Luke 11: Teach Us to Pray

The disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray (which would mean Jesus’ way of praying, not how to pray in general as they would have been taught to pray since childhood) and he gives them two contrasting teachings.

First, he gives them what we know as the Lord’s Prayer.  The outstanding point of this prayer is how God-centered it is.  God is praised.  It is God’s kingdom that we wish to see advanced.  The rest of the prayer is one of basic provision: bread for today, forgiveness, and protection from the Devil.

Next, Jesus also challenges his audience to pray with audacity:

So this is my word to you: ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.  You see, everyone who asks receives!  Everyone who searches finds!  Everyone who knocks has the door opened for them!  (11:9-10)

This is the prayer of bold persistence. Prayers of this sort are focused on the person praying.  This is a very different kind of prayer from the first.

Most of us pray one or the other of these prayers.  We easily pray for ourselves and God’s agenda takes a backseat.  We have an easy time taking our needs to God but have yet to learn there may be a more important, kingdom-advancing point to our need.  Or, for others, God is the center of much of our prayer and we feel guilty asking for ourselves.  We might come around to “asking, seeking, knocking” but only after our own best efforts have been exhausted or we are convinced we should dare to ask for ourselves.

Jesus tell us here that both kinds of prayers are necessary.  There is not one right way to pray.   Some days all that matters is God’s agenda and we can be content with the basics. Other days, in desperation, we cry out boldly for our own needs, because we must.

Life requires both.

What did you learn today about prayer?

Categories: Luke | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Luke 11: Teach Us to Pray

  1. Umm Muhamamd

    Hi Jason,

    This reminded me of a Quranic verse that teaches us how to pray not only for our needs in this world alone, but also to ask for the best in the hereafter. It can also be seen in another light that is to keep a balance between doing the mundane acts of this world like eating, sleeping, etc and doing the deeds that will earn us rewards in the hereafter. The verse goes as follows:

    {…And among the people is he who says, “Our Lord, give us in this world,” and he will have in the Hereafter no share. But among them is he who says, “Our Lord, give us in this world [that which is] good and in the Hereafter [that which is] good and protect us from the punishment of the Fire.” Those will have a share of what they have earned, and Allah is swift in account.} (2: 200-202)

    We are also taught that we can change the mundane acts of this world into worship and earn rewards by doing it with the right intentions. For example: When I go to bed early with the intention that I want to go to bed early so I can wake up early to pray at its right time, my act of sleeping has become an act of worship for me and I will be rewarded.

    Umm Muhammad

    • Now that a cool new way to see sleep!

      I was surprised to see you say to “wake up early to pray.” I thought you were going to say a reward comes when you go to bed early with the intention of being rested so you treat others with greater love. Isn’t that more important than prayer? Isn’t that the point of prayer? Aren’t rituals intended to inform and better our ethics?

  2. Umm Muhamamd

    Nice question 🙂

    I think you know that we Muslims pray 5 times a day. The first thing that we are supposed to say when we open our eyes is a supplication that reads. ” All praise and gratitude belong to Allah who has given us life after causing us to die (sleep is considered a minor death) and to him is the Return.” Then we get ready for our dawn prayer; this prayer is to be prayed before the sun rises. So that’s the very first thing we do. And we wake up the rest of the family members to pray. And so our day begins by our dawn prayer and then comes dealing with people. Of course we have to be kind with our family when we wake them up for prayer.

    Aren’t rituals intended to inform and better our ethics?

    Yes of course that’s the benefit of salah (prayer). Allah says in the Quran:

    {Recite, [O Muhammad], what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish prayer. Indeed, prayer (salah) prohibits immorality and wrongdoing, and the remembrance of Allah is greater. And Allah knows that which you do.} (29: 45)

    Salah comes from the word silah which means relationship/bond, etc Salah for us is a communication between us and our Lord. When we pray and recite the Quran besides other supplications which are mainly praising Allah, we are supposed to understand what we read. Suppose we are reading the following verse in the salah:

    {And [recall] when We took the covenant from the Children of Israel, [enjoining upon them], “Do not worship except Allah ; and to parents do good and to relatives, orphans, and the needy. And speak to people good [words] and establish prayer and give zakah.” Then you turned away, except a few of you, and you were refusing.} (2: 83)

    then it is a reminder for us to do all that the verse says. If we pray as we are supposed to pray then it will better our ethics and it will keep us away from immorality and wrong doing. But if we just pray with a heedless heart, just standing, bowing, and prostrating then we won’t get its benefit.

