When President Theodore Roosevelt was running for his third term as president, he got in a car to head toward an auditorium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he planned to give a speech. As he settled into the backseat of his car, Roosevelt was shot in the chest by an assailant with a Colt .38 revolver.
Shockingly, Roosevelt demanded that his driver take him to the auditorium, not the hospital. Despite the earnest protests of his driver, his secretary, and his campaign manager, Roosevelt stood and delivered an 80-minute speech to a packed auditorium with a bullet lodged in his ribcage.
When he was finally taken to the hospital, doctors wondered what saved his life. Well, before entering the car, Roosevelt had folded his 50-page speech manuscript twice and put it into his breast pocket. The bullet, which entered that same breast pocket, was slowed by that speech and a metal glasses case. Roosevelt’s life was saved, in part, by those 200 layers of paper!
I think this story offers particular comfort for pastors, who can point to Teddy Roosevelt as an example of when a long speech really did save someone’s life!
You can contrast Roosevelt with Abraham Lincoln, who, in 1863, gave perhaps the shortest and most memorable presidential speech in American history. At just over two minutes, Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address that, over 100 years later, was still being taught when I was required to memorize it in school.
But what made Lincoln’s speech so remarkable was not just the way it captured the sense of grief so many Americans were feeling at the time; Lincoln’s speech was remarkable for its brevity. During his generation, longer speeches were considered better, more profound, more eloquent.
In the first century A.D., Jesus’ disciples had been taught the same thing about prayer. The Pharisees and religious leaders of the day taught in schools and in the synagogue that the longer a person prayed, the more likely God was to pay attention.
So, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray in Luke 11, I can imagine they were settling in for a long afternoon lecture. They must have been so surprised when Jesus modeled a prayer that takes less than two minutes to recite—even shorter than the Gettysburg Address!
As we explore the first half of this model prayer this month, remember that The Disciple’s Prayer isn’t a piece of liturgy you’re asked to mindlessly repeat; it’s a model prayer that provides several guiding principles to implement as we pray.
The very first principle implied in the opening words of this prayer is that prayer won’t matter until you know exactly to Whom you are praying.
“And [Jesus] said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father'” (Luke 11:2).
We’re praying to our Father, not some unknown being out there in the universe; certainly not some benevolent genie who grants our wishes, and certainly not a dictator who doesn’t care about His subjects.
Genuine prayer recognizes our Divine audience.
In churches today, hearing people refer to God as Father is a normal part of our worship services and our prayers. But don’t misunderstand: this was a radical moment of realization for the disciples in the first century. The Jewish culture in Jesus’ day would never have called God their Father; in fact, Jesus was accused of blasphemy by the religious leaders for claiming to be God’s Son.
The word Father here communicates an intimate, confident, paternal communion and the Lord uses it to teach a radically new approach to prayer— the prayer of a child to their Father.
Keep in mind, this intimate communion is not for everyone, which means The Disciple’s Prayer is not a prayer everyone on earth can genuinely pray. Calling God “Father” presumes that God actually is your Father, and that only takes place when you accept the gift of salvation, claiming His Son as your Savior. When you do, you are adopted into His eternal family.
The best kind of earthly father is a father you can be honest with, who always seeks your best, who loves you unconditionally and guides and supports you along the right path. Beloved, our heavenly Father is infinitely better than the best dad on earth.
That means you can be honest with Him—He already knows the desires of your heart.
That means you can be vulnerable with Him—He will be your greatest comfort.
That means you can confess to Him—He is quick to forgive and His love has no limits.
That means you can approach Him anytime and at any place— He will always have time to hear your prayers.
So, when you pray, claim your status as a child of God; call Him your Father, because He really is.
Second, Jesus teaches that genuine prayer reverences God’s divine attributes. Matthew’s Gospel account adds to this model prayer, “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9).
This phrase speaks of God being elevated above all creation; it means He is the Supreme Being of the universe. It means He is on His throne, and we are at His feet.
When you pray, make sure you acknowledge God’s preeminence and superiority; make sure you elevate God to His proper place in your heart. When you do that, you won’t be asking for your will to be done in heaven, you will be asking for God’s will to be done here on earth.