An Open Door: Luke 11:1-13
Good morning, church. Please go with me in your Bibles to the book of Luke, chapter 11.
I want to start this morning telling you a bit of where I’ve been the past two weeks, and then I want to speak a word about where we’re going.
I’m really grateful for Camron preaching for us last week—I spent the time I usually spend writing sermons and ministering here at the church at another church here in town learning about something called TBRI, trust-based relational intervention. It’s a means of helping people who have experienced deeply difficult things heal from the effects of those experiences, called trauma. My main motivation is my kiddos. As a foster parent, I desperately long for my children to thrive, to be able to heal physically, mentally, and in every way from the things they’ve experienced. But I’m learning more and more, we need these tools in the work of our church, too.
All healing is God’s healing. We administer therapies, we put on bandages, and then we wait to see what the body will do, incredibly, to mend itself. Not a doctor in the world can really close an incision. We can bring the two broken halves together, but then we wait on the Lord for the actual healing. Not that I don’t value doctors—I do, deeply, I’m saying their work is similar to mine, in this way: I preach words I hope to be a balm to broken spirits and wait for God to bring miraculous healing. He’s so faithful to act we can almost convince ourselves we brought healing, but it’s never us. As doctor’s learn the best ways to allow our bodies to heal, my hope in attending these trainings is that I can learn ways to prop up the people in my life who have experienced trauma, like a splint on a broken leg, and then wait on the Lord, that God might heal my children, and my friends.
My plan is to begin teaching these methods to the church, both for our children’s ministry and for our ministry to people experiencing homelessness. So thank you for allowing me the time to focus and learn something new. I’m excited for what God is going to do in and through our work to heal hearts and minds that need mending.
We’ve been in the book of Proverbs for several weeks, but today we’re going to make a shift, to allow the Bible to inform and speak into a very important Christian practice, and God willing, we will be on this topic until the season of advent—I know, I’ve made promises before. I’m usually very stick-to-the-plan, but Robyn and Phil have been praying for me about that. I want to talk with you this morning about a very important Christian practice I’m afraid I know shockingly little about, but God has been very clear in recent weeks that this is where we are supposed to go: prayer. I want to spend our time between this morning and advent talking about prayer.
It’s a little embarrassing to admit, if I’m honest. I’m a pastor, and I know very little about prayer. And to go even further, I’ll admit to you that it’s always been a struggle for me, both emotionally and intellectually. Emotionally speaking, I’m just not a talker. I have tried, but if I’m struggling with something, and you ask me, “Do you want to talk about it?” I will tell you, very honestly, from a very deep place, no I do not want to talk about it. Usually I want to run or cry or scream or eat or drink or do dishes or garden about it.
So communion makes sense to me; prayer never has. My best prayers, if I’m honest, where I look back and actually believe the prayer worked, and were answered—and we’ll talk about what that means—those prayers were mostly silence mixed with screaming and tears. My practice and discipline of prayer has waxed and waned throughout my life, and right now, with the kids and the two jobs, a lot of my prayer is distracted, interrupted, or in transit.
Intellectually I’ve always struggled with prayer in two ways. First, just being focused. If I try to pray for long periods of time, my mind drifts. I get distracted. It feels like wasted time when time is so precious and costly in my life right now.
Secondly, I struggle intellectually in light of the omniscience of God, like my own little emotionally stunted version of the problem of evil: if God is good, and all-knowing, then what good is telling him about my day and about everyone’s problems really going to do? Doesn’t he know already? Wasn’t he listening, just now, in small group, when we all said our prayer requests to each other? Do we need to repeat them with our eyes closed—is that some magic formula to get God to pay attention? Isn’t our infinite, loving God already paying attention, and doesn’t he already know my heart on this?
And my intellectual struggles with prayer bleed into my emotional struggles to create cynicism, and I turn critical of other people’s prayers—when the truth is, I probably have a lot to learn from the people I’m criticizing.
So when the disciples, in our passage, come to Jesus and ask him to teach them how to pray, I’m with them. Lord, I need to be taught how to pray. I’m encouraged and challenged by this passage today. Let’s read it and learn together how to pray, Luke, chapter 11, starting in v.1. [Luke 11:1-13]. This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly.
The first thing I want you to notice in the passage is the way the disciples ask their question in verse 1—they bring up John the Baptist. Did you notice that? I would encourage you, in your study of the Bible, to get curious, ask why. They bring up John almost in a mode of comparison, and they weren’t the only ones making the comparison. Earlier on in Luke, the Pharisees ask him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do [our disciples], but yours eat and drink.” And again, later on, Jesus is called a drunkard and a glutton. Over and over again, Jesus, who is God incarnate, is compared to other pastors and accused of not being godly enough. We always think of Jesus being our model, our example of godliness—and so he is. But you also have to realize that in his day, and by many people in our own day, Jesus was considered one religious teacher among many, and he was regularly criticized for not being holy enough.
