Teach Us to Pray (Luke 11:1-13)
1 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.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’ “ 5 Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 “Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. 9 “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. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 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
I have a confession to make. I have almost never prayed the so-called Lord’s Prayer. The reason why I have refrained is because of what I have considered its misuse. In Matthew’s account, the Lord’s Prayer is preceded by these words:
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This is how you should pray … ” (Matthew 6:7-9a).
I believe that my study of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke’s account has changed my mind about this. In introducing this prayer in the Gospel of Luke, which is similar,192 but not identical to that found in Matthew, our Lord said, “When you pray, say: … ” (Luke 11:2a), strongly suggesting that the actual words should be repeated. If this is a prayer which disciples should pray, then we should understand what it means. If our Lord’s words in Matthew mean anything, they mean that to repeat the prayer without understanding it is essentially no different than praying as the heathen do.
The Tension of the Text
As I began to study this text more seriously, and as I noted that Jesus taught this prayer as a pattern, I could not find the prayer anywhere included in the many prayers of the disciples or of the early church, which were recorded in the New Testament. How could this prayer be a pattern, a model, and yet never be found practiced by the disciples? How could the Lord Jesus instruct His disciples to pray this prayer and yet we find no record of it having been done by the first disciples or later ones? Is this prayer a pattern if we never find it used as such? That is one of the tensions of this text. I think I now know the answer, but I shall delay sharing it with you until we look more carefully at the prayer itself. Let us listen well, then, to our Lord’s instructions on prayer, for this prayer is not the Lord’s Prayer, but the disciple’s prayer.
Luke, the “Gospel of Prayer”
As you may know, the Gospel of Luke has, by far, the most emphasis on prayer. Plummer, in his commentary on Luke, calls Luke “the Gospel of Prayer.”193 Surely it is that. Up to this point, the emphasis of Luke has fallen on the prayer life of our Lord. But here a certain unnamed disciple sees the Lord’s practice as a pattern, one which each disciple should follow, and thus the Lord is asked to teach the disciples to pray as well. The prayer life which characterizes our Lord will, in the Book of Acts, characterize the disciples as well. Luke is paving the way, laying the foundation for that constant communion with God in prayer.
The Structure of the Text
The structure of our passage can be simply outlined:
(1) The disciple’s request—“Lord, teach us to pray,” v. 1
(2) The pattern prayer: prayer’s agenda—vv. 2-4
(3) The disciple’s motivation for prayer—vv. 5-13
The Disciples’ Request
Jesus was, once again, at prayer. He was praying, Luke tells us, “in a certain place” (v. 1). I take it that this means our Lord was taking a time out for prayer, as He often did. The disciples had been observing these “seasons of prayer” for some time. Apparently they had finally realized that just as prayer played a vital role in John the Baptist’s life, and in the life of the Lord, so it should be their own practice as well. One of the disciples, who remains unnamed (was it one of John’s disciples, who followed Jesus?), asked Jesus to teach His disciples to pray, just as John had done.
Several things strike me about this request.
(1) I note that the subject of prayer is raised by one of the disciples, rather than by our Lord. One could hardly say that our Lord did not feel prayer was vital, but as strongly as our Lord believed in prayer and practiced it personally, He did not initiate the subject here. Why? I believe it was because our Lord wanted the disciples to conclude on their own how important prayer was. I believe that Jesus was ready and willing to teach on prayer, but only when His disciples were eager to learn. Motivation cannot be higher for learning when the student asks the teacher to teach.
(2) Closely related, our Lord knew the power of a good example was greater than that of an oration. It is no accident that the disciple asked Jesus to teach them to pray at the very time our Lord had set aside time for His own prayer. The prayer life of our Lord prompted the disciple to press Him to teach them to do likewise. How easy it is to ask one who has demonstrated his expertise to share it with others.
(3) The disciple asked Jesus to teach them to pray because he knew that this was an area of ignorance and inexperience. I do not know of anywhere in the gospels where the disciples were characterized as men of prayer. Jesus’ prayer life was, even in the garden of Gethsemane, something which He practiced alone, without the help (at least for very long) of the disciples. The petition of this one disciple was an open admission that prayer was not only needed, but was a deficiency in his life and in the lives of his fellows.
Once again, the disciples reveal a child-like quality in which our Lord delighted, and for which He praised the Father (cf. Luke 10:21). The scribes and Pharisees, the wise and learned, were too smart, at least too proud, to admit their need to ask Jesus anything, other than to show where His authority came from, and thus they learned nothing from Him. A child has no reluctance to admit that they don’t know something, and thus they hound adults with their questions. The ability to learn begins with the ability to admit one’s ignorance and to express one’s desire to learn.
