Over these past couple months a few dads and I from our church have been reading a book together called The Intentional Father, a practical guide to raising sons of courage and character. And in the book, the author Jon Tyson tells a parable that has left a lasting impression on me. It goes like this:
Imagine a farmer walked down a backcountry road and saw another farmer repairing a fence. His young sons were helping him.
“Why are you letting your sons help you?” the first farmer asked. “It’s going to take five times as long. You should just do it yourself.”
“Oh, but you’ve made a mistake,” the second farmer said, “You think I’m repairing a fence. But I’m not. I’m raising my sons.”
The main lesson of the parable is that being a father, or yes, being a mother or parent of any kind, is not about efficiency; it’s about discipleship. Not about time management; it’s about heart development. It’s a parable about the importance of teaching, modeling, equipping, discipling the next generation, whether you’re a father or a mother or teacher or coach, regardless of whether you have a biological kid or not.
Teaching, modeling, equipping, discipling, that’s not only the responsibility of privilege from parent to child or from generation to generation, it’s how Jesus lived his life too with his disciples. Teaching them and modeling before them everything they’d need to know.
But yet, in a kind of rare turn of events, rather than taking the initiative of teaching them, this time, in our passage today, the disciples asked to be taught by him. They ask him how to pray. They’ve been watching Jesus pray throughout his public ministry. Time and time again in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is found praying, whether it be in the in between moments of ministry or simply to go out in the countryside for extended times of solitude and prayer. And it’s becoming more and more obvious that there’s something special about this Jesus, and they want to learn from the best. Asking Jesus, “teach us to pray.”
A request that I find remarkably refreshing since I think many times in our Christian circles there’s this idea that praying is like eating or walking or breathing. As if it’s just one of those things that everyone everywhere just knows how to do without being taught. As if we just burst out of the womb praying, with prayers that are free flowing, yet concise, eloquent yet authentic, organized yet spontaneous, specific yet general enough to cover every need everywhere, on your marks, get set, ready, go! We often feel so very inadequate when we don’t know how to pray and are often too scared to ask for guidance.
And yet the disciples request is a reminder that prayer is taught, prayer is modeled, prayer is learned.
And Jesus, the great teacher himself, is not surprisingly, ready to teach them and to teach us how to pray.
So friends, let’s get after it. A three part sermon on the three C’s of prayer.
The Content of Prayer
Our Confidence in Prayer
Our Comfort in Prayer
The Content of Prayer
Jesus begins with what you and I know as the Lord’s Prayer. A prayer that you and I recite each and every week to conclude the Prayers of the People, a prayer that has become so familiar that it runs the risk of losing its meaning.
It’s short and sweet, punchy and concise, and yet in its brevity includes virtually all the content, all the categories, and yes, as we discussed in the children’s message, even all the chords that make up our prayers. You very well may have picked up on the fact that Luke’s version is a truncated version of what we recite today, the fuller version happens to be in Matthew’s Gospel, and yet, even still in Luke, you get the basic content and categories of prayer. And so, if you’re struggling to pray and don’t know where to start, or what to even pray for, Jesus says, don’t overcomplicate things, if you don’t know what to say, just start here.
In it you’ve got the essential content of prayer. Adoration, “hallowed be your name” – celebrating and thanking God for who he is and what he has done. Supplication “your kingdom come” – what would the world look like if God’s kingdom was fully present, if life on earth was like it will be in heaven? Provision “give us this day our daily bread” where you long to see God provide for you in your basic needs, in your everyday life? and Confession, “forgive us our sins”, where is there sin in our life that we need to confess?
If you take the Lord’s Prayer, whether it be the shortened version we see in Luke, or the extended one from Matthew that we pray each and every week, if you break it down, line by line, petition by petition, just about all the content, all the categories are there. Of course, it’s not the only prayer we can or should pray, but if we just remember that prayer, we’ll have obtained all the chords that will allow us to play, or rather pray, just about every prayer.
