Jesus' Teaching on Prayer
1 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, [a]
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come. [b]
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. [c]
And lead us not into temptation. [d]' "
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 nothing to set before 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 [e] 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; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened.
11 "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for [f] 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 simply don’t remember where I was or how old I was the first time I learned the pledge of allegiance. It almost seems like one of those things that I’ve just always known, but I’m sure I had to learn it somewhere at some point. I do remember, going all the way back to kindergarten, however, standing with my hand placed solidly over my heart each morning and facing the American flag while reciting those now familiar words, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” If you’re American you know this pledge. You even know the familiar cadence which is universally used when reciting the pledge. I can say that pledge in my sleep without even thinking about it, and I’m sure that my American friends can as well. So, why do we say that pledge? I think a big reason is because it captures the essence of what we mean when we say we’re American. America was one of the few countries in the history of the world, if not the only one, that was built solely on an idea of personal liberty. You don’t have to necessarily agree with that statement, though, to realize that the point of the pledge is to capture, in an easily repeatable and memorable format, the basic ideals of the American movement. That’s certainly not to say that the pledge contains everything that we think being an American means, but it certainly serves as a great slogan-like reminder of where our loyalties are supposed to lie, and what type of people we, as Americans are supposed to be.
To be honest, I don’t even know if other countries have pledges of that nature but I know that small recitations like that are quite common among different groups, organizations, and even religious communities. These types of scripts bind us together with others in our chosen group. They not only acknowledge our common identity but take part in creating it. But we shouldn’t think that this is a new phenomenon and it certainly isn’t something that began with the American pledge of allegiance, as much as Americans like to think that we invented everything. Going back to Jesus’ day and beyond, it was not uncommon for religious groups, especially within Judaism, who saw themselves as unique and different from everyone else around them, to have a small group identifying prayer. John the Baptist evidently had one and so would the followers of Jesus.
As Jesus was following his normal habit of praying, we learn that this commitment to go to God in prayer was not lost on the disciples. They want to learn to pray as Jesus does and to have their own community-identifying prayer. The prayer would serve as both a model for how they should pray and would also serve the purpose of providing them a slogan-of-sorts that would quickly sum up who they were as God’s people and what they valued. They were already beginning to grasp the reality that Jesus was forging them into a new community different than one that had existed before. They were being crafted into the new family of God.
When they went to God in prayer, they should approach him as their Father. Jesus was not just creating a new community that saw itself as a family, he was bringing to fulfillment the family that God had promised Abraham. This would be God’s own family, a people who could approach him affectionately as their own father (cf. Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). The disciples were becoming a family of those who did God’s will and who would be adopted into God’s family through the life of Christ as co-heirs. This community would always go through Jesus to join the family. As Jesus had declared, “No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Luke 4:22). Jesus was not only introducing a new element of relationship with God, he was continuing his constant and repeated assertion that his followers were becoming the true Israel, the fulfillment of the family that God had promised and that Israel had only pointed to (Deut. 32:6; Isa. 63:16).
They would be a people that truly hallowed the name of God. The Jews had made an attempt to do this and had so hallowed the actual name of God that they would not utter except for perhaps one time a year. Yet, this is not what God desired. If we remember that “name” was not just a title or word but referred to the whole reputation, character, authority, and life of an individual, we can see that Jesus wanted a community that truly hallowed God’s entirety, not just a word. Today, groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses make the same mistake as the Jews. They revere his name (although they go the opposite route of the Jews and claim that his name must be used all the time—they continue to use the term “Jehovah” even though experts now realize that God’s name in the Old Testament was likely YHWH and that Jehovah was never an actual name or term) but distort who he is. The name or life that Jesus came to reveal was his own. God would be revealed through the life of Jesus who in turn revealed the aspect of God as the Father of the covenant family. Living the life of Christ with God as our Father, then, is the primary way that Christians revere the name of God.
The prayer would demonstrate that they were a family who lived in such a way as to bring God’s kingdom on earth. They would do his will as his people and would, like the Israelites who lived on the daily portion of manna, would rely on God for their daily bread. In Exodus 16:19-21, the Israelites were warned to trust God each day for his provision rather than engaging in activities of hoarding that fostered greed and demonstrated a lack of believing in God’s continued provision. The Messiah’s family would be people who trust God each day for their spiritual provision.
Part of that provision would be to rely on God’s continued forgiveness of sins. Those in Christ no longer live in the realm of condemnation as part of the family of fallen humanity (cf. Rom. 8:1) but are the promised family of many nations through whom sin would finally be dealt with and all people of the world could be blessed. It would be inconsistent as God’s people to expect something from God that we are not willing to gives ourselves. So, as we breathe in God’s forgiveness, we must continue to breathe it out to others in order that we might continue to breathe in God’s love and forgiveness.
Another aspect of that provision is to realize that without God we would walk straight into temptation and succumb to it every time. We would follow the example of Israel in the wilderness rather than that of Jesus who was led into the wilderness by the Spirit but did the will of God. The prayer, then, calls for God’s continued provision in keeping us from giving into temptation the way we would if left to our own provision.
To make the point clear that God wants to provide for his Messiah-shaped family Jesus gave two helpful illustrations. The first was a common situation in his day but with an ironic twist. If a friend needed bread, the cultural expectation was that he would be given the bread despite any inconvenience. His hearers simply couldn’t imagine someone who would actually refuse to provide hospitality on the basis of friendship. But Jesus wants them to go along and imagine such a case. In that unbelievable event, the man would still give the bread because of the persistent asking by the one in need. If humans would give the bread in any situation then how much more can they be assured that God will answer their persistent prayers. They need not hesitate to come to their father and pray persistently. If they ask, God will certainly answer their prayers. The Father will provide the needs that his people have. We would be abusing the context of the story to claim that Jesus was saying that we could ask for whatever we desired and expect to get it. His point was that we can rely on God for the things that we need.
The second example uses the same line of thinking as the first. This situation would surely not happen with humans, so why would you ever think that God would act that way? How can you not trust in the promises of God? What kind of father would give his son a snake rather than a fish or a scorpion rather than an egg? The answer would self evident. No kind of father would do that. If imperfect people give good gifts to those they love then would not our perfect Father in heaven do so all the more. Snakes and scorpions were common symbols for evil and the demonic so it is possible that Jesus was making a further allusion beyond just a bad or dangerous gift rather than a helpful one.
The fact is clear that Jesus was creating a kingdom people, a new family who had God himself as their Father. The way of breaking God’s will and his kingdom into the present age could be a tough go and the only way to do it is to rely fully on God. They would become a family that was devoted, among other things, to prayer and reliance on God as their Father. The new exodus had already begun and Jesus was providing bread, forgiveness, and the ability to not give into temptation to his followers. They would need to continue to rely on his provision for them to complete this lifetime journey, and so do we.
Do you really rely on prayer the way that Jesus urged? Do you reduce your need for prayer in your life and approach it almost as a nice extra rather than an absolutely vital aspect of your life as following Jesus?