Checkups in the interest of well-being are familiar features of modern life. You take your car in for its yearly MOT. You buy software that scans your computer’s hard drive for corrupt files and other nasty things and gently heals them for optimum performance. As you get older – you’re wise to get check ups on your physical health and take seriously any treatments recommended.
What about your spiritual health? Is that any different?
On Wednesday we began that season in the church year called Lent. It’s been observed throughout the Christian church since the 3rd Century: 40 lent-gthening days of preparation leading up to Holy Week (recalling Jesus’s death) and Easter(celebrating his resurrection). Lent is not just about giving up chocolate. It is a season of check up. it’s a time to look to our spiritual health. A time of self searching, of repentance, of healing and renewal.
And so for these weeks of lent begins we’re going to focus on renewing our lives of prayer. Prayer is so vital to our spirtual health.
Let me start with 3 observations
The first one is that statistics show that everyone no matter what they believe prays at some time. Even my hairdresser Dave who never goes to church told me that he prayed when he was having a heart attack. When the chips are down. When someone you love is ill, when you find yourself in a desperate situation you pray. It’s a natural response.
Second: most people find a life of prayer very difficult. Many of us want to pray but we just feel like we have no words. We pray for thirty seconds but then we give up we get distracted, we get bored. OR we’d like to pray but we just lack faith.. John Calvin defined prayer as ‘the chief act of faith’ so we don’t pray because we don’t really believe.. OR we think we’re just too bad to pray, God doesn’t want to hear me.. i’m just a failure..i’m in the midst of my sin when i’ve cleaned up my act then i’ll pray OR we’d like to pray but we just feel no desire to do so - maybe we’re just disappointed with God, feel let down by him.. he hasn’t answered our prayers. what’s the point? Finally, we don’t pray because it just feels like a dry duty. And if God knows better than I do what i need and he’s sovereign - he’s going to do what he’s going to do anyway - why bother praying?
When Jesus’ disciples were confused about prayer and how to pray. They asked Jesus to teach them. Here in Luke 11 we’re slowing right down to hear Jesus’ teaching on prayer. If you don’t know how to do something - you’re probably not going to succeed, you’re gonna give up. But why not listen to someone who does know how to do it??
We’re going to enter Jesus’ school for prayer
And this afternoon we will focus on just one word which Jesus teaches is utterly utterly foundational to prayer. The doorway to kick start your prayer life..
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 [Jesus] said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
this is the foundation of all prayer. Father
Jesus doesn’t begin with whats or hows but with who. If we are ever to truly pray it is not subjects or methods that we need. We need to know who it is that we are invited to pray to..
What does it teach us about prayer that we pray to the Father?
well 3 things:
First and it’s so obvious and yet we need to see it.
by saying Father we see that prayer is about Communicating with a person.
When someone becomes a Christian. Turns away from their sins and brokenness and puts their trust in JC and his cross. When that happens you are adopted into God’s family. He becomes your father and you become his child. As a result you begin a personal relationship with God. That relationship is developed through prayer. Just as human relationships are developed through conversations as we get to know each other better. My relationship with my wife is developed through conversation. If I didn’t talk to her it wouldn’t develop. So prayer develops our relationship with God as we talk to and have a conversation with him. If we don’t pray our relationship with God won’t develop.
But what are we going to talk about?
How should I begin? What words should I use with this Parent of mine up there in the sky?
Where do i find the words? Where do i find the faith??
There is a sense in which ‘All speech is answering speech.’ Let me explain.
How did you learn to talk? Babies do not enter the world and then immediately speak. That would be so weird wouldn’t it? Freaky! Neither are toddlers left to search to find words and language within themselves. No from the earliest days your parents speak to you - in simple words and sounds and loving tones that you heard and learned and when you were ready you said ‘duck’ or ‘mama’.
All speech is answering speech.
And that is true with our Father God.
We need to think about the overwhelming previousness of God’s speech to our prayers.
In one sense.. God’s blessings to us in our lives. Things we’re thankful for. God’s own recognisable answers to our prayers are part of his side of the conversation. But there is an overwhelming previousness to our speaking to God and that is God speaking to us in his word - the Bible, the gospel and supremely speaking to us through his Son, Jesus.
Prayer is not really asking God for things and getting upset when we don’t get things our way. We can of course ask for things we’re commanded to and we’ll address the problem of seeming unanswered prayers in these weeks. But prayer doesn’t begin there. Prayer is God centred and it is responding to God’s speech. The continuation of a conversation that God has started.
We can pray at any time. Ideally we’re conscious of God throughout our day, giving thanks, enjoying him, seeking his help, praying for that person. But our voice of prayer will dry up if we are not reading the Bible as God’s word to us.. His love letter to us.
We often don’t pray because our faith, our belief in God as the source of reality get’s drowned out by the immediacies of the world around us. If we are not feeding our faith by hearing his voice in his word, by encountering His presence which is more real than reality itself then we won’t pray - we’ll have nothing to say.
