Sabbath Day Thoughts — How’s Your Prayer Life? Luke 11:1-13
If you visit the John Wesley House in London, you will see that the 18th century father of Methodism had a small walk-in closet off his bedroom. This prayer room is sometimes called “The Powerhouse of Methodism” because Wesley believed that his prayerful efforts within the closet were key to the success of his mission to the world. Wesley began each day with two hours in his closet, praying with an open Bible and a fervent heart.
19th century Plymouth Brethren evangelist George Muller was the master of persistent prayer. By his own admission, the youthful Muller was a thief, liar, and gambler, but he attended a prayer meeting in 1825 that transformed his life. Muller committed to praying daily for five of his young friends who were far from Christ. A few months later, one of them had a conversion experience. Within two years, two more found Jesus. The fourth friend came to faith after twenty-five years. Muller died in 1898, having prayed for the fifth friend for sixty-three years and eight months. Before Muller was buried, his prayer was finally answered as the fifth friend finally committed his life to Christ.
Rosa Parks is best known as a Civil Rights activist with the courage to launch the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 by refusing to move to the back of the bus. We are less likely to know that Rosa Parks was a person of profound faith who grounded her activism in prayer. In her book Quiet Strength, Parks writes that God assured her that she would not be alone on the bus on that fateful day. “I felt the Lord would give me the strength to endure whatever I had to face,” Parks stated, “God did away with all my fear . . . It was time for someone to stand up—or in my case, sit down.”
We all know prayer warriors, those folks who are ever eager to take it to the Lord in prayer. A trusted friend, a family member, a pastor, or a link in the local prayer chain, these are the people we turn to when we get that tough diagnosis, or there are problems on the home front, or our kids are in trouble. We trust that they will listen deeply and pray passionately, letting God know that help is needed.
Even though prayer is a cornerstone of the faithful life and we are well-acquainted with champions of prayer, we may struggle to have a meaningful, committed practice of prayer. Our calendars are so full that the only times left for prayer are those few minutes at the close of the day when we fall exhausted into bed, unable to keep our eyes open long enough to express the confessions and intercessions that we long to lift to God. When we do find the time to pray, we worry about what to say. What are the right words to get God’s attention? How specific do we need to get? How do we know that God is listening? Perhaps most daunting of all tasks is public prayer, praying out loud in a group. We might rather eat Brussels sprouts or take the garbage out than spontaneously pray in a roomful of strangers. If we were being deeply honest, we might admit that we place our trust in those prayer warriors because we believe that they have something that we don’t, as if when God was handing out the prayer power, some of us got a substandard quotient.
If it makes us feel any better, even the great Reformer Martin Luther sometimes fell short in prayer. Luther once infamously quipped, “I have so much to do today that I must spend the first three hours in prayer.” He notoriously was reported to have said that an exception should be made for those of us who struggle with prayer—we should begin our days with four hours of prayer. But in a letter to his friend Philip Melancthon, Luther confessed that he too fell short in prayer, “I sit here like a fool, and hardened in leisure, pray little, do not sigh for the church of God, yet burn in a big fire of my untamed body. In short, I should be ardent in spirit, but I am ardent in the flesh, in lust, in laziness, leisure, and sleepiness. … Already eight days have passed in which I have written nothing, in which I have not prayed or studied.”
Jesus’ disciples must have also struggled with prayer. That’s why they asked Jesus to give them a lesson on how to pray. They had noticed how vital prayer was for Jesus. The Lord seemed to find the fuel for his dynamic ministry in times of quiet communion with his heavenly Father. Before naming the twelve disciples, Jesus spent the night in prayer. While working wonders of healing or casting out demons, Jesus turned to prayer. To find the strength to endure his betrayal and execution, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was a man steeped in prayer.
The pattern of prayer that Jesus taught his friends is surprisingly simple. In Luke’s gospel, the Lord’s Prayer is four terse sentences. Jesus tells us to begin with praise, acknowledging the holiness of God and our longing for the coming of God’s kingdom. Then, we pray for what we truly need: sustenance to fuel our bodies/, the healing of relationships through forgiveness and a willingness to be forgiven/, and lastly, protection from life’s temptations and difficulties. According to Jesus, all we really need to pray are four simple heartfelt sentences that envision God as the source of our world, our lives, our healing, and our protection. That’s it.
It must have sounded too good to be true to the disciples. I can imagine that they cast doubtful looks at one another as Jesus disclosed the secrets of being a real prayer warrior, because Jesus followed up his lesson on prayer with two playful, pointed teachings to bring his point on prayer home. The story of the friend who comes knocking at midnight assures us that God hears our prayers and responds. The example of a parent who lovingly provides good things for his children assures us that God, our heavenly parent, always provides what is good and right for us. Jesus makes it sound so easy.
And maybe that’s the real point to Jesus’ lesson. Prayer is meant to be easy. It’s meant to be as natural as the drawing of breath, the sympathy of a friend, or the care of a parent. Maybe the trouble is that we pray from the head, looking for those eloquent words, hoping to steer the course of the world, wanting to forge a future that meets our personal vision of how things ought to be. But Jesus teaches us to pray from the heart, to pray in ways that acknowledge the greatness of God and our personal vulnerability. When we pray from the head, we expect the world to change, which is often a recipe for disappointment, but when we pray from the heart, we can expect to be changed. Heartfelt prayer coaxes us to grow into the people God created us to be. Heartfelt prayer equips us to live to the best of our ability in a world that is less than perfect and sometimes bitterly disappointing.
So, I invite us to make a fresh start on prayer this morning, to keep things simple and heartfelt. Perhaps you might even allow me to help you, guiding you in praying the way that Jesus invited us to pray. I invite you to close your eyes and bow your head as I lead you in a prayer from the heart.
First, give silent praise for the holiness and majesty of God, who stretches the heavens like a tent and puffs into our lungs the breath of life . . . We praise and thank you, God.
Allow your heart to yearn for God’s kingdom, for a world where righteousness and peace will kiss each other . . . Thy Kingdom come.
Now think about your day ahead. Ask the Lord to provide what is needed, whether it is strength or love, kindness or patience, hope or help. Trust that what is truly needed will be provided . . . Give us this day our daily bread.
Now, think of a relationship that needs mending. Perhaps there are hurt feelings, hardness of heart, or weariness of soul. Ask God to bring healing to that relationship. Trust that the Lord is already at work . . . Forgive us, O Lord, and make us a forgiving people.
Finally, consider a place of difficulty or temptation in your life. Feel the weightiness and the challenge of it. Now, ask the Lord to be your safety and protection. Remember that although you may feel weak, God is strong and God is with you . . . Keep us safe from temptation, O God, and deliver us from evil.
As we finish, we might even resolve to try this again, to make a daily discipline of doing what Jesus did. May we find the strength and the vision to live fully and faithfully through simple, heartfelt prayer.
David Lose. “Commentary on Luke 11:1-13” in Preaching This Week, July 25, 2010. Accessed online at https://www.workingpreacher.org/.
Elisabeth John. “Commentary on Luke 11:1-13” in Preaching This Week, July 28, 2013. Accessed online at https://www.workingpreacher.org/.
Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds. Luther’s Works: American Edition. 55 vols. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1955-1975.
Jared Brock. “10 Prayer Warriors Who Changed History” in Flowing Faith, June 9, 2015. Accessed online at http://www.flowingfaith.com/2015/06/10-prayer-warriors.html.
11 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 So he said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, may your name be revered as holy.
May your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything out of friendship, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for[e] a fish, would give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asked for an egg, would give a scorpion? 13 If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit[f] to those who ask him!”