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Words are Powerful

Are you familiar with the cartoon B.C.?

There are two characters I want to point out: A woman who carries a big stick and a snake. In one cartoon, the woman is beating the snake with her stick.

One day, as she is walking up one side of a hill, the snake is coming up the other side of the hill. They meet at the top. At that moment the woman realizes that she does not have her stick. So, she looks at the snake and says, “Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!”

In the next frame, the snake is in a hundred pieces. The caption reads, “Oh the power of the spoken word.”

Yes, words are powerful.

Words Create Worlds

You can use words to create images and assumptions. Those words shape the way we view one another and the world. You can use words to encourage and build up as well as discourage and tear down. Words feed our prejudices, cultivate relationships, and set the course for decision-making.

Over the past several weeks, in the United Methodist Church, there has been a plethora of words that have given birth to disillusionment and disappointment. I have felt the distress, anxiety, and pain that have come with words like anger, fear, and defeat.

A word from the Word

As I have reflected upon our situation, I have wondered if we are anything like the church at Ephesus. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul wrote, “Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that builds up and provides what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.”

Because Paul wrote those words to a church, does it mean that there were problems with the way people spoke to one another?

The church in Ephesus was a diverse church. Because of its diversity, there was a conflict of values. The Jews, who had a deep ethical background, were people who lived with religious values. The Gentiles, who did not have the same background or heritage, had a different set of values.

I can image there were times when the two sets of values clashed and created tension. So, Paul is teaching about the new life in Christ. He was teaching what would become some of the values of the Christian faith.

Ephesians 4:25 – 4:29

Let’s look at this passage closely.

Ephesians 4:25

“…putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors.”

In other words, stop making up what you don’t know and tell the truth. You don’t have to exaggerate your importance or project a more desirable image. You belong to one another. Your life and talk are dedicated to the truth rather than to yourself. So, give up falsehood and speak the truth.

Ephesians 4:26

“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not make room for the devil.”

Anger is not necessarily evil or sinful, but nursing a grudge or unforgiveness is. It poisons your life and the life of the church or community. It is in the unforgiveness that gives root to evil. So, care for your anger. Understand your emotions and respond appropriately.

Ephesians 4:28

“Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.” Paul gives a warning against stealing. The assumption is that those who have the world’s goods will share with others.

Ephesians 4:29

“Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (TEV)

In a time of conflict, Paul is instructing the church to say kind, supportive, encouraging words. When you open your mouth, do not let evil talk come out of your mouth. Don’t diss one another. Say only what is useful for building up as there is need so that your words may give grace to those who hear. The teaching is similar to Jesus saying, “it is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles…”

What are the courageous words you're speaking today? How are your words building people up, encouraging them, and helping them? Explore what Ephesians has to say to us in this blog post and hear the wisdom of a modern truth teller along the way. #courage #ephesians #bible #leadership #leaders #transformingmission Transforming MissionWhat Is Paul Teaching Us?

May we learn something from Paul here? In times of stress and conflict, use kind, caring words of truth. Be a courageous leader. Step up and name the current reality while speaking the truth with care and encouragement. Be the leader who uses helpful words to build up those who hear them.

Although she is writing about more than words, Brene Brown writes, “In times of uncertainty, it is common for leaders to leverage fear and weaponize it to their advantage…If you can keep people afraid, and give them an enemy who is responsible for their fear, you can get people to do just about anything.”¹

Consider for a moment: How have your words created fear? How are you creating time and space for safe conversations?

Brown also says, “…when we are managing during times of scarcity or deep uncertainty, it is imperative that we embrace the uncertainty…We need to be available to fact-check the stories that team members may be making up, because in scarcity we invent worse case scenarios.”²

Consider for a moment: Are you making up what you don’t know? How are you helping lower the levels of anxiety with your words?

A Final Reminder

In times like these, we don’t need to be right. But we do need to be righteous. Not self-righteous but holy as God is holy. If you are unsure about God holiness, look at Jesus. In Jesus, you will find the embodiment of God’s holiness and love.

Remember, it is Jesus who said, “it is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles…” As a leader, take the time to allow God’s Word, Jesus, to take up residence in your life. When you do, it will be Jesus who comes out.

“Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that builds up and provides what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (Ephesians 4:29 TEV).

