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Teach Us to Pray

Luke 11:1

Pastor James F. Wright

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
St John Lutheran Church  
Champaign, IL

Sun, Jul 29, 2001 

Sermon about Prayer

(Luke 11:1 NIV) 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."

Pastor Elliott and I have asked the congregation to read the book of Nehemiah during the month of July and join in this weekend in the prayer vigil. If you didn't come yesterday to pray for a half hour, then I am pleased that you have joined us today for the conclusion.

Prayer is an important component of the Christian life. Someone once said that prayer is the duty of a dependant creature. This means that self sufficient people don't need to pray. When you know how frail and vulnerable you really are, prayer becomes your greatest possession. Prayer is a reminder that we are dependent upon God.

Jesus' disciples asked him how to pray. We need to learn how to pray also. It is so important for us to understand prayer and to pray joyfully without compulsion but out of a heart that depends on God above for everything. Reading a book about it or taking a class does not teach prayer. The true spirit of prayer is from above. That is why they asked Jesus, "Teach us to pray."

One of the reasons we asked you to read the book of Nehemiah is because it says much about prayer. Nehemiah was the cupbearer to a foreign king. When he learned that his home city of Jerusalem was a shambles, it's great wall broken down and its gates burned with fire, he sat down and wept for some time, and then he prayed to the God of heaven. He prayed, "Let your ear be attentive and your eyes open the hear the prayer your servant is praying to you day and night for your servant, the people of Israel."

Nehemiah's prayer was answered in a way he did not expect. The king decided to send him to Jerusalem to see that the walls and gates of the city were rebuilt. When he got there, he experienced much opposition to the task that God laid upon his heart. There were people who didn't want the wall rebuilt, and the people of the city didn't think it could be done. But never the less, the wall was rebuilt in just 52 days. What many thought was an impossible task, God accomplished through his people in record time. It was a miracle.

Jesus would teach us all to pray as well. Are we ready to learn? First of all, what is prayer? Prayer is the command and privilege that God gives to all who believe in Jesus Christ. He says, "Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock, and the door will be opened to you." (Matt. 7:7-8)

Prayer is simply speaking to God in words and thoughts. It is not the mindless recitation of words, but the inward communication of the heart. Without connecting our heart to the prayer we are simply uttering an abomination to the Lord. But when we pray what is inside us, speaking honestly with God, we know He will hear and help us.

We have all been taught who to pray to. We should pray to the true God only, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not to idols, saints, or anything God has created. We should pray in the name of Jesus, because he is the only mediator between God and man. He said, "no one comes to the Father except through me."

We should ask for everything that brings glory to God and to our own and our neighbor's welfare, both spiritual and bodily blessings. We should also praise and thank God for who He is and what He has done. As the Bible says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (Phil. 4:6).

We should pray continually, but especially at home, by ourselves, with our families, at church, and certainly in times of trouble.

It seems these three ministers were talking about prayer in general and the appropriate and effective positions for prayer. As they were talking, a telephone repairman was working on the phone system in the background. One minister shared that he felt the key was in the hands. He always held his hands together and pointed them upward as a form of symbolic worship. The second suggested that real prayer was conducted on your knees. The third suggested that they both had it wrong -- the only position worth its salt was to pray while stretched out flat on your face. By this time the phone man couldn't stay out of the conversation any longer. He interjected: "I found that the most powerful prayer I ever made was while I was dangling upside down by my heels from a power pole, suspended 40 feet above the ground."

When we are in need of help, prayer reminds us that there is a higher power who can help us.

The problem is, we know prayer is a great gift from God, which will help us so much, but we use it so little. We spend so much time working, sleeping, recreating and entertaining ourselves that we take no time to pray. Martin Luther once said that he didn't know how he could get through a day if he did not spend an hour in prayer. What would you say to God for a whole hour of prayer? There is so much, but we need to be taught how to pray.

Why should we desire to be taught how to pray? Because of the importance of prayer. Prayer moves the hand that moves all things. The greatest thing anyone could say about us is that we are a man or woman of prayer. To be a person of prayer is the safest, happiest, and most profitable of all employments.

We should want to learn how to pray because of we aren't born knowing how to pray. We are ignorant of prayer until we are taught. The Bible says that the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (Rom 8:26)

We should want to learn how to pray because it is what God the Heavenly Father wants for us. He says, "You do not have, because you do not ask."

Jesus is ready to teach us how to pray. Why should we learn from Him? First of all it is because he was known for his prayers. He often went off by himself to pray. At other times he looked up to heaven and prayed aloud, and some of these prayers are recorded for us. He prayed when he preached and did miracles, when he was baptized, tempted, and transfigured. His dying breath was given to a prayer. Who is better qualified to teach us to pray than Jesus?

It was Jesus who said, "When you pray, pray like this, "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." In the Lord's prayer we have the model for all our prayers. We do well to study it, for everything we can ask for in life is contained in this prayer.

In your prayers, try praying the Lord's prayer a new way. Pray each part to God, then read the catechism's explanation, then confess your weakness and seek the Lord's strength in that area. For instance, say, "Our Father, who art in heaven." The catechism says, "What does this mean? 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."

In your own words, thank God for being your heavenly Father, and remember before him all the good things he has done for you. Then confess to God that you have sinned against him. You have not acted as if he was the Father and you were the child. You have acted as if you could take care of yourself. You have rebelled against the God of heaven. Then thank him for the mercy of Jesus Christ who takes away the penalty for your sin. Ask God to help you remember that he is your loving Father, and to help you with the problems you have right now.

Then go through the other seven petitions of the prayer and the conclusion. You can see how one could easily fill up an hour with prayer in this way.

I encourage you to give the next seven days to prayer. Let us pray that God would cultivate the need for prayer within us. Get up a little earlier and spend time with God. Gather the family together after supper and pray together, each offering a prayer and praying the Lord's prayer together. Stay up a little later to end the day in conversation with God. When you have a big challenge before you, a family problem or a pressured meeting at work, take time to pray. Before we do anything important, any labor or decision, begin with prayer.

After this, trust that God answers prayer, and look for the returns. God will be acting in our lives if we stop and watch him helping us. We never have to go it alone. We always have him to help us.

Let us conclude with this story. A man received a letter from a friend. The letter said, "Good morning. I have been waiting to hear from you. I saw you go to work yesterday, but you didn't say good morning to me. I was there with you for lunch but you didn't invite me to sit down at your table. You drove home in the car with me, but you never said a word to me. I spent the evening in your living room, but you didn't acknowledge I was there. Every day you act this way towards me. We used to talk so much, but you haven't spoken with me in a long time. I'm ready to help you with your problems, but you never ask me. I'm not giving up on you. Please don't give up on me. Signed, Jesus Christ."

Not only should we pray for ourselves, but for those who are really in need. The gospel for today of the story of the Good Samaritan is a reminder that we are to care for others with our prayers and our helping hands.

It is such a blessing to know that we have access to the throne of God in heaven through the person of Jesus Christ, our brother and friend. We have been freed from all guilt. The barriers are gone. God hears our prayers and promises to answer those that will bring us closer together. Prayer is the duty of a dependant creature. Let us devote ourselves to prayer. Amen.

Copyright 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.

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