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New Year’s Day – The Prayer of Beginning Again

January 1, 2006

Luke 11:1-13

Two versions of the Lord’s Prayer appear in the gospel accounts. Earlier in this service, we sang a musical rendition of the prayer we often read in the gospel of Matthew and especially in the King James Version of the Bible. The gospel of Luke, Chapter 11, provides another version of the Lord’s Prayer. You may have your Bible in front of you, but listen as I read the Lord’s Prayer found in another very accurate translation, The Message by Eugene Peterson. Here we see an entirely different view of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples. Listen now to the Word of God:

One day, Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Master, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
So he said, “When you pray, say,

‘Father,

Reveal who you are.

Set the world right.

Keep us alive with enough food to eat.

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.

Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.’”

Let me continue reading from Chapter 11 in The Message.

Then he said, “Imagine what would happen if you went to a friend in the middle of the night and said, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread. An old friend traveling through just showed up, and I don’t have a thing on hand.’

“The friend answers from his bed, ‘Don’t bother me. The door’s locked; my children are all down for the night; I can’t get up and give you anything.’

“But let me tell you, even if he won’t get up because he’s a friend, if you stand your ground, knocking and waking all the neighbors, he’ll finally get up and get you whatever you need.

“Here is what I am saying,

Ask, and you’ll get;

Seek, and you’ll find.

Knock, and the door will open.
“Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks you for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a scorpion? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing – you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think that the Father who conceived you in love will give you the Holy Spirit when you ask him?”

I have entitled today’s communion meditation “The Prayer of Beginning Again.” The disciples of Jesus experienced a prayer of a new beginning. Surely, they had seen and heard him pray. They themselves had prayed, but they knew something was missing in their prayer life. Jesus had power that they did not have, so they asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

The beauty of the prayer Jesus gave them is its simplicity. It reveals an intimacy in the words, “Our Father.” The Greek word is Abba, which probably should be translated “Daddy.” Jesus speaks of the majesty of God but then makes three simple requests: daily bread, forgiveness of our sins and the ability to forgive other people, and finally, the deliverance from temptation and evil. The ending we associate with the prayer is a doxology of praise.

In this prayer, Jesus taught the disciples that one of the most important facets of prayer is simplicity. A New Year’s Day worship service entitled “The Prayer for a New Beginning” might make you think, “The pastor is going to give us a new resolution, something we should add to our list of self-improvement programs for 2006.” This year, I have thought more about what I need to subtract from my life than what I need to add. That is probably true of a lot of us. Resolution is not on my mind. Rather, an act of consecration, an act of surrender, is on my mind.

I doubt the life of prayer will ever grow rusty because of the lack of use. We all pray, sometimes in odd ways. During a discussion about prayer in schools, Senator Sam Irving said one time that prayer will always be in public schools as long as students have algebra tests. You can understand what he meant. We all pray, though sometimes our prayers may actually border on an expletive. We may simply say, My God!” “Dear Lord!” or “Sweet Jesus!” Our prayers may actually be so brief that we might not even think of them as prayers.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he stressed being clear, direct, and simple. In his teaching about prayer in Luke 11, he compares prayer to children asking simple things of their father. The prayer of beginning again must also be clear, direct, and simple.

We avoid praying. We avoid prayer programs because we have the notion that we must get it right, that somehow prayer must be mastered, like playing the piano. We think that we must practice hard and get it right. If not, we should not even try it. Jesus makes the point that he cherishes our prayers in the same way that a parent cherishes conversation with a child. The child may not have all the right vocabulary. The children may not even have the right attitude during a conversation with a parent. Most parents I know are just grateful for the opportunity to have a conversation with their child.

My message is to encourage you to begin again in the life of prayer. Keep it simple. Just speak to God as if He really does love you. We proclaim as a Christian church that God is a loving Father who desires nothing more than simply having a personal relationship with each one of us. A personal relationship of love does not mean that you always have to have it right. There is a lot of room for failure, for flaw. We just need to begin again, to enter into this wonderful opportunity to pray. If you are worried that maybe your prayers are selfish or immature, begin again anyway. As you do, in time, your prayer life will mature. Your prayers will become less self-centered and more God-centered. Even then, we will return to the prayer of beginning again at times.

Our prayers are like the drawings of a house that children bring to their parents from kindergarten. The windows are crooked, the door is not exactly square, and the chimney is at an odd angle. You would not think of giving that child’s drawing to an architect and saying, “Make me a house just like this.” You cherish the picture because it is a gift from your child. God cherishes our prayers in the same way.

This month, we are going to focus on the life of prayer. We will bracket this series with the observance of the Lord’s Supper today and on the first Sunday of February. We want to underline the fact that we have a relationship with a Father in heaven who loves us very much. The bread is a symbol of His great love, the sacrifice of His body. The cup is a symbol of His gift of salvation through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. When we come to this table, we come before the Lord just as we come to Him in simple prayer, just as we are. You know the hymn – “Just as I am without one plea.”

I remind you that this table does not belong to Morningside. This table is not a Baptist table. It is the Lord’s table. Any person who professes faith in Jesus Christ is invited to come to this table and take part in these simple elements that remind us of the Father’s love. Let us take this meal together, now.

On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord took bread. He blessed it, broke it, and said, “This is my body, broken for you.” Let us have a prayer of blessing for the bread.

Our heavenly Father, we thank you that we can come today and partake of this bread that represents the broken body of Your Son who lived and died to save us from our sins. We thank You for the past and look forward to being with You in the future. We thank You for loving us and caring for us. Thank You for Your many blessings. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

Just as I am, tho’ tossed about

With many a conflict, many a doubt,

Fightings within and fears without,

O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,

Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,

Because Thy promise, I believe,

O Lamb of God, I come!

Jesus said, “This bread is my body, broken for you.” Eat this whenever you eat it in remembrance of him. Eat ye all of it.

We will have a prayer of blessing now for the cup.

Most gracious heavenly Father, as we begin this new year, we thank You for all the blessings You have given us. We participate in taking this cup now in remembrance of Jesus’ blood, shed so that we may have a new beginning with him. Thank You for what was done for us on Calvary. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Just as I am, and waiting not

To rid my soul of one dark blot,

To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,

O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am without one plea,

But that Thy blood was shed for me,

And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,

O Lamb of God, I come!

Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him. Drink ye all of it.

Being in God’s house and taking this supper together is a wonderful way to begin a new year. This meal reminds us of the very core of our Christian faith. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was indeed the babe in a manger; but he was more than that. He grew to become a man. His life teaches us how to live. His death on an old rugged cross provides the means for our salvation from our sins. His resurrection from the grave offers us the gift of life eternal.

On this first day of the new year, we all have decisions to make. Some have decisions that should be made publicly. If you have never accepted Christ as your Savior, I ask if you could have any better day than this day to acknowledge him as the Lord of your life. Some visiting with us today have been contemplating membership at Morningside. You know that God has led you to this place. Perhaps you have some hesitancy, maybe a little embarrassment about coming down the aisle. I can assure you that this church family would gladly receive you. If God has laid a decision on your heart, I encourage you to respond today as we stand and sing our hymn of commitment, “Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me.”

© 2006 Kirk H. Neely

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