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.’ 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.’
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; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” 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.” 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.
‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to 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!’ (NRSV).
Prayer can seem so mysterious and strange. It can appear other-worldly, escapist, or even elitist.
Of course, there are others for whom prayer is the most natural of all practices. To commune with God is the very essence of life: Who could live without conversing with our creator?
Perhaps the disciples fit somewhere between these apparent extremes. Their request demonstrates that they believe prayer is something a Rabbi knows about and is able to teach. Jesus agrees. His answer assumes that this is a practice they either have – or will – undertake: ‘When you pray…’
Jesus begins with a structured prayer. It addresses God as both intimate: ‘Father’ (or a better translation ‘Daddy’) – and as exalted and lofty: ‘…hallowed be your name’.
It is quite a dynamic. God is as similar and available as a parent – and as different as a royalty.
The prayer goes on to express hope in the coming kingdom and requests the necessities of each day. Forgiveness is highlighted – moving from God, through the pray-er, and on to others. It ends by asking for freedom from judgment. The Lord’s prayer moves effortlessly from the grand and cosmic, to everyday necessities, and back again to the broad strokes of a God who will make all things right.
But Jesus offers more than a formal structure with which to come before God. He also tells a parable.
It points to the reluctance of even a ‘friend’ to respond. The midnight request is met only through persistence. Even in the world, Jesus goes on to suggest, asking, searching, and knocking gets a response. Though we may experience reluctance we still know something of receiving, finding, and open doors. Among ourselves we also know the difference between good and bad gifts. Even our parenting expresses itself in hearing and responding generously to our children.
And all this though we are ‘evil’.
But how much more will a ‘heavenly Father’ give? Jesus, it would seem, believes God gives exponentially more generously than that which we experience among ourselves. God knows giving better than we do.
Perhaps nothing highlights this more than the final gift Jesus points to: the Holy Spirit. Yes, God is a good gift indeed.
After all, what could be greater or more generous than the very presence of God?