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Sermon Text for November 3, 2013
"Lord, Teach Us to Pray" #81-09 Presented on The Lutheran Hour on November 3, 2013 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (What's So Special About The Bible?) Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Luke 11:1-2
Christ is risen, He is risen indeed and your prayers to Him will always be answered. Amen.
For the next several weeks, here on the Lutheran Hour, we are going to take a look at one of the most precious prayers in the Bible. For Christians, it is called, the Lord's Prayer, the Our Father, the Pater Noster. It has been a fixture in Christian worship throughout the world for thousands of years. And, while precious to those who pray it as believers, it remains one of the most unique prayers in all of the world, in all religious literature as well. It is a prayer that is built on a sure relationship with God. It is a prayer that flows from an intimacy with God that literally blows our minds even as it soothes our souls and calms our hearts. This is no ordinary prayer because it is being taught to us by no ordinary Man. It is a prayer that Jesus Himself, God in human flesh, taught His disciples to pray. These next weeks, we're asking Jesus to do the same with us. Are you ready for that journey? I know I am. And, if you know someone who doesn't know Jesus but thinks prayer is important; have them listen in too, because there is no prayer like the Lord's Prayer, in the Name of Jesus Christ! It's a prayer that not only changes things, it changes us.
Now, about prayer in general, I've got some good news for you today. People still think that prayer is important. At least that seems to be the case in a survey taken of Americans a few years ago, surrounding the National Day of Prayer. It was asked "Who Prays?" It was found that ... ........88% of Americans pray ........78% say that prayer is an important part of daily life ........63% pray often ........65% believe that they have had specific prayers answered ........79% say praying helps speed recovery ........49% have prayed for guidance even in their finances.
People still pray, but unfortunately, most people tend to pray, hoping that God might listen, or even as a last resort, they pray hoping that He's listening and He might answer; at least that's the answer I've gotten when I've asked people, "why do you pray?" They often pray like George Bailey in the Christmas classic, "It's a Wonderful Life." You remember him, right? In the movie, Jimmy Stewart played the lead character, George Bailey, who was a small town president of the Bailey Savings and Loan. He had big dreams, big plans to get out of that small town of Bedford Falls, to see the world. You remember the story don't you? Right at the point of his big chance the Great Depression hits, World War II hits, and he finds himself stuck. Even worse, he doesn't seem to have much control over the things that would appear to be in his hands. When one of his employees, Uncle Billy, misplaces a large sum of money to be deposited in the bank, suddenly Bailey faces charges of malfeasance and fraud. He's on the run. His life is in a downward spiral. So, at that moment, he does what so many would say is the right thing to do, he prays to God.
But right after his prayer, a man, the husband of a woman whom Bailey had offended earlier in the day; he comes up to Bailey, asks his name, and then punches him right in the mouth. Do you remember the next line of the movie? George Bailey says, "Well, that's what you get for praying." You know, God only answers the important prayers, if at all, right?
Is that how you pray? Do you pray like so many--only when you have to, even then only hoping that He hears and might bless? After all, doesn't God want you to take care of your own life? Isn't He in the business of telling you what to do and what not to do, and then you are supposed to do it? Isn't that what religion is all about, and isn't prayer one of those things that religious people are just supposed to do?
When all else fails, I guess we should pray.
Well, hear this clearly; that spirit of prayer is the opposite of the spirit of prayer in our text. Jesus invites the disciples, invites us, to pray a whole different way.
Jesus' way of prayer does need to be taught, because it's not something natural to us. We may have the notion that we should pray. But do we pray in the spirit of thankfulness to a God who has already acted on our behalf in His Son Jesus Christ? Do we pray expecting that "God's answers to our petitions of Yes, No, or Wait" will always be the right ones for us in our relationship with Him? Do we pray in the confidence that one can have knowing that because of the work of our Savior, we can indeed call the Creator of the universe our Father knowing that our relationship to Him is the most important thing in our lives?
