The Prayer-Filled Life (Part 2)
Principles of Prayer From Luke 11
It has been rightly said, “the secret of all failure is our failure in secret prayer.” Not just our failure to pray, but our failure in prayer. In the story of the Pharisee and the publican the Pharisee is one who prayed long and often, but he was a miserable failure. His prayers were never heard by God because neither he nor his prayers were ever right with God.
I think it was Oswald Smith who said, “when we work, we work, when we pray, God works.” Throughout history, the men and women that God has used mightily have been people who knew how to pray and for whom prayer was both a priority and a necessity. As we study the gospels and the training of the disciples by the Lord, we find that prayer is to be a vital part of a disciple’s life. For a couple of illustrations compare the following verses:
John 14:12-13 I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
John 15:7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you.
An electronic concordance quickly shows the importance of prayer in the Word of God. Variations of the word “pray” such as “prayer” and “praying,” etc., occur 331 times in the NASB, 545 in the KJV, and 375 times in the NIV. The difference in numbers is caused by the fact some Greek and Hebrew words are translated differently in the different translations. For instance, the KJV might use the word “pray” while the NASB or NIV might use “ask.”
Most Bible believing Christians recognize and accept, at least intellectually, the need and importance of prayer. We read books on prayer, we talk about it, we ask for prayer from time to time, but somehow, the church today is anything but a praying church. We may have a few real prayer warriors, but the VISION AND DISCIPLINE of biblical praying as committed disciples of the Lord Jesus has somehow escaped the body of Christ. We talk of its necessity, but too often we fail to accomplish its reality.
The disciples had this same experience. They too fell short in their prayer life and they felt it deeply. In this lesson we want to look at Luke 11:1 and the request of the unnamed disciple who was probably asking on behalf of the entire group. Here is a very important passage for learning some of the key issues of prayer that are so crucial to our walk with the Lord and the fulfillment of His purposes.
Luke 11:1-4 and the parallel passage in Matthew 6:9-11 is sometimes called the Lord’s Prayer, but in reality it is the disciple’s prayer, a model prayer teaching them important principles of prayer.
The Plea of the Disciple
Luke 11:1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he stopped, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
The Motivation for the Question
The disciples had obviously heard that John had taught His disciples on prayer and they too wanted instruction (11:1). But was there not something more, something much deeper that provoked this request? It was Howard Hendricks who, several years ago in a message at a pastor’s conference, called our attention to the fact that if we were to open our Bibles and read starting with Matthew and were to read through John we would never find an instance where the disciples asked, “Lord teach us how to witness,” or “teach us how to perform miracles,” or “teach us how to teach.” But in this passage, we do find one of the disciples asking, “Lord, teach us to pray …” Wow! How significant!
This was a very wise question, a very needed question, and from these disciples who were sometimes so slow about spiritual values, this question becomes extremely significant. What was the motivation behind this question, and why is this so important?
Again, I am reminded of something Professor Howard Hendricks once said. Can you imagine what life with Jesus Christ was like during His ministry on earth? One amazing experience after another! He was forever a source of joy and bewilderment, and I am sure people were constantly trying to explain Him to their own satisfaction with their own kinds of answers. (Cf. Mark 4:41.)
For a long time I can imagine they tried to explain Christ with typical human explanations—training, IQ, natural abilities, or whatever. At least at first. They regularly saw demonstrations of His power. They both heard His wise words and saw His wonderful works. They saw the lame walk, the blind see, the sick healed, the deaf hear, and the demon possessed dispossessed. Furthermore, they had all experienced the emptiness of the religion of their day and so, through all of this, you know they were watching the Lord and seeking answers to the miracle of His life.
As they studied His life one of their conclusions was that He was God incarnate (John 1:14). But is that conclusion what evoked this question? I don’t believe so. It was something else they constantly saw in the man Jesus that they began to suspect was part of the answer to His life. What was it? Our immediate response is of course, “It was prayer.” Right? Not exactly! It was not just prayer.
The Pharisees prayed and so did the disciples. It wasn’t just prayer; it was the way He prayed in relation to all that He was and all that He did in His life on earth. It was His manner and attitude in prayer that saturated His total being and living, His every step and action, and that manifested the intimacy of His relationship with and dependence on the Father. Prayer was never just a religious responsibility nor exercise Christ engaged in because He was obligated to do so.
Then what? Prayer for our Lord proceeded out of a basic attitude of deep dependence that resulted in a very intimate fellowship that He always had with the Father because, from the standpoint of His humanity, He was totally convinced He could do nothing of His own resources. It is this that undoubtedly brought deep conviction and longing in the lives of the disciples. They came to recognize that, while they could be believers in the Lord, they could not be true disciples who became like their teacher (Luke 6:40) unless they learned to pray to the Father like the Lord Jesus in the intimacy and dependency that He constantly demonstrated.
Christ’s Attitude in Prayer
This incorporates one of the basic principles that governed the life of the Savior. In John 5:19 Christ said, “the Son can do nothing on his own initiative.” Then, in John 8:28-29 and 14:10 He repeated the principle. The principle should be obvious for us. For Jesus Christ, prayer was a way of life, an absolute necessity: it was a means of communion with the Father and the means of bringing the power of God the Father to bear on the humanity of Jesus Christ moment by moment. We see this in Matthew 12:18 and 28.
Note that for the most part, it appears the Lord performed His works and spoke His words by the power of God the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit whom the Father had given Him. Though God of very God Himself, Jesus generally did not perform His works independently of the Father nor the Spirit’s leading (Acts 2:22). It was the Father working through Jesus, the man.
As we study the life of Christ in the gospels, we note a consistent pattern:
(1) In the midst of a busy schedule, when men were clamoring in their need for His attention, Christ retired to pray and to draw upon the resources of God the Father for He knew that “the Son can do nothing on his own initiative” (Mark 1:32-37).
(2) When it was time to choose the disciples we don’t find Christ reviewing the qualifications of each of the disciples. Rather we find Him retiring to pray. This is clear in Mark 3:13 and Luke 6:12-13. Why? Because “the Son can do nothing on his own initiative.” He needed the direction and provision of the Father.
