Talking with God

Talking with God

Last October we considered Matthew’s version of a prayer that we recite each week during the service, the Lord’s Prayer. This morning we have an opportunity to look at Luke’s shortened version of the same prayer. I’m always grateful that there are so many accounts of events in Jesus’ life that are recorded by more than one Gospel writer. As is the case with us when we’re re-telling a story or recalling an event, different things strike different Gospel writers. And though they have all been inspired by God to accurately record what they have witnessed or known, the slightly different emphases provide an opportunity for us to understand Scriptural truths and events through fresh eyes and perspectives.

In the case of Luke, the Gentile physician who became a follower of Jesus, he introduces the Lord’s prayer by noting “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place” (1). I don’t know why this struck me this past week, but it never occurred to me to ask why the disciples may have requested that Jesus teach them to pray in the first place. In Matthew’s version, The Lord’s Prayer is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Matthew includes this prayer as one of the many things Jesus addressed in that sermon and introduces it with, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.”[1] In Jesus’ sermon, these instructions about how not to pray, in Matthew 6, are followed by instructions for the proper way to pray, namely, “go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (6). And it culminates with “This, then, is how you should pray” (9) followed by the version of the Lord’s Prayer we are most familiar with (9–13).

But in Luke’s recounting, Jesus’ prayer isn’t presented as part of a larger body of preaching but is precipitated by his disciples witnessing him as he was praying. It’s important to keep in mind that during the time of the early church—following the practice of the Jewish temple and synagogue—prayers were usually prayed out loud, not silently as is more our custom. So it is likely that as Jesus prayed, his disciples actually heard what he was saying and, if John 17, one of the most extended prayers of Jesus that the New Testament has recorded for us is any indication, Jesus knew how to pray beautifully and powerfully. So it’s no wonder his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray as well. But, too, as the text states, John the Baptist’s disciples had taught them how to pray. So Jesus’ disciples are also tapping into a broader cultural practice. During this time it was expected that religious teachers would teach their disciples to pray.[2] So Jesus’ disciples similarly wanted to learn how they ought to pray.

On a tangential note, we needn’t be concerned that Matthew and Luke differ in their recounting of how the Lord’s Prayer came about for, like most good preachers, Jesus probably knew the importance of repetition. Did you catch that? Jesus knew the importance of repetition. So it is possible and likely that he taught this prayer on more than one occasion. Too, though Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is abbreviated when compared to Matthew’s, if your Bible contains footnotes, they probably indicate something to the effect of “some manuscripts add” with the additions being closer to Matthew’s version. The reason for the discrepancies is because there were numerous ancient manuscripts of the New Testament books from which the final version was put together and they can differ in minor details. So though translation committees make decisions about the most likely version, they include possible alternative versions in the footnotes as well.

Returning to Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, in this account Jesus consents to his disciples’ requests and provides an abridged version of the Lord’s Prayer. It begins with an acknowledgement of God, who is Father to us all,[3] who is head of the family of all who believe in him, and acknowledges that even his name is “hallowed” or to be honored as holy. This hearkens back to one of the commandments given to Moses in the Old Testament which states this same notion negatively: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God” (NIV) or, as we’re more used to hearing it, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7).[4] Names are important in Scripture for they represent a person’s reputation.[5] As such names are representative of the person[6] and this is true even of—or perhaps especially of—the name of the LORD. To hallow God’s name—to honor God’s name—is to honor and respect God himself.

After placing the focus of prayer upon our loving Father in whose image we are made, Jesus turns next to the orientation we as his disciples are to have, “your kingdom come” (2). To pray for God’s kingdom to come is to pray that things on earth would be as God intended in the first place. Though we live in a fallen world, in a world marked by self-interest rather than an interest for God and his will, followers of Jesus Christ should desire for the proper order of creation to be restored in which our primary concern is [1] to love, please, and serve God; [2] love please, and serve each other; and [3] to love and care for this world in which we’ve been placed—and in that order. We are to pray for God’s shalom—for God’s peace—to be restored. And with the coming of Jesus Christ to earth—he who is God in human form, who is King over all creation—God’s kingdom, too, arrived on earth. And one day we can rest assured that God will complete his plan and he will implement his kingdom completely. One day, the devastating effects of the Fall will be completely removed and we will have unencumbered love for the God who made us in his image, for all whom he has made in his image, and for the creation which even now reflects his power, beauty, provision, and care.