A Pattern for Prayer: Prayer’s Agenda
When one looks at the prayer which our Lord gives to His disciples as a pattern prayer, we immediately recognize that it is a short one. This prayer does not include all of the elements of prayer. For example, this prayer focuses on petitions for God to meet certain needs, but it does not deal to any great degree with man’s praise.194 The prayer is a skeletal one, one which can be filled in with much greater detail, but it is also one that does outline the essential elements of our prayers. Let us briefly survey the three areas of need which this prayer underscores, as I presently understand it.
(1) The prayer deals with the “cosmic need” of the coming of the Kingdom of God, at which time the character of God will be fully revealed. It is my understanding that the hallowing of God’s name is virtually synonymous with the coming of His Kingdom. The approach of the Kingdom of God is frequently mentioned in the gospels, but we know from the Book of Acts that it is not yet realized. The coming of our Lord’s kingdom will take place at His second coming, when the whole creation is restored and rid of sin, and when God’s holiness and splendour is revealed in its totality. Romans chapter 8 speaks of the cosmic need for His return, for the kingdom to come, and this prayer petitions God to bring it to pass. The first element of prayer has to do with the authority of the Father being fully established on the earth, and for His glory and splendour to be revealed at this time.
(2) The prayer deals with the area of the disciples’ physical needs. The Father is also the provider for His children, and thus the disciples are taught to beseech Him for their daily needs. I believe that bread stands not only for “food” in a general sense, but also for all of the other areas of physical need. The Father is the Sustainer of life and here He is to be petitioned to meet our physical needs.
(3) The prayer deals with the spiritual needs of saints who still sin. Salvation delivers one from the penalty of sin, but only the return of Christ will rid the saint of the presence of sin. There is no sinless perfection in this life. Thus, Jesus taught his disciples to pray for forgiveness for their sins. Even the apostles sinned. We can think of Peter’s denial of our Lord (Luke 22:54-62), or his unbiblical concession to the Judaisers, which Paul called a denial of the Gospel (Galatians 2:11-21). And there was Thomas, who refused to believe until he saw and touched Jesus himself (John 20:24-29). As all creation awaits and yearns for the coming of the Kingdom of God, as man’s body yearns for the provisions of God for its physical needs, so the spirit of man desperately needs the forgiveness of sins committed and God’s protection from committing further sin. In order to enjoy fellowship with God, the barrier of our sins must be removed by His forgiveness. There is an on-going need for this, and it is for this that Jesus taught us to pray. When our Lord included the expression,
For we also forgive everyone who sins against us (verse 4),
I believe He was not teaching that we must forgive before the Father will forgive us (which would mean that forgiveness is conditioned upon our works), but that the two are seen as working hand-in-hand. Further, I believe that this is an acknowledgment that we not only need God’s forgiveness, but that we also need God’s enablement to be able to forgive.
The petition, And lead us not into temptation (verse 4), is, I believe, the request that God enable us to deal with sin at its very roots, rather than waiting for its bearing of fruit. It is not a request that God “cease and desist” from tempting us, for we are told that God does not tempt (James 1:13-14); instead, it is our expression of a desire on our part not to be tempted. Many of us would like to be tempted and to overcome that temptation, rather than to escape it. Our Lord’s consistent teaching is that we should seek to deal harshly with sin, dealing with its very roots. Thus, the prayer of the disciple should acknowledge the reality of his sin and consequent need for forgiveness, but at the same time should seek to avoid sin altogether by being kept even from solicitation to sin. That we are told to pray for something God has told us He won’t do is not that different from being told to pray for the things He has said He will do (cf. Matthew 6:32).
The Disciples’ Motivation for Prayer
Here, then, we have the central core, the essence of those things for which the disciple of Jesus should consistently pray. Disciples should pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom, along with its revelation of God’s character, for daily physical needs, and for God’s provisions for sin.195 Having provided us with the curriculum or material for our prayer, the Lord now moves to the motivation for our prayers. To do this He tells two parables, each of which begins (in the NASB at least) with the word “suppose” (verses 5, 11). The first parable deals with one’s request of a friend (vv. 5-10); the second with the request made of one’s father (vv. 11-13).
With a Friend, Boldness and Persistence Pay (vv. 5-10)
The first example which our Lord gave is a rather humorous one, when you try to visualize it. One man has an unexpected guest arrive at his home, and he is without bread to give to him. Even though it is midnight, he goes to the house of a friend to ask to borrow bread. His friend is already in bed, perhaps in the same bed with his children.196 There may even be animals in the room, as there often was (and still is in some parts of the world). The friend in bed would have quickly given the bread if it were not so late, and if it would not disturb the whole house. But even though man in bed protests, the man in need boldly (the text literally says that he shamelessly) persisted, which prompted his friend to get up, open the door, and give him what he was seeking, the bread for which he had asked.