(3) When Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus He raised His eyes heavenward in dependence and thanksgiving for what the Father was about to do (John 11:40-42). The actual prayer of Christ is not given, only the fact of His dependence, thanksgiving, and confidence that His prayer had been heard. The words of verses 41 and 42 imply, however, that not only did He pray to the Father, but that He wanted all those standing around to know it as well that they might learn the secret of dependence. This teaches us that when performing miracles, though not always heard by men, Jesus the man was praying in dependence upon the Father from the standpoint of His humanity.
(4) When He fed the five thousand. The words “and looking up to heaven” demonstrate the Lord’s prayerful dependence (Mark 6:41). Also, “he gave thanks” which shows He thanked God the Father for it and for what He, the Father, was about to do through Jesus, the man, a God-dependent, God-approved man.
Think of Jesus Christ. He was the Son of God, God incarnate, the perfect man and the absolute Creator God who also as the God-man adequately and continuously fulfilled every expectation of God for man. He was the constant delight and joy of the Father’s heart. He always pleased the Father. Now, thinking of Him as such, ask yourself this question. How much did He personally, as man, contribute to His mighty works, deeds, and ministry? NOTHING! Christ Himself gives us the answer, “…but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds” (John 14:10). And how did that come about? Through prayerful dependence on the Father!
When we work, we work. When we pray, the Father works. So out of this conscious and constant sense of need, there arose a continuing attitude of prayer: a continual expectation in the Lord Jesus that if anything was to be done, the Father must do it both by way of initiative, and wisdom, and power. Now if this was true of Jesus Christ, how much more shouldn’t this also be true for us? Indeed, prayer according to the pattern of the Lord Jesus is to be a vital goal of true disciples.
The disciples saw in Christ’s life, not only prayer, but a prayer life which demonstrated a dependency upon and intimacy with the Father unlike anything else they had ever seen and they wanted to know the secret of this.
What was the request posed by the unnamed disciple? It was, “teach us to pray.” Not just how to pray, the MECHANICS, but how in the sense of the MOTIVATION. The how aspect is included by Christ in His answer in Luke 11:2-13.
(1) Prayer should demonstrate a total consciousness of our need, a sense of our complete inadequacy along with a sense of God’s complete adequacy and willingness.
2 Corinthians 2:16 to the latter an odor from death to death, but to the former a fragrance from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?
2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,
(2) Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying hold of God’s ever present willingness.
(3) Prayer is not for emergency use only, when we get in a pinch and need someone to bail us out.
(4) Prayer is not an “Aladdin’s Lamp” or a trip to a wishing well for our wants.
(5) By contrast, prayer is a means of intimate communion, fellowship, and dependence upon God the Father who has promised to work in and through us through His Son, just as God worked through Him.
(6) Prayer is for everyday living, moment by moment.
(7) Prayer is a means of claiming God’s promises and knowing and becoming abandoned to God’s will.
In John 14:10-14, note the relationship to prayer mentioned in verses 13-14 and the works we, as disciples, are to do in verse 12.
John 14:10-14 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves. 12 I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
There is no activity in the life of a believer which does not require a prayerful attitude—a prayerful dependence on and an expectation that God is at work and will work according to His purposes and leading. In ourselves we can do nothing. Christianity is living by faith in the Creator God who dwells in us, and prayer is God’s means for us to draw upon Christ’s miraculous life. Christianity is as Paul expressed it in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Faith for a committed believer is expressed in intimate, prayerful living.
In practical terms what exactly does this means?
- We can’t really handle the phone call we are about to make, at least not in Christ’s power and life, apart from prayer.
- The lesson we are preparing to teach, we can’t do effectively without prayerful dependence.
- It means that while we usually recognize our need of God’s enablement in things like witnessing, we nevertheless tend to take God for granted and operate in our own abilities in other areas because we think a task doesn’t seem too difficult or it is within our area expertise.
As an illustration let’s look at the miraculous catch of fish in Luke 5:5-11. What was Peter thinking in this passage? Probably something like, “Lord, you’re a great teacher, you’re the Son of God and Messiah, but we can handle this ourselves; we are expert fishermen. We have been fishing these waters for years. Besides, Lord, we fished these waters all night and we know the fish are simply not biting now.” But you see, biblical Christianity is living by faith and prayerful dependence upon God and under the power and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ regardless of how things appear to us.
Biblical Christianity is never a matter of living by who and what we are—our insight, our background, our experience, our training, our giftedness, etc. Rather it is a matter of living by faith in God’s Word, biblical insight, and by faith in Jesus Christ, the Creator God and His availability to work through us as we are available and submissive to Him. But such only happens when we live by intimate prayerful dependence upon the Father through a life of prayer, a life of praying without ceasing, and a life devoted to special times of prayer alone with the Father and His Son in the power of the Spirit.
The Pattern for Prayer
Luke 11:2-4 So he said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, may your name be honored,
may your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread,
4 and forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And do not lead us into temptation.”
We have observed something of the prayer life of our Lord which undoubtedly was a large part of the motivation behind the request of the unnamed disciple in verse one, “Lord, teach us to pray.” For our Lord, prayer was the most natural and necessary aspect of His existence. In answer to this request of Luke 11:1, our Lord gave what is popularly known as the Lord’s Prayer. In reality, it was the disciples’ prayer and provides us with a model or pattern for biblical and effective prayer.
This is an excellent passage in teaching new believers about prayer because it covers a number of categories which are important to prayer.
Two things this prayer is not:
(1) It is not and was never intended to be a ritual prayer to be formally and liturgically recited. It was a model designed by our Lord to show the nature of prayer and what prayer should consist of by way of content. There is nothing wrong, of course, with reading or reciting it together as we would any passage of Scripture for a certain focus or emphasis or as a reminder of truth. I am convinced, however, it was never meant to be simply recited as a prayer to God in place of personal prayer poured out to God from the heart. Compare the translation of the Living Bible: Luke 11:1b reads, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
(2) It was never intended to be used as an amulet or special words to protect someone when in danger. Perhaps you have seen films where people were in some kind of danger and they prayed the Lord’s Prayer in this fashion.
The prayer divides into two sections marked out by the pronouns “your” and “us.”
- The “your” section points us to God and concerns our relationship with Him regarding His person, character, being, purposes, and activity on earth.