Ready to put your words and actions together? Download the Rumble Starter Kit and Listen to Episode 059 of LeaderCast: How to Rumble

 

  1. Brene Brown, Dare to Lead, p. 104
  2. Ibid., p. 105

Lindsay had been unconscious for hours. She had felt horrible all weekend, but when she didn’t answer her door, her friends became concerned and broke into her dorm room. Neither her friends, the EMTs, nor the emergency room doctors could get a response. Her parents were called to the hospital. They tried to get all the information they could, but the only detail that mattered was that their oldest child, away from home for her freshman year, was in unexplored territory for all of them.

Lindsay was life-flighted to a hospital better equipped to address her condition. It was during this time of crisis that the church, the community of faith, surrounded Lindsey and her family.

A woman by the name of Becky, a mother of two girls, decided to visit Lindsay with a gift. She took her gift with a disciple’s faith and a mother’s heart.

A Disciple’s Faith and A Mother’s Heart

When Becky arrived, Lindsay was in the Critical Care Unit. As she entered the room, the doctor and the nurse in the room at the time said, “We’ll leave so you can be alone with her.” While Lindsay lay unconscious, this woman, with a disciple’s faith and a mother’s heart, began to pray.

Becky said, “I stood at the edge of her bed, and I touched her leg. And I prayed for her. I can’t tell you for how long. But as I prayed, I was filled with this overwhelming assurance that this young woman was going to be all right.” Then she said, “I finished praying. I wiped the tears from my eyes. I turned to leave. That’s when I realized that the nurses from the unit were gathered outside the room. They had been watching while I was praying.”

So, what kind of gift can a disciple’s faith and a mother’s heart possibly give an unconscious teenager? What gift is worthy for a group of caregivers in a critical situation? How about the gift of hope?

The Power of Hope

Hope is the most powerful force in the universe. More powerful than death and despair, hope is lifegiving.  The power of hope brings God’s promises to bear on the here and now. There is absolutely nothing else like it in the world. Doctors will step out of the way to let hope in. Nurses will stand outside the room in awe to watch hope at work. There is nothing more life-giving and death-defeating than the power of hope.

Friends, colleagues, whoever will listen, I write today to tell you that the power of hope has been given to the church. That’s the real surprise, isn’t it? That the opportunity and honor of giving hope is given to you and me.

Whenever God wants to bring God’s promises to bear on the here and now, God looks for one of us. God looks wherever God can find a disciple’s faith and a willing heart. God looks for the church to be the people of hope. God has placed in our hands, “the single most indispensable, non-negotiable, irreplaceable resource required for big challenges and noble battles,” the power of hope.

We cannot live without hope. Hope is the backbone that holds us up and holds us together. Transforming MissionWhat Can People Live Without?

Victor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, tells about his life as a prisoner in a Nazi death camp. He recalls a fellow prisoner who was in good health, considering the conditions of the camp. Each day on the way out to the work site this man would talk about what he and his wife were going to do together at the end of the war when they were released.

Then one day the man received the news of the death of his wife. Two days later, he died. Frankl concluded from this experience that people can live longer without bread than they can without hope.

Hope is More Powerful Than…

We live in a time of great turmoil. People are killed not only in the streets but in their places of prayer. We are experiencing the deliberate strategy of fear and hate that has turned into violence. But if I had to choose one diagnosis for what wounds people the most today, I would not say it’s greed, or selfishness, or apathy. I would say that the root of the fear and hatred we are experiencing is found in uncertainty.

People lack certainty in their jobs, in the economy, in their children’s future. They are asking the questions, “Will my pension be enough?” “Will my job last?” “What if the election doesn’t go the way I want it to go?” I know that some of you are uncertain about the future of our United Methodist Church. We are trying to hang on to what we know. We are wondering what is going to happen if it turns out differently than what we expect.

What I know is this, there are only a few things more powerful than life and death put together, hope is one them. As human beings, we can live for forty days without food, four days without water, and four minutes without air. But we cannot live without hope. Hope is the backbone that holds us up and holds us together. Anchored in God’s promises, hope gives us life. It is hope, given to us in and through Jesus, that is same today and tomorrow.

Agents of Hope

I believe that God is ready for the congregations of the Capitol Area South District to be agents of hope. We are the people to bring the great promises of God to bear on this time and place in history. God has placed in our hands “the single most indispensable, non-negotiable, irreplaceable resource required for big challenges and noble battles.”

So, God is looking for one of us to have a disciple’s faith and willing heart. God is looking for one of us to bring the promises of God to bear on the here and now? God is looking for one of us to be an agent of hope in the neighborhood, the community, and the city? God is looking for one of us to pray, “Where do you need me to be hope today?”

