Jesus' teaching on prayer. 11:1-13
A rabbi would normally teach his disciples how to pray, and prompted by a question, Jesus sets out to examine this subject with his disciples. The kingdom of God is bursting in on Jesus' disciples and so their prayer-life should reflect this reality. They need to pray for the coming reign of God, forgiveness in his sight and protection in the time of testing. Kingdom blessings are here for the asking - forgiveness, acceptance and resurrection-life through the indwelling Spirit of Christ.
v1. The disciples ask Jesus for a form of prayer that might be uniquely theirs.
v2-4. The prayer, taught by Jesus, is liturgical in form and typically commences with an invocation, ie. an address to God. In the Lord's prayer, God is addressed as "Father"; this is a very intimate address, a sign of the disciples' status before God. Then follows a list of requests that comply with the will of God:
i] "May your name be honored", Phillips. May God be recognized for whom he is.
ii] "May your reign begin", Moffatt. Referring to the glorious coming of the kingdom in the last day, but also its present realization in the life of believers in the present day.
iii] "May we receive each day (day by day) all that is necessary to realize the reign of God." Here, Jesus is referring to the promised work of the Spirit in the life of a believer - gifts and fruit. The word "bread" is used to image the manna once supplied for the wilderness wanderings of the people of Israel. God gives his people what they need for service on the way.
iv] Forgive us our failings, past, present and future. "Forgive us when we fail to serve you faithfully, for even we can forgive, albeit imperfectly." We must always remember that our forgiving is not the ground of God's forgiving, rather, the fact that we can forgive a little reminds us that God can forgive much.
v] "Let us not be overwhelmed by Satan's destructive evil, both now and at the great tribulation (Armageddon)." We will always be tempted and will often fall, but Jesus promises that no temptation, test, or trial has the power to destroy our faith.
v5-8. The Parable of the Midnight Friend draws out a lesson from a neighborly request. "Can you imagine the situation where an old acquaintance arrives on your doorstep at midnight after a long journey, and you have no food in the house to give him a meal, so you go off to a friend's home and ask for some food, but all he does is tells you to get lost and you end up going home empty handed? Of course not; a friend will give you what you need, even if reluctantly."
v9-10. The passage concludes with two sayings. The first saying draws out the implication of the parable. If a friend, at an inconvenient moment, will reluctantly given you what you ask for, imagine what God will do for you when you ask of him. God unhesitatingly meets his obligations when asked; he is always found by those who seek him and will immediately open himself up to those who approach him.
v11-13. The second saying supports the first in that it is a "how much more" lesson. If we know how to give "good gifts" to our children, "how much more" will God give good gifts to his children. The problem lies in understanding the nature of the "good gifts." Luke tells us that the good gift is the "Holy Spirit." Matthew just leaves it as "good things." The gift of the Holy Spirit to the believer does not just entail the gift of the personal presence of the Spirit of Christ in the life of a believer, but all the promised blessings that flow from our union with God through the Spirit. The "good gifts" are the promised blessings of the kingdom, not the presumed needs of believers.
A little prayer will do it
In a BBC production called "Signs and Wonders", the liberal Anglican vicar is restored in his faith through answered prayer. He believes that his prayers have secured the rescue of some trapped coal-miners. At the Thanksgiving service, one of the miners walks out of the church. His remark strikes at the heart of prayer. If God got the trapped miners out of the mine, who put them there in the first place?
The issue of prayer is made complex by pious assumptions. Prayer is talking to God; it can involve many elements, such as thanksgiving, praise, confession..... The only area of difficulty concerns what we call "intercessions" and "supplications." Intercessions are prayer-requests for others, and supplications are prayer-requests for ourselves (lit. to humbly beg).
When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, he gives them a list of proper requests. We call this list the Lord's Prayer. Jesus sets out to underline the fact that God gives us what he promises. We don't have to bash at God's door to receive his promised blessings; he is the perfect loving Father who gives his very person to us, along with all the inherent blessings that are ours in Christ.
The Bible tells us that our prayers should be "according to the will of God." That is, we should ask of God those "good gifts" he has promised to give us. The Lord's Prayer is a list of those "good gifts", gifts we may ask of God in the sure knowledge that they are ours in the asking. As for the rest of our needs, we can certainly speak to Jesus about them, but we should not expect God to act outside his revealed will.
Consider the problem of unanswered prayer. Some say prayers are not answered if our faith is weak, or if there is undisclosed sin in our lives, or we have not persevered in prayer. How does this passage answer the problem of unanswered prayer?
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