Next, Jesus teaches that we’re to acknowledge that all good things ultimately come from our Father. So Jesus encourages us to ask—each day—for our daily bread (3). Though it’s especially easy for those of us living in the relative wealth of the United States to take our meals for granted, Scripture reminds us that even something as mundane as our daily bread is a gift, a provision, from our loving and heavenly Father. To ask for daily bread is a reminder to us that God cares for us not just once a day but all throughout the day as he meets our physical needs.[7]

Next, we’re to acknowledge not only our need for God in the material sphere but also in the moral sphere, asking that our Father forgive us our sins, asking that he forgive us our inability and even lack of desire at times to place him and his priorities—to place his kingdom—at the center of our lives. To ask God to forgive us our sins is to ask to be reconciled to him—to have our relationship with him restored—when we’ve turned away from or ignored or intentionally done those things which violate his holiness. And forgiving us is precisely what he desires to do for he has created us for fellowship with himself and so he loves to forgive us our sins because he loves us and desires a close relationship with us.

And, having addressed the centrality and importance of the relationship we’re to have with our Father who has made us and loves us with his unfathomable love, Jesus then transitions to the relationship we’re to have with one another. So we’re to pray, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us” (4) for how can we expect God to forgive us our sins if we refuse to forgive the sins of others? Do you see how practical Scripture is? Have you ever been relieved when you’ve asked forgiveness of someone for something you’ve done and they’ve forgiven you? Isn’t it s joy to have the relationship return to normal? To be forgiven by someone can lead to an even closer bond because it demonstrates that love can be unconditional—that it can see beyond our fault and see our need—that, to use Paul’s words from his so-called love chapter in I Corinthians 13, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (7). This is how we’re to act towards one another for our Lord not only loves to be in relationship with his children but he loves for his children to be in relationship with each other. Don’t most parents beam when their children get along with care for each other? So it is with our heavenly Father!

Brothers and sisters, an important part of what God wants for us is not only that we know, love, and serve him, but also that we know, love, and serve each other. So if we are asking our heavenly Father for the forgiveness of our sins; if we are expressing regret at the times that we think, act, and feel in ways that are contrary to what he desires for us, then we should allow that reality affect the way we treat each as well. So when a brother or sister acts in a way that is hurtful towards us, we, too, are to forgive for we know our own sin; we know our own need. And this knowledge should lead us to be generous in forgiving even those who hurt us because we know our own capacity to hurt both God and others.

And, knowing that our heavenly Father is sovereign over all things and that we don’t always choose the things that are most in keeping with God’s desires for us, Jesus ends his teaching on prayer by encouraging his disciples to pray that they will not be led into temptation (4). Jesus knows that too often we love sinning more than we love holiness. And so we’re to acknowledge our weakness, we’re to acknowledge our need, and pray God’s help to live the lives he has created for us to live.

As we saw when considering the passage of the Good Samaritan two weeks ago, and the account of Martha and Mary last week, in this passage immediately following those two, we continue to see Luke bringing home in extremely practical ways, Jesus’ teaching on the Greatest Commandment—that we are to love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. In the end, the way that God has made us and the world that we inhabit makes it impossible to say that we love God while we hate our neighbor; and it’s equally impossible, in God’s sovereign design, to say that we love our neighbor if we don’t love God. So having presented the vertical, God-ward, and horizontal, neighbor-ward, emphases in the Lord’s prayer, Luke next records some examples provided by Jesus that are a natural out-working of both of God– and neighbor–love.

Jesus next said to his disciples, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” This first example assumes and builds upon the importance of hospitality in Middle-Eastern cultures. In this instance you find yourself in a pickle because a friend on a long journey—and therefore a friend who is no doubt hungry—has dropped in on you but you have no food to offer (6). In Jesus’ day it would have been viewed as unthinkable for a host to have nothing to set before his guest.[8] Despite the late hour—it’s midnight—you go to the home of a friend to ask for some food—three loaves of bread (5). But, given the time of day, your friend, in essence, tells you to go away.

Don’t you love how real this example is? I suspect that if we were telling this story, we would say that the friend, being a good believer, happily got up and helped you out. But Jesus is more realistic. Instead of getting up, your friend states the obvious—“Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, …my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything” (7). Still you persist in knocking to the point that your friend eventually gets up and complies with your request (8). Now translations differ here—some have “impudence;” others have “persistence;” the NIV Bible in our pews has “shameless audacity.” But the point is the same. A friend who is disinclined to help you out in your moment of need nonetheless comes and helps you. And perhaps it’s worth adding that though this friend may be judged to be inconsiderate of you, he was being considerate of his sleeping family. Homes were smaller at this time so for one person to get up, would’ve affected the entire household. Still, if even this reluctant friend gives in to your refusal to go away, how much more will our heavenly Father who is always eager to love us be responsive to our prayers and needs!

