Luke 11:1–13 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” 5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. 9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
I had to rewrite my sermon this week. Lester Holt concluded his newscast on Friday night with his best attempt at encouraging the nation saying, “I think all of us can agree that we’re not there yet, but that enough tears have been shed to keep trying.” Enough tears have been shed to keep trying. A valiant attempt through editorializing to provide some leadership to the moment. I give him credit. He was to borrow his words trying. And it made all the words that I had thought of earlier in the week seem rather – well – weak. I was going to mumble some needed critiques about our prayer lives. I was going to mention some statistics about how we pray way too much for our favorite sports teams. And then I was going on to talk about how a stunning one out of five of us pray to win the lottery and how even seminary students – Christian varsity players! – have prayer lives where only 6% of them pray more than five minutes/day. But honestly all those kind of critiques seemed sort of small and empty in the face of the back end of this week.
We all intrinsically know there’s more than just keep trying. We all do. We ALL do. That there is prayer. Did you know that? Did you know that this is the only time we know of where the disciples ever asked Jesus to teach them anything? The only time. Jesus taught and taught and taught and taught, but never from a request from the disciples. What does that tell you that they came up to Jesus with the only request for teaching ever: “One of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’” (v. 1) We sense the need for prayer. There’s something else here too. Jesus’ teaching here on prayer is an answer to prayer. The disciples prayed to Jesus for a teaching on prayer and he very generously and I might add instantaneously answered. That’s an important teaching on prayer all by itself, but I digress. The point here is that we sense a need for prayer. And more than that. We feel insufficient at it. Uncertain with it. Perhaps even lackadaisical at it. And so much so that word spreads like wildfire when anybody teaches on prayer, “Lord, we need help with this. Teach us to pray. John taught his disciples!”
So teach Jesus does. “When you pray, say: “‘Father…” (v. 2) It’s interesting, isn’t it? There’s no posture talk. No, “When you pray, lift up your hands.” No, “When you pray, close your eyes, fold your hands, and bow your heads out of respect.” None of that. In fact, in a certain sense Jesus says the exact opposite of all this humble, quiet prayer posture stuff. Jesus says, “When you pray, say, ‘Father.’” You just blurt it out. Boldly. Confidently. You just run up to him. Grab his lapels and get into it with him. “Father.” And for the record, this isn’t a cold, technical term of address. This isn’t Jesus saying, “Let’s not make God mad. Let’s make sure we get the right language here.” Not for a second. This is Jesus as a matter of first importance helping us understand our relational position to the high God. He’s our Father. Our Father. Now depending on your experience of your father that may or may not help you get God, but Jesus’ point is clear. This Father protects. This Father cares. This Father will only father you in the perfect and the ultimate sense. You know what that makes you? Not to go all IRS on you, but that makes you God’s loved dependent.
You know what’s fascinating about this truth? Nobody out rightly denies that. Nobody. It wasn’t all that long ago when an indie-pop artist by the name of Regina Spektor sang about that exact truth in her usual off kilter and memorable way. She sang, “No one laughs at God in a hospital. No one laughs at God in a war. No one’s laughing at God when they’re starving or freezing or so very poor. No one laughs at God when the doctor calls after some routine tests.” Her point? No one laughs at God when it counts. No, that’s when they feel their dependency and they pray. That’s when we all pray no matter what religious box we fall into. Skeptics, atheists, Christians – it doesn’t matter the box, we all pray when life comes for us. I supposed I could prove that to you with that old, catty, Christian saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” But I don’t need to. Just check out Twitter. The feed predictably fills every time something bad happens. #prayfordallas. #prayforparis. #prayforsanbernardino. #prayfororlando. #prayfordallas. Everyone does it. Religious. Irreligious. Skeptic. Christian. It doesn’t matter.
And why? Pressure, futility, and pain help us see our dependency – a truth we almost never grasp well. It’s easy to understand why we don’t too. We never have – well – almost never. There was a time – oh so long ago! – when we did. In Eden, Adam and Eve knew they were loved dependents. God showered his loved dependents with gifts in one long, eternal unbroken stream. He was their Father. They were his loved dependents. And it was good. Until hook line and sinker they swallowed Satan’s suggestion that they actually weren’t that loved. “He’s no a Good Giver. He’s a withholder. He’s no perfect Father. He’s trying to keep you down. Climb up and out of dependency and you’ll have it all.” “Be like God.” (Genesis 3:5) And it worked, we traded places with God. Pressure, futility, and pain make us only occasionally aware of how well that first declaration of independence has gone for us. But – honestly? – we live a lot of the time with that original independence day imprinted on us. Prayer hashtags don’t trend most days. Not on Twitter. Not even in our hearts. To whatever extent we don’t pray, we’re failing to realize we’re loved dependents.
We need to relearn that we’re loved dependents. To return to Eden. Or face the ready alternative. We can throw off our dependency by throwing off prayer. Maybe even a little like the New York Daily News did with after San Bernardino with the astonishing headline God Isn’t Fixing This. You decide to just act. You go out into life bearing the weight of your world. You wear the grief. You wear the questions. You wear the problems. You strive and you push and you do. And you know what always finally happens when you do that? The God-sized load you carry crushes you emotionally, spiritually, even physically. Independence never ends well. Or if we don’t want to throw off our dependency. We can throw off the loved part. That crushes us too. Maybe you get what I’m talking about. You know God is God. You’re just not so sure he’s your Father and that you’re loved. No, your world seems like this chaotic, massive place where you’re this itsy, bitsy bit of human phlegm tossed in the ocean of humanity. Nobody has your back or cares about your interests so you go about life anxious, probably depressed, and almost always hopeless. And prayer? It’s pretending. Not action. It’s babble. Not the world’s most powerful change agent.
