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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Prayers That Work

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost


One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”


He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”


Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.


“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.


“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”.

Luke 11:1-13


Father Barry Foster, a priest in Dublin, Ireland, parked his car on a fairly steep hill near his church. His little Cairn Terrier was lying on the back seat and couldn’t be seen by anyone outside the car. Father Foster got out of the car and turned to lock the door with his usual parting command to the dog. “Stay!” he ordered loudly, to what looked like an empty car. “Stay!” An old man watched the whole thing and suggested. “Why don’t you just use the emergency brake?” 😊


Today’s Gospel lesson speaks about prayer. To a lot of people, watching someone pray is the same as watching someone say, “Stay!” to an automobile, expecting it to obey. To unbelievers, prayer is an exercise in futility. But to believers, prayer is the most powerful and reliable force in the world. We know that Jesus believed in the power of prayer. His disciples often observed Him communicating with His Heavenly Father. That’s why they asked Him to teach them to pray. And Jesus responded by giving them a formula for prayer. A formula that we can divide into three parts: 1. A pattern for prayer,

2. Persistence in prayer, and

3. That prayer is productive.


First, let’s look at the pattern for prayer. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, He gave them a model prayer: “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sin against us. And lead us not into temptation.” Of course we’re used to a little different version He gave as part of His Sermon on the Mount.


Jesus is giving His disciples a pattern for prayer. It begins with an acknowledgement of who God is. It includes a request that our daily needs be met, that our sins be forgiven, and that we be delivered from the power of the tempter. The implication is that whether you’re praying for two minutes or two hours, here is a pattern for God-pleasing prayer.


I don’t know how many of you pray an entirely different prayer every time you pray. That would be quite a challenge. If you prayed 365 times a year, you’d have to come up with 365 totally different, original prayers if you prayed something different every time. I guess that would be possible – but not essential.


God knows the desires and needs of our heart before we even mention them. The most important element in prayer may be the act of praying itself! Prayer acknowledges our dependence on God. It acknowledges God’s power and our need. So what if we pray the same thing each time we pray? As long as we pray it, and not just say it! The important thing is that we take time each day to talk to God.


Some churches criticize all ritual, even a ritual such as praying the Lord’s Prayer together. But some ritual is very important in our lives. We observe certain rituals when we eat, when we work, when we play, and when we worship. Ritual simply means following a familiar pattern.


Families that keep some rituals, like family dinners, regular bedtime routines, and special celebrations are stronger families. And in times of distress, isn’t it good to hear the old familiar Bible verses, hymns, and prayers?


Of course, ritual can be abused. If you just say the Lord’s prayer, or our worship liturgy, or sing the hymns without thinking about what the words mean – then ritual can be a hindrance. But don’t worry if you have difficulty expressing yourself in new and original ways every time you pray. The important thing is to acknowledge your dependence on God, to confess your sins, and to ask God’s help with your daily needs. There is a pattern to prayer.


Prayer is also a matter of persistence. This is a very interesting teaching of Jesus. And He gives us a hypothetical situation: A friend drops in unexpectedly, and you have nothing to serve him. But another friend lives nearby, so, even though it’s midnight, you sneak over to that friend’s house, knock on his door, and ask him to loan you some bread. At first he tells you to get lost, but you keep knocking. Finally, just to get rid of you, he gets up and gives you the bread.


And Jesus says prayer is like that sometimes. Not always, of course. When Peter was walking on the water to meet Jesus, got scared by the wind and the waves and started to sink, he said, “Lord, save me!” And Jesus took him by the hand and pulled him up. No time for persistence in prayer that time! But sometimes, Jesus says, we need to be persistent in our prayers.


How about His parable in the 18th chapter of Luke? “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared for men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, … ‘Because this widow keeps bothering me, I’ll see that she gets justice, so she won’t eventually wear me our with her coming!’” And why did Jesus tell this parable? Luke tells us, “Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”!! (Luke 18:1-8)


That’s called “The Parable of the Persistent Widow.” Persistence can be powerful in every area of our lives – including prayer.


