PRAYER: Sermon Series I
Childish or Child-like
Around 25 years ago, the archbishop of Canterbury came to the US. When his plane landed in New York, he was besieged by a number of reporters. One of the early questions thrown at him was “are you going to visit any nightclubs while in NY?” Being a very careful man, he answered, “are there any nightclubs in NY?” You can just imagine the headlines that came out the next week on those newspapers in the supermarket – “ARCHBISHOP’S FIRST QUESTION ON ARRIVAL IN NY – ‘ARE THERE ANY NIGHTCLUBS IN NY?’
Taking a phrase out of context can often get us into trouble. This is especially true of passages in the Bible. One of the special promises about prayer in the Bible is found in Luke 11:9 “ASK AND IT WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU.” Unfortunately many have taken this out-of-context and made claims about prayer that have deceived and disappointed millions.
Today I want to share the most special truth about prayer that I have personally learned. It has liberated me to pray honestly. It has helped me pray confidently. It has kept me from being deceived by enticing but false claims. And makes prayer such a privilege instead of a burden, because it reflects the character of the awesome God we serve. Most of all, I have seen amazing answers which could only have come directly from God Himself.
PROPOSITION: True followers of Jesus Christ have the awesome privilege to be able to request things of Almighty God as a child makes requests of his beloved father.
1. The privilege of prayer
Prayer is a privilege – it is a great privilege. Like any privilege we can make use of it for great gain or we can ignore it and miss the great blessing.
A. Address God as Father – that’s staggering Luke 11:2
We start Luke 11:1 READ. The scene is a familiar one. The disciples feel inadequate when it comes to prayer. Isn’t that how we feel at times? They just heard Jesus pray – it was a lot more effective than their prayers. They remembered the confidence in prayer of the disciples of John the Baptist. Rather than hide behind their embarrassment and pride – one of the twelve humbly came forward and said, “Lord teach us to pray.” We don’t have it together yet. I hope each of us here wants to leave today more confident and better able to pray effectively.
What is Jesus’ teaching (v 2)? “When you pray, say: Father …” At this point a gasp or a murmur would have gone through the crowd. “Did you hear what Jesus just said, He wants us to call God – Father.” This would have taken their breath away – their faces would show a look of surprise, shock, and amazement. Everything else Jesus said after that would have been influenced by this single phrase – “when you pray say FATHER.”
No one at that time called God, Father. God was Almighty and majestic. He was YWHW or Jehovah – a name so majestic they did not speak it out loud. God is called “father” just a few times in the OT – but only as Father over the nation of Israel. Now Jesus was telling them to PERSONALLY refer to God as Father when they prayed. That is simply staggering. That attitude is still true today in the Middle East. Back in the 1960’s a Muslim man committed himself to follow Jesus – that put his life in danger. He couldn’t openly share his faith because of the awful persecution, so he wrote a booklet instead to share his testimony of coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Do you know what he entitled that booklet? What title could possibly capture the most incredible happening in his life? He entitled that testimony booklet, “I dared to call Him Father.” “I dared to call God, Father.” You just don’t do that, UNLESS Jesus has changed everything. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins and His bodily resurrection from the grave, we have the opportunity to have a genuine, dynamic relationship with the real God of the Universe. That allows us the privilege of calling God “Father.” We get to personally come to Almighty God as a child comes to their beloved father.
B. Trust God as Father
It is a privilege to address God as Father. But you may say, “You don’t know my father – he doesn’t care, he doesn’t listen, he doesn’t help and he usually doesn’t want me around.” Jesus doesn’t want us to miss this great privilege so he uses a series of common happenings and analogies in v 1-13 to show how the ordinary follower of Jesus can trust God as Father.
1) God is willing & able (its no bother) Luke 11:5-8
Your dad may be grumpy and not willing to be interrupted when you come to him with a problem – but that’s not your heavenly Father. In v 5-8 Jesus tells the story of a friend who is woken up in the middle of the night – he’s reluctant to help but does so anyways because of his friend’s persistence. If this is how a grumpy friend or dad answers, imagine God’s response – since God is willing & able. You can’t “bother” God with your requests; it is not an imposition; there is no bad time to ask
2) We can come boldly with our requests Luke 11:9-10
Are you afraid to bring your requests to your earthly father? Because he won’t listen or do anything about them? God, the Father, is different. Jesus encourages us to come boldly to our heavenly Father with our requests. READ v 9-10.
3) God answers in grace Luke 11:11-13
Even bad fathers sometimes get it right sometimes. In v 11-13 Jesus points out that even bad dads don’t maliciously give harmful things to positive requests of their children. If human dads, who have an evil, sinful and imperfect nature, know how to give a good gift to their children, imagine what God, the Father, will give since he isn’t limited in any way. In fact God’s reply to our prayers, as His children, is in “grace.” He answers as a Father to a child. If an unknown kid and your own child come up at the same time and ask a favor, who are you more likely to answer? Your own child – because of the relationship!