Friends, colleagues, fellow human beings, God is looking for you!

 

 

 

 

 

Then he (Jesus) led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hand, he blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them… (Luke 24:50-51)

Luke presents Jesus as a person of prayer.

Whether it is at his baptism, dealing with popularity, choosing leaders, or feeding 5000 people on the hillside, Jesus is praying. Throughout his gospel, Luke shows us that Jesus maintains his relationship with God through prayer. Now, at the end of his gospel, he has Jesus praying as he blesses his followers.

Luke also presents Jesus as being empowered and energized by the Holy Spirit. Jesus begins his public ministry with the words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me (or Christed me) to bring good news to the poor.”

Holy Spirit Power

This Holy Spirit power in Jesus is also the Holy Spirit power in the church. It is the power to move beyond the cowardice and hesitation to witness across the barriers that keep people separated from God’s love and one another. So, at the end of his gospel, Luke has Jesus preparing his followers to receive power to be his witnesses.

This connection between prayer and the Holy Spirit is unique in Luke. In John, Jesus is divine by nature. He does not need prayer. He comes from God and is going back to God.

He is aware of everything. There is no agony, no struggle, no Gethsemane.

Matthew has Jesus as the authoritative teacher of the Word of God. Jesus is the final authority in his teaching.  Mark presents Jesus like an exorcist, constantly in contact with forces of evil.

But Luke has Jesus as a person of prayer. He is filled with the Spirit of God. The Spirit in Jesus is the same Spirit available to the church. The qualities of Jesus are the qualities of church.

In the gospels, there are no photos of Jesus, but four portraits of Jesus. It is in Luke’s portrait that we begin to understand why we are in the presence of God.  We get an up close view of the Holy Spirit in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  We begin to see that Jesus is available to us as the church.

And, we begin to understand that Holy Spirit power comes through prayer.

The Blessing

So, here we are at the end, or is it the beginning? “Then he (Jesus) led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hand, he blessed them.”  Is this a prayer of benediction or is it a blessing to send the disciples into a new mission?  Whether end or beginning, it is a good word.  Jesus is calling down the blessing of God.  He has prepared them and is saying, “Farewell.”

The Benediction is the final word, the final blessing. But the blessing is also the assurance of God’s favor and protection. It is also the promise of God’s grace and peace.  Just as God instructed Moses to equip Aaron and his family to bless the Israelites, Jesus now blesses his followers.

Moses said, “Bless the people saying, ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.’”

And Jesus blessed his followers saying, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses…”

With his blessing our witness begins!

For Luke, the Scriptures and Holy Communion are at the heart of the church. To read and understand the scriptures is a divine gift in and through the risen Christ. When the Lord’s Supper takes place, there is an invitation to the outsider and hospitality to the stranger. It is in the “breaking of bread” that the stranger is recognized as a friend.

When the people are feeling weary and hopeless, Jesus prays. He takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it. Through these acts of Holy Communion, Jesus is known and a new hope is born.

What does prayer have to do with it?

The story of the road to Emmaus gives us insight into Luke’s understanding of Jesus and the church.

Here is part of that story.

When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So, he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” – Luke 24:28-32

For me, this story clearly reveals Luke’s understanding of the meaning of resurrection faith. It is a story of two Jesus followers, walking to Emmaus, having a conversation about Jesus’ death and his missing body.

A Divine Gift

In the middle of their conversation, Jesus joins them on their journey. He is received as a stranger. Luke writes, “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”

This is Luke’s way of saying that being with the earthly Jesus, hearing his teaching, seeing his miracles and knowing the example of his life are not enough apart from an experience of the risen Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. To recognize God’s act in Jesus is not a matter of our human insight but is a divine gift.

Jesus, the stranger in their midst, asks, “What are you talking about?” The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place over the last few days?” And Jesus asks, “What things?”

The two Jesus followers began to give a summary of what had happened. Their summary was not wrong but, because of his death, they did not perceive that Jesus was the promised Messiah. They recited the correct events but did not perceive what had happened.

One of them said, “We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.” I think it is important to understand that Jesus’ followers believed that God was present in what Jesus said and what he did. They believed that God’s kingdom of justice was about to dawn.

Was Hope Gone?

Then came the crucifixion and the shattering of their hopes. Their human wisdom said, “While there’s life, there’s hope.” The death of Jesus was the death of their hope. Even though they had his message, his example, and his ministry, the crucifixion meant that Jesus was another failed idealist. They had no reason to think differently.