If this man’s request was granted, due to his persistence, even though it was most inconvenient, then persistence in seeking what one truly needs must pay off. The next verses simply apply the lesson which the story has taught:
“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; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened (Luke 11:9-10).
I had never seen these very familiar verses in connection with the context of the preceding words of our Lord in the story of the friend who petitions his friend for bread in the middle of the night, but the connection is clear. He, by persistently knocking, had the door opened to him. He, by boldly asking, got what he asked for. He sought and he found what he was seeking. So, too, with the disciple in his prayers. Consistent, persistent prayer, daily prayer, is to be motivated by the assurance that if a friend will give what is sought, even if inconvenient, then God will surely answer our petitions.
With a Father, We Can Expect Only Good Gifts (vv. 11-13)
In the first story, Jesus used the example of a friend, who gave his fellow what he wanted, even though it was inconvenient, because of his persistence. In the second story, Jesus leaves the imagery of a friend and moves to that of a father. If friends can be expected to give us what we ask for when we persist, what can one expect of a father, better yet, of our Heavenly Father?
Jesus instructed His disciples to pray to God as their Father. He now picks up on the theme of God as Father in His second illustration. Earthly fathers love their children and delight in giving good gifts to them. Human fathers do not give their children “bad” things when they have asked for something good. Put a little differently, earthly fathers do not give their children gifts which will harm them when they are asked for those things which will help them. Fish and eggs are both helpful. They strengthen the physical body. Snakes and scorpions are both harmful to the physical body. God, as a Heavenly Father, does not give us those things which will be harmful to us when we have asked for those things which are beneficial to us.
To often, at least in my own experience, I find myself asking God for snakes and scorpions, rather than for fish and eggs. I discover that I am inclined toward things which are detrimental to my spiritual life. In such cases, I may ask for a snake, but God gives me a fish. I may wish for a scorpion, but God gives me eggs. If God does not give us evil gifts when we ask for the good, He does give us good gifts even when we seek those which are harmful to us.
Because God is a good God, a loving Father, He can not only be expected to answer our petitions, but to do so in a way that is for our highest good. From our Lord’s first story we learn that God answers our prayers. From the second, we learn that His answers are good ones. The highest good which God gives to His disciples who petition Him in prayer is summed up in the gift of the Holy Spirit. What better gift could our Lord give to His disciples. And we know from the first chapters of the Book of Acts that the Spirit is God the Father’s gift to His church, in answer to their prayers.
As we seek to conclude our study, let us return to the “tension of the text” mentioned at the beginning of this message. Why, if this prayer is a pattern prayer, do we never find it as a prayer of any of the disciples, either in the gospels or in the epistles? I believe that there are several possible explanations.
(1) This prayer may have been intended as a prayer to be repeated. One of my friends has suggested that if the prayer was to be recited, Jesus would have said, “When you pray repeat … ” rather than, “When you pray, say … ”
(2) Even if the prayer was meant to be liturgically repeated, we do not need to be told that it was. If Jesus instructed His disciples to pray this prayer, then this is more than enough motivation to do so. If our Lord tells us to do something, we should do it, whether or not anyone else does. To give numerous examples of men’s obedience to this command is unnecessary. Jesus’ instruction is far more forceful than man’s actions.
(3) If this prayer is a “skeletal prayer” that is intended to be filled in, then there are an infinite number of variations possible. It would be more accurate to analyze the prayers of the disciples and the church to see it they deal with the second coming of Christ, the meeting of their physical needs, forgiveness of sins and avoidance of temptation.
(4) This may be a corporate prayer, one which saints would pray as a group. I cannot minimize the collective nature of this prayer. While the one disciple asked Jesus to teach, he asked Him to teach the disciples as a group (“teach us to pray … ”), rather than to teach him as an individual. The coming of the kingdom of God, the provision of daily needs, and the forgiveness of sins are something for which all saints can pray together, daily.
As I look at our text as a whole, I learn some very important lessons. Let us conclude this message by considering several of these.
(1) I see that the prayer which our Lord taught deals both with our future hope, on which our faith is based, and with our present life, which is to be lived in the light of that hope. The coming of the Kingdom of God is our hope, our goal, and that for which we should pray. Looking and praying for this kingdom also motivates us to live presently in the light of that certainty of Christ’s return and of the establishment of His kingdom. Though we look for the coming of His kingdom in the future, we also look to the Father to meet our present needs: the need for physical sustenance and the need for forgiveness of sins and deliverance from that which might cause us to sin. The prayer which our Lord has taught us is one that encompasses both the present and the future.
