Luke 11:1-13 “The 4 ‘P’s’”
When we think about the bible, we should see that it makes a giant circle. At the very beginning of the book in Genesis, we see that we are in close relationship with God. Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden with God present with them. They have regular conversations with God. God is heard just walking around there. Genesis 3:8, “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. . . .”
At the end of the Bible, we are once again in the very presence of God. Revelation 22:4, “They shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of the lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever.”
The rest of the bible is the part that we are living in. We no longer hear His presence walking in the cool of the day. WE do not yet see him face to face. We can look back. We can look forward. This leads us to prayer: a desire deep in the fabric of our being to want to be with God now—not just to remember when or to look forward to a time. Prayer is predicated on the very sincere understanding that we need God NOW in our lives. That is why we pray constantly—to feel God immediately with us.
In our scripture for today, Jesus is off by himself praying. He is being with His Father in heaven. Like so often, Jesus becomes the victim of “oratio interruptus,” the interrupted prayer. His followers also want to know how to be with God in prayer as Jesus is in that moment. They ask him sincerely to teach them how to pray.
I very much believe that prayer is like an involuntary muscular action, that it is akin to breathing or the heart pumping blood. I am not sure that we need to be taught so much how to pray. It is in our very nature to speak with our Creator. For example, when children are upset, they go lock themselves in their rooms and start asking out loud, “Why did my best friend leave today?” Who are they talking to? God, of course. This is common in both religious and non-religious families. Even people who will openly say that they do not believe in God find themselves talking to “someone in the room with them.” Our bones and our flesh remember their creator. Prayer is our natural state!
Okay, Jesus is going to teach them how to pray! The first thing he does is he praises God. That is the first “P” of the four in this sermon. We start our prayers with praise. It is not a kind of praise that sounds like flattery. It is praise that shows honor and respect. God is called “Abba,” or Father. And, this father has been made holy. God has a holy name.
I know that in the last few decades, some have tried to take away the gender specific “Father” out of prayer. If it helps anyone at all, the term in the Greek is not so gender specific at all. Almost better to translate this as “parent.” The important thing to note is the closeness of relationship that is being implied by the term “Father.” To pray, we come into relationship once more with God.
The next “P” comes right away in the text: Petition or Providence. You can choose whichever one you like. Simply put, you are asking God for something to be provided in your life.
The number one thing on Jesus’ list would seem to be that God send down the Kingdom. Too often we trap ourselves in prayer by praying for all of the little things. This last week, for instance, I have struggled with a cold, and I lost my voice. That happened on Monday, Helen’s birthday, and was my gift to her! Yet, I prayed that my voice would come back for Tuesday’s Bible Studies. It did. If I had prayed instead for God’s Kingdom to come, then I would have my new voice in heaven already! I just prayed too small! Those who stand next to me in the choir will confirm that my voice today could be called anything but heavenly.
This is also a reminder to us not to get caught up in the political intrigues of the daily news cycles. When you hear all this stuff, that you can really do nothing immediately about anyway, start praying for God’s supreme intervention.
Although we need to pray for the big things, Jesus also says that in terms of our daily needs, pray for the small things. Please do not ask God for the Mercedes Benz—you cannot get decent service on this island anyway! Just pray for your daily bread. If you do not like eating bread, then pray for your daily tortilla or your daily rice. And, that is really what the word “artos” that is here in the Greek means. Some older versions of the Bible might even use the word “staff” instead of “bread.” We do not use the term “staff of life” so much anymore in the vernacular.
As we were missionaries in Thailand, we learned how important it was to stick to the original meaning of the text and not the cultural overlay we get in English translations. The Thai eat rice, not bread. Even when you greet someone in the street, you do not say “how are you?” but rather “Have you eaten rice yet?” If you feed a Thai person pizza and hamburgers, they will come right back at you asking for rice. Every meal is only a meal because it has rice. So, in Thailand you pray for your daily rice!
God will provide. Pray for it and God will provide for your life. The answer to your prayer may not be exactly what you thought it should be, but God knows what you need.
One of those things that apparently God knows that we need, but we might not generally keep at the top of our “to do” list is forgiveness. This is now the third “P” today: Penitence. When we pray, we ask God to forgive us of our sins. We ask for our daily bread at the same time we ask to be forgiven of our daily sin.
It is interesting to note the order of these two lines in the prayer. It seems quite clear that we must first attain the forgiveness from God before we are able to forgive others. Did you notice that? First we pray for the forgiveness from God, then we go ahead and forgive others as we have been forgiven.
Too often I have heard this reversed, even though it seems perfectly clear. I have heard others say that we must forgive others so that God can forgive us. It seems here that the reverse is being said: we should ask to be forgiven by God so that knowing what it means to gain forgiveness ourselves, we are then able to offer this same forgiveness to others.
To put this in other words, when we offer forgiveness to others, it really should be God’s forgiveness over their lives that we are offering. I know that I can forgive others whatever hurt they have caused me, but does God forgive them? What good is my forgiveness over their lives if they do not know of God’s forgiveness in heaven?!
Believe it or not, I cannot take your sins away. The only person who can do that is Jesus when he died on the cross. So, really the best that I, or anyone for that matter can do, is ask you to ask God for the forgiveness of your sins. So, yes, even though I might personally forgive someone else, I would rather follow that up with helping that person be totally forgiven by God in heaven for this is the salvation that we have through Jesus Christ. We call this act “penitence.”
The fourth “P” in the sermon comes out of what Jesus says right after the words of the prayer. Jesus goes on to talk about “perseverance.” Just to recapitulate: we have in prayer “Praise, Petition, Penitence, and Perseverance.”
Jesus tells this story of the man who runs to his neighbor in the middle of the night and pounds on the door to ask for the loaves of bread that were baked that day in the communal oven because he has a guest in his house who had come unexpectedly. Why does the neighbor eventually open the door and give the bread away? The word in the bible I grew up with was always “importunity.” Again, a word that is no longer in the vernacular. “Anadeien” in the Greek can be translated as “pestering,” “annoying,” and “exasperating.”
After all, what parent will not want to give their child what that child is pestering them for? This leads us back to the closeness of the relationship that we have with God. Our prayer time is about being with God again. If you need something, and you know that God is close by, then keep on asking for this thing. This is the prayer of importunity or persistence. Never stop pestering God. If you want to remember the fourth “p” as “pestering,” I think that is okay.
Praise God! Petition God! Be penitent with God! And keep on pestering God in prayer! Jesus says, that if you knock, the door will be opened. If you search, you shall find. If you are not knocking on God’s door, if you are not searching out God in prayer, then you are missing the closeness you can have with God. You are missing the Garden of Eden. You are missing the promise of heaven.