Their hope was that God would send the Messiah to restore Israel and set Israel free from oppression. These two on the road with Jesus perceived God’s redeeming work in nationalistic terms. For them, it was over. Hope was gone.

In a New Light

Jesus then says, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

After the resurrection, Jesus’ disciples began to understand the scriptures in light of their Christian faith. They discovered many passages that illustrated their new faith. Luke is clear.

He believed that the risen Christ, through the Holy Spirit, was guiding the church into the true meaning of the Scriptures. In his story of the road to Emmaus, Luke introduced the process of reinterpreting the Scripture under the guidance of the risen Christ.

Prayer and Hospitality

While on the road with the two travelers, Jesus is not recognized as the Christ but only as a weary fellow traveler. The two extend an invitation to food and fellowship. As they offer hospitality, Jesus is revealed to them. It is here we get a clue to prayer and hospitality.

“So, he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him…” Luke 24:29-31

Jesus did not force himself on them, but when invited, the guest became the host. The meal was an ordinary meal, but the words were the familiar words of Holy Communion. The words, “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it…” reflect the language of the liturgy of the Lord’s Table.

Jesus took and blessed the bread. Blessing in the Greek is the word “eulogy.” Blessing is to eulogize God. The prayer was, “Blessed are you Lord God creator of the universe. For you sustain all your creation and satisfy our hearts with good things.” God is eulogized as creator, sustainer, and keeper of life. So, the prayer was praising God and not the food.

prayer and hospitality are essential to the Christian life. What do we encounter in Luke's gospel that illuminates how we can unite prayer and hospitality? Read the blog post at transforming mission.Word and Deed

For Luke, God’s saving work in Jesus was a matter of both word and deed. He spoke the word of God and reflected God’s justice and mercy that represented the kingdom of God. Jesus’ followers did the same thing in the church. They not only proclaimed the gospel but they embodied the gospel in their lives. They became the evidence of the Jesus alive on earth.

Word and deed were integrated into both Jesus’ life and the life of the early Church. Words without deeds are hypocritical and hollow. Deeds without the word of the gospel miss the point of God’s act in Jesus as the source of normal loving living.

I find it interesting that the church in the past has been guilty of speaking without acting, but the church of today might be guilty of acting without speaking the Word.

Being Known

With that in mind, there are two things important to Luke and to his church.

  1. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

Jesus provides the lens through which we are to look at the scripture. He is the key to our understanding the scripture.

Luke wants us to know that knowing about earthly Jesus, hearing his teaching, seeing his miracles, and knowing the example of his life are not enough apart from experiencing the risen Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

  1. Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of bread. (Luke 24:35)

Three times in Luke’s gospel, we get a story of eating with others: feeding of the 5000, last supper in the Upper Room, and with the travelers on the road to Emmaus. In each story, we have the liturgical formula used in Holy Communion.

The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, is central to the life of the Church. In the house at Emmaus Jesus is a stranger, yet a guest. Even though he is the guest he becomes the host.

It is in the breaking of the bread, the stranger, the outsider, becomes known to them as Jesus himself.

Word and Table

Prayer and hospitality come together at the Table. There is enough room for you. Read more on the blog.

For Luke, this is the church. The services of Word and Table are at the heart of the church. To read andunderstand the scriptures is not solely a matter of our human intellect and insight but is a gift in and through Jesus, the risen Christ.

When the Lord’s Supper takes place, there is an invitation to the outsider and hospitality to the stranger. It is in the breaking of bread that the risen Christ is made known to the community.

When the people are feeling weary and hopeless, Jesus prays. He takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it. Through these acts of Holy Communion, Jesus is known and a new hope is born.

Even though there were only three at the table that day, the table was large enough for the stranger.

I think it is important to understand that Jesus put prayer and action together. When you are at the Table with friends and strangers, and when you are giving thanks and praising God, look and listen closely.

You are in the presence of Jesus.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Luke 23:34

Luke has Jesus praying at particularly important points in his ministry. His pattern has been to go to a desert place or a lonely place to pray. Jesus did this to keep his focus upon what God has called and commissioned him to do.

He prays seeking direction when he is tempted to follow the crowd, “Do I go with the crowd or do I go to the cross?” He prays when Simon Peter and the other disciples misunderstood his suffering and dying as a contradiction of who and what they understood the Messiah to be and do. And, he prays when his identity and purpose as suffering Messiah did not match the images of the people who loved him and who followed him.

