Midweek Lent 3
“Pray This Way”
I’ve never been a fan of “How-to” sermons. “How to raise a healthy teenager” or “How to affair-proof your marriage”. Sermons are about what Jesus does for you, not how you can do something for him (or worse) for yourself.
But here in our Lenten series on the catechism, we come do the Lord’s Prayer. And in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus gives us this prayer of prayers, he gives it as a “how to”. Odd.
“Don’t pray like this. And don’t pray like that. But here’s how to pray…” he says. Is Jesus simply giving us a new law? A new set of commands about how we must approach God in prayer? Is this a school lesson in the how-to’s of proper prayer etiquette?
Is it all about me and what I should do or must do or fail to do?
Or is there actually Gospel here, good news for you and me? Consider the Lord’s Prayer today, also with the help of Dr. Luther, and see how Jesus is giving much more than a practicum on prayer.
Jesus does give instructions, though. He addresses two poor patterns of prayer. One is the “prayer to be seen” and the other the “prayer to be heard”. The “prayer to be seen” is the kind of prayer that isn’t really a prayer but is a public show. So that everyone can see how pious you really are. I don’t know how many of us make a scene of our prayers like those ancient Pharisees did, but pride is always lurking. Do you ever feel puffed up about your church attendance? Do you ever feel better than so-and-so because, well, “I live out my faith. I give money and time and I help with this-and-that at church” And if you mention it to someone in conversation, well, we don’t mind if they think better of us. Because after all, we are good Christians, right? Can you hear the voice of pride squeaking and squawking?
Then there are the “prayers to be heard”. Like the Gentiles, Jesus said, who rattled on and on expecting their many words would have the desired effect. Maybe this isn’t exactly us either. But they were praying hard, and we can pray hard too. And maybe we think if we just pray hard enough or long enough or use the right words, then God will have to do what we want. He’ll have to give me what I want. After all, doesn’t it say, “ask and ye shall receive”? But this kind of prayer turns God into a butler at best. Or an eager bellhop who stands ready to do our selfish bidding. Jesus says, “don’t heap up empty phrases”. So what should our phrases be filled with?
Jesus gives the model prayer. The Lord’s Prayer. “Pray like this”. But it’s more than an instruction manual or even an outline or a lesson on prayer (though it is all those things). The Lord’s Prayer shows us a Lord who wants to give us good things. A Lord who knows what we need better than we do. A Lord who brings daily bread and daily forgiveness. A powerful prayer. A perfect prayer.
Our Father, who art in heaven – Jesus shows that God is our loving Father, not our angry ruler. He is a heavenly Father, whose power to give us good things exceeds all earthly fathers.
Hallowed is his name – God’s name is holy whether we pray or not. But here we pray that we too might keep it holy in our lives.
Let your kingdom come – God’s reign and rule in the hearts of man comes – when and where he wants it. But we want it to come and to increase among us too.
Thy will be done – Again, this happens whether we pray or not. But we do pray that God’s will would be done in our lives. That I, personally, would live as God would have me. And that I, personally would receive his forgiveness when I fail to.
God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will. First we seek the things of God in prayer. The rest of what we ask flows from these three.
Daily Bread – Daily, that is, today’s portion. Don’t worry about tomorrow, Jesus says. God will provide for our needs. “Give us bread” Lord, means that even when we think we are earning it ourselves, everything we have is still from his generous hand.
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. We love because we’ve been loved. We are merciful because we’ve been shown mercy. We forgive because we are forgiven.
A trespass is “going where you shouldn’t go”. And we do that all the time when we sin. We go where God forbids. But Jesus went where he didn’t have to go – to the cross – to forgive such trespassing. His love has no boundaries – it is wide enough to include all boundary-breakers. But it’s also powerful enough to make us forgiving too.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Our enemies abound. Sin, death and the devil. Temptations and sufferings meet us at every turn. But fear not. Jesus wouldn’t tell you to pray for deliverance if he didn’t think God would answer yes. God does guard us from temptation. He does deliver us from evil.
He delivers us from the accusations of the Devil by forgiving all our offenses. He delivers us from our own sinful nature – by washing us with his baptism. And he delivers us from the final evil – death itself – with the new life, now and eternal, that he gives.
Our Father in heaven would hear our prayer. Jesus tells us to ask for those good gifts – God’s name, God’s kingdom, God’s will – our daily bread, our forgiveness, and our deliverance. And God grants all this and more only for the sake of Christ – the only begotten Son who by his cross has made the Father, Our Father.
Pray like this. Pray to the good and gracious God who would give you such blessings in His Son. Pray as Jesus taught, assisted by His Spirit.
The Lord’s Prayer, in as much as it is a “how-to”, tells us much and more about the “who” and the “what” of prayer. The who is the gracious Father, who welcomes our prayers in the name of his Son. The what is everything for which we pray – and more – good gifts he wants to give, and for which we look to him in faith.
Our Father in heaven, grant all these things for Jesus’ sake. Amen.