But Jesus? He teaches both. Both. Both that we’re loved and that we’re dependents and he does it brilliantly all in one word. He said, “Say, ‘Father.’” (v. 2) And then he takes that point and drives it home. It’s the brilliant point of the story he tells. “It’s midnight,” he starts out. A friend comes to you on a journey and you’ve got no bread. Yeah, you’ve got no bread. Not for yourself or for your friend either. We’re not talking first world problems here. We’re talking third world problems. He says, “Imagine yourself being so needy in the middle of the night that you have to go banging on a friend’s door for bread in the middle of the night.” That’s dependency. The worst sort. It doesn’t get worse than midnight begging. But thankfully dependency isn’t the main point of the story. Not a by a long shot. It’s a story about how we’re dependents loved by a Good Giver and a wonderful Father. Well, that’s where it lands at least. That’s not where it starts, but that’s where it ends up.
It starts with a bad, selfish, callous giver. I mean it’s bad. Jesus has us imagine this midnight beggar pounding on a friend’s door for bread and the response comes back incredibly mean and callous. It’s like the guy’s got no heart or conscience at all. Listen to the words Jesus points in his mouth. “Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’” (v. 7) Shockingly mean. Shockingly heartless. Shockingly callous. And yet. And yet. Here comes the punch line: “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” (v. 8) Do you see Jesus’ point? This guy’s no friend at all. There’s no heart. No conscience. No feeling at all. But because a midnight beggar knocked and asked – bad as he was – he’ll still cough up the bread. He will. “Surely, he will,” Jesus says. And that’s the story. Do you see Jesus’ point? He’s arguing from the lesser to the greater to make one huge, smashing point. Here’s what he saying: “Even unloving, selfish givers will still give when you ask.” Even callous, unfeeling people will. Now just imagine. Just imagine what’s going to happen when you bring your requests to God who’s actually the exact opposite.
Just imagine. Just imagine what happens when you bang on the door of the God who’s always only wanted to give and bestow and pour out. And lavishly at that. Just imagine. If someone who’s shockingly bad and callous will still cough up what’s needed, then what’s going to happen when you ask God who is shockingly good and generous? How quickly will your Father hop to it and get it done? You know what the answer to those questions is? The gospel. And that is what Jesus here is teaching. The gospel. You have a Father who loves to give perfect and even eternal gifts. That’s what Jesus is teaching here. You know what else he’s doing? Living it. He was his Father’s mission. Not his own. And what was he doing? In Eden, we climbed up on God’s throne. So he got off God’s throne. In Eden, we traded places with God. So Jesus traded places with us. We sought our independence from God. So he made himself the human dependent we were not. And why would he do that? Because his Father would gift us. He would. He wanted to reestablish the stream of unbroken gifts. So he sent Jesus.
This is the Jesus who knew his Father’s heart unlike any other. And it’s this Jesus who gets emphatic and clear and even drastic so we’ll get this point. Check out how Jesus goes on to argue once again from the lesser to the greater. “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (v. 12–13) Interesting pairing, huh? Make you cringe a bit? Can you imagine? “So, son, you want a fish? Here’s a snake.” Or, “So, child of mine, you want an egg? Why don’t you munch on this here scorpion?” Yeah. Not going to happen. Even bad dads end up loving and giving good gifts to their children. That’s Jesus’ point. And it’s not unlike the point Jesus already made once. Even bad friends will answer petitions when you bang on their doors and even bad dads manage to give good gifts. Now just imagine God who loves answering the door. Now just imagine this Father who’s always and only good and how he might give gifts when asked. Just imagine.
Actually you don’t have to. Really you don’t. It’s interesting to me that Jesus makes his point so forcefully here that when the NIV punctuates Jesus’ wrap up question it punctuates it with an exclamation point. And this even though it’s actually a question! “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (v. 12–13) I think that was the right call because in a way there’s no question about it. In fact, isn’t that the whole point. Jesus wants us filled with confidence thinking, “My Father does intend to give me great gifts. Even the ultimate one.” The ultimate one. Think of it. Your Father is so good at gift giving that he promises here the ultimate one. Not just a bit of bread. Not just a better job. Not just a little something something to help you meet a life goal or weather some life crisis. Way more. The Father gives the Spirit. Do you see what that means? The Father doesn’t just answer our petitions with answered petitions. He’s so eager, so joyful, and so powerfully good at answering prayers that he goes ahead and answers them not only with gifts from God, but also with the gift of God. God himself. The Joy-filled One. The Peace-filled one. The Love-filled one. Filling you. What could be better?! God doesn’t just give the gifts of God, he gives himself.
And prayer? Well – pray is acting on that truth. If you think about it, it’s literally speaking the gospel truth out loud, “Father.” You do have one again. He is the most powerful being in the cosmos – the one who changes the hearts of kings like water and makes the earth tremble with the just one small breath. You have his heart. You have his intimate attention so much so that he sent his Son to die just so he could hear your prayers again and shower you with his gifts. Prayer is simply recognizing and acting on that. Do you see what that makes prayer? Pray is not merely asking God for gifts. It’s way more. Prayer is a gift itself. It’s the way your Father takes the weight of your world of your shoulders and returns you to who he created you to be: a loved dependent. Do you see that? It’s good to stop wearing the weight of your world. It’s good. It always was. It always will be. So let prayer pulse in your heart. Say, “Father,” and then keep right on going. And when you do, he will be. He promises. And, frankly, at a time like this I can think of no policy response or political activism or show of grief more practical, more concrete, or more saving than that. Amen.