Now, in Luke 24, while he is on the cross, Jesus prays.

What does prayer have to do with it? To answer that question, we need some background on the cross.

The Shape of the Cross

1. On most of our altars and hanging in our sanctuaries is a cross, the Latin Cross. The truth is we really do not know the shape of the cross.

Every tradition has its own cross. The Greek cross looks like a plus sign, two bars the same length. St. Anthony’s Cross looks like a T, a cross piece is on top a vertical stake. The Cross of Andrew is an X, the first letter of Christ in the Greek alphabet. Justin Martyr’s cross is an X shaped cross for Crucifixion. The cross could have been on an impaling stick or a stake in the ground.

We don’t know how Jesus was crucified. But because we do not know does not mean we should abandon it.

2. What is it in scripture? In verse 33, they have come to the place of the skull. In the Greek, the word is “cranium”. In the Aramaic, the word is “Golgotha”. In the Latin, the word is “Calavera”. Each is a different name for the same thing. In Luke, it is the place of the skull.

3. For the Romans, Caesar was Lord. The government was central. To speak or act against Rome was considered heresy. Crucifixion was used to warn citizens what would happen to them if they were disloyal to Rome. People were sacrificed on crosses to warn others what would happen to them when they committed heresy.

What do we know?

What we know is the crucifixion was a public execution. There is evidence that as many as 800 crosses would line the road like power poles. Persons, mostly men who attempted to overthrow Rome, were impaled on stakes or nailed to crosses. It created fear in the people who passed by. It was a scene like this that Jesus was crucified publicly between two criminals.

So, in Luke 24:34, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” This prayer was in keeping with the character and life of Jesus. He was praying for forgiveness for those who were violating him because they did not know what they are doing. In Luke, the primary problem is ignorance. “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” They have killed the Lord of glory in ignorance.

Forgiveness and Ignorance

I know it seems strange that anyone would have to be forgiven for ignorance. We usually don’t put forgiveness and ignorance together. But when you think of the different kinds of ignorance that move and motivate people, the ignorance that closes their eyes when they have every opportunity to see the truth, our only hope is “Father, forgive them…”

When I think about it, evil could be called intentional ignorance. When we refuse to listen or to understand. When we remain silent and do nothing. When we turn our backs and say, “Well, it is terrible, but it is not my problem.”

That is intentional ignorance.

The crowds walked by Jesus on the cross, their only words where insults, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.” Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

It sounds like Jesus forgave them for their ignorance.

Could that work for us?

Father, forgive us

When we are filled with prejudice and we target and kill innocent people because of the color of their skin…

“Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When we use our power or position as harassment, especially as sexual harassment…

“Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When we know that women are paid less for the same work, not promoted with the same skills, overlooked for being different…

“Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When children and adults, bystanders, are killed by gun violence in schools, in parks, in clubs, in churches…

“Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When medications are not available or too expensive because our health care is inadequate…

“Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When any one of us remains silent when we know we should speak up and out…

“Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

Can we be forgiven for our ignorance?

“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

These words were spoken by a person whose only weapon was the love of God. Whose only crime was being different. Who raised suspicion because he challenged the systems of hatred, prejudice, and bigotry.

Yet, in the midst of being put to death for extending love, even to his enemies, he called upon God to forgive the ignorance of his abusers and accusers.

Jesus prayed.

Prayer and Forgiveness

What does prayer have to do with it?

“They also led two other criminals to be executed with Jesus. When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his lift. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 24:32-34

O Jesus, forgive us, our only hope is you.


 

Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1

The implication of this scripture is prayer is a learned experience. If that is so, were the disciples asking Jesus to teach them “how to” pray or were they asking Jesus to help them to focus upon “for what to pray?”

Whatever motivated them to ask was not as important as to pray.

How to Pray

As I reflect upon “how to” pray, I think of the tradition in which I grow up. The persons who prayed felt their prayers were more genuine and spirit led when they prayed extemporaneously. They just let it flow because what just flowed was more genuine.

They didn’t think about what to pray. What I remember is, what flowed naturally was what was on the surface of their minds. Too often they were not thinking of the conditions of the world or upon the people in need or distress. Those concerns did not automatically flow.

Engaging Prayer with Daily Life

What would happen if you listened to the news or read news stories to pray?

What would happen if you walked your neighborhood focusing upon your neighbors as you prayed?