One of the things you’ll notice from a content perspective is just how outward and others-focused the prayer is. One person, I couldn’t find out who, once remarked, “You cannot pray the Lord's Prayer and even once say "I." You cannot pray the Lord's Prayer and even once say "My." Nor can you pray the Lord's Prayer and not pray for one another. And when you ask for daily bread, you must include your brother. For others are included ... in each and every plea, From the beginning to the end of it, it doesn't once say "Me."
And so to that end, to encourage us towards more outward-focused, others-oriented prayers, I’ve left a couple resources for you in the narthex. One is a monthly prayer list of just about everyone in our church family to help you pray for every person in our church over the course of a month. The other includes some basic prayer prompts, helping us to pray based on the everyday stuff of life - what we read, what we hear, or what we see.
So there you have, the Content of Prayer.
And yet, here’s what’s interesting. You might think, we should be done, right? Well, no, there’s more. We need more than simply the content of prayer and knowing what to pray. We need the confidence to actually pray it. The Christian life is more than just pure information transfer filled with truths that need to be downloaded. We also need the confidence and comfort to live it out. And so in addition to the content of prayer, Jesus gives us the confidence we need to pray.
The Confidence in Prayer.
To do this, Jesus tells a parable and he puts us in it as one of the characters. Where suppose you go to a friend at midnight asking for 3 loaves of bread so that you have the food necessary to show the proper hospitality for a friend who is visiting you. Will he give you what you need or not? Ultimately the answer is yes, yes, because of your “shameless audacity” Jesus says, he’ll give you as much as you need.
So what exactly is the point of the parable? Well, at first it’s not so clear, in fact, at first glance this all seems a little demoralizing. At first the neighbor friend says, “Don’t bother me. The kids are already in bed.” Now, I can relate to that, after the hard work of getting little ones to bed, I’d be thinking, there’s no way I’m letting you interrupt and mess up this peace and quiet we’ve got going here … but yet, the neighbor fulfills the request anyway … and so put together in that sense then what you have is a story about how God is just like your grumpy old neighbor next door who says to us, “Okay, okay, I’ll give you what you want if you just promise to stop bothering me and get off my lawn … and therefore the whole story is a lesson to you and me that if we’re persistent enough in prayer, if we bother and pester and nag God just enough, then he’ll finally relent and give us what we want.
And if that’s the character and posture of our God - that’s pretty depressing when you really think about it. But of course, thankfully, it’s not.
I think the key to unlocking this parable is in the timing and simplicity of the request. It’s a request for three loaves of bread, at midnight. It takes a level of confidence, a kind of “shameless audacity” Jesus says to make a request of that nature, at that time of day.
There are times in prayer when we are tempted to think that God should not be bothered. The request seems too small, too irreverent, all too unnecessary. We think God is surely busy attending to more important matters serving the billions of people around the globe, there’s no point in trying to get his attention on this one. But yet, that’s so not true, our God is not a distant and grumpy, please-hold-for-the-next-available-customer-service-representative kind of God, no he’s right there, ready to listen, like the loving heavenly father he is. We can come before God in prayer with any request at any hour with confidence, a real “shameless audacity.”
Pastor Tim Keller brings this all home for me in a striking way, tying this parable with some of the larger themes within the passage as a whole, asking:
What kind of person would dare wake up a king at 3:00 AM for a glass of water? I wouldn’t. And I’m guessing you wouldn’t either. But he says, there is one person who would do such a thing, who would wake up a king at 3am for a glass of water. A child.
My goodness, how true is that! These past few weeks our oldest son Noah, who is 3.5, has decided to schedule a standing 3am appointment in mom and dad’s bed each and every night. You think he hesitates and wonders to himself, “Gosh, I really shouldn’t do this, I might wake mom and dad up.” No way! There is a wonderful confidence, a shameless audacity in his approach.
Keller’s point is this, as children of God, as sons and daughters before the living God, praying before not just simply some abstract and distant God, but rather God our Father, he says, we have that kind of access. We can have that level of confidence. That kind of shameless audacity as we come before our Father. After all, the Lord’s Prayer begins with, “Our Father”
Our Confidence in Prayer.
Finally, Our Comfort in Prayer.
