July 23, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 11:1-4, 9-13 (NRSV)
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, 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.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”. . .
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give 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!”
Jesus has told me what I should pray for in order to advance his Kingdom. Most especially, I know that he has told me to pray each day for the bread I need for that day. Not all the other days to come. Just this day.
While yesterday’s lectionary Scripture focused on how to learn, today’s Gospel lesson focuses on how to pray. As with the Scripture lessons we discussed the last time I wrote, today’s passage is among the most famous in the entire Gospel of Luke. The disciples ask Jesus for instruction in prayer—as is obvious from their reference to John, this was not an unusual request to make of a first-century spiritual leader—and Jesus responds with a prayer so memorable it’s been repeated ever since. We know from the Didache that Christians were being instructed to say it in the first century. My church says it every single time we gather for worship in the twenty-first.
This isn’t all Jesus says about prayer, of course. He goes on to remind us that God is even more gracious than we are. We would grudgingly give a friend bread in a time of need (Luke 11:5-8) and we would more than grudgingly give good things to our children because we love them (Luke 11:9-13, quoted above.) Multiply that by the infinite goodness of the Father, Jesus says, and we see how ready he is to give when we ask, seek, and knock.
Now, whether we get exactly what we pray for is another matter entirely. If we ask, seek, and knock, we will receive, find, and walk through the open door, Jesus says. But as he goes on, it becomes clear that what we are chiefly going to get in return is not a precise answer to prayer, but the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Spirit may work in our lives in ways we understand and have prayed very specifically for. At other times—most of the time, it seems like—the Spirit’s work can be mysterious and even painful.
When I find myself in those places where I cannot see the Spirit at work—where all the asking, seeking, and knocking feel like I am pounding on closed doors and my voice is going no higher than the ceiling—I often turn to the Psalms, but I also turn to the Lord’s Prayer. I don’t know what to ask for in those moments, but I know that Jesus told me what I should pray for to advance his Kingdom. Most especially, I know that he has told me to pray each day for the bread I need for that day. Not all the other days to come. Just this day.
It’s funny, isn’t it; learning is (usually) different from praying, but both of them are best pursued, even in our darkest moments, by focusing first on Jesus Christ and seeing what happens next.
What prayers have you seen answered?
What prayers do you wish could be answered?
A famous song today—the beautiful, simple Scripture chorus “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God.” (You can read a little more about this song here.) There are a wealth of choices for listening: a lovely instrumental version played in a park, a congregation worshipping in 1992, a choral group combining it with Pachelbel’s Canon with lyrics for you to sing along, a church choir on a 2018 Sunday morning, a woman doing a simple acoustic guitar version, and an organ, just for starters. Reflect on what you want to ask God for as you listen.
Lord, teach me to pray. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Kingdom of Heaven Has Come Near (Matthew)
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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