Would you naturally think of the children, the gun violence, the prejudice, the hunger, or the homeless in your neighborhood?

Would you naturally think about the politicians, the first responders, the teachers, the medical personnel?

Without preparation, to share your feelings from the surface is to say the same thing all the time. If we do not focus our prayers, our prayers become nothing more than “just how I feel” prayers. I think that is important, but not that important.

Is this what the disciples were asking Jesus to teach them to do? Teach us “how to” pray?

Luke on Prayer

In Chapter 11, Luke has gathered Jesus’ teaching material on prayer. The same material is scattered about in Matthew, but Luke gathers the material in one place.

Immediately following what we know is as the Lord’s Prayer, Luke tells a story on persistence or perseverance in prayer. This teaching is to reassure believers that their prayers are heard and answered. If a grouchy neighbor awakened from sleep will respond to an urgent request for bread, how much more will God respond to our prayers. The story is not about praying harder or longer. Luke is encouraging his community to persist in prayer because to pray is to stay focused upon God and God’s call and commission to ministry.

As we have discussed, Jesus’ pattern was to go to a lonely place to pray and then come back to engage in ministry. His time away to pray was to keep his focus upon God’s call and to test his desires in response to God’s call. Luke’s encouragement to persevere in prayer is to keep our focus upon God.

Ask, Seek, Knock

Next to perseverance in prayer, Luke places the “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” sayings. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”

Remember in Chapter 10, Luke tells of Jesus sending the disciples out, his instructions on what to take with them, and how to respond to those who accept them and reject them. The “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” material was adopted by the early Christian missionaries as encouragement to live out their mission, depending only on friendly supporters along the way.

Luke uses the sayings in relation to prayer. Since God is eager to hear and respond to the believer’s prayer, we may confidently ask, seek, and knock, no longer on human doors, but on the gates of heaven.

Prayer & the Holy Spirit

Luke concludes the teaching material with, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Remember, in Luke’s gospel, there is a relationship between prayer and the Holy Spirit.

We see the connection in Jesus’ ministry. In the Acts of the Apostles, we see the connection where the Holy Spirit comes on the church in response to prayer. Luke is letting his community know that the Holy Spirit in Jesus, and in the church, is just as accessible for them through prayer.

Do you think that the Holy Spirit could work in and through your prayers? The power in prayer is to stay focused upon God and God’s call to ministry.

Had the disciples seen the presence and power of God in Jesus? Were they asking Jesus to teach them “to pray for the power?”

Prayer Requires Preparation

Successful prayer involves special preparation. There are times when your mood may not be right; an irritated or anxious temper may get in the way. Or perhaps the preoccupation with work and family may be clouding and crowding your thoughts.

A dozen different demands and pressures make special preparation an absolute necessity for real prayer. So, remember this:

To pray is to focus on God and God’s call. To pray is to live in God’s presence and to receive God’s power.

So, what does prayer have to do with it?

Everything! “Lord, teach us to pray!”


Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said,

“Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” -Luke 11:1

Up to this point, in Luke’s gospel, only Jesus has been praying. Even though the disciples have been present, they have not prayed.

Now they are asking Jesus, “Teach us to pray.”

The question is, “Why now?” What brings Jesus’s disciples to the point of asking? And since prayer was his practice, why has Jesus waited to this point to give instruction?

Prayer Through Jesus’ Eyes & Action

Before answering the “why now?” question, let’s review. Through prayer, Jesus received his call and commission for ministry. Through prayer, Jesus sought direction and tested his ministry, “Do I go with the crowd or do I go to the cross?” It was through prayer he chose twelve apostles out of all the disciples who followed him. He was seeking those who, in the present, could hold together Israel and the emerging Christian community.

The Impact of Prayer on Others

Luke, in his story of the feeding of the 5000, has Jesus feeding those who are hungry as the sacrament of Holy Communion. In relationship to Simon Peter’s confession, Jesus prayed because Simon Peter and the other disciples misunderstood his suffering and dying as a contradiction of who and what they understood the Messiah to be and do.

In the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus prayed because his identity and purpose as suffering Messiah did not match the images of the people who loved him and who followed him.

In the mission of the 70, it is in prayer that Jesus gives thanks to God for the faith given to his followers.

Luke has Jesus praying at particularly important points in his ministry. His pattern was to go off to a desert place or a lonely place to pray. It was in those times of prayer that Jesus kept his focus upon the ministry God called and commissioned him to do.

