I wonder if you have ever prayed fervently for something and felt let down or the prayer has not been answered as you wanted? If that is the case, then this reading is very challenging. On the face of it, Jesus is promising that our prayers will be answered if the prayer request is persistent, and he gives an example of how persistence pays off. I don’t know about you, but I am not sure persistence of the sort described in the early hours of the morning would result in me lending three loaves of bread.
So how should this passage be read? Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray with the ‘Lord’s prayer’ and then appears to invite us to ask for what we want, and it shall be given. It’s not as simple as this however and on closer inspection Jesus clearly is not speaking of want, but of need. This isn’t Jesus inviting us to come to God with a shopping list of what we would like, but to consider and reflect on what we truly need and to bring that to God. This is the essence of the Lord’s prayer: Need. When broken down the Lord’s prayer is a framework for the needs of humanity.
Firstly, the need to recognise that God is above all and needs to be hallowed, to be honoured and worshipped. This relates to the 10 commandments and to the commandments Jesus re-iterates from the Hebrew scriptures: love your God with all of you heart soul mind and strength. The following elements of the Lord’s prayer fit with the second of Jesus’ commandments: Love your neighbour as yourself. This requires us to love ourselves before being able to love our neighbour and that requires us to be fed, physically and spiritually, to be forgiven our sins that we are not burdened and to recognise what tempts us and to avoid those temptations. All three if not attended to are barriers for loving others. Indeed, all three of these elements are what we should also be doing for others: that is sharing bread and fellowship, forgiving those who have hurt us and asking for forgiveness from those we have hurt and then helping others with what tempts them perhaps removing that temptation.
I want to focus a little more on the last of these elements of the Lord’s prayer: Temptation. For me this underpins all the other elements as temptation leads us into all sorts of trouble. Reflecting on the 10 commandments again, if we cannot keep the last commandment; you shall not covet your neighbours’ possessions, then there is a risk that the commandments above will be broken and indeed if we are so focused on our neighbours’ possessions then we are hardly thinking about the top of the list: You shall have no other God before me. Likewise in the Lord’s prayer. Temptation is based on want and not need and is likely to result in sin. When this is understood, our prayers are then more likely to be focused on need and not want and when need is seriously considered and understood, then on reflection, if the person incessantly ringing my doorbell at an unearthly hour of the morning is truly in need, then I will of course help them as I am sure would most people.
Perhaps the most important thing though, is that our lives are built on prayer and Jesus supplies with the foundation for that prayer; praise, thanks and need.