Another thing you have to remember is that several of Jesus’ disciples came from John. Remember at the Baptism of Jesus, when John encourages his followers to follow after Jesus instead? And then later, when John is executed, even more follow. John was extreme. He lived in the desert and wore sackcloth. Dude ate bugs, or nothing at all, and had dreads, and spoke truth to power and was killed for it. John is the patron saint of all the hard-core Christians who have tattoos, live incarnationally, and are drawn to the grit and the struggle of our faith. With how many people like that are drawn to our church, we should install an icon of John right here, next to the clothes closet.
But my point is, compared to John, or compared to the Pharisees with their lawyers and rulebooks, to a lot of people, Jesus was seen as a bit licentious—meaning he wasn’t very strict. And he didn’t ask much of his disciples—in fact, he mostly serves them and teaches them. To speak in his own terms, Jesus’ burden was light, and that drove a lot of people crazy. To speak from their perspective, here’s this great miracle worker, seemingly able to heal any disease, super-compelling teacher, and he doesn’t even take it seriously. To the Pharisees, he probably seemed like the guy who shows up to class twice, blows off the reading, and still somehow aces the exam.
So usually, when his disciples compare him to John, or when the Pharisees accuse him of lawlessness, Jesus rebukes them. Sometimes his rebuke is so harsh that he publicly embarrasses them. But not this time. This time Jesus agrees to let them join him in this discipline. He tells them they ought to pray, places this burden on them, but it’s a surprisingly light burden.
I find all of this super-encouraging. One, I’m encouraged that people didn’t think Jesus was godly enough. If they judged him, I don’t stand a chance, and that’s freeing for me. It means I don’t have to try to please everyone, I can just focus on pleasing the Lord, and he is abounding in steadfast mercy and grace. It also means that prayer is not meant to be a heavy burden. It’s meant to do something in which we can delight and find life.
What is prayer in your life? Is it like jogging, where you know it will make you healthier, but at what cost? Where it feels like you’re mostly on a treadmill, performing, but not really going anywhere? Is prayer in your life a dull necessity—or is it life-giving? Is the burden light and joy-filled, like when I put one of my kids on my shoulders?
Jesus responds, in our passage, in two ways. He gives them a prayer, and he tells them a story. If you misunderstand the story, you’re going to misunderstand the prayer. And if the story is tripping you up, you’re probably taking it way too seriously. I know a lot gets lost in translation, but key to understanding this parable is a simple truth, so often lost about Our savior—Jesus is hilarious. Let me try to retell the parable, and recover some of the humor: So it’s the middle of the night, right? And my friend shows up at my house, wakes me up, talking about how he just got back in town, and he’s hungry. And I didn’t have any food, but he wouldn’t shut up about it and let me sleep, so I went over to my brother’s house next door, now I’m knocking. “Hey G, Graham, I need a snack, my friend is hungry!”
I don’t know about your brother, but my brother is not opening that door, “he’d be like, no, dude, are you serious? Get your own food, it’s the middle of the night. But you know what I do? I just keep on knocking til he opens the door, throws a box of cheezits at me, and tells me never to knock on his door in the middle of the night again. Jesus says, us praying to God is like that.
Have you ever considered how little right we have to bother God with our stuff? He’s over here upholding and redeeming all of creation, and we’re over here knocking, like, “Jesus, can you help me get an A on my spelling test?” Are you serious? Are you seriously going to knock on the door of the creator of the universe? The middle of the night, king of kings and lord of lords, and you need a snack, so you’re going to go knock on his door?
Think about trying to get food from king Herod in the middle of the night, roll up to the temple palace start knocking. Are you serious? Are you insane? He is going to throw you so far out of his kingdom that you can’t even see the castle anymore, but not God. God wants you to come knock on his door—even if it’s in the middle of the night, God’s door opens every time, and he invites you in. Why? Because he’s not just king, he’s also our father, and he loves us.
You come to him scared in the middle of the night, like a child with nightmares, wake him up, he’s going to hold you until you can sleep again. He’s a good father. He wants to know your needs, even if all you need is a snack. Even if you need him to help you with your spelling words, or come watch your soccer game, he wouldn’t miss it for the world. Whatever it is you think you’re seeking, what you really want is him, his Holy Spirit, the comforter, and he’s going to make sure you find it, every time.
So Jesus teaches us to pray like this, to the ruler of the entire universe, he knocks on his door, and says, “Father, I wish the world were new already and your kingdom was come. Father, I’m hungry here in the dark; will you give me bread? Father, I’m up in the middle of the night because I’ve realized I’ve made a mistake, will you forgive me? Father, I’m awake in the middle of the night because I’m tempted, or I’ve sinned, will you sit with me in the mess I’ve created?” And Jesus says, no matter how many times you ask those questions of the Lord, knock and the door will be opened, even if you knock in the middle of the night—the answer is yes.
Yes, I still love you. Yes, sweetie, I’ll make you a snack. I’m sorry you got hungry. Yes, I do want you to tell me about it. Yes, I’ll hold you until you’re calm again. Yes, I’ll sit with you in the dark night of your soul. Over and over again, every time we knock, the door opens—yes. Over and over again, every time we look for him, we find him, because he wants to be found by us, and he has what we need because he’s a good Father.