Why Now?

Here in Chapter 11, Jesus is off by himself praying.

When he returns, his disciples ask him to teach them to pray as John taught his disciples. We know that rabbis taught their students to pray. Many had a style or content. It was their trademark.

The followers of Jesus knew that John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray, so when Jesus returned from prayer, they took advantage of the opportunity to ask him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

But, why now? Is it because they have seen John’s disciples and they don’t want to be left out? Have they observed Jesus and come to the place that if Jesus needs to pray maybe we need to pray as well?

They had just experienced amazing success. As they returned from their mission, they came to Jesus saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” Are they facing the same temptation Jesus faced of trusting in his own goodness?

They had experienced their own limitations when they came down the mountain and encountered a boy with seizers. They were asked to help but they couldn’t. They didn’t have the power. Jesus healed the boy and said to his disciples, according to Mark, “This kind comes out only by prayer.”

Questions Raised as We Learn to Pray Like Jesus

Sometimes we look at this experience as an embarrassing failure.

But maybe, instead of being a failure of their prayer lives, it was the experience that leads them to recognize that to have the power of Jesus to heal and restore, they needed to learn to pray like Jesus.

But, why now? Could it be that the ugly head of competition had them arguing among themselves?

According to Luke, they broke out into a quarrel over “who was number one.” When they got home, Jesus asked, “What were you quarreling about?

They said, “We were arguing over “who was the greatest.” At that point, Jesus took a child and taught them what greatness was like. Maybe through their experiences, both positive and negative, they have become more willing to be taught to pray.

Could it be that they are having difficulty with the weight of Jesus’ announcement of his death? All their hopes have been poured into Jesus and he says he is going to be put to death like a criminal. Maybe that is it. The weight of what it means to be a follower of the Christ, the Messiah, is becoming a reality.

Lord, Teach Us to Pray…

What we know is this: Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray…”

It is amazing that the disciples did not ask Jesus to teach them how to tell a parable, multiply the loaves, or heal the sick; but they asked him to teach them to pray.

And when asked, Jesus taught them a pattern of prayer. The disciples’ request and the response of Jesus is more than a reminder of the importance of prayer for them and for us.

It is also important to remember that in Luke’s gospel, the Holy Spirit brings power. For Luke, there is a connection between prayer and power. We have seen on more than one occasion, Jesus receiving clarity, direction, affirmation, and power through prayer.

What Does Prayer Have to Do with It?

For me, regardless of what motivates you or me to pray is not as important as to pray. Whatever it was that brought the disciples to the point of asking Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus was ready to provide them with a pattern of prayer.

As Jesus’ followers, prayer is our identity. We are who we are as ministers of the gospel through prayer. Whether lay or clergy, prayer brings clarity, direction, affirmation, and power.

So, whatever you are facing in your personal life, professional life, church life, or community life, know that when you are ready, you can ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

Prayer and thanksgiving create space for us to offer ourselves in gratitude to God. We give thanks for those who have come to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In Luke 9, we see a critical turning point in the life of Jesus.

Up to this point, Jesus has been seeking clarity and direction in regard to his ministry. Now, in Chapter 10, we see Jesus sending his followers out to fulfill the ministry he has been called to do.

Before we look at the prayer in verse 21, let’s look at the context of the prayer.

The Context of Jesus’ Prayer

Luke has Jesus giving instructions to 70 of his followers.

These instructions reflect the mission of the church where the early Christians must come to terms with requirements of sharing the good news with outsiders, outcasts, non-Jews, all known as Gentiles. Luke tells of the disciples being sent out, their return, and their report to Jesus. It is interesting to note that Luke does not give an account of Jesus visiting the towns and villages.

Could it be that the emphasis here is upon the “being sent” and not upon the results?

Being Sent

First, Jesus tells them why they are being sent.

“The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest” (Luke 10:2).

The seed has been and is being sown; the followers of Jesus reap the harvest, the results. It is important to understand that the whole body of Jesus, all of Jesus’ followers, is charged with the mission, not just full-time Christian workers. Many followers, not just the Twelve, are actively engaged in preaching, healing, and helping. All are involved in prayer and material support for the church’s mission.

Packing Instructions

Second, Jesus gives them instructions on what to take with them and the urgency of their mission. With the words, “Go! Be warned…I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves. Carry no wallet, no bag, and no sandals,” Luke pictures those in mission as absolutely dependent, defenseless, and vulnerable.

