Friday, April 24, 2015

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

“It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.’ And He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed [αγιασθητω, “let it be made holy”] be Your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation”...if you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?’” (Luke 11:1-4,13).

I’ve always been fascinated by the Gospel of Luke. The divinely-inspired compiler (1:1-3) is often “moved [φερομενοι, lit., “carried”] by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21) to record his material in a way that requires some careful consideration. That’s why I love this Gospel. It’s easy to read for all who come to it, but also invites us to meditate on the theme-relationships of the larger structure.

This week I was reading Jesus’ teaching on prayer in chapter 11 (which contains Luke’s recording of the “Lord’s Prayer”). In addition to the model prayer, the Lord also gives two illustrations highlighting the importance of perseverance in prayer and the willingness of the Lord to give to us through the means of prayer. Matthew records these elements separately from each other. This doesn’t confound me like it seems to confound others. I have no problem believing that Jesus taught similarly-worded material at different times and in varied contexts. Anyway, Matthew tells us that the Father gives “what is good to those who asked Him” (Matthew 7:11). Why does Jesus change the wording in His teaching recorded in Luke 11 from “what is good” to “the Holy Spirit”?

I think the answer to this question, and the key to a larger coherence in Luke 11:1-13, is found in the new covenant promise recorded by the prophet Ezekiel:
“Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘Son of man...say to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘...I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD,’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God’”’” (Ezekiel 36:16,17,22-28).

Just as Jesus begins His teaching on prayer with a concern for the holiness of the Father’s name and ended it with the giving of the Holy Spirit, Ezekiel does the same (“hallowed [αγιασθητω, “let it be made holy”]...Holy [αγιον] Spirit”). Jesus’ teaching on prayer is built upon the foundation of the Scriptures. He teaches us to pray the promises of the Word. I know that’s not a unique statement. There are a lot of teachers out there urging us to pray the promises of Scripture, and that’s good. I can appreciate anyone motivating us to get into the Word. However, there’s a nuance here that’s usually overlooked when we’re told to “pray the promises of the Word.” The promise of the Lord in Ezekiel is not individualistic, focused on the desires of the individual in their private life – their own self-centered world. The prophet records God’s Self-centered (capital “S”) plan to be glorified in the salvation of His people before the witness of the all the nations. It’s a world-wide Gospel plan about Him.

Is Jesus’ teaching on prayer any different than Ezekiel’s revelation of the Gospel?

Your [not “our” or “my”] kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation” (Luke 11:2-4).

We (second-person plural pronouns, never first-person singular) pray for ourselves (again, as the Church) as a subset of praying for God’s coming Kingdom. This coming Kingdom is also the message preached by the Church (9:2; 10:9,11).

The Lord Jesus teaches us to pray the Gospel plan for the gathering of God’s people (the Church) from among the nations, the forgiveness of their sins, and their filling with the Holy Spirit – all for the making-holy of His name and the magnifying of His great glory. Even “our daily bread” falls under this heading. It’s all about His glory through His Son, the Savior-King.

“Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). May we be willing to hear His teaching, drawn from the Prophets, and make our regular petition the glory of the Father through the Gospel of His Son among all the nations by the power of the Holy Spirit.
"Praying at Gethsemane," by He Qi (1999)

No comments: