Confidence in Prayer

Posted: February 26, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 11:5-13, “Confidence in Prayer”

There is an acronym sometimes found among Evangelicals regarding prayer: PUSH – Pray Until Something Happens.  The idea (not a bad one) is that we don’t give up in prayer.  Just because we prayed for something once doesn’t mean that we only pray once.  We continue in prayer, steadfastly enduring, trusting that God hears us each and every time we pray.  And by all means, it is good to do so!  In our context, Jesus just gave the disciples a model for prayer that could (and should) be repeated often.  Mindless repetition is never good, but mindful prayer that repeats requests is just fine.  After all, parents regularly pray for their children – sometimes repeated the same daily requests for years.  We all have loved ones for whom we pray salvation – a request that will not cease until we see them born-again.

That said, these verses in Luke 11:5-13 are often quoted in support of repeated prayers, and it is quite possible we miss the main point of Jesus’ teaching when we do.  The focus in these verses is not so much on tenacity and repetition in prayer; it’s on confident hope and faith.  When we pray, we can pray in faith, knowing that our Heavenly Father loves us & that He delights in giving good gifts.

Before we get there, let’s take a few moments to review how Chapter 11 began.  What is taught in 5-13 is a follow-up to what was taught in 1-4.  There, Luke tells the story of an unnamed disciple who found Jesus praying, and he asked Him for instruction on how to pray.  Other rabbis & teachers (such as John the Baptist) taught their disciples how to pray, so this disciple asked Jesus to do the same thing.  Although Jesus had earlier taught the Lord’s Prayer during the Sermon on the Mount, He obliged the request and teaches basically the same prayer here.  There were a few minor differences, but that was no problem, seeing that Jesus wasn’t teaching a specific prayer intended only to be repeated by rote memory.  He taught a pattern – He gave a model to all of His disciples (including us!) of the kinds of things for which we should pray, and especially the priority upon God of which all of our prayers should contain.

What was it?  First, we pray to our Father, thankfully acknowledging the fact that in Christ Jesus, we have been made the children of God.  It is a glorious privilege to come to God the Father as His sons and daughters, and it one of which we should avail ourselves often!  Secondly, we are to pray through our praises.  Our Heavenly Father is awesome, and we can worship Him as we meditate upon (think through) His glorious attributes, including & especially, His holiness.  God is to be hallowed among His people, and we can do that in prayer.  Next, we continue our focus upon God by praying for the fulfillment of His kingdom, and ultimately for His sovereign will & plan of salvation to be accomplished upon the earth.  Only after these things are we to give thought to our own personal needs – but we are to ask for them.  We are to ask God for our physical provision (daily bread) – for our spiritual provision (forgiveness, keeping in mind our own obligation to forgive others) – and for our spiritual protection (leading us away from temptation).

Remember, all of this was a pattern & model.  The exact words do not need to be repeated each time (though they are not harmful) – the ideas are what are most important.  And these ideas are to be repeated…regularly.  How often?  As often as needed – even daily, as stated in the prayer itself (daily bread).  Does it mean that we don’t pray this daily that God will forget about us?  No – heaven forbid!  God’s actions are neither limited nor enlarged by our prayers.  Prayer is not about our equipping of God, but His equipping of us.  In daily prayer, we are reminded of our daily dependence.  We don’t rely upon God for a few things – we rely upon our Heavenly Father for everything.

That brings us to Jesus’ follow-up teaching.  Since we are so dependent upon God, we might worry if it seems He doesn’t hear us.  How can we be certain God hears?  When prayers aren’t answered according to our expectation, what does that say about God?  About us?  Is there something wrong? What assurances do Christians have in prayer?  Do we have any at all?  That’s the subject of Jesus’ follow-up teaching.  Skeptics claim there is nothing to prayer – that it is a bunch of wasted words.  Jesus tells us otherwise.  We have a Father who hears, and we have every confidence that He does hear.  Thus Christians can pray with faith.

Luke 11:5–13

  • Parable of the annoying neighbor (5-8)

5 And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; 6 for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’;

  • To understand the issue at hand, we need to understand that this was a bit of cultural crisis.  Hospitality was (and is) a prime virtue in near/middle eastern communities, and those who host travelers are expected to provide for their needs.  In ancient times, the hospitality of a single family could reflect on an entire village, for good or bad.  So here is the situation: a traveler has arrived late at night, and the host home has nothing to feed him.  So the host goes to one of his neighbors (surely one he knew had been baking earlier in the day) and requests bread to feed his friend.  Of course the problem was that it was midnight.  Visiting hours have long since passed, yet the host had no control over the arrival time of his friend.  For whatever reason, he was unprepared to meet him, and honor demanded that he feed him something.  Thus the trip to his neighbor.
  • His midnight request was received as we might expect…

7 and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’?

  • I don’t care how well we know each other, friends don’t visit at midnight apart from emergencies.  In the mind of this neighbor, this issue didn’t qualify.  Not only was he in bed, but so were all of his children, each of whom were surely already stirring due to the noise.  Keep in mind that ancient Jews in Judea did not live in palaces, or even multi-room houses.  They lived in small one-room homes, with everyone in the family lying on the ground next to each other when they slept.  Thus, if the father was to wake and scrounge around for bread, his whole family would wake.  How easy would it be to get the kids back to bed?  Especially if one was a baby?  A cardinal rule in households with infants is: don’t wake the baby!  Yet now there’s a so-called “friend” banging on his door in the middle of the night doing this very thing.
  • It’s no wonder he finally gets up, as Jesus concludes the parable…

8 I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.

  • Friendship wouldn’t get this man out of bed.  And who can blame him?  Friends don’t wake up friends & their kids because of a lack of preparation.  This guy was lucky to be in 1st century Judea & not in 21st century Texas.  Repeatedly banging on a door at midnight while shouting at the resident inside is likely to get you arrested, if not shot!  It wasn’t friendship that caused the man to get up & give bread to his neighbor; it was “persistence.
  • Stop there for a moment.  We have a tendency to read the word “persistence” and think of it as a good thing.  ‘Sure, the man may have been a jerk, but at least he was persistent,’ as if that is the example we are supposed to follow.  We even define “persistence” in mainly good ways.  Dictionary.com describes persistent as: “persevering, lasting or enduring tenaciously, repeated.”  To persevere is a good thing!  We want to persevere in the face of difficulty.  Athletes train to make it possible for their bodies to endure when physical stress gets tough.  That’s the usage in English, but Jesus didn’t speak English (despite what some proponents of the KJV might think!).  Jesus spoke Aramaic, and His words were recorded in ancient Greek.  The Greek term translated “persistence” is not a good thing.  ESV says “impudence,” and that is much closer to the mark.  One dictionary (BDAG) describes it as the “lack of sensitivity to what is proper – carelessness about the good opinion of others – shamelessness.”  Another (Louw-Nida) defines it as “insolence, audacity.”  From the root word, if could be thought of as the negated form of the word for “modesty.”  All in all, this is not an admirable trait.  This describes someone who is rude, nagging, pushy, and self-centered.
  • How then, could Jesus hold this up as an example of prayer?  Answer: He doesn’t.  Sometimes it’s better to teach a positive in light of a negative, and that’s what Jesus does here.  In fact, the next example shows this plainly as Jesus contrasts the good gifts of evil fathers with the best gift from our Heavenly Father.  The same principle is used here.  The negative is the rude annoying neighbor.  He is a bother to his friend, and only gets a response because he nagged his friend into it.  This is precisely the opposite of how prayer works with God.  God does not need to be nagged – we are never seen as a bother or inconvenience to Him.  He welcomes us into His presence, and He invites us to tell Him our needs.  Our Father loves us – He hears us.  There is never an hour too late to pray.  There is never a need too small to pray about.  We can pray at all times over all things, with the full confidence that our Father hears us!  Philippians 4:6–7, "(6) Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; (7) and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
    • What are we supposed to take to God in prayer?  Our requests & our thanks – our needs & our praises.  When can we take them?  Anytime!  In everything & in every situation.  There is not a single instance in the life of a Christian in which we are not invited to pray.  If there is any limitation, it comes from us; not God.  We may not have time for anything but a “Help me, Lord!” or we may not have faith to actually ask – but God invites to ask always.  Paul actually commands the Philippians to do this very thing.
    • That does not mean that God is obligated to answer every prayer in the way that we pray it (something which Jesus will address in a moment).  We are invited to take all things to God…in the way that God allows.  For instance, when we are engaged in sin, the proper prayer is not “Lord, bless my sin,” – it is “Lord, lead me away from temptation and forgive me of my failing.”  Some people want God to bless their sinful desires, and He isn’t going to do it.  It’s not that He forbids us from praying in those times, but He isn’t going to contradict Himself or His own holiness either.
  • In any case, the bottom line from the parable is that we have the privilege to pray.  God is not bothered by our requests, so we can make them.  He hears us gladly, without the nagging and rudeness of men.  So, with that in mind, we may as well ask Him, just as Jesus goes on to teach…
  • Asking & receiving (9-13)

9 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

  • Like the Lord’s Prayer, this is something else that Jesus taught during the Sermon on the Mount, though He surely delighted to repeat the teaching in this different context.  Essentially, the meaning is the same, though it takes on new relevance in light of the previous parable.
  • Can we ask for our own needs?  Yes!  Ask – seek – knock – however it is you need to express your needs to God, do it…and do it continually.  The grammatical tense & mood for all three terms is a present imperative.  IOW, Jesus doesn’t merely invite us to ask, seek, and knock once in prayer; He directs us to do it & to do it constantly.  Keep asking – keep seeking – keep knocking.  Not that we need to nag our Heavenly Father in persistent insolence – but rather pray always, knowing that God always hears.  Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, telling them to pray without ceasing (1 Ths 5:17), and it is a similar idea here.  Christians pray, and we don’t stop praying.  Why?  Because there is no need to stop.  We don’t pray to get our way; we pray to get to know our God.  The more we communicate with our Father in Heaven, the better we will know Him & His will for us – the better we will be able to recognize His answers to prayer when they come.
    • People often claim they never see the answers to their prayers, but how many times had God answered, yet didn’t receive the glory?  Our God is living and active.  He works in our lives far more often than we realize.  The way we would realize it is by knowing Him better as we read His word and pray.
  • Not only can we ask for our needs, but we can be certain of receiving them.  If we ask, we receive; if we seek, we find, etc.  God answers prayer.  No ifs, ands, or buts – He answers.  He promised He would, so He does.  To claim God does not answer prayer is to make Him a liar, and God never lies.  What He says, He does.  He is faithful, when we are not.  Of course, that all raises a very big question: Why is it that some prayers seem to go unanswered?  Why is the answer to some requests “no”?  Sometimes it is because we ask for something sinful, plainly outside of the will of God.  James 4:3, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures."  If our request is going to cause us (or others) to stumble in sin, it is no wonder why God would refuse to grant it to us.  Other times, it is because we ourselves are in sin, and God desires repentance first and foremost, such as the case with domineering and disobedient husbands.  1 Peter 3:7, "Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered."  In either case, it is not that God ignores us or does not hear – it is that He has something else He desires first.
  • Objection: “Okay, but what about all of the good requests that go unanswered?  What about the prayers of salvation for someone who eventually dies in sin?  Or the adoption plans that fall short?  Or for physical healing that never comes?  Or ___?”  There are all kinds of good prayers from humble born-again Christians that seemingly go unanswered.  How do they fit with the promises of Jesus?  It’s a legitimate question, and there aren’t many easy answers.  One (which may be difficult to hear in some circumstances) is that God has a different will in mind than your own.  You may have asked for something good & God-honoring, but it may go against something else God desires to do.  Certainly this was the case with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He asked that the cup of suffering would pass from Him – surely an understandable request if there ever was one!  Obviously Jesus had no sin or selfish motive in His heart, yet the Father who loved Him from eternity past still said no.  Why?  He had a greater plan – one which Jesus knew & to which He freely submitted (“not My will, but Yours be done”).  If God the Father can say no to God the Son, surely He can say no to us!  Keep in mind there were other prayers of Jesus that seem imperfectly answered, if at all.  He prayed for Peter’s faith not to fail when faced with the onslaught of Satan the night of Jesus’ arrest & Peter’s denial.  Peter did deny Jesus that night, weeing bitterly, and seemingly stepping away from the ministry for a while after Jesus’ resurrection – only coming back to service when Jesus personally restored him.  Jesus prayed for the Church to be one, according to the unity within the Trinity (Jn 17:21).  Our unity may be an ultimate spiritual reality, but it is often difficult to see today.  Surely that is a Godly prayer request, offered from the most Godly person in all history.  Has that seeking, asking, and knocking been answered?  Yes.  To all of the difficult prayers, God still has an answer.
  • How so?  The key is trust that God answers prayer in the way He thinks is best.  He answers prayer in accordance with His sovereign will in light of the free-will He has granted to us.  For instance, we pray for prodigal children to return to the faith, but God is not going to force their repentance.  Jesus prayed for the unity of the Church, but we have to be willing to be united in the essentials of the faith.  Even in terms of physical healing, there are some things we experience simply because Mankind (through Adam) chose to sin, and now we live in a fallen world.  Prayer doesn’t exempt us from that fact; it is our access to God in the midst of it.  We have a tendency to look at prayer as our “get out of jail free” card – but that isn’t the point of prayer at all.  Prayer allows us to communicate with our Father, and it gives us the opportunity for our hearts and minds to be brought in line with His.  When that happens, we can be sure we will always see our prayers answered according to how we prayed them, for we will have already prayed them according to His will.  Until that point, we’re going to have to trust God – we need to walk by faith.  God does hear and God does answer.  Believe He does, even when you can’t see it.
  • Just to make the point, Jesus gives another example from the negative, which some scholars classify as another parable…

11 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?

  • Parents delight in giving good gifts!  Fathers & mothers alike love give their kids the things they ask for.  Obviously, we want to give them what’s good for them, so some requests go unanswered (at least, according to them) – but other items are joyfully given.  What parent doesn’t love giving the “wow!” gift at Christmas or on birthdays?  That’s Jesus’ point.  When a child asks for bread, the parent gives bread.  He doesn’t give a flat stone that might look similar to a piece of flatbread.  There’s no deception or evil intent, such as substituting a white scorpion for an egg.  That isn’t how families work.

13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

  • Here’s the contrast.  We are sinful people, being downright evil apart from faith in Christ.  But we give good gifts to our kids.  Even the worst, most ungodly parents around don’t intentionally give gifts to their children to bring harm.  If that’s what we do, how much greater is the love of God?  How much more does He delight to give good gifts?  God loves to give gifts – He gives the very best ones!  In fact, God gives far more than we realize.  Every good & perfect gift comes from our Heavenly Father (Jas 1:17).  If there is something good in your life, thank God for it!  He is the One who allowed it to be there.
  • Notice there is one gift better than all the others: “the Holy Spirit.”  So good is He that Jesus guarantees that God will give the Spirit “to those who ask Him.”  Question: Is the gift of the Holy Spirit a reference to salvation, or to the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians after we are saved?  Both.  What is taught of one is true of the other.
    • To the lost – the very moment you realize your need to be saved, you can cry out to God for mercy through Jesus Christ and receive the new birth of the Holy Spirit.  Not a single person is saved apart from the work of the Spirit, and He is freely available to anyone willing and ready to believe upon Jesus Christ as Lord.  John 7:38–39, "(38) He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (39) But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified."  If you believe upon Jesus, you will receive the Holy Spirit.  There is no other way you can receive new life apart from His glorious saving work.
    • To the saved – we are no less dependent upon the Holy Spirit for our daily walk than we were the moment we first go saved.  We not only need the work of the Holy Spirit to be born-again as Christians, but we need the power of the Spirit to live day-to-day as Christians.  The New Testament actually commands us to be filled: Ephesians 5:18, "And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit," – the idea is that we are commanded to be continually filled with the Spirit, which is expressed in various ways that Paul goes on to write.  But how can we obey the command to “be filled”?  Ask!  Ask, seek, knock in faith.  This is a prayer that God delights to answer, as Jesus promises that God will “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.
  • There is only one qualification here: we have to ask.  Don’t misunderstand – God the Holy Spirit is alive and active in the world today.  Among the unbelieving world, He convicts them of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn 16:8).  Among the Church, the Holy Spirit indwells every single believer in Christ – He is our guarantee/down-payment of our salvation (2 Cor 1:22).  But regarding the Spirit’s initial work in a person’s life to be saved, or regarding the ongoing power of the Spirit to walk as saved, we need to ask. 
    • The unbeliever has to respond to the offer of Jesus to be saved, and ask to be saved.  The gift of eternal life does not come through osmosis, nor is just generally granted to generally good people who generally believe in a general god.  Salvation is a gift of grace, and you must ask for it.  There must be some response to the Living God if you are to live eternally – this is how you receive the gift of the Spirit.
    • The believer needs to ask for the Spirit’s filling and power, and the evidence of the New Testament shows this is not a one-time occurrence.  The event at Pentecost happened only once, but the book of Acts goes on to show the apostles/disciples of Jesus being filled anew with the Spirit multiple times.  How often are we to ask?  How often do you need the power of the Spirit?  Daily!  He is available for the asking, so ask!

Conclusion:
Christian, we can have confidence in prayer!  We have the freedom to approach God in prayer, the privilege to present all our needs to Him, and the assurance that He not only hears us, but He delights in granting our requests.  Especially when our prayer is for the renewed filling of the Holy Spirit, we can know that God answers prayer!

So what does this mean?  First, it means that we can stop treating prayer like some manipulation device against God.  The way some people (and whole churches) treat prayer, it is like they can somehow “force” God to act through their many words or their proclamations of faith.  As if our will can (or even needs to) overcome the will of God, and push a reluctant God into action.  We can claim our persistency, and give ourselves the glory for enduring in prayer.  This is not the teaching of Christ! In prayer, we gladly submit ourselves to our Heavenly Father, who is Himself glad to hear us.  He invites us to pray, and He loves to give us good gifts.  In prayer, we do not manipulate our God; we communicate with Him…which is exactly what He wants.  Just as any parent loves to hear from his/her child, so our Heavenly Father loves to hear from us.

Second, it means we can stop doubting the effectiveness of prayer.  Too many times, we treat prayer as an obligation & last resort, only praying because we’re told to do so…not really believing that it works.  Deep down, we think it’s a bunch of wasted time, even if we don’t dare utter that with our lips.  Not so!  Prayer is effective!  As James writes, “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (Jas 5:16)  If we ask, we will receive – that is the sure promise of our Lord Jesus Christ.  What is in God’s will, will be granted to us.  He is no liar, so we can trust His promise on this.  Even when God’s answers may not be obvious to us today, we can be certain He does answer.

So ask!  Avail yourself of your Heavenly Father, and present your requests to Him.  Trust Him – believe upon His word, and the sure word of your Savior.  For some of you, you’ve lost hope in prayer.  There are certain requests you’ve made that seem completely lost, or you haven’t understood what God’s will has been regarding them – so you’ve just given up.  For others of you, you haven’t really trusted prayer in the first place, and so it’s never been something you’ve really engaged.  In both cases, this says more about your trust in God than your trust in prayer.  After all, if prayer is simply talking to God, then it isn’t prayer that does anything; it’s the Lord.  A Christian who claims prayer doesn’t work is really claiming God doesn’t work.  Yet He does!  If nothing else, look to your own salvation.  Have you been forgiven of your sins?  Have you been made a new creation through faith in Jesus Christ?  Do you have the assurance of belonging to God as His child?  If so, you know God answers prayer!  He is good – and He is always good, always active, always working.  So trust Him.  Trust Him not only in the times in which it is easy to see His work, but trust Him in the times when it’s not.  It is when we are so overwhelmed by our circumstances and can’t see anything else, that our trust in God really matters.  So go to Him in prayer, and trust Him to work His glorious will.

Some of you need to focus in on the last statement of Jesus & pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps you’ve been walking with Christ for a while, but your walk has been powerless as of late.  Maybe you find yourself stumbling into sin time & time again, and you don’t really know what to do about it.  Maybe you find yourself buffeted by spiritual attack & you are overwhelmed.  What you need is the renewed filling of the Holy Spirit…and He is available for the asking.  Ask!  Ask in faith, and Jesus has promised that the Father will give Him.

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