To Seek and to Save
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.”
And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves;for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.What father among you, if his son asks for[b] a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent;or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”Luke 11:14-26
As Dr Ferguson leads us through Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem to die, he draws our attention to one of Jesus’ disciples who asked Jesus how to pray. We don’t know who this disciple was but we do know why he asked his question: he had just heard Jesus pray. At the time it was likely that most Jews recited set prayers at certain times of the day. It was obvious from this disciple’s question that Jesus didn’t pray like this. There was praying, and then there was the kind of praying that Jesus did. And the disciple wanted to pray like Jesus.
In response, Jesus taught what we know to be The Lord’s Prayer. In Luke’s account, this is only thirty-six words in English, which takes less than half a minute to say. Is this it? Is this really all there is to prayer? Given the fact that the disciples were to pray this prayer together – “Give us each day… lead us… deliver us…” it seems unlikely.
To help us understand perhaps what Jesus was doing, Dr Ferguson tells us about how Martin Luther responded when his barber asked him for help to pray. Luther wrote a book, A Simple Way to Pray. This book was about seven-and-a-half thousand words long. And it shows us how we can use each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer “as a framework and a stimulus” for our prayers. We can reflect on what each phrase means. And if we do this, we will find ourselves spending more time, praying with greater freedom.
Though Dr Ferguson doesn’t make this point, I think we should also remember that the Lord’s Prayer, as it stands, is perfectly acceptable. Sometimes, whether because we are anxious or deeply sad or facing very real practical challenges in our lives, we can find ourselves utterly lost for words. Just committing this prayer to memory so that we do have the words to pray is a very real help for us. It’s not a mantra or a magic formula. But it does give us a simple but profound way of addressing God in our deepest need.