Focused Prayer: Jesus teaches a lesson in prayer

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Watch the livestream beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday. After the livestream is finished, the video will be available to watch at any time.

First Lesson: Genesis 18:20-32 (NIV)
Second Lesson: 1 Timothy 2:1-7(NIV)
Gospel : Luke 11:1-13 (NIV)


  • CW 776 With the Lord Begin Your Task
  • CW 520 Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
  • CW 720 Our Father, Throned in Heaven Above
  • CW 719 Lord, Teach Us How to Pray

Message: Focused Prayer: Jesus teaches a lesson in prayer

Pastor Ryan Wolfe

Since this is my first sermon at Salem, would you mind if I do a little bit of a “checkup” quiz, just to see where you’re all at? Nothing hard, just a couple questions to help me know what you know. We’ll start easy, with something everyone’s good at…math. I’ll put an equation up on the screen and you help me out if you know the answer. (2+3=?) See, not so bad. Even a bunch of the kids here got that one. How about a different subject? Geography? What state did I highlight in blue? What’s the capital?

Maybe we lost a few of you on that one. We all had to learn it around 5th grade, maybe. But I don’t remember all the capitals either. That’s okay. How about some Bible history? Who was the youngest son of a man named Jesse who was anointed to be Israel’s second king? Yes, David, and there you see Michelango’s famous statue, cropped appropriately for family-safe viewing. Can I do one more? This is fun for me. How about a catechism question? What are the three offices that we usually say Jesus filled for us? Yes, prophet, priest, and king.

So why the opening review, you might be asking yourself? To remind ourselves that just because we knew something once doesn’t mean we don’t need a refresher from time to time. Our message this morning is based on Jesus’ words about prayer in Luke 11, the Gospel lesson we heard earlier. They’re words we know well. Many of us memorized the Lord’s Prayer as children. Many of us studied them in catechism. But this is a lesson we need to hear, just as much as the disciples who asked needed it. When Jesus teaches a lesson, no matter how well we think we know it, we listen. Today he helps us focus our prayers by teaching us both what to pray for and how to pray for it. So, let’s look at God’s Word.

The first verse finds Jesus doing something so normal for him that it’s easy to forget. Jesus was praying. The Gospels record Jesus praying at least 25 separate times. It’s clear that it’s a continual habit for him, one that his disciples had noticed. And so his disciples ask him on this occasion, “Lord, teach us to pray.” It’s interesting to me that these disciples, who had been with Jesus for a long time, were only now asking him about prayer. This was after the big-time miracles. This was after Jesus had sent them out to preach on their own in pairs. They had cast demons out and seen God’s power on full display, but they hadn’t asked about prayer?

Of course, when was the last time you thought about prayer in any deep way? It’s perfectly fine to think of prayer as just an automatic thing that Christians do. We need something – we ask God. We’re thankful for something – a word of prayer escapes our lips or flashes across our brain. We’re worried about a situation – we talk to him. The New Testament tells us that the prayers of believers are just a natural part of the Spirit’s dwelling within us. Paul even tells us that when we run out of words to pray, the Spirit himself intercedes for us with words we don’t even know or understand. Have you ever had that happen? A joy so profound or a loss so great that you couldn’t finish a thought. God knows, because God knows it all.

You may know that Scripture records Jesus teaching the Lord’s Prayer on two occasions. Here, where it’s not tied to a specific event, and in Matthew 6, where it’s part of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. What’s interesting is that he doesn’t give the same words. The Matthew 6 version is the fuller one that we perhaps know better. Here it’s just “Father” instead of “Our Father in heaven.” Here it’s “Forgive us our sins” and there it’s “forgive us our debts.” (“Transgressions” isn’t in either version.”) Here Jesus doesn’t even mention “your will be done” or “deliver us from the evil one.”

Was Jesus forgetting or in a hurry this time? Or was he trying to show us that the words aren’t the important part of the prayer. It’s unfortunate that some Christians go to battle over their preferred version of a prayer that Jesus himself didn’t repeat word for word. What’s the right way to pray the Lord’s Prayer? It’s not about getting the words right – it’s about getting the message right.