I thank God that the disciples were bold enough to ask Jesus to teach them to pray. I'm sure that they prayed. I'm sure that they did the religious things that people of God do. But they knew that this Jesus was different. They knew that His teachings were unique. They knew that there was no one else like Him. He had a relationship with God the Father that was more than intimate; it was a oneness of being, a oneness of thought, a oneness of purpose. "Lord, we know You and we know You are a Person of prayer, so teach us, because compared to you, we don't know anything! Lord, 'teach us to pray Your way.'"
That's a spirit that God can work with, my friend. In the Bible, in this series on the Lord's Prayer, you are going to see and know that prayer is your communication with a God who has already acted on your behalf, who already wants what's best for you, and wants to answer your prayers in such a way that you are drawn even closer to Him, now and forever!
That's the prayer I want you to learn again and again and again. Lord, teach us to pray. Lord, teach me to pray; as I know You will. One of his disciples said to Jesus, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." And he said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come."
Jesus says, when you pray, say "Our Father." The Bible tells us to present our requests to God because He cares for us.
Now, if all that's true, then I'm wondering if the disciples' question was indeed the right one. They asked Jesus to "teach them to pray" because John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray.
"Hey," they might be saying, "if we're following You, there must be some unique way that You want us to pray too, right?"
Their question is one that many of us would have asked too. Should we fold our hands? Should we bow our heads? Should we kneel, stand, or lay prostrate on the ground? Lord, what is the way to pray? Teach us! But that misses the whole point, doesn't it? If God had to wait until we "got prayer right," wait on our proper prayers, our proper works, our proper attitudes before He could bless and save, He'd still be waiting.
I think that the Apostles would have been better to ask, "Lord, invite us to pray!" In full view of His uniqueness, His love in action for them and for others....that would have seemed to have been a better request, wouldn't it? (Well, let's not be too hard on them, we probably would not have asked at all).
Think about what they had seen Jesus already say and do. They had seen Him feed the 5000; they had seen Him calm the storm on the Sea of Galilee. They had seen Him heal and care for people, and they had seen His transfiguration, where His whole appearance changed....getting a glimpse of His divinity before He would journey to the cross to reconcile a sinful, rebellious world back to a holy and righteous God.
Lord, teach us to pray? Yes, but even more, invite us to pray; Your way, in Your Spirit, with Your perspective on the way things really are.
Help us to see that praying to God isn't so much about getting the how tos right, but about knowing why we get to pray at all. Jesus says it this way, "When you pray, when you realize that your relationship with God is the most important, when you realize that God wants to have an eternal dialogue with you as a son, as a daughter, when you realize that, pray this way."
If we ask Jesus to invite us to pray His way, that's a request asked in the confidence that He is your Savior, your Lord, your Friend that you can trust that He is already here to bless.
That's the spirit of this prayer. That's the power of the Spirit through this prayer. And, even if you don't know Him by faith today, He wants that faith for you. He wants this prayer for you. He wants not only the way of prayer to be yours, but the life of prayer to be yours in His Name!
So, does Jesus want us to pray a certain way or to pray confidently this way in His Name?
"Pastor, what's the difference? I mean, either way, we are praying a certain way, aren't we?" Well, yes and no. The Lord's Prayer is prayed throughout the world, using the very words that Jesus has taught us and there is nothing wrong with that, that's for sure. But, even those words push us to a deeper dialogue because they already are offering the way of prayer as a dialogue of faith with a God who loved you and redeemed you to be His own.
I think that Jesus is inviting us to pray, not just His way, but in His Name!
You see, Jesus is inviting the disciples to a prayer life of faith, one that trusts in the promises of God come to fruition in Him. He's also inviting them to a prayer life of love, lived in His Name for the sake of others. We'll see this more and more as we unpack each petition of the Lord's Prayer in the weeks to come.
To pray His way, in His Name is to be invited into the dialogue of prayer with faith in the Lord who loves you and who wants to transform you to be His agent of grace in the lives of others.