(2) The prayer which our Lord taught us is not merely individualistic or self-centered. Throughout this prayer we find plural pronouns (“us,” “our,” “we”), rather than singulars. I believe that the reason is that our prayers are to be intercessory, and not just individual. If we need desperately to pray for ourselves, we must also pray for others as well.
(3) The emphasis of this text is not so much on the method of our prayers, but on the motivation which produces them. Only three verses deal with the content, the curriculum of prayer, while the rest assure us that God the Father will hear, and will answer our prayers with only the best gifts in response to them.
The Lord’s Prayer is only a “vain repetition” if we do not understand it, or if we repeat it without really meaning it. The Lord’s Prayer is not the complete word on prayer, but it does inform us as to the “meat and potatoes” of much of our prayer life, indeed, for our daily prayer life.
Our Lord, in giving the disciples this prayer, and in the words which accompany it, is telling us that this prayer should be constantly on our lips. There are no excuses for not praying for these things, whether in these precise words or not. There are, however, some troubling reasons why we do not pray as our Lord has instructed us.
(1) When we do not pray that God’s name be revered, and that His kingdom come, we reveal in ourselves a love for this world, and a reluctance to see it pass, superseded and replaced by the righteous rule of God.
(2) When we do not pray for God to provide our daily bread, we reveal either a self-sufficient attitude which does not depend daily upon God’s provisions, or we see a life of affluence and the laying up of earthly treasures which renders prayer for daily needs unnecessary.
(3) When we do not daily pray for God’s forgiveness of our sins (and the grace to forgive the sins of others) we reveal either a naivet concerning our own (daily) sinfulness, or a callused conscience toward sin caused by on-going sin which was not confessed, and for which forgiveness was not sought.
(4) Thus, when we fail to pray as our Lord has here instructed us, it may be because we are Christians, but not disciples. This prayer which our Lord taught His disciples was a prayer for disciples. The prayer makes a great deal more sense when taken in the context of the Sermon on the Mount. By this I mean that this is a most appropriate prayer for those who are poor, who are mourning over their sin and the sin of their nation, and who are persecuted. Such persons will gladly pray for the coming of our Lord’s kingdom, at which time Satan and sin will be done away with, and for whom daily bread is no academic matter.
It is possible that you might be a true Christian and not be a disciple, and the failure to pray as our Lord teaches us in our text may reveal this. This teaching thus serves not only to instruct true disciples, but also to flush out those who are saints but who are not also disciples. A Christian is one who is saved through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. A disciple is one who takes following Christ seriously in his life. There is a great difference between mere Christians and true disciples, and this text tells us that one difference is to be found in the content and the continuance of prayer.
Failing to pray as our Lord has instructed may reveal that the fact that God is not your Father at all. If we do not pray daily to God as our Father for these needs, or if we pray only for some of them, it may be because God is not a Father to us, but our foe. Only the one who knows God as their Father can pray to Him as their heavenly Father and do so expecting Him to hear and to answer with good gifts. Indeed, some of those things for which the true disciple is instructed to pray would be viewed as distasteful, even dreaded by a non-Christian. What unbeliever would pray for the coming of the Lord’s kingdom, knowing that it would not only spell the end of their sinful lives, but also their damnation? Who would pray for forgiveness of sins, if they denied that they were a sinner?
If you lack the confidence to come to Him as your Father, then God has a way for you to become His child. That way is through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He has come to the earth and has died in your place. God’s anger toward your sin has already fallen on Him. All that you must do is to receive God’s gift of forgiveness and of eternal life through His Son, and through His death on the cross of Calvary. Come to the Father as your Father, now.
If our Lord’s model prayer is indeed the prayer of a true disciple, then let us conclude by praying as our Lord has instructed.
- “‘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.’”
192 Much has been written about the differences between the Lord’s prayer of Matthew and that of Luke. I believe that these words are deliberately different because this prayer was taught on different occasions, as it appears here.
195 It is profitable, I believe, to compare the areas in which our Lord was tempted of Satan in Luke chapter 4 with those areas concerning which our Lord taught us to pray. Both “bread” and “the kingdom of God,” for example, are matters concerning which Satan sought to tempt our Lord.
196 Morris writes, “Evidently he was a poor man living in a one-roomed house. The whole family would sleep on a raised platform at one end of such a room, possibly with the animals at floor level. A man in such a situation could not get up without disturbing the whole family. He raises no difficulty about giving the bread, but the bother of getting up is quite another matter. It is much easier to stay where he is.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 195.
Related Topics: Prayer