Friends, so often we do not have because we do not ask, we do not ask because we do not think our Father cares enough to open his door to us in the middle of the night, so we sit alone, afraid of the darkness of the world and the darkness of this life. When God is waiting, wanting to be found. Ask him. Ask him for what you need, tell him when you’re afraid, go to him when you’re tempted or when you sin to let him sit with you through the night.
The passage opens with an assurance that God wants us to ask him for our daily bread—the food and things we need to just make it through, but then the passage closes with an assurance that our Father delights in giving good gifts to his children. As a father, I feed my children daily bread—toast or grits in the morning, beans and rice in the evening—and I also delight in giving them the best I can sometimes—for Noah, it’s ice cream, for AJ, unfortunately for me, it’s steak. We grilled out yesterday, I bought one steak, and we all split it—but I want to give them good things, just as a gift, because I love them, and their delight is my delight. God wants you to ask because he loves you, and doing things for you is a delight for him.
I’ve noticed, as a pastor, most people have the Father part of this prayer down, meaning we tend to approach the Lord in prayer assuming about him that he will respond to us as our fathers would. Some people were abused, and mostly I’ve seen them avoid interacting with God altogether, keep their distance.
I’ve known other people whose parents were exacting. It was less, “do your best” and more “I expect your best at all times, and your best better be good enough.” Usually those people assume the Lord is waiting above them with a rod just waiting for the mistakes. The idea of the omnipresence of God feels like the nightmare of a parent from whom you have no privacy. Far from knocking on their father’s door in the middle of the night, they think they have to jump through hoops for God to be pleased, that they have to earn his affection, as if you could; as if he adopted you for your character instead of his. And if they think they’ve made a mistake, they alternate between avoiding the Lord altogether and coming to him racked with guilt.
Other people—a lot of people in our society, with all of our business—who were raised provisionally, who were told, “so long as you have everything you need, please don’t bother me. So long as you’re not bleeding, stay outside.” A lot of us approach the Lord only as a last resort. We don’t bring him our daily cares, much less our daily delights. We don’t lean on him until we’re exhausted. We bring him our emergencies. We pray about other people who are the ones who “really need it.” We don’t seek him in the night when we are afraid of the darkness of the world around us, we sit and tell ourselves we’re fine, and to stop being silly, and we will involve God if we get in over our heads, not realizing that we were born into the world already over our heads.
I want to encourage you, when you pray—our God is a good father. You don’t need to avoid him, and he’s not waiting to find fault with you. If he’s waiting at all, he’s waiting like the father in another of Jesus’s parables, on the road, watching and waiting for his wayward child to come home, waiting to embrace us, waiting for our rebellion to end.
God wants you to come knock, and as often as you do, the door will be opened. As often as you seek him, he will make sure he is found. You can ask your father for things you don’t need. You can tell him about things that happened to you, things you’re anxious about. You can wake him up just because you’re scared—he loves you; he’s a good dad.
So often our prayers look more like the prophets of Baal, if you know this story, who shouted and cut themselves to try to make their God wake up, pay attention. We try to muster up enough faith, or the right words, or the right bargain to make God pay attention or pay out. We don’t need to. In the rest of this series we will answer questions of why it doesn’t always feel God is listening, but what I’m arguing for today is just faith enough to know God loves you and he is there for you. Knock and the door will be opened to you. Seek and you will find.
Through this series, because we are talking about prayer, I want to use the closing prayers of my sermons as a means of responding, all of us, to what the text is teaching. Today, I want you to do this, if you’ll humor me, I want to walk us slowly through this prayer and make it our own: I want you to close your eyes. And I’m going to ask you some questions, and I don’t want you to respond out loud, just pray silently in response. Let’s pray.
“Father, hallowed be your name.” God wants you to tell him how you feel about him and the things he has done in the world. In the end, he is all good and worthy of all praise, so maybe you can say together with all the saints, hallowed be thy name. But this is not the end, so it’s ok if this morning your first words are not to praise him. It’s ok if you have doubts. I have doubts. It’s ok if your relationship with him is broken. Mine is broken. Will you pray this morning with honesty and tell him who he is to you? What he means to you?
“Your kingdom come.” I want you to realize, if you are longing for a world in which people don’t get sick, they don’t die or leave; where you are exactly who you were created to be; a world where there’s peace and justice for every people; one where you are completely known—every sin, every mistake, every joy—and you are still completely loved. If you are longing for that world, you are longing for the kingdom of God, and your heart will be restless until you find your rest in him. Can you pray now and tell our father what it is your heart has really been longing for?
“Give us each day our daily bread,” It’s ok to knock on his door. He will answer you every time. What do you need, child? What do you need?
“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” Bonhoeffer writes, in Life Together, “Many Christians would be unimaginably horrified if a real sinner were suddenly to turn up among the pious. So we remain alone with our sin, trapped in lies and hypocrisy, for we are in fact sinners.” Will you admit today that you have made mistakes? That we all are real sinners, and choose today to confess rather than to live life alone?
“And lead us not into temptation.” I’m sorry that this world is so hard, and that the nights are so dark. Can we admit to each other today that we have been scared, that we are tired, and ask the Lord to give us rest?