- The “us” section deals with our needs as they are related to God and His activity and purposes in our lives here on earth.
This is no accident. First, we start with God and then we go to ourselves. Here is an important principle in all worship of which prayer is but one mode and means. In prayer, as in everything, our Lord teaches us to put God first. Why? Because this puts everything in the right perspective, it gives us the right viewpoint about life, one that sees beyond our own very limited scope. This is important so that we might genuinely focus our hearts and minds on the who and what of God, that we might seek first the rule and righteousness of God, and that we might walk with Him in obedience and under His enablement, direction, and protection.
As a tear magnifies sorrow and as laughter magnifies joy, so prayer (a form of worship wherein we count on the worth of God) must first magnify the Lord if our prayers are to have the proper result in our lives—confidence, faith, and direction into the will of God.
Prayer is a means of entering into the joy and confidence of God’s love, provision, direction, and presence. It is a way to focus on the Who and What of God—God’s person, plan, principles, promises, and purposes. This kind of praying glorifies the Lord and demonstrates our desire for relationship with God, along with obedience. It is comforting to our hearts because it brings God into our vision along with His purposes.
This first emphasis by our Lord exposes what is often a fatal weakness in our own prayers. We tend to begin with “us” rather than with “Your.” We rush into God’s presence pleading for “our” petitions, “our” needs, “our” problems and, as a result, we become problem oriented and frantic rather than God oriented and relaxed in His sovereignty (cf. Ps. 46:10, "Stop your striving and recognize that I am God!”).
We need to focus on the Lord first to get the perspective of Jeremiah 32:27. Concerning the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to Israel and to keep the Prophet’s eyes on the Lord, we find this word to the Prophet: “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. There is, indeed, nothing too hard for me.” (Jer. 32:27).
We need the praise and focus of God in Psalm 100 before the petitions of Psalm 102.
When We Pray: The Time Element (v. 2a)
“ When you pray say.”
It is significant, I believe, that no commands are given as to time or how often. Why? Because prayer is more than a mere religious routine we go through as it is in some religions in which worshippers recite certain words and bow in a certain direction specified times of the day. Scheduled prayer is certainly scriptural and a godly pattern to have as with Daniel (Dan. 6:10), and David (Ps. 55:16-21), but, as with both David and Daniel, it should always be the response of a heart which desires communion with God and depends on Him in the same way man naturally takes in oxygen through the process of breathing. This is seen in the cry of the Psalmist, “As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God!” (Ps. 42:1).
Two things about this cry of the Psalmist: First, his entreaty expresses our need. We need the Lord and we need to drink from His fountain of life through the Word and prayer—our means of hearing Him and responding to Him. But second, his entreaty also expresses what should be a recognized reality in each of us. As the Psalmist, we should long to communicate with our God. Prayer is to be an expression of our longing for intimacy with God and to enter into His strength and will.
Why We Pray: The Nature of Prayer (v. 2a)
“When you pray say.”
“Pray” is the Greek word proseucomai from pros, stressing direction, closeness, and eucomai, “to ask, request.” The basic meaning of this word (along with its uses) looks at prayer as an avenue of drawing near to God in worship and dependence because we see Him as the all-sufficient one and ourselves as insufficient. Prayer becomes one of the means by which we draw near to the Lord and His sufficiency and submit to Him.
“Say” is the Greek word, legw. It gives prominence to the thought processes in choosing the words spoken because of their meaning. Originally, it meant “to pick and choose” and this is precisely what we generally do in speech unless we are talking gibberish. Legw reminds us of our need to carefully choose our words as opposed to praying as mere religious rote without careful thought. It should remind us of the conversational nature of our prayer or communication with God.
“Say” is what we call in Greek grammar, a present iterative imperative. As an iterative present it describes an event which is, as a command, to occur repeatedly, over and over again. The idea is when you pray, consistently pray in the following manner or example, but not repetitiously by rote, reciting these words as a mere repeated ritual, the problem Jesus addressed earlier in Matthew 6:7.
Reasons why it does not refer to a prayer to be merely recited.
(1) Matthew 6:5-7 is a specific warning against praying in a repetitious manner and the warning there is followed by this teaching which gives us a model for prayer. To view this as a prayer to be repetitiously repeated would be in conflict with the previous command.
(2) The parallel passage of Matthew 6:9 adds the words “this way.” This is the Greek $outws which could very will be rendered, “in this manner” or “after this manner.” In other words, what follows is to be taken as a model for prayer, not as a prayer to be memorized and merely recited.
(3) In the epistles of the New Testament, this prayer is never repeated though its pattern or principles are basically followed in one way or another.
(4) This understanding fits with the warning of Isaiah 29:13 which the Lord quoted against the religious externalism of the Israelites of His day.
Prayer is the thoughtful exercise of the heart and the mind through which we seek to draw near to God in worship and dependence on Him because of who He is as our sovereign God and support.
How to Pray (vv. 2b-4)
Pray as a Child
This command demonstrates the need of the new birth or spiritual regeneration. Scripture teaches us that prayer, other than the call to know God or for salvation, is really only applicable to believers in Jesus Christ who are brought into a relationship with God as His children through faith in Jesus Christ. This is accomplished by the new birth, the regenerating work of the Spirit of God (cf. John 1:12; 3:3-7; 14:6).
Our prayer is to be addressed to God using the term, “Father.” The basic plan of prayer for the New Testament saint is not to Jesus, but to the Father. He is the one to whom we are to pray, THE GIVER, through the name of the Son, THE ACCESS into God’s presence, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, THE MEANS (cf. John 14:6; 16:23-24; Eph. 2:18; 3:14; 1:17; 6:18; Jude 20; Col. 1:13; Heb. 7:25).
“Father” is a term of honor or reverence and relationship. Coming to God in prayer as “Father” is designed to demonstrate: (a) our attitude toward God as one of honor, respect, and trust, and (b) our understanding of the relationship we have with Him as a child; God is a father kind of God who cares for us as only a parent can care for a child.
How should this affect our prayer life?
(1) When we pray as New Testament believers, we are to talk with God as our Father, not simply about God in a theological monologue of high sounding and pious phrases and tones. True, we should exalt the Lord in our prayers through praise, adoration, and thanksgiving for His person, His essence, and His works in creation, history, and salvation. Our need, however, is to come to God as a child and talk with Him as our Father (Ps. 103:13).
(2) It means we are to talk with Him as a Father who loves and cares for us as His children. We will praise Him for His divine essence and being, and for His wonderful and mighty works, but ultimately it means praying with the frankness of a child while counting and resting in God as a Father who has a father’s heart, love, understanding, wisdom, and strength. To pray to God as our Father means recognizing that He is a person who is intimately concerned about us more than we could possibly be concerned about ourselves. He is not a blind or impersonal force.
(3) Calling God our Father means believing Him to be so. Such a relationship and conviction could never really be expressed if we were to address God as simply, “Almighty God, the great and terrible one,” or “Dreadful Creator and Ground of all Being.” This kind of approach to God would actually betray one’s ignorance of the nature and relationship of God to us in Christ, or one’s unbelief in Him as a loving heavenly Father.
How easy would it be to pray or how confident would we be if we could only approach God as an impersonal “ground of all being” or as “the great and terrible one?” The word “Father” draws our attention to the nature of our relationship with God as a result of the new birth and our access to God through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus it emphasizes the ease and willingness with which we should come into His presence, boldly, with the confidence of a child who knows he or she is loved with an unconditional love (Heb. 4:16). By ease, however, I do not mean disrespectfully and without regard to His holiness and majesty or without concern about sin in our lives. We dare not ignore our responsibility to deal with our sin by confession (Ps. 66:18). Rather, by ease, I mean an awareness of this fatherly kind of care, the love of God, and our provision and access through the finished work of Christ.
Pray to honor God’s name
In Scripture, much more so than today, names represent who people are and what they represent—their reputation. This clause means, “may your person be hallowed.” “Hallowed” is the verb $agiazw “to set apart, make holy, venerate, or treat as holy.” But how can we do this? As God’s children we bear his name and represent him before the world. How we act affects His name and reputation before others.
Paul reminded the Jews of this very concept in Romans 2:23-24, "You who boast in the law dishonor God by transgressing the law! 24 For just as it is written, 'the name of God is being blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'"
To hallow God’s name or sanctify it means to turn my life over to Him for sanctification. This means opening up my life and all its closets to His work of making me like His Son. Surely this is to be a prayer of surrender or commitment for God’s name is never going to be hallowed (at least by us) as long as we are walking in rebellion and self dependence. Compare Ephesians 3:16-21 which expresses a desire and a request for the veneration of God’s person in general throughout society.
Pray for God’s will on earth
This is a prayer for God’s reign on earth, that soon the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our LORD. It demonstrates a belief and recognition that this world is a fallen world that has rejected its Creator (Rom. 1:18f), that this world is not God’s ultimate goal, and that a new and glorious world is coming (cf. 1 Pet. 1:3-8, 13-17; Rev. 11:15).
Praying for God’s kingdom also shows a longing and a hope for the return of Christ to earth and the fullness of our inheritance. It means living in view of the blessed hope as sojourners who love and pray for His kingdom (Titus 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:17; 2:11).
It is also a prayer for the reign of God within us so that God’s will can be done now in and through our lives. It is a desire to fit into His plan no matter how small and in accord with what he is doing through the various trials, defeats, successes, provisions, and circumstances He brings. I am reminded of a line in a poem by Cowper which reads, “Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will.”
In the parallel passage, Matthew 6:10, “your will be done” is added. This teaches us to pray as our Lord did when facing the cross. “your will be done” means help me to surrender my life to that which will further your kingdom, your will on earth, and your purpose for me. I am to prayerfully accept the truth that “out of darkness God calls forth light; out of despair, hope. From death comes resurrection.” It is often “by means of defeat the kingdom of God is born in human hearts.”97
Pray for daily, physical needs
In verse 4 the Lord deals with forgiveness and thus, the needs of the immaterial man, the soul and spirit. If you or I were giving these instructions we would probably have inverted the order to spiritual needs first and then we would turn to physical needs. So, why this order?
The Lord created our bodies—the body is important to the function of men. The body is not evil; it is a vehicle of service and of good. In another place he says in relation to the physical needs of the body, “seek first the kingdom of God …” There He shows that the spiritual man is a priority and does take precedence over the physical. But this does not mean the physical man or the needs of the body are unimportant, that they are to be neglected, or that it is spiritual and more holy to neglect the body and to treat it carelessly. The Lord may have used this order to deal a blow against some of the pagan ideas of his day and to some of the imbalances believers can so easily slip into—and always have.
The Greeks regarded the body as evil and believed pure spirit was of greater value. Many rejected the idea of the resurrection because they believed all matter to be evil. They taught it didn’t matter what you did with the body. They either tortured it in various forms of asceticism, or misused it in licentiousness. This is why some of the Greeks at Corinth did not want to believe in the resurrection and part of the reason why Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15. Concerning their attitude about the body and resurrection, Ryrie writes: “In general they believed in the immortality of the soul, but not the resurrection of the body. To them, the body was the source of man’s weakness and sin; death, therefore, was the welcomed means by which the soul was liberated from the body.”98
Even today many Christians take their bodies for granted. We over-feed them, under-exercise them, often fail to give them enough rest, and in general, many times fail to take care of the body’s daily needs. In Philippians 3:21, the translation of the KJV could leave a wrong impression about the body. It reads: “Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” The translation, “vile body,” can suggest the body is evil, but literally, the Greek text means “body of humility,” i.e., a non-glorified body. This body is mortal and subject to age, disease, death and decay—so it needs special care if we are to maintain it as a useful tool of God.
First Timothy 4:8 puts this into the right perspective, "For 'physical exercise has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way. It holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.'” It reminds us that bodily discipline is profitable for a little while. It keeps the old machinery in good working order as long as it is being exercised and cared for properly on a daily basis. But of course, godliness is profitable both for now and for eternity.
Man is a unity of body, soul and spirit. What affects one part affects the other. Neglect the body and it can affect the spiritual life. Neglect the spiritual life and it definitely will affect the body. So our Lord here teaches us balance—to care for both, to pray for both body and soul. The prayer for daily bread represents the whole concept of the needs of the body—food, clothing, shelter and whatever the human body needs to function effectively for the Lord. Our bodies belong to Him; He has bought them with the price of His Son (1 Cor. 6:19).
Note that He teaches us “give us today our daily bread.” This is a prayer for daily supply to be made available to us for our physical needs. This is to be prayed daily. We should never take the Lord for granted. Compare Paul’s emphasis in 1 Timothy 4:4 “For every creation of God is good and no food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”
This also teaches us that our primary concern is to be our daily needs—day by day living as sojourners rather than storehouse living like the rich fool.
Luke 12:16-21 He then told them a parable: “The land of a certain rich man produced an abundant crop, 17 so he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to myself, “You have plenty of goods stored up for many years; relax, eat, drink, celebrate!”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded back from you, but who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 So it is with the one who stores up riches for himself, but is not rich toward God.”
1 Timothy 6:17 Command those who are rich in this world’s goods not to be haughty or to set their hope on riches, which are uncertain, but on God who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment.
The purpose of this request is to get us to consciously place our security and our trust in the Lord’s hands on a daily basis as a protection against: (a) false security, and (b) the wrong pursuits for life, i.e., living life with a view to one day at a time can help us maintain the right goals or purposes (cf. 1 Tim. 6:8-19; Matt. 6:19-34).
The prayer is designed to help us realize that the daily supply of the physical needs of life come from the Lord regardless of our resources or reserves, or how wisely we think we have planned for the future. Planning for the future has its place, but only as we keep such plans in proper perspective.
It is also designed to remind us that though God is the transcendent and sovereign God of the universe, He is also our personal and immanent heavenly Father who is concerned for and the Provider of even our daily physical needs. But wait a minute, didn’t Jesus Christ also say, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt. 6:8, 32).
If He knows, why ask daily?
(1) Prayer is obviously not something by which we inform an omniscient God of our needs. Prayer is for us, to influence us and to keep us depending on Him.
(2) The principle of prayer is not that God needs to be told, but that we need to tell Him because of what true prayer does to us. It is a means by which we submit to God’s will and learn to wait upon God as we delight our hearts in Him (Ps. 37:4-6).
(3) Prayer is a means by which we draw close to God so that He may draw close to us to bless us, not just with our needs as we may conceive them, which may not at all be what we need, but with the awareness of God Himself (James 4:8). What happens when we fail to praise and thank God and fail to bring our needs to the Lord? We begin to pull away from Him, to take Him for granted, and eventually we succumb to the delusion that we can handle life alone.
God is influenced by biblical steadfast praying, not because we have informed Him of something or because we have influenced God to change His mind, but because it has affected our lives, demonstrated our faith, obedience and submission to Him (Ps. 33:13-22; 34:4-9). God answers and honors trust.
Pray for spiritual needs
(1) Regarding personal sin—“and forgive us our sins,” (11:4a)
First of all this verse deals with the subject of the forgiveness of the child of God, not the forgiveness of the unbeliever. The unbeliever is not forgiven by praying this prayer or by confessing his sins as though that would win his forgiveness. Instead, the Bible reveals that he must acknowledge his sinfulness, that he is a sinner separated from God, helpless in himself, and in need of the saving grace of God through faith in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ.
The passage is addressed to disciples, to believers who can call God their Father as the regenerated children of God through faith in Christ. Judicially, for those who have trusted in Christ the penalty of sin has been settled by the cross (Rom. 3:21-24; 5:1-2; Col. 1:14), but as we see in John 13, we all face the problem of personal sins that we incur as we walk down the defiled streets of this world. Known sin hinders our fellowship with God, it quenches His power and control of our lives, and it hinders our ability to grow and be truly changed by the grace of God. Therefore, in this model prayer, the Lord shows us that we must deal with the problem of personal sin.
We must remember that this prayer gives us a pattern for prayer in its general content. Here, it deals with the subject of forgiveness as a very important part of our prayers if they are to be answered and significant in our lives and our walk with God. This passage does not give us an explanation of the mechanics or details by which the believer is to handle sin and experience forgiveness. For this, God expects us to turn to the rest of the Word for instruction and insight. Rather, this model of prayer reminds us of our sinfulness, shows us our need of cleansing for fellowship with God, and demonstrates our responsibility to deal with the problem of personal sin in all its many categories as:
- Mental attitude sins—resentment, envy, jealousy
- Sins of the tongue—lying, gossip, criticism, abusive language
- Overt sins of every kind—stealing, fornication, adultery, murder, substance abuse, fraud, etc.
- Root sins—failure to appropriate God’s grace and live dependently on Him, false values, false motives, and false patterns of thinking and dealing with life. This involves the defense and escape mechanisms and the independent strategies of self protection or self management that we all tend to use to control our lives and protect ourselves rather than trusting in the Lord.
Let’s look for a moment at Luke 11:4a “And forgive us our sins.” The verb, “forgive,” as it is first used in this verse, is a construction in the Greek text (an aorist imperative) which adds a note of urgency—undoubtedly because of the consequences of sin. The Lord spoke here of specific sins. The word sins has the article and is in the plural. In light of the analogy of Scripture, the Lord is talking about specific personal sins that we are responsible to acknowledge as sin because of what it does to our fellowship with the Lord and our capacity as believers to love and minister to others.
This means we are not to take this request, “forgive us our sins,” as just a broad all inclusive and sweeping prayer for forgiveness of sin in general, i.e., “Lord, forgive me of all my sins.” That would avoid specific conviction and acknowledgment of specific sin, and leave us with non-convicting generalities. Such a prayer would simply sweep sin under the rug. It would clean up the outside of the cup but ignore the filth on the inside.
Matthew 12:34-35 Offspring of vipers! How are you able to say anything good, since you are evil? For the mouth speaks from what fills the heart. 35 The good person brings good things out of his good treasury, and the evil person brings evil things out of his evil treasury.
Matthew 23:25-26 Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside may become clean too!
The verb is afihmi and means literally, “to send away, let go.” It comes from a preposition, “from” and a verb, “to be.” It had, however, a legal use and meant “to cancel, remit, or pardon.” It was used of a loan or debt and also of the guilt or debt of sin which, as a result of forgiveness, removed the penalty or consequences of sin. The consequence in view here is broken fellowship which is restored by honest confession. (See Appendix 5 for an overview of the key issues in forgiveness for the believer.)
(2) Regarding relationships with others—“For we also forgive everyone …” (v. 4b)
Here and in Matthew 6:12b this is stated in the form of a principle rather than a request, but it deals with a subject which certainly needs to be a matter of prayer. It is an area we each need to turn over to the Lord for management. God holds us responsible for our relationships with others and the focus here is when we think we have been mistreated and would tend, then, to hold grudges and seek revenge.
In relation to forgiving others, there are always two dimensions involved: the Godward or vertical element, and the manward or horizontal element.
In relation to God: All sin against others is first of all a sin against God because it is a transgression against the law of God to love one another. Therefore, when we sin against another human being, we must first confess the sin to God.
In relation to men: In the horizontal relationship, we have a dual set of obligations: those of the offended party (the one sinned against), and those of the offending party (the one sinning against another).
THE OFFENDING PARTY
THE OFFENDED PARTY
Vertical responsibility—Confess to God the sin against the other party.
Responsibility—Forgive the offending party.
Horizontal responsibility—Ask forgiveness and seek reconciliation with the person offended. This can include making restitution.
Responsibility—If necessary for unity, healing, restoration, etc., go to the offending party to seek reconciliation and restoration.
The offended party, as a forgiven person in Christ, has a two-fold obligation. First, he or she is to show the same unqualified forgiveness they received from Christ. This is the point of the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23-35. Second, if the offending party does nothing, then in obedience to Scripture and for the purpose of unity, restoration, and healing, the one offended should go to the offending party to correct the problem even if it means rebuke (Luke 17:3-4). If the offending party does not repent, then the offended party may need to follow the procedures of Matthew 18. This, however, never means the right to harbor resentment or anger.
If God by His grace and mercy has forgiven us such an enormous debt, one we could never pay because of our own sinfulness, how much more shouldn’t we forgive others the debts or sins against us as mere fellow-servants regardless of how much we have been hurt. What we suffer cannot compare to what Christ suffered for us. But forgiving others is never to be viewed as a work by which we seek forgiveness for our own sins because our debt is too great for any of us to pay by what we do.
On the part of the offending party the obligation is also twofold: First, to deal with the wrong done by repentance or confession before God. This reestablishes the vertical relationship. Then go to the offended party and correct the problem by asking their forgiveness and by doing the right thing as called for by the circumstances. Compare the following passages on forgiveness (cf. also 18:21-35; Luke 17:3-4; and 1 Peter 3:7).
Ephesians 4:31-32 You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk. 32 Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.
Matthew 5:23-26 So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift. 25 Reach agreement quickly with your accuser while on the way to court, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the warden, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!
Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins.
Principles to keep in mind:
- Failure to forgive demonstrates our unwillingness to treat others on the same basis of grace that God has treated us. We must be willing to extend forgiveness as freely to others as God has freely extended it to us (Matt. 18:21-35; Eph 4:32).
- Failure to forgive others stems from our failure to turn the matter over to the Lord and trust in His sovereign purposes and control. The Lord who rested totally in the Father’s love and plan is our perfect example in this (1 Pet. 2:21-25).
- Failure to forgive others keeps the Lord from forgiving us, not because our act of unforgiveness becomes the basis for our own forgiveness, but because unforgiveness, like any known sin, stands as a barrier to fellowship. The basis for our forgiveness is always the cross and Christ’s presence before the Father as our advocate (1 John 1:9-2:2). It is important for us to understand, however, that failure to forgive others is not only sin, but a sin which is a contradiction to the heart of the gospel message (cf. Matt. 5:23-24; 1 Pet. 3:7; Ps. 66:18).
- Failure of people to forgive one another results in a sick church—one without the power and blessing of God on its ministry and life.
(3) Pray Regarding Personal Temptation—“And do not lead into temptation.” (v. 4c)
This particular request has troubled many. Exactly what does this mean? One thing for sure, it is not a request out of fear that God might lead us into some form of temptation. James 1:13 specifically reminds us that God tempts no man. Temptation to sin always comes from sources other than the Lord. This request stems from recognizing certain principles and spiritual realities. It reminds and warns us of:
- The principle of our own inherent weakness and our inability to always recognize temptation or to be able to handle certain temptations due to our particular spiritual state or phase of maturity.
- The principle of our three enemies, the real sources of our temptation—(a) the sinful nature or indwelling sin, (b) the world around us, and (c) Satan against us. Satan and the world have many snares and traps to which we are susceptible because of our own desires and proneness to turn to the many tempting offers made by these sources for significance and happiness.
- The principle of our desperate need of the protection and guidance of the Lord—our only strength against temptation (cf. Eph. 6:10f).
This prayer request is a matter of recognizing these principles that we might turn to the Lord and lean on Him to protect us and to keep us from temptation, especially the unrecognizable forms.
The Parable of the Persistent Friend
Luke 11:5-8 Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 because a friend of mine has stopped here while on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 Then he will reply from inside, ‘Do not bother me. The door is already shut, and my children and I are in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though the man inside will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of the first man’s sheer persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
In this parable we see the certainty of God’s answer and supply through persistent prayer.
Certain questions repeatedly pop up in the minds of believers regarding prayer. For instance: Why are we to continue to pray for something if the first time we pray we believe God for our request? Isn’t that unbelief? What about those times when we pray and are certain of an answer, and no answer is forthcoming? We believe and are confident it is God’s will, yet nothing happens. What are we to do? What are we to think?
Such questions are often a discouragement to prayer because people do not understand enough about prayer and its place in God’s plan and in our lives. Further, believers know they are to pray and to pray in faith, but this is hard. They say, “I know God can, but is it His will?” After all, God’s will is an important ingredient to the way we pray and receive answers.
Please note Mark 11:22-24:
Jesus said to them, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, if someone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 24 For this reason I tell you, whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
Now compare the above promise with the following passages:
Matthew 6:10 may your kingdom come,
may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Luke 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Yet not my will but yours be done.”
Ephesians 5:17 For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is.
The Lord’s story of the friend who refused to take no for an answer is given to counter feelings of doubt and to become a reason and motivation for continuous and persistent prayer that believes God for what we ask. What do we mean by “persistent prayer”? Sufficient to say it means more than keeping on in prayer.
