A Good and Generous God: Reflections on Prayer and Luke 11:1-14

The Lord’s Prayer.  That prayer from church that starts “Our Father, who art in heaven.” Well, at least if you’re praying the Matthew 6 version — which is what most folks use.  Matthew’s version is a bit longer than Luke’s.  When I’ve heard teaching on it in the past, it has tended to be focused on either the individual components of the prayer like a primer on what to say when talking to God, or on the context of Matthew 6 and the hypocrisy that Jesus is trying to combat against.  I haven’t heard much on Luke’s account on the Lord’s Prayer.

This week as I studied in preparation for my LifeGroup, I found Luke’s account fascinating.  Luke doesn’t pull punches in his gospel; his gospel is the most bold and aggressive about the connection between loving God and taking care of the vulnerable and marginalized.  One can’t both love God and ignore (or do things to harm) those whom God values; these are mutually exclusive options.

I’d expect Luke’s version to be more “in your face.” Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is striking in contrast to Matthew’s. Luke seems gentler here than Matthew.  Luke teaches about prayer right after the famous moment with Martha and Mary (Luke 10).  Martha is busy with preparations around the home to honor Jesus while Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet and learning;  Mary is affirmed for choosing the better way.  And then, Luke introduces Jesus’ teaching about prayer.

Rather than the focus on hypocrisy, Luke instead situates this teaching about what it means to pray within a discussion about the character of the One we’re praying to.  This is a radically different conversation for me. Thinking about the nature of God changes the way I pray. Jesus teaches that the disciples can pray with confidence on two counts:  that God hears and responds, and that the response of this God is that of a good father who doesn’t give scorpions when his child asks for an egg. The emphasis in Luke seems to be more upon the character of the One to whom we pray and less about the one praying.

Luke’s challenge for me this week was to think through the character of the God I worship. I was forced to confront that there’s a connection between the way I view God and the way that I pray (and vice versa).  Having a warped view of who God is causes problems in the way that I feel about prayer and God’s response (or lack thereof) to me.

One, I can get focused on praying about things that are about me instead of God’s kingdom.  For instance, my wanting to have a baby.  Having a baby is a normal human thing.  The desire for that isn’t wrong.  But, somehow having a baby became more important than God, and that made my prayer life a little twisted.  I started thinking of God as someone who served me, rather than the other way around.  I was praying for my kingdom come — instead of God’s kingdom come.  Then, I got all up in arms because I felt like God was ignoring my request.  God no longer seemed good as I saw him withholding a child from me while I prayed and nothing happened.

Two, either I rest on my independence for daily bread or I want more security than just today’s bread.  When I rest too much on my own abilities, I start to forget that all that I am I owe to God.  I think I can stand on my own feet, and I forget that all that I am and have is a gift.  When all is the result of my own merit, I also miss out on experiencing the wonder of grace and get trapped in my pride.

Sometimes I want to hoard up more than today’s supply of bread.  I want to hold the promise of security for more than today.  I want to rest in secured safety, rather than in the trust that God will be faithful tomorrow as God has been faithful today.  When I want to hoard things, I’m actually doubting God’s faithfulness as I try to claim for myself security with my hands.

Maybe the root of all this is deeply ugly:  what really gets in my way with prayer is when I want things and safety more than I want God. There’s a song by Rend Collective called “The Cost” that’s been on repeat in my iPod lately that hits this point.  One line stands out most: “I do not need safety as much I need You.”  I want this to be true in me. I’m growing here.  But if I’m honest, I think this is a weak point for me, and I’m still working on it.

This ties in closely with what shocked me the most with Luke’s teaching on prayer.  Luke 11:14 says, “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 references how much more will the Father give the Spirit to those who ask; Luke doesn’t talk of things that God will give — rather that God will share God’s very self. The conclusion to this section on prayer assumes that what we are seeking is no less than God.  God is eager to be generous with God’s own self.  God desires us to to boldly seek his face.  God is eager to be found by us.  We are loved, and we are valued by the holy Creator. God desires that we know and be known by him.  Even though we are broken people, God desires that we seek and find him.  

God desires that I seek and find him.  I am welcomed.  Somehow that’s much harder to write than saying we and you. I’m forcing myself to do it anyway, and to own that I am loved and wanted. 

In an earlier post, I mentioned asking God to give me a name.  God did that tonight as I was walking into Bethel for a meeting after my LifeGroup. It wasn’t anything that I was expecting, and I’m not going to share it here.  But, it was a profound moment for me.  I nearly fell over and almost started crying. I think it’s going to change my life.  Not in the clarity and security way that I wanted.  But, it’s forcing me to re-think the way I think of myself and my value.  God gave me a gift of the Spirit.  I sought God, and God is answering.  God has been generous to me. 

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