An Important Conversation
One of the greatest things about serving in ministry is that I get invited to be part of peoples lives. I am allowed to be present at births and deaths, weddings and funerals. And every minister has stories of things that has happened to them while serving the families in the church family: like falling in the grave, watching the brides hair catch on fire, or seeing someone take jewelry out of the coffin, I’ve seen them all. But there is the other side as well: seeing a man hold the hand of his bride of over 50 years and whisper that he loves her as she passes on to her eternity, seeing the tears of the man and woman who are holding their new baby, the child they have wanted and prayed for after they were told it would never happen. Being invited into life is one of my favorite parts of what I do.
Several years ago I was asked to participate in some friends wedding. They were both graduates of Texas A&M and chose to have their wedding in College Station. It was beautiful ceremony in a very lovely setting. But every wedding is unique, and one of the things that we talk about when we are planning the ceremony is how will your wedding show your personality. As graduates of A&M they wanted to included some traditions in the wedding that are held dear to every Aggie. One of those traditions we incorporated into their ceremony was the Aggie War Hymn.
I am not an Aggie and I refused to do anything that would tarnish their traditions; so I planned to step aside during this part of the ceremony. But they wanted me to take a part and I agreed. They were very kind and walked me thorough the steps and told me when I was supposed to link arms, that we stepped left over right because no one get’s left behind, and that we were going to sway back and forth just like you do when you saw horns off. We practiced, and I thought I was ready to participate when the time came….
The music started, folks started singing, and I revealed myself to be a great fraud. If you said I was clueless I would say that you were underselling my participation. Sadly, that wasn't the first time that I ever struggled trying to look like I knew what I was doing but in reality I had no idea.
Maybe you have had a similar experience of trying to bluff your way through something, only to fully disclose how inept you truly are. Sometimes it happens to new parents, sometimes it happens to older parents. It happens in our places of business, and there are times that it happens in the community of a church.
I love the way that Luke tells The Story of Jesus. In the scripture that was read this morning, Luke let’s us in on a little secret that the other Gospel writers left out. I hope you caught what he writes in verse 1, Now Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he stopped, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
That sounds like something I would ask Jesus because there are days that I really struggle with my prayer life. A fellow struggler, Scot McKnight, described his difficulty with prayer in his book The Jesus Creed: “Sometimes prayer is like dry lima beans, in a dry mouth, on a dry day.”
I am not sure how you learned how to pray, but very often folks learn how to pray by sitting in a building listening to other folks pray. By watching other folks we tend to focus on saying the right words or the right phrases and we believe that eventually if we watch enough folks pray we can figure out how to pray. But that never really works.
Think about it this way, when we built this building we received a set of keys. Eventually someone needed their own set of keys so we took one of those original keys and went and had a copy made. The copy worked, it locked and unlocked the doors. But there came a time when someone else needed a set of keys and the person who got a copy, used their key to make a copy. And the key worked, so that person used their key to make a copy and eventually we get to the place where we have a key that was made of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy. This key works, but we have to jiggle it and turn it just right to get it to work, if it works at all.
That’s a great illustration for prayer. When we were growing up, we saw someone who said a beautiful prayer, they had all of those great phrases like, give the preacher a ready recollection of the things he has prepared while You guide, guard, and direct us. That sounded snazzy and we repeated it. Then someone heard us and repeated us, and then we get to this point where we hear the preacher say that we need to be people of prayer, and we are not sure how to jiggle that prayer the right way to get it to work, and we end up with a mouth full of dry lima beans.
Here in Luke 11, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray because apparently it’s not something you learn by watching. The disciples were living with Jesus, walking, eating, spending their day with Jesus and the only thing they ever asked Him to teach them how to do is to pray. They didn’t ask Jesus how to preach, or do mission work. They didn’t ask Jesus how to set up a church, or a communion service. But they needed Jesus to teach them how to pray, and that’s just what He does.