To be honest, there’s more in this prayer than I can touch on in a single sermon. I’ve done sermon series in the past on the Lord’s Prayer and felt it was rushing it do even one phrase in 15-20 minutes. Maybe I’ll add a Bible study or sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer to our church “to-do” list. Let’s not a couple things though. First, that first word. “Father.” In Luke 5:33 we see that John the Baptist and even the Pharisees taught their followers to pray, but certainly not in the way Jesus did. Jesus often prays out loud to his Father, and now he teaches us to do the same.

One of my favorite moments as a pastor was teaching an Intro to Christianity class at Northland Lutheran High School in Wisconsin. I was filling in and the lesson I was supposed to teach was the Lord’s Prayer. The class just had four international students. Two atheist young ladies from Japan, a lifelong Christian from Germany, and a new believer from somewhere else in Europe. (I can’t remember where exactly.) Anyway, we got the that first phrase, which we call the address, and that’s as far as we made it. You see, the two unbelieving girls were amazed that God would want us to call him Father.

They understood sin, that they hadn’t done everything perfectly right. They understood the concept of judgment, that if there is a God and he is perfect then he should sit in judgment over the sinful. But they had no concept of what we so casually call grace. That this judge would look on sinners not with disgust but with love. And for them, this name in the prayer was eye-opening. I didn’t even have to teach the lesson that day – I just stood aside as the two believing teenagers shared Jesus with their unbelieving classmates. They spoke about the cross where sins were paid for and the empty tomb where victory was proven. They spoke about guilt, and guilt released. They gave the reasons for their hope and their faith. And that will always be my favorite 45 minutes as a pastor. Whether you sit here as a member or a visitor, a lifelong Christian, or a five-minute convert, I hope you see the blessing that it is to come to the God of the universe and call him Father. By invitation, in love. The Jesus who teaches us to pray this way is child of God nature, and he brings us into the family with him by faith. This prayer reflects our status as adopted members of God’s own family by grace.

I said a couple minutes ago that the message, not the words, is the important part of this prayer. What’s the message? Well, apart from recognizing God as our loving father in Christ, look at the last three petitions included here. “Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.” Again, there’s a fleet of sermons in each of these phrases. Jesus teaches us to pray for the spiritual. He turns us away from greed by asking for “daily” bread, not lifelong bread. But today I want you to notice that each of these prayers is plural. Give us. Forgive us. Lead us. Christians aren’t intended to be islands of faith in a sea of unbelief. Jesus brings us together into churches to pray, to serve, to love, to support, to admonish. When you pray, pray for “us.”

If you look in your service folder you might notice that I haven’t talked about the last two-thirds of the text yet. How long is this sermon going to be? Jesus’ line of thinking isn’t hard to decipher there. In his little parable about the persistent friend, he is teaching us that we can be bold in prayer because whatever we ask for, he will give. “Ask and it will be given.” Not, “might be given.” “Seek and you will find.” Not maybe. “Knock and the door will be opened.” Not perhaps.

But how can Jesus say that when we know full well that we don’t always get what we ask for? When our loved ones still die and our finances remain a challenge? How can Jesus say that our Father always answers prayer? Because our Father answers prayers in the same way a dad answers requests from his kids. Not ice cream for breakfast everyday, but eggs or cereal. Not endless video games, but time outside too. We give what we know to be best. And God knows even better.

You see, that’s why the first two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer come first. “Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.” (And we might add, “Your will be done.”) The believer who seeks to give God his glory, the one who wants Christ to rule in his heart – that one does receive just what he wants. But what we want is not what we ask for necessarily, it’s peace that trust what God decides for us.

As an example, take your new pastor. I started this sermon walking in the middle; I’m ending in the pulpit. I started with pictures and graphics and a quiz; I’m ending with a theme slide and words. What kind of preacher did you want? What kind of pastor were you hoping for? What kind of worship? What kind of schedule? What kind of future for our church? Well, if we’ve learned our lesson from Jesus’ lesson on prayer then perhaps we’ve learned that God’s perfect will is better than our sinful will. If the preacher shares God’s Word faithfully, God’s will is done, whether it’s in my preferred method or not. If the service glorifies his name and brings Christ to us, God is answering our prayers.

For my part, I pledge to be faithful. I’ll work to get better at the things that are new for me and be patient with those things that are different. I’ll keep God’s will ahead of my own. And I ask you to do the same. See God’s answer to our prayers as perfect, even if it’s perfect in his eyes and not ours. Jesus tells us our Father knows what to give. May He lead us to trust in those gifts. For our church and for is all. Amen.

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