In a scene from "Shadowlands," a film based on the life of C.S. Lewis, Lewis has returned to Oxford from London where he had just been married to Joy Gresham, an American woman, in a private Episcopal ceremony performed at her hospital bedside. She is dying from cancer, and, through the struggle with her illness, she and Lewis have been discovering the depth of their love for each other. As Lewis arrives at the college where he teaches, he is met by Harry Harrington, an Episcopal priest, who asks what news there is. Lewis hesitates; then, deciding to speak of the marriage and not the cancer, he says, "Ah, good news, I think, Harry. Yes, good news."
Harrington, not aware of the marriage and thinking that Lewis is referring to Joy's medical situation, replies, "Lewis, I know how hard you've been praying. Now, God is answering your prayer."
"No, that's not why I pray, Harry," Lewis responds. "I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God; it changes me."
Lord, teach us to pray, dependent on You, trusting in You, praying in Your Name to be blessed; yes, but to be a blessing to others in Your Name, too. You see, Jesus gives us a glimpse of the depth of the way of praying when He says, "When you pray, say Father!" Now that is no small thing as we'll see next week, to call God, the Majestic Creator of the universe, to call Him Father is to know that He loves us and He wants us to be His own.
To call Him Father, in the Name of Jesus is to pray in full view of all of His promises, God's work on your behalf. The words of the Lord's Prayer are going to draw you even closer to the God who has loved you with an eternal love in Jesus. We are invited to pray in full view of God's promises, as if they are our own, by faith. Paul speaks of that boldness when he says in 2 Cor. 1:20, that "in Christ, all of God's promises are Yes" to you and me. Praying "Our Father" calls for such faith. So when you pray, pray knowing these sure and certain promises of the Word; that God will never leave you" (Heb. 13:5); that God is indeed your shield" (Gen. 15:1); that God's power "will strengthen you" (Is. 41:10); God's provision "will help you" (Is. 41:10); that God's Word will guide you to, "be a lamp to your feet, a light to your path" (Psalm 119:105); that God has a plan for you "to bless you and not to harm you (Jer. 29:11), to give you "rest" even in the chaos of today (Matt. 11:28); that God wants to forgive you and give you His life. That He is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9); and that He, the Lord, "will not forsake His people for His great name's sake" (1 Sam. 12:22) .
So, let's be bold up front. Learning, receiving, and practicing this prayer is going to change our lives.
Let's say it up front that even though God answers our petitions in prayer, the ultimate purpose of prayer is to get you and me into the game of life; exercising our faith life with God by lovingly serving others in His love, all prayerfully received and considered.
Lord, teach us to pray. Lord, invite us to pray into that faith dialogue with You so that we can be agents of Your truth and grace in this world.
In preparing for this message, I thought about my grandparents this last week, how they prayed, or better, why they prayed. With all the talk of the last several years of a "new great depression;" (if we had any experience with the real Great Depression, I don't think we'd throw that word around so loosely); but, no matter what was happening in their lives, whether it was the struggles of the Great Depression, (my grandmother even as late as the 1960s still mixed powered milk with the real milk to make it go further), or whether it was the successes of their later years and the joy of their family reunions and personal travels. They were always in church worshipping the God who loved them enough to die for their sins on the cross. Nothing was more important to them than Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and His daily resource of forgiveness, life, and salvation; prayerfully received, prayerfully shared, nothing else, and nothing less than that would do.
That's prayer Jesus' way. That's prayer in Jesus' Name. That's prayer in the confidence that He is near for you. That's prayer that will change your life, or at the very least, give you the power of God in your life, to live it with gusto, no matter what you face.
Will you take this prayer journey through the Lord's Prayer with me over the next several weeks? Will you learn what you're really getting for praying? I know that it is going to be even more than the Lord teaching us about prayer; it's going to be the Lord inviting us into a way of thinking, believing, and acting as His people, now and forever. Lord, teach us to pray? Yes, and even more, invite us to a life of prayer blessed by Your Name, lived in Your way for the sake of others.
