This is an adapted form of a sermon I preached on Sunday, July 24. The gospel reading was Luke 11:1-13. The Spiritual Gift we focused on this week was “Intercession.”
Today’s Spiritual Gift is a type of prayer: Intercession. It means praying for God to provide something. Usually, we think of intercession as praying for other people, praying to God that other people receive what they need. Some of us have that spiritual gift… Those on the prayer chain. Those in the prayer group. The people who write our Prayers of Intercession each week. These people are especially good at doing this publicly, and they lead us in prayer, and we thank God for them. But we also recognize that this isn’t something we can leave just to them. We should all be praying for others, right? Yes, of course.
Jesus talks about prayer in today’s gospel, but he’s actually encouraging us to do a slightly different sort of intercession. He’s not encouraging us to pray for others, but rather for…ourselves. And that’s a lot harder for some reason. That feels uncomfortable; it sounds selfish. But that’s what Jesus is saying here. And I think if we read closely, he also tells us why we should pray for ourselves.
The disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, and he answered with what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. Here in Luke’s gospel, it’s a little shorter; the longer form we know is found in the Gospel of Matthew. But even in this shorter form, praying the Lord’s Prayer is a way of learning about ourselves.
We pray, “Give us each day our daily bread.” Now, Martin Luther explained in the Small Catechism that this “daily bread” is not just food. In fact, he said that daily bread is:
everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, an upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.
That’s a lot of things! Jesus tells us to pray, “Give us each day our food, drink, clothing, shoes, etc.” What does that say about us? It says that we need all this stuff, and that we can’t get those things on our own. We get them from God. The Lord’s Prayer tells us that we are needy. Otherwise, why would we pray it?
We pray, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” What does this say about us? It says that we have sins, and that we need to ask for forgiveness. The Lord’s Prayer tells us that we are sinful. Otherwise, why would we pray it?
We pray, “Save us from the time of trial,” which can also be translated, “Lead us not into temptation.” What does this say about us? It says that if it weren’t for God, we would fall into temptation, that we would fall into suffering. The Lord’s Prayer tells us that we are weak and lost. Otherwise, why would we pray it?
Jesus doesn’t tell us this: “If you’re hungry, ask for daily bread. If you’ve sinned, ask for forgiveness. If you’re in danger, ask for salvation from trial.” No. He just says do it, which I think means that we are always hungry, always sinful, always in danger. We are broken, fragile creatures, and we rely on God for everything that we have, everything that we are. We forget that so easily, and this prayer helps remind us. The prayer Jesus taught us helps us to be honest about ourselves. Honest that we are a trainwreck.
The good news, however, is about God. God answers these prayers. Jesus encourages us to pray for these things, precisely because God intends to answer these prayers. Jesus promises that if we ask, we will receive. If we seek, we will find. If we knock, the door will be opened. We’re not supposed to get our act together first, and then start praying. Pray now, right now, and God will answer you.
Jesus came to save the needy, the weak, the lost. And that’s us.
Now of course, it doesn’t always look like God is answering. So often it seems like we ask, and we do not receive. But we do. We do receive…we receive exactly what Jesus promised at the end of our gospel reading today. He said this: “If even you 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?” The Holy Spirit. That’s what God promises to give us every time.
Perhaps we pray for a loved one to recover from an injury. We might not receive that.
Perhaps we pray for our marriage to thrive. We might not receive that.
Perhaps we pray for safety from storms or disease or financial worry. We might not receive that.
And it’s not because we didn’t pray correctly, or didn’t pray hard enough, or anything like that. It’s good to pray for those things. God might provide those things, but God never promised them. God never promised us a rose garden. What God promised was this:
In every situation, in every hardship, we will receive the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God who enables us and empowers us to get through any tragedy. God promised us the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit who gives us strength, and courage, and perseverance, and hope, in the midst of anything.
Now of course, we don’t control God. Our prayers don’t allow God to give us these gifts. God will give us the Holy Spirit whether or not we pray. So why should we pray? Not to change God’s mind, but to change our minds, and our hearts, and our eyes. A life lived in prayer is a life where, over time, we can see more clearly who we are, how needy, weak, and lost we are. A life lived in prayer is a life where, over time, we can see more clearly the signs of the Holy Spirit coming to us. And a life lived in prayer is just a life in which we pray.
So I invite you to pray right now. What do you need right now? Ask God to provide it. Don’t worry about getting it right. Don’t worry about whether God promised it or not. Just ask for it…the point of prayer is to connect with God. Trust God to provide what you need. Go ahead…take a moment.