There’s a profound comfort to be found in prayer, but yet, not in the sense that God will give us whatever we want. Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Which can kind of give us this notion that God will give us whatever we ask for in prayer. But yet, of course not. One, we know this from personal experience, but yet, maybe the simplest connection we can make here is to once again consider the child-parent relationship. Did our parents give us everything we asked for right when we asked for it? Of course not. Sometimes they said “no” because the very thing we asked for would have hurt us rather than helped. The same is true with God as our Father, he sometimes answers “no” for our ultimate good.
And so, with all that said, what’s our ultimate comfort in prayer? If God doesn’t always give us what we want, then where can we find comfort? Turns out, it’s not in what he does or doesn’t give us, but rather, who.
There’s a detail in this final section that I’m not sure I’ve ever really noticed before …
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!”
The point is rather simple. As our heavenly Father, God loves his children more than a parent loves their own. And if we as parents, sinful and flawed and selfish as we might be, know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more so with God!
And yet, did you notice what God our Father gives to those who ask him? Not good gifts per se, but even more, the Holy Spirit himself.
This is the greatest promise and the ultimate comfort in prayer. We don’t always get what we want in prayer, but we always get the who. Even if we don’t get the answer to prayer that we want, whether it be to see our family member healed from cancer, or get our dream job, or find peace and reconciliation with our loved ones who we’ve had conflict with, even if we don’t get the answer or desired result we want, we always get more of God.
That is the promise and our comfort in prayer. When we go before God the Father, when we bring our very selves, humbly yet confidently before him, we will always experience the presence of God himself through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
And I’ll ever so slowly begin to finish with this.
Scott Dudley, the senior pastor from my previous church, once told a true and moving story about a chaplain who would often visit a man who was in the hospital for a very long time. Every time this chaplain walked into this guy's room, the guy would yell at him and say, "Get out of here. I don't want to talk to no stinking minister." He'd do this every week the chaplain was there.
One day this man did not wave the chaplain off, and he said, "I have a question for you about that white thing you're wearing," referring to the clergy collar. "what do you believe?" The chaplain told him about Jesus, and about grace, and about prayer, and the guy said, "Prayer. Prayer. How do you pray?"
The chaplain took one of the chairs in the room and said to him, "Just imagine Jesus sitting in this chair. He's sitting in this chair next to you. He loves you permanently, and he knows you completely. You can just say what you want to say. What would you say?" The man said, "I would tell him that I'm scared, because I'm going to die." The chaplain said, "What else?" The man said, "That I screwed up my life," except he didn't use that verb, he used another verb, "and I'm sorry for it." The chaplain said, "Well, you just keep talking to him about those things. He's here, sitting in this chair. Just talk to him and then listen for those thoughts that might come from him, in your brain. And remember that you are loved, you are free, and he is here and can give you peace." The man said, "Thanks, I can see why you're a chaplain."
The next week, the chaplain came back, and the guy was gone. The nurse said, "Well, he died a few days after you last saw him. But I should tell you that after you left, he was all excited and kept bouncing around in his bed, telling us what you'd said about him and the chair and Jesus and everything. He was so happy for his last few days." The chaplain started to walk away, and the nurse said, "Oh, there's one other thing, kind of strange. But the morning we found him dead, he was leaning out of the bed. Somehow he had pulled the chair over, and his chest was on the chair, and his arms were wrapped around the back of the chair, and that's how he died."
Beautiful, right? Whereas before he was anxious, afraid, worried, angry. Because of Jesus' presence in his life, as he prayed before God the Father, with the Holy Spirit dwelling in him and among him, he spent his last few days unafraid and joyful, dying in his Savior’s arms.
Friends, this is our greatest comfort in prayer. You may not get what you want, but you always get the who. The Holy Spirit, the presence of God himself. That’s no consolation prize. It might just be God’s greatest gift in prayer he can give us.
In once again a coincidence that’s not really a coincidence, I sketch out our sermon scriptures well out in advance, and it just so happens on this Father’s Day we’re reminded of a far greater love as we fix our eyes on our Heavenly Father. We are his children, he is our Father. So go to him, with shameless audacity.
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! For that is who we are.