If I could live any days of my life over again, I might choose to wake up as a ten-year-old in the spare bedroom of my grandparents’ home. I’d smell coffee brewing and bacon frying. Grits would be boiling on the stove and Grandmother would have her hands in the flour and milk making biscuits, shaping them and placing them on a pan to be placed in the oven to bake.
When they came out piping hot, I’d butter them and get the homemade grape jelly and pear preserves out of the 1950’s era refrigerator and set them on the table, ready to fill up a couple of biscuits like they were the ones that were hungry.
There were many times I watched my grandmother make biscuits, just like the times I watched her peel pears and cut them and get them ready to make preserves. I watched her make blackberry jelly from berries we picked from the woods and grapes we picked from the large grapevine that grew between the chicken house and the cow pasture. I watched her do this many times, but I never learned how to do any of it myself.
The reader is almost halfway through the gospel of Luke before the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. Up until this time, they seem to be doing a lot of watching. Jesus seems to be doing all the praying.
Luke is a very important writer in the New Testament, writing more of the New Testament than any other writer. He takes on this task because he’s concerned that some of the things that had been written about Jesus were either difficult to understand or in Luke’s opinion, not completely accurate. So he does his own investigation. He pulls together his own sources and does his own research and he presents what he found to a man named Theophilus, who was likely a Roman official of some type.
The Jesus that Luke knows is a man who prays. In fact, Luke gives more attention to the prayer life of Jesus than do all the other gospel writers combined.
So, what we learn from chapter eleven is that even after being with Jesus for a year or so, the disciples didn’t know much about prayer. They benefited from it, just like I benefited from my grandmother’s cooking, but if left alone, they didn’t have much understanding about prayer. It’s not that they wouldn’t have figured it out eventually, but when you have a master teacher with you, why not learn?
The disciples are like us. They were lazy. Prayer is a discipline and many of us don’t pray unless we feel it’s a necessity.
Even J.I. Packer who wrote a book called “Praying,” called himself a “needy junior in God’s school of prayer.” He said he resembled the title of one of Martha Grimes’ books, “Help the Poor Struggler.”
If you are a poor struggler in this arena, welcome to the club. Perhaps we can struggle together and improve our status a bit over the next three months.
The irony here is that prayer can be a natural thing. It’s just talking to God, after all. So, why does it come so difficult? What shall we compare it to?
Haven’t you experienced the lump in your throat with your tongue attached to the roof of your mouth when you had opportunity to finally meet and talk to a very special person?
When the moment came, nothing materialized, no words came out, or if they did, they didn’t make much sense. That shame and embarrassment can lead to our not trying. But of course, eventually, we love enough to try anyway, or most of us would never get a date or find a mate.
The Lord understands our struggle, but he wants us to move beyond struggle and we can do that by understanding prayer from Jesus’ perspective.
Why was prayer important to Jesus and when was it important to him?
From Luke’s perspective, prayer was important to Jesus because the temple was important to Jesus.
Not that the temple was the only place to pray. In fact, we find examples of Jesus praying more outside the temple than inside.
However, the temple in Luke has an important symbolic connection with prayer.
Luke starts his gospel in the temple with Zechariah the priest serving before the Lord. He was carrying out his priestly duties and while he was inside, all the worshippers were outside praying.
During their time of prayer, an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah and told him that his prayer had been heard, that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son. This son was John the Baptist.
Luke is the one who tells us that it was Jesus’ custom to go with his parents every year to Jerusalem to the Passover Feast. When they got separated and had to return to Jerusalem to look for him, they finally found Jesus in the temple. Jesus said, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
Later in Luke 19:46, Jesus will quote Isaiah 56:7, when he chased the money changers out of the temple courts saying, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.’”
Luke seems to be connecting the dots between temple and prayer. That would be the natural place for Jesus to have learned the importance of prayer, in the temple, from personal testimonies like those of Zechariah the priest, a family relatives, and in the local synagogue in Nazareth.
If we want prayer to be part of the lives of our children, they have to be taught prayer and prayer has to be practiced both in the home and in the church.
I know a little bit about making biscuits because I watched my grandmother make them, but I’ve never made them from scratch. I never practiced. I know a little bit about making blackberry jelly, because I watched my grandmother make some each summer, but I’ve never made any. I never practiced.
The reason people do not know much about prayer is that they haven’t had much practice.
We will make sure our children are at every kind of practice there is: sports practice, music practice, academic practice, otherwise known as homework. We want them to learn social skills, about nature and money management. The list is endless. In all of these things we are looking to give them opportunities to practice skills because we know that repetition increases their chances of learning skills they need in life.