Why this parable? (Luke 11:1 cf. 18:1, i.e., the context). The disciples had asked the Lord to teach them to pray. In essence they were saying, “Bring us to the point, Lord, where prayer is not an option or for emergency use only. Bring us to the place where you are Lord and where prayer becomes an indispensable and irresistible reality.”
These verses, consisting of the parable, the prescription, the promise, and the principle, were given to answer questions and to motivate them (and so also us) in the struggle of prayer. In Luke 18:1, Christ undoubtedly had the principle of persistent prayer in mind as well. Note that we have only two options: Either we pray biblically in faith or we faint and fail to pray which is itself a form of failure.
This parable, in answer to the unnamed disciple’s request regarding prayer (11:1), is designed by the Lord as further instruction on the subject of prayer. It is developed around three people whom we will call friend A, B, and C, and five circumstances.
Friend A, coming from a long journey, visits friend B late at night, evidently seeking help. Friend B, possessing insufficient resources himself, goes to his neighbor, friend C, for help on behalf of friend A. Friend C, however, though he possesses sufficient resources, is reluctant to rise and give help to friend B, but he is persistent and continues to ask on behalf of friend A. Finally, friend C who has the resources provides the requested resources because of the persistence of friend B.
Let’s note several lessons or principles we can learn from this parable about prayer:
The Principle of the Need of Others
Here is where prayer has its origin. Prayer is designed to fill the needs of needy man (Heb. 4:16). But the parable illustrates praying for the needs of others, not just for our own needs. Friend B was making requests for his friend who came to him at midnight, hungry and without bread. Here also is where the church seems to have lost its vision in the ministry of intercession. Remember there are basically two kinds of prayer requests: (a) prayer for our own needs (petition) and (b) prayer for the needs of others (intercession).
As believers, we are all priests of God (1 Pet. 2:5). To us has been given the ministry of intercession through which we can bring untold power and blessing into the lives of others by praying for the lost, for laborers to be sent out, open doors for the Word, and the basic needs of fellow believers (cf. 3 John 2; Eph. 6:18; Col. 4:2-4, 12). To pray properly is to become sensitive and open to the needs of others. It is to care for others rather than be occupied with ourselves.
When on the cross, our Lord prayed for His own deliverance, but he never forgot those around Him. From the meaning of the Greek text, which uses the imperfect tense of continual action in past time, we know the Lord repeatedly prayed, “Father forgive them …” during those hours on the cross.
Closely related to the above is our next point found in this passage.
The Principle of Sacrificial Love
It was Andrew Murray who pointed out in With Christ in the School of Prayer, that intercessory prayer is part of God’s training school (p. 49). Here our sonship, fellowship and friendship with God is tested as well as our love for others. Our prayer life is a good barometer of the true condition of our spiritual life and our maturity and fellowship with Jesus Christ.
What happened in this parable? A man took the weary traveler and friend into his home at midnight. He did not excuse himself with “I’ve had a hard day, have no food—go elsewhere.” He sacrificed his night’s rest and went out in the darkness to find the needed bread. “Love seeks not its own,” love gives of itself, its time, its comfort for the needs of others.
This kind of love in word and deed is not natural to any of us. It requires supernatural capacity or ability and motivation. It requires the mind of Christ (the Word of God in the soul and the control of the Spirit controlling and motivating the life). John 15:5,7-8 and Ephesians 6:18 remind us that genuine fellowship with the Lord is vital to our prayer life just as prayer is vital to our fellowship. In a way, each feeds the other. Without the vertical focus, prayer becomes self-centered and based on wrong motives (James 4:2). So, in a very real sense, intercessory prayer is a test of our love, of our fellowship with God and our friendship with others. What kind of friend am I?
The Principle of Our Impotence
The man we have called friend B said, “I have nothing to set before him.” People often speak of the power of love, of what love can and does do for others. But it is important for us to realize another truth. In ourselves we are extremely limited. We may want to help another, but because of our puniness as man we are unable or at least very limited in our ability to help. In ourselves we are nothing.
No matter how much we may want to lead a person to Christ, you and I can’t open their eyes, we can’t force them to see the light. Only the Spirit of God can do that (Acts 16:14). Evangelism, then, if it is going to be effective must be preceded by prayer. The same principle applies to building people up in the Word. Consistently, the Apostle Paul prayed for the spiritual enlightenment of the people to whom he ministered (Eph. 1:15-23; 3:14-20; Col. 1:9-14; Phil. 1:9-11). Doctors may do all they can for someone who is ill, and still not alleviate the problem, but God can.
The principle is that we are inadequate and weak, but God is the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent One who is able to do above all that we can ask or even think. In His wisdom He knows what is best, in His love He always cares, and in His power He is able to do anything. So the more we come to see and sense our impotence and need, the more indispensable and irresistible prayer should become to all of us.
The Persuasion Regarding the Friend Who Can and Will Supply
Though this man cannot supply the need himself, he knows there is another who can and will supply this need. He has a super rich friend nearby who will be both able and willing to supply.
The following are important principles concerning faith:
- Faith must have the right object,
- The object must be available,
- The object must be able, and
- The object must be willing.
Knowledge of these truths is a great incentive to prayer (cf. Neh. 1).
Faith and knowledge made this person leave his home at midnight to go to the house of his friend to get bread for the weary traveler who had come from the long journey and was tired and in need of food. As mentioned above, prayer is a test of our friendship with God, of how well we really know Him and so of how confident we are that eventually God will answer and supply. Such faith leads to prayer: knowing God and His promises and our access to Him in Jesus Christ, we can be confident in His supply—that he won’t turn us away, that He feels and cares for our needs and the needs of others.
This illustrates and teaches us the simple truth that our loving heavenly Father and “Friend” will give what is needed if we ask. When a need really exists, there can be no mistake, our God will supply! Why? Because our God who cannot lie, who is immutable, who is loving and faithful, has given us promise after promise to that effect. Compare also Matt. 21:22; 18:19-21; and Luke 11:9-10.
Psalm 9:10 Those who are loyal to you trust in you,
for you, Lord, do not abandon those who seek your help.