Jesus makes this very point, encouraging us to ask—and seek—and knock (9) that our Father in heaven might open the door—might respond to our need. Asking, seeking, and knocking remind us that prayer should be a way of life for us.[9] How else will we ever receive—and find—and have our Father’s door opened to us? (10) Now Jesus doesn’t specify what, precisely, we will receive, find, and have opened to us. I don’t think the point is, necessarily, that we’ll get exactly what we are asking for we don’t always ask for things that are good for us. As little children may ask to have cake for lunch but be given a sandwich, we can be sure that whatever our heavenly Father provides, will be what we need. The point here is that because our Father in heaven is a Person, we should seek to cultivate a personal relationship with him—and this involves talking with him, acknowledging our need, letting him know what is troubling us, letting him know what is on our minds. Regardless of whether or not he chooses to give us exactly what we ask, the real reward is that when we ask, we are provided an opportunity to draw closer to him as we get to know our heavenly, loving, kind, and compassionate Father who created us to know him. And, again, if even a friend who is disinclined to help us out in our moment of need comes and helps us out, how much more will our heavenly Father—who is always inclined to help us—be responsive to our prayers and needs!

Jesus continues with the theme of asking by next stating, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (11–12). Fish and eggs were common foods in Palestine. Similarly, snakes and scorpions were common hazards.[10] Since parents love and provide for their children, if their children were to ask for food, surely their parents wouldn’t give them poison instead. Then notice what Jesus says next in verse 13, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” To say that we are evil is to acknowle that all of us have been affected by Fall—that all of us are now self-oriented rather than other-oriented—therefore all of us are in need of a relationship with God. Though as a result of the Fall we are selfish—even we will seek to provide good gifts for our children. And if this is the case with us, who suffer the effects of the Fall upon our very being, then how much more will our heavenly Father who is Goodness itself provide gifts according to his good character when we ask him.

And the best gift, Jesus ends, that we could ever ask our Father for isn’t a material one like fish or eggs. Do you remember Jesus’ response when he was tempted by the devil —after 40 days of fasting in the desert—to turn stones to bread. He turned to Satan and said: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”[11] The point there—as it is here—is that our real needs aren’t simply material but spiritual. You and I could have every single one of our physical needs met: we could have enough food; we could have healthy body and minds; we could have adequate clothes; we could have the shelter of a home. But if we have all of these things and don’t know God, we are most impoverished of all people. Conversely, if we have God’s Holy Spirit—which is another way of saying that we have responded to God’s gift of love—to his gift of a relationship with himself, then even if we lack food, or health, or clothing, or shelter, we are, of all people, the most rich for we have a relationship with God and can talk with our Father in heaven every day, any time, and know that he hears us; and know that he loves us.

My dear brothers and sisters, do you see what’s being said here? The whole purpose of this passage is that prayer is a key means God has provided for us to know him, and knowing him, to love him, and loving him, to serve and love those whom he’s placed in our lives. For what is prayer but conversing with God? What is prayer but talking with God? What is prayer but turning to God at any and all times, individually and corporately, that we might know him more? That we might know his love for us more?

Though God is Spirit, he is also a Person and as a Person, we can have a relationship with him. We were made by him, in his image, for the express purpose of having a relationship with him.

As we keep seeing time and again, since the time of the Fall, you and I need to be taught what love for God and love for others looks like. And this is the reason for the many instructions Scripture provides. To love God is make him the center of our lives. It’s to realize and embrace the fact that he is not here to serve us, but we are here to love and serve him. It’s to want what he wants and to discover along the way that what he wants is what will ultimately bring us the most contentment and joy—a relationship with him. It is in wanting what Gods wants that we will find the purpose of our earthly and eternal lives—loving God and loving others. And prayer—talking with God—and studying Scripture that we might learn about who God is and learn his will—and having fellowship with one another are the means to the wonderful end of knowing the God who made us and loves us far more than we could ever imagine.

Let us pray.


[1] Matthew 6:5.

[2] Reformation Study Bible note.

[3] Pater in Greek; Reformation Study Bible—Abba in Aramaic, the usual word for addressing a father in the family.

[4] Also recorded in Deuteronomy 5:11.

[5] Crossway/ESV Study Bible.

[6] Reformation Study Bible.

[7] Reformation Study Bible.

[8] Reformation Study Bible.

[9] RSB.

[10] RSV.

[11] Matthew 4:4 quoting Deuteronomy 8:3: He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

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