Persistently Prayerful

Luke 11:1-13
Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert

What is both the easiest and the hardest thing to do well as a Christian? To be persistently prayerful. What could radically change your life, yet will likely produce no immediate evidence of change? Being persistently prayerful. What could transform both your personal life, your life among friends and family, your work place, and your church the most but which you will resist developing? A persistent prayer life.

I expect you are a lot like me. You want to see immediate results. You are not inclined to do something just because you know it is good for you. You battle the same idols and distractions I do – too busy to pray, too many entertainment options to pray, your mind wanders when you pray, you don’t feel anything which makes you think nothing is happening. St Julian of Norwich said “Pray inwardly even if you do not enjoy it. It does good, though you feel nothing. Yes, even though you think you are doing nothing.

And here’s what inhibits our disciplined prayer life even more – We know that persistently praying will lead us to feel called by God to actually do something yourself about the things you’re praying. We’ll need to call someone, write someone a note asking for forgiveness. We’ll be compelled to give up something sinful when we persist in prayer. The Spirit will ask us to examine ourselves again, and that’s the end of that prayer.

It has been said many times by many people that prayer is about relationship with God and we all know that relationships take time and energy. You don’t get anything if you don’t give anything to the relationship. Prayer is about talking to God and more importantly, listening to God, discerning what God wants you to do and to be.

So today we focus on prayer, but it will do no good for me to preach an inspiring sermon on prayer, if this is possible for me, unless you are prepared to change your life by persisting in prayer. Is that possible for you? So I ask you, “Shall we carry on with this scripture and sermon?” This is no rhetorical question. Will you give some effort this week to renewing your prayer life or will you say “nice sermon, preacher” and go back to life as usual?


NRS Luke 11:1-13 He 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." 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 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial." 5 And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' 7 And he answers from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

9 "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. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 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!"


I expect the disciples were much like us, eager to be taught to pray, so that their prayers would be effective in getting them what they wanted. But the prayer Jesus gives both them and us is more about aligning us with God’s Spirit than getting God to do what we want. Martin Luther said “The fewer the words, the better the prayer.” Our lives are noisy and frenetic and often so are our prayers.

And the story of the friend who bangs on the door at midnight teaches us that persistence is the key. I can tell you that persistence does make a difference as I have had a person in need who persisted with me this week. It was as if God sent her to me this week to make this scripture real. [From the pastor’s discretionary account of the mission budget, I had offered her assistance last week, so when she called to thank me, that was wonderful. Then she called to find out how to come to church. Then she called to say her baby was sick and that’s why she did not make it to church. Then she called to make sure that I remembered that I had promised to help find some used clothes for her adolescent daughter. Then she called to tell me the daughter’s size. Then because I had not responded to all these calls, but had just gone to work to try to find help with clothes, she called again and again.] I was not going to forget that she needed more help. It was effective, even if I got a little frustrated, because she was reminding me of a task I had not completed. This not uncommon in the church office or church house, as we might call it – calls for assistance.

Jesus says, “Ask and it will given you. Search and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened for you.” Maybe my phone friend had read these verses because she kept patiently calling over and over to ask, to search, to knock. And if she’s read these verses about how God will provide for her if she persists, I do not want to let her down because we are the body of Christ. I know only in part what it feels like to be worried about providing enough for my children. She knows it all too well.

Jesus gives the example of parent and child. Just like the average parent (there are exceptions) will bend over backwards to please the child, to give the child what he or she wants, or better what he or she needs, just as a parent wants to be a provider, so Jesus says our heavenly parent is more willing to give the Holy Spirit. So it’s not that God will give us anything we ask for, if we just persist in asking. No, it is that God, being unlimited in love, will give us the Holy Spirit much more readily than human parents, limited as they are, will take care of their own child’s needs.

So Jesus is encouraging us to persistently prayerful because through that, God will, without a shadow of doubt, give us the Holy Spirit. But not immediately. Searching for God is, as Sister Joan Chittister says, “the project of a lifetime.” (The Breath of the Soul, p16) She always reminds us that “saying prayers and being prayerful are two different things.” We need to say many prayers in order become prayerful.

But prayerfulness is “the capacity to walk in touch with God through everything in life. It is an awareness of the continuing presence of God.” “Prayerfulness sees God everywhere. Prayerfulness talks to God everywhere. Prayerfulness submits the uncertainties of the moment to the scrunity of the internal eye of God. It trusts that no matter how [horrible] the situation may be, I can walk through it unharmed because God is with me.” (Sr. Joan Chittister, The Breath of the Soul, p. 46)

So now, instead of talking of prayer, we will pray, first silently, and then moving into a prayerful reflection on the Lord’s Prayer, guided by the words of The Study Catechism to be read by Sara Rea, Richard, and Grant. Let us begin in silence


The Lord’s Prayer

From the Study Catechism – Confirmation Version

"Our Father in heaven"

When we pray to God as "our Father in heaven," we draw near with childlike reverence, and place ourselves securely in God's hands. We express our confidence that God cares for us, and that nothing on earth is beyond the reach of God's grace.

"Hallowed be your name"

This petition is placed first, because it expresses the goal and purpose of the whole prayer. When we pray for God's name to be "hallowed," we ask that we will know and glorify God as God really is, and that all things will truly come to serve God.

"Your kingdom come"

We ask God to come and rule among us through faith, love and justice. We pray for both the church and the world, that God will rule in our hearts through faith, in our personal relationships through love, and in our institutional affairs through justice.

"Your will be done, on earth as in heaven"

Of course, God's will is always done, and will surely come to pass, whether we desire it or not. But the phrase "on earth as in heaven" means that we ask for the grace to do God's will on earth in the way that it is done in heaven - gladly and from the heart. We yield ourselves, in life and in death, to God's will.

"Give us today our daily bread"

We ask God to supply all our needs, for we know that God, who cares for us in every area of our life, has promised to give us temporal as well as spiritual blessings. God commands us to pray each day for all that we need and no more, so that we will learn to rely completely on God.

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us"

We pray that a new and right spirit will be put within us. We ask for the grace to treat others with the same mercy we have received from God. We ask that we will not resent or strike back at those who harm us, but that our hearts will be knit together with the merciful heart of God.

"Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil"

We ask God to protect us from all that threatens to hurt or destroy us. We pray for the ability to resist sin and evil in our own lives, and for the grace to endure suffering in trust and without bitterness when it is unavoidable. We ask for the grace to believe in the love of God that will finally swallow up all the evil and hatred in the world.

"For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and for ever"

We give God thanks and praise for the kingdom more powerful than all enemies, for the power perfected in the weakness of love, and for the glory that includes our well-being and that of the whole creation, both now and to all eternity.

"Amen"

"Amen" means "so be it" or "let it be so." It expresses our complete confidence in the triune God, the God of the covenant with Israel as fulfilled through our Lord Jesus Christ, who makes no promise that will not be kept, and whose mercy endures forever.