C. Reject selfish/elitist prayer approaches Luke 11:2-4
If we rightly understand Jesus’ teaching here it will free powerful praying. Unfortunately, some in our day, use this picture of God, as Father, to make prayer into a selfish expression of our sinful wants.
1) Name it and claim it (or “blab it and grab it”)
One I call the “name it and claim it,” maybe we could call it the “blab it and grab it”. “I claim a raise at work. In the name of Jesus, I claim a new car and no health problems this week because my Father is God who owns everything.” It’s also called the word of faith movement. That’s not faith, that’s arrogance.
2) God wants you prosperous
Another I call the prosperity gospel. You pray to take hold of your privilege to be wealthy. Our Father owns everything, shouldn’t the children share in the wealth. After all, didn’t God the Father send Jesus to became poor to make us rich. How backwards: Self-indulgence takes the place of self-control; getting takes the place of giving; being served takes the place of serving.
3) You would be healed if you had enough faith
Both C2 and C3 on your outline are associated with the healthy, wealthy, wise movement. What father who sees his child in pain, doesn’t try to get rid of it. Since God has all power, He always will heal His children. If you aren’t healed it is because you don’t have enough faith. What an awful burden to put on the sick.
4) You haven’t prayed enough; asked enough people to pray, magic words, etc.
You haven’t prayed enough; you haven’t asked enough people to pray, you haven’t said the magic words. Too many see prayer as a performance. Or as my daughter Julie said to me Friday, “They claim if you pray the right thing it will always work” Please reject these selfish and elitist prayer approaches.
Notice that Jesus’ teaching on prayer in v 2-4 totally contradicts these selfish prayer approaches. First we notice that the start of the Lord’s prayer here is different than we learned. Here it just starts, “Father” but we learned it “Our Father who art in heaven”. We learned Jesus’ answer in Matthew which was given at a different time. Jesus taught this truth more than once and He didn’t use exactly the same words each time – because He didn’t want people to think the words were magic – it is the approach, that is most important. Jesus wants us to…
- Focus on God’s person in prayer: “Father, hallowed by your name” – wow you are so great we honor you.
- Focus on God’s agenda in prayer: “your kingdom come” – what I want most is to learn to do what you ask, Lord – please take control of all areas of life.
- Focus on physical needs: “give us each day our daily bread” – Lord I concerned about my lack of hours at work, being picked on at school, my car breaking down and the medical bills. Can you help me?
- Focus on my relationship with God: “forgive us our sins” – Lord I’ve messed up, I need your cleansing and your help. Please give me another chance.
- Focus on my relationship with others & my responsibilities: “for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” – In some small way, I want to make sure I am doing to others, what I am asking You to do for me.
- Focus on spiritual needs: “and lead us not into temptation” – Lord warn me when I flirt with sin, ignore boundaries, focus on myself or face spiritual battles
The context of ask and it will be given is these areas, not get-the-goods-now. I do not believe that one can claim the promise in verse 9-10 for passing examinations without study, always having sunshine on holidays, or for the accumulation of wealth for yourself. It is taking this out of context just as the supermarket tabloids implied that the archbishop got off the plane and immediately wanted to know where the nightclubs were. The thrust here is the glory of God - A prayer where we see God as Father, seek His will and His way. As our beloved Father, we trust that He will answer what is best for us because He knows far more than we do.
2. How to pray - as a child to the Father
So Jesus teaches us that we pray as a child to a beloved Father. What does it mean to pray as a child to the Father? How do we pray as a child to the father? I believe that the answer is very clear when we compare a childish request with a child-like request.
A. Childish Prayers – self focus James 4:3
What is a childish request? I want that toy – I want that coloring book – I want to stay overnight at my friends. I don’t want to go to bed – I don’t want to eat spinach – I don’t want to clean up – I don’t want to tell you where I am going. I want this and if you don’t do it, then you don’t love me. We know childish requests well, don’t we? Some in their ‘60s’ are still addicted to Childish approaches. Childish behavior sees the parent as someone to manipulate to get what they want.
This is exactly what many people want God for. They want to somehow learn how to manipulate Him so that they can get the goods. That’s what all those false views of prayer to God have in common. IF God doesn’t deliver what they want, they give up on Him. They view God like Aladdin & his lamp. By rubbing the lamp, a genie came out and said, “what is your wish my master?” Believe me, God is not our servant
There are many people who are distraught, depressed, and disillusioned because they are looking at God with a childish view – they prayed childish prayers.