Luke’s account of the prayer is different from Matthews account so let’s read it : Father, we pray that your name will always be kept holy. We pray that your kingdom will come. Give us the food we need for each day. Forgive our sins, just as we forgive everyone who has done wrong to us. And don't let us be tempted
As you read through the Old Testament you will see that God has several names, or more likely people use several different names for God to describe His personality. In Jeremiah 31 the Prophet calls God Elohim when referring to His strength. In Genesis 16 Hagar calls God El Roi because God had seen her distress and plight after being treated harshly by Sari. In the 23rd Psalm David describes God as His Shepherd or Yahweh-Rohi. And the pious Jews refused to even pronounce the name of God because they didn’t want to be accused of saying His name in vain.
Jesus had all of these names available to Him but He used πατ?ρ (Pa-tear), or in good Alabama English, He just called God Dad.
For some of you that is comforting, and for some of you that is terrifying. A lot of that depends on the type of relationship that you had with your dad. There are some people here today that think a little child in the dark who calls out for comfort knowing that dad will come in and chase away the monsters. For others here your dad was the monster. And still for others the idea of a dad is nonexistent. The truth is that there is not a single person in this room today or watching on TV that had the perfect earthly dad. Some of us had dad’s who tried real hard and there were times that they came up short, and then others had dad’s who just didn’t care.
Think about the apostles for a moment. The God they knew was the God of the Old Testament, and not the grace filled stories where God shows His love and mercy. They grew up on the stories of God cursing the evil doers. If you were sick, that was because God was angry with you. If you had a child born blind or if you have a husband pass away that was a direct result of God’s displeasure with you. Yes God would smite His enemies, but He wasn’t opposed to smiting His children as well. In their world, God was seen as this distant deity that ruled through fear and punishment.
If that wasn’t discouraging enough, think about the story of Job and you can imagine they got really nervous. If you are sinful you get sickness, but if you are faithful you get tested. And not just a quick little pop quiz, you get boils and sores. You lose your children, your flock, and your livelihood. In the world of the apostles God was scary, and they followed Him out of fear and obligation. Does that sound familiar to anyone?
Jesus introduces this new idea about God; God is not some distant deity looking for the opportunity to cause pain and chaos in your life. God is a source of comfort, love, peace, and hope. It’s a story that Jesus tells quite a few times. Jesus wants us to understand that God loves us like a dad.
I think one of the reasons so many of us struggle with our prayer life is because we don’t really know God. God continues to be something out there in the universe far beyond the sun. God is so far removed from us, that He would never hear us or begin to understand us. We are separated from Him and to be honest a lot of us are scared of Him. We wouldn’t put that on bumper sticker or wear a shirt that says God scares me; but the truth is we are scared of Him and not in a fear of the lord is the beginning of knowledge sort of way. We tend to be afraid of the things that we cannot control or understand. So God stays shrouded in mystery. Even though we are not really thrilled with this relationship, we live with it because it is what we know.
Jesus is trying to teach us that a distant uncaring God is not a true description of who God is in our lives. Jesus describes God as our Dad because He wants us to find comfort in knowing Him. The better we know God the easier it is to talk with Him. That’s what I want. I want to hear the boy’s voice. I want them to tell me about their day, about the things that bring them joy, and the things that cause them concern. I want then to talk to me, because it’s so important to hear them and let them know that they are loved and cared for.
When Jesus tells us to address God as our Dad, He is not worried about setting up a proper protocol or making sure we say the right words or phrases. Instead He is trying to establish the relationship and mood of how we approach God. When I talk to my dad, we generally talk about two different things: first, we talk about his concerns, and secondly we talk about my concerns. I talk to my dad about what he’s doing in his workshop or with his barbershop chorus, or what’s happening in his spiritual life and the life of the church family he’s a part of. And I talk to him about how he’s feeling physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But there is also a time in that conversation where we talk about my concerns. We talk about the boys, or how this work is going, and if I am being so good to Trista that I am making every other wife jealous. That’s normal conversation for me and my dad.