In Jesus' Name! Amen!
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for November 3, 2013 Topic: What's So Special About The Bible?
ANNOUNCER: What's so special about the Bible? Pastor Gregory Seltz answers questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, in 2 Timothy Chapter 3, St. Paul says, "All Scripture is God-breathed and it's useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness." But, what do we know about the Bible, how it came to be, and what effect it can have on people?
SELTZ: Well, Mark, it is still one of the most compelling books in the world; but, first off, let me say that the Bible, though, is not so much A book, but rather a compilation of a number of books. There are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New. They are authored by a variety of people. And all of these books were written anywhere from 1500 BC to around 100 AD. So, there is a lot of variety in the Bible. But, amazingly, with all these different authors, with all this vast amount of time, there is one common theme - salvation in Christ - promised in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New.
ANNOUNCER: But people will say the Bible's such an old book. Maybe it got changed or corrupted over time. How do we know it's reliable?
SELTZ: Well, first, let's just say because something's old, doesn't make it unreliable. In fact, something that stands the test of time is often considered even more reliable. And, while the Bible is old, there isn't any other book like it. Even though we don't have the original manuscripts, the autographs, we do have very reliable extant copies. For example, with the New Testament, we have copies which date between 50-100 years from the autographs.
ANNOUNCER: And by contrast, most other documents from antiquity are separated from their originals by 1,000 years.
SELTZ: Yes, add to that the fact that we have over 20,000 copies of New Testament Biblical manuscripts to work with compared to less than a couple of hundred for the works of such greats as Caesar, Plato, and Aristotle.
ANNOUNCER: Now 2 Timothy also talks about the Bible's unique power - that it makes us wise unto salvation. It helps us grow in grace and good works. How does it do that?
SELTZ: Now, it doesn't do that as much as He does that - Jesus Christ. Martin Luther said that, "Wherever you cut the Bible it bleeds the blood of Christ." In fact, the Bible calls Jesus "THE WORD MADE FLESH." So, what makes the "words of the Bible" so effective is their connection to the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, and His work on the cross. That makes it the source of our salvation, our Christian living; it's delivered to us by the spirit-filled words of the Bible.
ANNOUNCER: So, we should always be looking for Christ when we read the Bible. Any other suggestions?
SELTZ: Well, to all Bible readers.... first, here's how the Bible wants you to approach it....Approach it as the inspired Word of God even though it was given to and through various people. It's God's message of salvation for all, through and through...So, not only is it all by God, but it points to Christ. Another helpful guideline to get the most out of the Bible is, "Let the Scripture interpret Scripture." So, if some verses seem unclear, look to the rest of the Bible to help get it right. That's one way to avoid taking Biblical verses out of context.
ANNOUNCER: And what other characteristics make the Bible stand out?
SELTZ: In addition to its unique authority due to God's authorship, it can uniquely affect those who read it - these words create faith for salvation, they equip people to live lives of service to others. So, while the Bible may not contain every bit of information about everything in life and this world, it does contain everything necessary for salvation. We don't need to look elsewhere for supplemental help. It's pretty clear to understand. One of the great contributions of the Reformation was to make this understandable book available to common people.
ANNOUNCER: And, the Bible certainly stands out as an incredible and unique book. Anything else we should know about it?
SELTZ: There's a lot more to say about why this book is so unique. And Lutheran Hour has a wonderful Bible series called, "How We Got The Bible." That's got even more information there for our listeners. But, I would leave our listeners with one last image about the Bible; think of it as God's love letter to the world. It's precious because it points to the One who loves you, the One who wrote it for you. Always remember what ultimately sets Scripture apart is its connection to the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, the source of our salvation. And God is gracious enough to convey that salvation by the Holy Spirit through the words of Scripture.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you Pastor Seltz. And for more information about that video Bible study, "How We Got The Bible," go to lhm.org. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
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