- I prayed for a husband and I have no husband – ask and it will be given to you – God out the window.
- I prayed to keep my son safe in the war; he died – I hate God.
- I prayed for a “normal” child and my son was born with deformed hands – God is not worthy of my praise.
But there is probably no greater area that people are praying childish prayers than that of healing today. God heals – and we have seen it. We pray for someone’s healing because we know that God is able to do more than we think or ask. But there is no biblical mandate that He will heal every person and no one will ever die. There are no magic words out there that if we pray them the person will surely be healed. In fact, the Bible says this is a fallen and broken world where we will surely face frustration, pain, sickness and death. It is a dead end road to believe we should be the exception and we should be allowed to have heaven on earth now. Paradise is going to happen in heaven. In our country every year, 10’s of thousands are destroyed by childish prayers. The survivor or sick person rejects God – BECAUSE GOD DID NOT DELIVER THE GOODS ACCORDING TO THEIR PERCEPTION.
You can tell a childish prayer by our reaction when we don’t get what we asked for. We throw a temper tantrum. We get mad at God, we say He isn’t fair, we lash out at church leaders. OR we seek out false teachings that tell us what we want to hear & sin to get what we want now. Childishness is demanding that God does what WE want. As JAMES 4:2-3 says, “You do not have because you do not ask (that is you don’t pray at all). When you ask (that is when you pray), you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
Have you gotten upset at God lately – it’s a sign of a childish attitude, not a child-like one. Now God is not going to zap you – He graciously allows us to get this out in the open. God already knows what you are thinking. But neither will your prayer be answered – God will not be manipulated. Life is very empty when we have a childish attitude towards God and prayer.
B. Childlikeness – trust Heb 5:7-8
So what attitude should we have? We want to pray child-like prayers. We pray as a child to the father. Childishness manipulates, but childlikeness trusts. When we surrender our lives to follow Jesus Christ alone, Jesus establishes a new relationship with us – a relationship between us, as a mere human and the Almighty, Awesome God of the Universe. We become God the Father’s child. We move to the place of trust and assurance. If we think of Aladdin and the lamp, it is us who should say “yes my master, what is your wish” because we start to learn that God’s purposes and desires are always perfect.
How do we make child-like requests? Kids, especially young kids who have a good relationship with their father, ask whatever is on their heart. They are very open and honest. They don’t worry about saying the wrong thing – they aren’t trying to manipulate. They just ask openly and honestly. They trust the parents can do great things and they also know the parents won’t do anything that would harm them. In the winter, when my girls were little, we would go up to the mall for a special Father/ daughter time together. They would inevitably ask me for a quarter to go on those little rides. I would always answer “no.” One time I said “yes.” Do you know what their first question was when they got off the ride – remember I have NEVER done this before – “Dad can we ride again?”
Catch the openness and honesty Jesus wants us to have in prayer. Get rid of your adult analyzing for maximum effectiveness and your teen concern for what others think. Jesus says we can pray openly and honestly to our Heavenly Father. That is how Jesus prayed. At the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that His Father to come up with some other way so He didn’t have to die on the cross for our sins. Intellectually, how could Jesus pray that, since He Himself taught for three years that was the reason He came to earth – Jesus prayed to change something He Himself had decided since the foundation of the world – that’s praying like a child! You don’t have to figure out the exact words to say, you don’t have to decide if your request is even possible – because God will not answer in a way that will harm His children or His bigger plan.
A child is not afraid to ask “why?” Some of you remember the time your kids or brothers and sisters asked that endlessly. They really wanted to know. Even if the child doesn’t totally understand, they still trust the parents answer. That’s why Jesus said after His request in the garden of Gethsemane – “not my will, but Your will be done.” Our requests are “May I” & “would you”, not “you must do” or “I want”. You don’t demand anything from your Heavenly Father. God knows what’s best and we trust His answer even when it is different than we expect. You can tell a childlike prayer because when the answer is different, we accept that as from our loving Father’s Hand. Hebrews 5:7-8 actually says Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane was heard – but Jesus still went to the cross. He trusted the Father’s plan and His answer.
Let this concept revolutionize your prayer life. Approach God freely in Jesus – as a humble follower. Honestly and openly share your heart request whether it is angry, sad, overwhelmed or you don’t know what to say. It doesn’t matter how small or outrageous the request. Then trust God’s answer. He alone can see the future. He does know what is best for the long run. And He really does respond to the requests of His children. And don’t be surprised, that just like the Lord’s prayer, He starts expanding the focus of our prayers from just ourselves to those that will change the world. Twenty two years ago when I first heard this truth it revolutionized my prayer life and I still am amazed today that I get to freely come as a child to my beloved & powerful Father.