    And being a Muslim doesn’t mean just to pray, fast, perform hajj and pay zakah. It is a lot more than that. It has a lot to do with how you deal with other people and how you even deal with animals.
    A hadith says that a lady went to hellfire because she starved a cat to death.
    And a hadith says that a Muslim is one from whose hands and tongues other Muslims are safe.

    A Muslims is someone who has both ethics and piety in him. You cannot have Islam without ethics. Both go hand in hand. 🙂

    We start our day with prayer and we are supposed to end our day with salah too, but we Muslims now a days (which is a sad thing) keep awake till late at night. The prophet sallahu alaihi wasallam has told us to sleep right after Isha prayer.

    Sorry that is a long read. But I hope you understood what I wanted to say.

    Umm Muhammad

    • I hear you saying that the rituals provide structure that help the ethics to blossom. I like that way of seeing it.

      Jason Knight

      • Umm Muhamamd

        Yes that’s what I am trying to say. Lol I can’t put it in a few lines like you, I guess.
        The more we do our acts of worship in the right way (we have to do it because we love to do it and not because we have to do it), the more conscious of Allah we get, the more conscious we will be of of our day to day conduct with ourselves and others. It is captured beautifully in a hadith; Allah Azza wa jal says:

        “My servant constantly approaches Me through supererogatory acts of worship until I love him, and when I love him, I become his eyes with which he sees, his hands with which he holds, and his legs with which he walks.”

        As some misguided people think this doesn’t mean becoming one with God or some nonsense like that. This means that he sees only that which Allah would want him to see, and he holds with his hands only what Allah would want him to hold, and he walks to places only those Allah would want him to walk to. This is a very high level of God-consciousness.

        Umm Muhammad

        • How do you remember all of these appropriate quotes from the Quran or Hadith? Do they truly come from your memory or do you look things up? If they come from memory, how did you get to that point? It is quite astounding!

          • Umm Muhamamd

            Alhamdulillah Allah has blessed me to be a student of knowledge. Meaning I am pursuing Islamic Studies that includes studying Quran, hadith, exegesis of the Quran, jurisprudence and a whole lot of other Islamic sciences. Whenever I read your blogs, hadith and verses that I have read earlier which are in line with what you write, come to my mind. But I haven’t memorized the hadith and I haven’t yet memorized the Quran, so I look for the hadith and the verses that I am looking for and I put them up here. For example I don’t know the whole verse of the particular verse I am looking for, but I know words from it (in Arabic, not the translation) and I have a site which is very helpful in which i just enter one or two words that I know is from the verse and I get the verse. And I post the translation here 🙂

            As for the hadith, I have studied quite a bit of ahadith alhamdulillah but I haven’t memorized them, so I look up the ones that I am looking for that relates to your post which I have already read earlier. And also while looking up I come across more knowledge 🙂 All by the Grace of Almighty Allah. Alhamdulillah

            All Praise and Gratitude belong to Allah for giving me this blessing of learning His deen, which many people look down upon now a days.

            Umm Muhammad

            • Thank you for sharing that with me. I understand how it is to know a few words then have to look them up. I do that all of the time. Growing up no one put much emphasis on memorizing scripture, so I see in you how that emphasis can be very handy.

              Yes, to be able to study is a great blessing. Often made possible by the grace of God through the donations of generous people. I am thankful for them as well.

          • Umm Muhamamd

            And you shouldn’t be surprised by the similarity between what Jesus peace be upon him says to his people and what the Quran says to us or what Muhammad peace be upon him tells us because the Gospel that was revealed to Jesus and the Quran that was revealed to Muhammad peace be upon both of them come from one and the same source. We have the same ethical and moral beliefs but the law was different to the children of Israel when they had the Torah, and after Jesus peace be upon him came with the Gospel, the law changed with regards to some matters not everything, and after Muhammad sallahu alaihi wasallam came the law changed again and that will remain the final law till the Day of Judgement. And I pray that your heart and the hearts of all Chritians reading this sees that one day. Ameen

            Umm Muhammad

            • And you know what we are praying too, right? 🙂

              Thank you for always helping me understand better.