With the words, “Don’t greet anyone along the way,” Luke is symbolically speaking of the urgency of the mission. To not speak to strangers or fellow travelers would be outrageous. The implication is don’t waste time in idle conversation. You have work to do.

The Response

Third, Jesus gives them instructions on how to respond to those who accept them and reject them.

“Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house.’ If anyone there shares God’s peace, then your peace will rest on that person…Whenever you enter a city and its people welcome you, eat what they set before you” (Luke 10:5-8).

These instructions were literally contextual. During the time of Jesus, there would have been a period of military buildup and political unrest. “May peace be on this house” would refer to the followers of Jesus who rejected the military revolt against Rome, who loved and prayed for their enemies, and refused to participate in the war.

During the time of Luke’s writing, those words would have lost their political connotation and referred to those followers of Jesus who shared the peace of God by participating in the Christian community. But even at that, the words were still connected to the life and ministry of Jesus.

Prayer and Thanksgiving

In verses 17-20, Luke refers to one of the characteristics of the Christian community. “The seventy returned with joy…” They are excited, “Lord, even the demons submit themselves to us in your name.”

It is at this moment, at the return of the 70, that Jesus prays. What does prayer have to do with it?

At that very moment, Jesus overflowed with joy from the Holy Spirit and said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you’ve hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and shown them to babies. Indeed, Father, this brings you happiness.”

It is interesting that this story is found in both Luke and Matthew (Matthew 11). I think it is interesting because in Matthew the story follows Jesus being rejected. In Luke, the story follows Jesus being accepted. It is the same story, but in one gospel it comes after failure and in another gospel, it comes after success.

The seventy disciples have returned from a successful mission. Although Jesus begins to rejoice in the Holy Spirit, he warns them, “Don’t rejoice that you have been successful. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In other words, the point is not your success but your faithfulness.

The Holy Spirit Takes Center Stage

To understand what Jesus is saying, we must remember that the Holy Spirit is important in the life, work, and ministry of Jesus. Luke uses phrases like, “led by the Spirit,” “filled with the Spirit,” “in the power of the Spirit.”

Not only in the gospel but in the Acts of the Apostles, prayer and Holy Spirit go hand in hand. Luke talks about the Holy Spirit more than all the other gospel writers combined. It is Luke who has Jesus rejoicing in the Holy Spirit.

Remember Luke’s gospel begins with the Holy Spirit creating inspired speech. Before Jesus is born, Mary his mother, Elizabeth and Zachariah, Anna and Simeon are each inspired by the Holy Spirit. There are Spirit inspired songs being sung, bursts of praise, prayers, insights, revelations, and blessings.

Holy Spirit and Thanksgiving

In this scripture, thanksgiving is an expression of the Holy Spirit. Jesus gives thanks, not for the many acts his followers have performed but, for the many persons who have come to faith in God.

In Luke, Matthew, and Paul, the Holy Spirit brings faith. In Matthew, the words, “You are the Christ. Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you,” are words that express, “You did not come to this conclusion by your own observation.”

Paul, in I Corinthians 12, wrote, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” For Paul, being wise and having intelligence is not equal to having faith or being a Jesus follower.

In Luke, the words, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth” is an expression of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of Jesus and in the mission of the 70. The words, “you’ve hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and shown them to babies,” is a common expression for those whose faith depends upon God.

Saying that these things are hidden from the wise and intelligent does not discourage education or serious reflection. But it does offer rejection of our claims that we can attain knowledge of God and God’s ways by our own achievement.

For Luke, we know God because God has graciously revealed Godself to us, first through Israel, then through Christ, and then to and through the church. Our faith is not based upon our own calculations. Our best efforts and best thinking is simply responding to God’s invitation to love. Afterall, it is planted there by God in the first place. We do not arrive at faith because we have worked out our proofs. The proofs might support where we arrive, but proofs are not the way of faith.

What does prayer have to do with it?

It is in prayer that Jesus gives thanks to God for the faith given to his followers. You and I give God thanks for our faith in and through prayer. It is through prayer we thank God for the opportunity to put our faith into action by loving and serving in the name of Jesus.

As with Jesus, we will be tempted to think we can love and serve on our own. But through prayer, we will keep our focus. Through prayer, we will offer God the praise and give thanks for what God is doing in us and through us.

In this prayer, Jesus is giving thanks for those who have come to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. Who are what are you giving thanks for today? Perhaps you’ll give God thanks in prayer today.