One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1 NIV)
“I’ve come to change everything, turn everything rightside up—how I long for it to be finished!” Luke 12:50 (The Message)
Wow. I loved—no, LOVED—the twenty-minute guided experience this past weekend that our creative team put together for the Reset message on prayer. It was clever in that it felt personal yet communal at the same time. If you didn’t catch it, it’s really worth your time; check it out here and walk through it. It follows our worship time and lasts about twenty minutes.
If time wasn’t an issue, I would have unwrapped one idea more thoroughly. Context is everything. Usually when we teach through “The Lord’s Prayer” (or the “Our Father” in some circles), we typically interpret it line-by-line. But in Luke’s abbreviated version in chapter 11, the key to understanding this prayer is the context offered in verse one. Jesus was upending everything (or turning them rightside up) in terms of how people viewed God as a father, how they imagined the messiah, how they saw spirituality and how they thought about intimacy with God. Jesus was great at this: “You have heard that it was said _______, but I say to you, _______.” He wasn’t throwing out the first, He was simply offering 3-D glasses to see it with more depth. “The Lord’s Prayer” was more about resetting how they (and we) interact with God.
When Jesus’ guys asked, “Teach us to pray, just as John the Baptizer teaches his followers”, they were thinking of a particular paradigm of spirituality embodied in John. It’s apparent that John had very pronounced spiritual disciplines, perhaps similar to the Essenes, the religious order that produced the Dead Sea scrolls. Very structured times for extended fasting and prayer. Ascetic, holiness-oriented, prophetic and mystical. This isn’t a “John-the-Baptist” slam: remember, Jesus said that there was no one greater than John except, paradoxically, the least in the kingdom.
Keep in mind that by this point Jesus had already been accused of being the polar opposite of John the Baptist in both Luke chapter five and seven—hanging out with the wrong crowd, going to parties, eating (as opposed to fasting), drinking alcohol, doing “ministry work” on the Sabbath—all the stuff that didn’t seem “spiritual” to the religious leaders.
And so for us, this routine, overly familiar prayer would have seemed shocking to religious first-century ears. Short, simple, bold and intimate. That’s why Jesus told those stories afterwards, to help them (and us) understand how much God longs to relate to them and give them what they need based solely on His love for them. It didn’t have to be fancy, long or super-spiritual-sounding.
And not just prayer; He was resetting definitions of spirituality and the way we relate to our Father.