not bread we use for sandwiches only. The term daily bread in Jesus day was symbolic. Daily bread pointed to all our human needs, all that we need to get by in this world. Daily bread for Jesus and his people recalled the story in the Old Testament of the slaves in the wilderness being given manna from heaven. Give us all we need, is the plea here. Give us your presence, o God, and may your presence bring sustenance for our whole being, our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.

Let’s review we come to the last couple phrases. Prayer should include

A Calling on God,
an Honoring of God,
a beckoning of God’s presence
a plea for sustenance…

There are two more pleas.

One of the most important needs we have is the need for good relationships. With God and with others. And forgiveness is vital to both our relationship with God and with others. So Jesus highlights the absolutely vital practice of forgiveness. We should recognize that forgiveness is a two way street. God forgives us as we forgive others. There is no such thing as cheap forgiveness. So Jesus says,
and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us. In other words instill in us God a spirit of forgiveness.

And lastly, is the curious phrase, “and lead us not into temptation.”

Many scholars and thinkers have suggested this is not a very good translation of the original Greek in Luke 11. Pope Francis, in fact, has made a push to change the English phrasing. He recently said, this phrase is “not a good translation… A father doesn’t ever [lead his child into temptation], a father helps you to get up immediately. It’s Satan who leads us into temptation, that’s his department.” Francis suggests a better translation, “leave us not when in temptation.” I am not sure if I agree with Francis. But, regardless, the point is that we need help avoiding temptation. The fundamental temptation is to not be satisfied with all we’ve been given. I think of another song lyric. “To want what we have. To take what we’re given with grace. For this I pray.” So to give Jesus last phrase in his model prayer a positive spin, Jesus is praying that God “lead us to non-temptation, lead us to the opposite of temptation, lead us to contentment.” How? By helping us to be satisfied with all we’ve be given and have.

A study of Aramaic, which Jesus would have originally spoken this prayer with, bears this understanding out. Hebrew scholar Rabbi Chaim Bentorah suggests this translation of “do not allow us to enter wrongful thinking or testing.”

So I close with Jesus’ model for prayer:

The spiritual practice of prayer means
Calling on God
Honoring God’s sacredness
Beckoning God’s sacred presence here and now
Then asking for God’s sustenance
and God’s spirit of forgiveness and contentment

Here is a prayer you might want to recite this week as a kind of meditation:

O God who is Love,
I rest in your sacred presence and honor You.
Enlighten our path.
Nourish us body, mind, and spirit.
May Your forgiveness instill in us a forgiving spirit.
Help us to want what we have
and take what we’re given with grace. 
Amen.







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