But if we do just read the Scriptures as from God our answering voice will emerge..
So that’s the first thing Father tells us. Prayer is communicating with someone. Responding to God’s speech
2 Second by saying Father we see that prayer is based on grace not on performance.
The way a child relates to their parents is very different to the way an employee relates to their boss. Your relationship with your boss at work is based on performance. But a child’s relationship with their parents is based on grace. As a father I am really bothered about the behaviour of my children because i want them to live well, i want them to honour God, and because in some sense my reputation is connected with them and what they do. But my childrens’ position in our family is not dependent on how they perform. At the end of the day they are my children even if they don’t perform well.
We all know what happens to employees who don’t perform well. You’re fired!
But that is not the relationship we have with God. God does not fire any of his children. And so we can approach God in prayer with confidence not fear knowing that our standing with him as sons and daughters is based on grace not on how well we are doing.
That means we can pray just as we are. We don’t need to clean ourselves up first. We can come to God as his children anytime. It’s all by grace.
Donald Trump. whether you like it or not, is the most powerful man in the world.
There was a great picture of the Oval office that i saw online earlier today. Donald was sat at his desk surrounded by maybe 30 or 40 suits standing looking at the camera ready to act.. And in the foreground on one of the cream sofas with her feet up not looking at the camera is a woman who I assume is one of Trump’s daughters.
See .. you have to be someone very powerful or influential to get an appointment with Donald Trump. You have to go through so much red tape and checks to even get close. But if you’re his child - you can walk into the oval office pretty much anytime you like.
I’m aware as I talk about God as a Father that some of us have not had good experiences of fatherhood but we all know what a good father should be like that’s why we get angry when we see or experience bad examples of fatherhood. When it comes to fatherhood earthly fathers are not the standard for God but our Father God is the standard for earthly fathers. He is the perfectly loving, perfectly wise, perfectly good Father who loves and cares for us his children.
think you’re just too bad to pray? God doesn’t want to hear me.. i’m just a failure..i’m in the midst of my sin when i’ve cleaned up my act then i’ll pray…
No - you’re his child. He longs for you to answer him. He’s constantly talking to you. he feels compassion for you in your sin. Turn to him.. Run into his arms. He loves you.
3. by saying Father we see that Prayer is to be taken up into the very life of God.
Look again at how our passage begins One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray…
One day Jesus was praying ..
He actually does this all the time, Jesus. Read the gospels. He’s always going off to pray by himself. He does it so much that’s why the disciples say teach us what you’re doing..
But - don’t you find it weird that Jesus prays all the time? cos I do. Cos this is God praying to God. What does this say about Jesus? When he came to our world, took upon himself our human nature. Did he kind of make himself then less than God the Father for a time - so he had to depend on Him in prayer - cos when he does pray he asks for a lot of stuff.
Well the RC Theologian Karl Rahner puts it like this (and i think he’s bang on). "the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity, and the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity". That is to say, God communicates Himself to humanity ("economic" Trinity) as He really is in the divine Life ("immanent" Trinity). Put it another way the relationship that we see Jesus the Son sharing with his Father in the gospels is how God is in eternity. The Father didn’t become Father when he adopted us. Jesus didn’t become the Son when he came into the world.
No God in himself IS from all etenity: A Father constantly giving life to and lavishing his love on his Son who is eternally receiving from and praising his Father and that flow of life and love IS the unity of the Holy Spirit!!!
And you see …
When we become Christians, adopted as God children. You have to understand that you’re not just being forgiven, you’re not just given a place in a childrens home NO you’re united with Jesus in order to be drawn RIGHT INTO the very centre of the trinitarian LIFE of God!
And you see when you PRAY - all three persons of the Trinity are involved. You are expressing the trinitarian life. You pray to the Father above you, through the Son alongside you by the Holy Spirit within you. The Spirit is the wind in the sails of our prayer as he catches us up into the Son’s love for the Father… testifying to us that we are God’s loved children and causing us to cry ‘Abba.. Father’ We’re brought into the divine fellowship. The Spirit of the Son cries to the Father through us!
Think about this: If God WAS a single, independent person (the Muslim God) - then independence would be the godly thing. That would be how to be like God. To be closest to what reality really is would be for me to be self sufficient and alone!
But that is not God. Not the deepest reality. No, God is a Father loving his Son who receives that love in the praise of the Spirit. And so as the Son always depends on the Father THAT is the nature of Christian godliness. Being a Christian, a child of God is first and foremost all about receiving, asking and depending. Growing as a Christian is not about feeling more self sufficient it’s about feeling ever more needy and if you feel needy you will pray..
And when you are on your knees, literally or figuratively, in prayer enjoying the care of a powerful Father. That is when you are at the heart of reality.
WOW! Prayer!! WOW!
Enjoy your prayer life.