What about prayer? When do we encourage our children to pray? It’s as if it goes out of style at age six or seven.
Jesus likely learned to pray as a child and prayer became a natural part of his life. By the time he began his ministry, Luke shows us that Jesus’ prayer life was fully developed.
Luke shows us that the first act of ministry in Jesus’ adult life was prayer.
Jesus’ baptism is the beginning of his three-year journey to the cross. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke mention the baptism of Jesus, only Luke tells us that Jesus was praying.
This is actually the first reference to the prayer life of Jesus. It’s significant in Luke because this is the first event mentioned in Jesus’ adult ministry.
Luke is not interested in telling us where this baptism happens. We know from the other gospels that it takes place in the Jordan River. Luke is not interested in telling us that John the Baptist is the one who baptized Jesus. We have to learn that from the others as well. Luke wants us to see the special moment when Jesus was baptized. He wants to draw us in on this intimate moment where Jesus is having a conversation with the Father.
As He does, three things happen.
Heaven is opened.
The Holy Spirit descends.
A voice from heaven speaks to him.
I know that all of you have experienced prayer and wondered if your words went beyond the ceiling.
However, we should go to God in faith, believing that God opens up heaven’s doors to us so that there can be grace where there is debt, that there can be healing where there is sickness, reconciliation where there is separation, prosperity where there is poverty, understanding where there is misinformation, empathy where there are differences, and peace where there is war. While these things are not always granted, they are within God’s granting should He so choose.
We do not have the content of Jesus’ prayer. All we know is what is taking place while Jesus is praying.
What we do know is that after Jesus prayed, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus. The Holy Spirit is empowerment for Jesus. For Luke, the Holy Spirit is a major theme of both his gospel and his second book, The Acts of the Apostles.
Not only is the temple important to Luke, with his gospel starting and finishing at the temple, so is the presence of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life and also in the early church. The Holy Spirit has a direct correlation to the prayer life of Jesus and later to the prayer life of the early church.
If you want the Spirit of God to move in a church, then you must pray. The Lord knows the difference between token prayers and prayers from the heart.
God knows if we just want to watch church happen or if we want to be the church. If we want to be the church, then we will pray.
Do you want God to send us a children’s minister to lead us to a vibrant children’s program? Who is praying? Do you want our church to be a leader in our community in setting the tone for harmony and positive relationships that cut across racial lines? Who is praying? Do you want to see a resurgence of young families unite with us who are willing to use their gifts to make us a stronger church family? Who is praying? Do you want to see a growing and vibrant youth ministry? Who is praying? Do you want to see God bless both of our services? Who is praying? When you feel discouraged in your spirit and that your efforts of hard work within the church do not matter, it is most crucial to pray.
Who is willing to ask the Holy Spirit to descend on our church? Don’t pray or twice, but pray without ceasing until God answers our prayers.
That’s what happened when Jesus was praying. God answered Him. A voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.”
From Jesus’ training he would have recognized these words as pieces of two different scriptures.
The first part is from Psalm 2:7. These were words that were recited at the coronation of the crowning of kings. So at the baptism of Jesus, a new king is being crowned. Jesus must have felt much affirmation with those words.
However, the second part, Isaiah 42:1, is a reference to the servant who suffers and dies on behalf of the people.
God is reminding Jesus as he answers his prayer, at the beginning of his ministry, that he will become a king by becoming a suffering servant.
Prayer is powerful and it is humbling at the same time. What we hear isn’t always easy to hear but we are empowered to face what we must by God’s Holy Spirit.
The biggest problems we face in our lives and the biggest problems we face in the church can be solved and overcome through prayer. Our greatest deficiency is not our problems but our lack of commitment to prayer.
The majority of the issues and challenges we face in our church will be overcome if we will become a praying church.
Most of us are fellow strugglers, but as long as we are not watchers, struggling is fine.
Over the next several weeks of studying Luke’s gospel together, let’s struggle together. Will you decide this morning that you are going to do more than just watch people pray or listen to people pray, but that you are going to pray? (Prayer walk)
You do not have to pray for others to hear, but you may because others benefit from or prayers. No one to embarrass you by calling on you to pray. Prayer is a private matter between you and God. Let’s make a commitment that along with the disciples we will learn to pray.
If we do this together, is it possible that God might open up the heavens to us, allow his Spirit to descend on us, and we might hear the voice of God speak to us.
Only if we make a commitment to learn. Only if we make a commitment to pray. Only if we are open to the moving of the Spirit.