As I spent time reading through this prayer this week, I have noticed the same thing happening. Jesus says that when we talk to God we talk about the things that concern Him: His name and His Kingdom. But we also talk to God about the things that concern us: our food, our forgiveness, and our direction. God just wants to talk about the things that matter. Jesus is not trying to teach us a prayer that we can recite from memory in our sleep; He wants to establish the guidelines of how we are talk to God. He wants us to remember the power that resides in our God: your name will always be kept holy and Your Kingdom come. And Jesus needs to remind us of God’s compassion and love for us: Give us the food we need, Forgive our sins, and don't let us be tempted.
From the very beginning, that’s the relationship that God has always wanted to have with us. Let me show you what I mean; look in Genesis 3. In the first two chapters of Genesis we see that God created everything we can see, feel, touch, and taste. And at the end of creation He said that everything was good. Adam and Eve, the crowing achievement in His creation, are in the garden and they spend their days working in the garden and talking with God.
Let’s pick up the story in verse 8: That evening they heard the LORD God walking in the garden, and they hid from him among the trees. But the LORD God called out to the man, "Where are you?" He answered, "I heard you in the garden; I was afraid and hid from you, because I was naked." "Who told you that you were naked?" God asked. "Did you eat the fruit that I told you not to eat?”
Does that sound like a conversation that you have ever had in your home? Think about it, you come walking into the house and you hear your son running to the back of the house and shut his bedroom door. You call out, Hey what are you doing? Come here I want to see you. So he sheepishly walks out of the back of the house and you see chocolate all around his mouth and up by his ear. So you ask him, Did you get into that chocolate cake? and he responds, I was hungry and it was just sitting on the counter and …… Well you know the rest of the story.
Those are conversations that we have with our kids. And apparently those are conversations that God wants to have with us. From His first conversations in that garden, to Abraham, to Moses, to Joshua, Job, and Gideon are all the same. The Bible is full of people who are having conversations with God. That’s how God wants us to talk with Him, to have a conversation with Him. He’s not concerned with the words that we use, what He desires is that we talk. I like to tell folks who come into my office as long as there is conversation, there is hope. That’s not just true for relationships and marriages that’s true for our spiritual life as well.
Everything in your Bible is there for a reason. They are written under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and they are constructed to tell us a story about God and His desire for our lives. That’s why Luke followed his story about the disciples wanting to know how to pray with the story of another parable Jesus told. Let’s look at that story in Luke 11:5-8. (Read Text)
We don’t have the time this morning to look into the Middle Eastern laws regarding customs. But let me just say that hospitality was HUGE in the first century. If a traveler arrived and needed a place to stay and food to eat you were under obligation to provide it for them. Remember there were no McDonalds or Holiday Inn’s and failure to show hospitality was grounds to be sued or thrown in jail. So this man has a real problem and he needs some help.
What I need you to notice is that Jesus has made a subtle change here. He has gone from the idea of calling God dad, to now He says, Suppose one of you has a friend. The man in need is not going to a complete stranger, he’s going to a friend. Someone that he has a history and a relationship with. Someone he trusts, and that changes the tone of the conversation.
How do you talk with your friends? Personally when I talk with a friend we throw formality out the window. Earlier this month our small group took a trip to Dismal’s Canyon. As we road on the van together our conversation wasn’t tense or formal or calculated; it was loose and free. We were honest and open with one another. We talked about the things that were sources of thanksgiving in our lives, and we talked about the things that caused us concern and heartache.
That’s how we talk with our friends, and that’s how we should talk to God. After all Jesus says in John 15: The greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them. And you are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because a servant does not know what his master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father.
Jesus is your friend because He gave His life for you. He laid down His life every day and He bent to the will of God. He traveled to Jerusalem, was unfairly tried, and beaten, and then went to Golgotha so that we could have the chance to talk with God. The Hebrew writer says in Hebrews 4:16 let us approach the throne of grace with boldness. Jesus gave His life so that we could have the amazing opportunity to talk with God, the One who holds all of the power, who created us, and has this amazing love for us. It’s His love for us that allows us to boldly approach the throne with confidence.