            • Umm Muhamamd

              Yes I know. 🙂

              It is part of God’s mercy that He sends down messengers from among humans so people can understand and learn. And also only if the messengers were humans can they understand and interact with those around them. God is always God and man is always man. One cannot become the other. For God to step down from His lofty position and endure all the imperfectness of human beings is something not befitting God. It only befits that He chooses a messenger to convey to us about Him and about how we should live in this world.

              Interesting questions of disbelievers and answers given by Allah Azza wa jal in the Quran.

              The disbelievers question:

              {And they say, “What is this messenger that eats food and walks in the markets? Why was there not sent down to him an angel so he would be with him a warner? Or [why is not] a treasure presented to him [from heaven], or does he [not] have a garden from which he eats?” And the wrongdoers say, “You follow not but a man affected by magic.”} (25: 7-8)

              Allah answers:

              {And We did not send before you, [O Muhammad], any of the messengers except that they ate food and walked in the markets. And We have made some of you [people] as trial for others – will you have patience? And ever is your Lord, Seeing.} (25: 20)

              {And We sent not before you, [O Muhammad], except men to whom We revealed [the message],…cont below } (21: 7)

              Tafseer (exegesis) from Ibn Katheer: meaning,all the Messengers who came before you were men, human beings. There were no angels among them.

              Allah tells us that the previous nations denied that men could guide them, so they said:

              {…”Shall human beings guide us?”…} (64: 6)

              {…so ask the people of the message if you do not know.} (21: 7)

              Exegesis: meaning, ask the people of knowledge among the nations such as the Jews and Christians and other groups: ‘were the Messengers who came to you human beings or angels!’ Indeed they were human beings.

              This is a part of the perfect blessing of Allah towards His creation: He sent to them Messengers from among themselves so that they could receive the Message from them and learn from them.

              {And We did not make the prophets forms (bodies) not eating food, nor were they immortal [on earth].} (21: 8)

              Exegesis: meaning, they were human beings who ate and drank like all other people, and they went to the marketplaces to earn a living and engage in business; that did not affect them adversely or reduce their status in any way, as the idolators imagined.

              The whole discussion above and the exegesis has been taken from Tafseer Ibn Katheer. It is quite a coincidence that I was reading this just before you posted your last comment. Subhanallah!

              For me, I don’t have to see God as a man in front of me or even imagine that He became a man to feel God’s mercy for me or that He is close to me. I see His mercy manifest around me all the time and I can’t even count his blessing(s). I have put the (s) in brackets because we can’t comprehend even one of the blessings of Allah that He has bestowed us with. When I am going through bad times, nothing and nobody lifts my spirits up except the thought, God is watching and He is with me and He will pull me through this. If I were to accept Jesus peace be upon him as God (ma’aadhallah), he is not with me today and he was not with the people who were before him. Where as God has been and will be watching over everything and everyone at all times and all places. And He is with those who remember Him.

              Umm Muhammad

              P.S. Sorry for my long postings.

            • I get it. We are definitely coming from different places on this one. One clarification: it isn’t that I want God to become human. The matter is that God did become human, at His own choice. Now I am left to study and think why that might be.

      • Umm Muhamamd

        I was just going through your other blog (A Christian reads the Quran) and this is what you have written, which is 100% correct:

        107, Al-Ma`un (Common Kindnesses): If a worshiper is all show with his prayers but never fulfills the “common kindnesses” of taking care of the needy and orphans, his religion is false and he has obviously forgotten about Judgment.

  3. “This is war, and there is no neutral ground. If you’re not on my side, you’re my enemy; if you’re not helping, you’re making things worse.”

    Jesus is usually cast as this all-inclusive, hyper-tolerant lover of all. Certainly he loves all, but this verse and others sure do turn that idea on its head. Jesus had/has a mission and he sees us as helpers or hinderers.

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