Do you know the recent history of the Lutheran Church in the former Soviet Union? Before 1928 there were still 200 functioning parishes with 920,000 Lutherans and 98 pastors. In the latter thirties, a mounting Communist persecution began against these Lutherans because of their German ancestry. In 1937 the last two pastors were finally arrested, and the following year the last Lutheran church property was confiscated by the Soviet authorities, the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in St. Petersburg – whose name had already been changed to Leningrad! The Lutheran bishop of that city, Arthur Malmgren – a Swede – had written to his people beforehand. “The Gospel shall remain and not perish, for not even the gates of hell shall destroy it,” he wrote. Then he prophesied, “but our organized Lutheran Church of Russia will disappear.” And so it did – for a time – on the surface – officially!


But underneath, it continued. The church went underground. In 1955, a labor camp survivor named Eugene Bachmann started traveling among the former Lutheran communities to rally them together. There were many still thriving within homes, quietly and unofficially. After a number of years, the Lutheran church gained official recognition once again. By 1974, Lutheran World Federation representatives were able to travel through the area with the former “secret bishop” of the Lutherans there, and discovered hundreds of existing congregations. Today, that “secret bishop” is no longer secret. Bishop Harold Kalnins ministers to tens of thousands of Lutherans who never gave up, who prayed when it seemed useless, who persisted in the face of terror.


One who did give up, who caved in to Soviet demands and Communism’s coercion was the son of a martyred Lutheran pastor. He was separated from his Christian mother as a youth, sent to Siberia, and brutally treated. “When I could not stand any more, I renounced Christ. I renounced my heritage,” he said. “I wanted to be part of my peer group.” Years later, he received his mother’s last letter, written in German, a language he no longer knew. It was translated for him by a friend and he memorized it: “I have no earthly possession to give you,” wrote his mother, “but I will give you the best I have. Remember Jesus always, follow Jesus always, love Jesus always. He is your Savior, and you are loved by Him.”


“I cried,” the man said. “The voice of my mother led me back to the faith that I had denied.” It must have been her persistent prayer, her daily petition to God while she was still alive. And did God answer it? Today that man is the pastor of Lutheran congregation in the former Soviet Union. And Leningrad is St. Petersburg again, too!


We think if we pray once or twice or even three times, God ought to act. But many Christians tell of how they prayed every day for years, offering up thousands of prayers before the fruit of those prayers became apparent. There’s a pattern to prayer. And the key to prayer is persistence.


Finally, Jesus says, prayer is productive. Jesus is as plain as He can be that if we are persistent in our prayers, God will meet our needs. We can trust God. Of course the answer to our prayers might not be just the answer we had prescribed but it’ll be the right answer! God can be trusted. Our prayers won’t go unheeded.


It's like the little girl who climbed up into her father’s lap while he was reading the paper and told him how much she wanted him to build her a dollhouse. She wouldn’t climb down until her daddy had promised to build it, mostly to be left alone to finish reading the paper. He forgot about his promise until he walked into her room one evening and saw that all of her dolls and doll furniture were packed, ready to be moved into the new dollhouse. When he asked her about it, she simply told him that she knew he’d be building it – even though he hadn’t started yet – because he had promised that he would. That was good enough for her!


That’s a pretty good definition of faith, don’t you think? God has promised to hear our prayers. They won’t go unanswered! Our part is to trust that what we receive from God is for our best good. As Jesus said, “Which of you fathers, if your son askes for bread, will give him a stone; or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”


That’s what we need to know about prayer: there’s a patter to prayer; effective prayer is often a matter of persistence; prayer is always productive. God hears our prayers and He responds to our prayers in accordance with what’s best for us. “Ask and it will be given to you.”


What a wonderful promise from a wonderful Savior!


Amen

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