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Pray The Best
July 25 and 26, 1998

LUKE 6:20-31

When you go to Parkerís to purchase a hammer, donít you buy the best? Why would you buy one of poor quality that will break at the first hit? When you entrust your teeth to a dentist, donít you go to the best? When you go under anesthesia and give up control of your body to a surgeon, donít you want the best? When you need legal help, donít you want the best lawyer? When you go to God in prayer, donít you want to pray the best prayer?

Warren Keating, a Presbyterian pastor in Yuma, Arizona, says that the best prayer he ever heard was, "Lord, please make me the kind of person my dog thinks I am." That is a good prayer, but I know a better one. Jesus taught it to us. The disciples told Jesus that John, the baptizer, had taught his disciples to pray, so would Jesus please teach them the best way to pray.

Jesus then taught them what we today call the Lordís Prayer. There are two versions, the one we heard today from Luke, and a longer version in Matthew 6:5-15, which is the version we pray every Sunday. What Jesus taught us was a model prayer. We do not need to be tied to the words that Jesus taught us. What is important for us is the structure. Compare the way you pray to the way Jesus taught us. When you pray, why not pray the best?

Begin your prayer by focusing on God. When you go to a friendís house, do you barge right in, sit down at the kitchen table, and ask for a cup of coffee, and a cookie, perhaps? Donít you say "Hello", ask how he/she is, inquire about the family? When you pray, donít barge right in, begin with "Hello, Lord", and praise God. I donít know about you, but I enjoy being affirmed. I like to be told when Iím doing something right. I like to be thanked. Donít you? How lonely it must be for God when we barge right in and ask, "Gimme, gimme this, gimme that."

Begin your prayer with praise and thanksgiving. Hallowed be your name. Holy are you, O Lord. Glorious are your works. How great thou art! When you run out of words, open the Bible to the Psalms.

After you have praised and thanked God, begin the requests. It is reasonable and appropriate to ask. However, notice the order of the requests in the Lordís Prayer. What did Jesus teach us to ask first? "Thy kingdom come." I donít know about you, but I must confess that much of the time my requests begin with me, especially when there is a problem. Next, I pray for my family, then our church, especially those who are ill. But, Jesus taught us to first ask for Godís kingdom to come. Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming, "The kingdom of God is at hand; it is near." We are still praying for the kingdom to come. This world is not what God intends; therefore, we pray for Godís rule to come.

Iím afraid most of our prayers are too narrow, too provincial. God so loved the world he gave his Son-- the world, not just me, not just you. At the Thursday morning Menís Prayer Breakfasts, George Meyer prays for Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Israel and the Palestinians. He takes us on a world tour! Georgeís concerns, Georgeís prayers are worldwide, wherever there is need. I told Jody that the Prayer of Intercession in our worship services is too narrow. Most of the time, we pray for us and those we know. If youíve noticed, weíve now broadened the prayer to include Merced, the nation, the world, and the church universal. Oh, Lord, may your kingdom come!

The next request? "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." When Jesus agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane his last night on earth, he ended his prayer with, "Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done." Submit yourself to Godís will. Be willing to accept Godís will. And, ask that Godís will be done. The very fact that Jesus taught us to pray for Godís will to be done means that Godís will is not automatically done! Before you attribute cancer, automobile accidents, acts of crime to Godís will, remember that Godís will is not always done. There is free choice; there is evil at work. God is in charge, but God is not in control, and much happens over which God is not in control. Therefore, pray that Godís will be done in your life, in our church, and in this world.

The next request? "Give us this day our daily bread." After asking for Godís kingdom to come and Godís will be done, then we ask for material, physical things. It is admissible to ask for the basic needs of life. It is appropriate to pray for healing-- physical and emotional. Most of us here do not even think of asking for daily bread; but there are folks who come by the church office and who phone Love INC because they donít have daily bread. Finding enough food for their children and themselves is of primary concern. For them, praying for enough food for each day is not a prayer to repeat each week by rote without much thought, it is a prayer from the heart and from the stomach. What is the pronoun in the request? "Our," not "my". "Give us this day our daily bread." Our caring and concern is more than my stomach or your stomach. To pray what Jesus taught us, to pray the best prayer is to do something to ensure that everyone has daily bread.

The next request? "Forgive us our trespasses." The New Revised Standard Version reads, "Forgive us our sins." What is a trespass? What is a sin? Whatever that hinders, prevents, prohibits us from a full relationship with God. Whatever we say, or think, or do that leads us away from God, rather than to God, is a sin. To ask for forgiveness is to acknowledge, to admit, that there are things in our lives that need to be washed away, removed. To ask for forgiveness is to admit we are not as perfect as our dog thinks we are!

To receive forgiveness and restore our relationship with God depends on two acts: 1) that we are sorry for what we have done, we turn around, and resolve to live differently; 2) that we forgive those who trespass against us, who sin against us, who harm us, who hurt us. Reconciliation with God means the forgiving of others.

The last request in the best prayer you can pray? "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." The newer versions do not use the word "temptation." Temptation implies being enticed or seduced into doing something you shouldnít, like being tempted to eat ice cream! The New Revised Standard Version is clearer. Matthew 6:13, "And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one." A time of trial is when our faith is tested, when we are brought to the edge of our endurance, and are tempted to throw in the towel. O Lord, "do not bring us to the time of trial." Keep us from sickness, discouragement, and faithlessness.

And, "rescue us from the evil one." O Lord, protect us. There are evil forces at work. A church congregation needs protection from destructive forces which are constantly at work seeking to destroy the unity of Christís body. In your own life, the devil is never asleep, enticing, seducing you to let down your guard, to get spiritually lazy, to be satisfied with mediocrity rather than striving for the best.

The traditional Lordís Prayer ends with a praise, a doxology, "For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen." The oldest manuscripts that have been discovered do not include this ending; therefore, the newest Bible translations do not include it; nor does the Roman Catholic version of the Lordís Prayer, because the manuscripts that Jerome used when he translated the scriptures into Latin did not have this ending. But, it is a majestic, beautiful, uplifting way to end the prayer with God as we began the prayer with God.

Then, when youíve done enough talking, relax and listen. Let God talk to you. In much of our praying, we donít let God get a word in edgewise.

When you pray, pray the best. Let us pray.

O God, how great, how glorious you are!

May people throughout the world live as you intended, in harmony with you and with one another.

Give us and everyone what we need-- food, shelter, health.

Forgive us and reconcile us with one another and with you.

Guard and protect us from that which would destroy us.

So that your kingdom may come in all its power and glory. Amen.

ã 1998 Douglas I. Norris