Psalm 10:17-18 Lord, you have heard the request of the oppressed;
you make them feel secure because you listen to their prayer.
18 You defend the fatherless and oppressed,
so that mere mortals may no longer terrorize them.
Psalm 34:4 I sought the Lord’s help and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Psalm 145:18-19 The Lord is near all who cry out to him,
all who cry out to him sincerely.
19 He satisfies the desire of his loyal followers;
he hears their cry for help and delivers them.
Proverbs 15:29 The Lord is far from the wicked,
but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
How well do we know our God? How many of the principles and promises dealing with prayer do we know?
We hear people say, “but sometimes God’s answer is NO.” Yes, that is true and 2 Corinthians 12:7f is an example. But the point I believe we must see is this: too often this kind of attitude is a cop out on intercessory prayer or on personal petition and real praying. Too often people give up before they have prayed according to the prescription of persistent prayer.
The Perplexing Answer (v. 7)
In the parable the man who could meet the need is reluctant to do so. What is the point of this part of the parable? The God who has told us to pray, who cares for us, and who has promised to supply and answer, often holds back the answer and the gift. Sometimes we meet with what appears to be His refusal. Why? What is involved here? What is Christ teaching us about intercessory prayer? That we must keep knocking on God’s door as the reluctant friend until He can stand it no more and finally gives in? NO!
What about those times when we are sure of God’s will, when there truly is a genuine need and we ask in faith, believing, and yet we seem to meet with silence or an apparent NO? What then? Let’s look at the next principles for our answer.
The Persistence Which Takes No Refusal
In our passage friend B met with a refusal—“don’t bother me,” but he wouldn’t take no for an answer and he shamelessly persisted until he got what he asked for. Was he wrong in this? Should he have simply said, “Well it must not be God’s will, brother. Sorry, I just can’t help you.”? Obviously not because Christ followed up this parable with verse 9, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; …” a very definite and firm promise.
Persistent intercessory prayer is part of God’s training school. Here again, as Murray reminds us, it is a test of our friendship with God, of how well we know Him as our heavenly Friend and Father, and of how committed we are to knowing the Lord and finding His will. Note that the passage emphasizes the need of persistence in prayer, and that, as Luke 18:1 teaches, we should never give up.
Steadfast prayer like this requires faith and knowledge of what God wants to accomplish—knowing God and His plan. Steadfast and continuous prayer is to become a time of testing and training, a time of searching and discovery as we will see below.
Persistent praying is self-revealing
Persistent prayer demonstrates our knowledge and confidence in our Friend and heavenly Father. It greatly glorifies God because it shows we are resting in His wisdom and love. The lack of an immediate answer does not turn us away in disgust or cause fear or doubt and frustration. Why? Because we know our heavenly Friend and Father. Do we understand all that God is doing? No, not really. Is it easy ? No.
Persistent prayer demonstrates the maturity of our faith or the lack of it and so also our need of understanding God, His plan, principles, promises, and purposes. It demonstrates our need of faith, of wisdom and biblical values and priorities along with patience and an eternal perspective. A mature or growing faith sees and believes the promises of God, embracing them with persistence even though the answer is not immediately forthcoming (Heb. 11:13, 39). Mature faith knows that God will answer in a better time and in a better way.
This is no place better illustrated than in the prayers of our Lord both before and on the cross. Had the Father taken the cup of the cross from Him or called ten thousand angels to deliver Him from the cross, we would still be in our sins. God answered His Son, but in a better time and in a better way.
Persistent praying becomes a time of discovery regarding God’s will
Persistent prayer is often needed to bring our prayers into the will of God, i.e., to correct and make them such that they will glorify God and become a greater blessing to us (cf. Luke 18:38-41).
This story of the blind man in Luke 18:35-41 shows that the blind man was crying out for mercy, a very general request which he repeated, believing and knowing that Jesus Christ could and would heal him. But what did Christ do? Did He heal him immediately? No. Instead He said “what do you want me to do for you?” Of course Christ knew the man was blind just as our heavenly Father knows our needs before we ask them (Matt. 6:8). So why the question?
The Lord’s question to the blind man teaches us that God wants us to pray specific requests by which we bring God’s person, promises, principles, and purposes directly to bear on the details of our lives and the lives of others. This kind of praying fits with the basic concept we have seen about prayer. It is not just a religious exercise or ritual divorced from our mind, emotions and will, and the specifics of our lives. Why? Because prayer is a means of fellowship and growth by which we are to seek and discover more about the Lord and His will.
Through true persistent prayer we are forced to investigate the needs and requests as to their nature and motive and as to God’s purpose in the situation. This demands time, thought, soul searching, and fellowship with God. It demands that I ask and think about some crucial questions that help me to discover what God is seeking to teach me, questions like: What are my motives? What are the real needs? What does God want me to do? What does God want to accomplish? God, how do you want me to pray?
Persistent praying and searching in prayer causes us to see our own needs and inadequacies or those of others more pointedly. It helps to bring the real issues to the surface which cause us to more fully depend on the Lord in specifics. So we don’t just say “Lord, help me, or help Bill today.” But “Lord, strengthen me in this area, or in this specific problem or weakness.”
Persistent prayer that forces us to search out and investigate the specific needs aids our personal walk with God and our growth in faith and obedience. When we get specific we are forced to deal with specific areas and root problems in our lives or in the lives of others. We don’t just pray, “Lord, deliver me from sin,” but “Lord, enable me to deal with my temper, or my lack of love, or my fear regarding taking a stand, etc.” It forces us to face what we really are and how God is sufficient for our specific needs.
What then are some of the provisions of persistent praying?
The Provisions of Persistent Praying
Remember we are talking about times of delay in God’s answer and what persevering prayer provides in believers through the process of searching and discovery.
(1) It develops our relationship with the Lord. Through the search/discovery process, our understanding of God, our faith, our confidence, our joy and peace (Phil. 4:1f), and our strength and courage to go on in the joy and strength of the Lord in the face of continued pain or persecution are all enhanced (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7-10; 4:16-18).
(2) It provides specific answers from God, but in His timing. And, as we look back, we can often see the hand of God working out His wise purposes through which we can praise Him for specific answers (2 Cor. 9:11-12). Being specific enables us to wait for specific answers and to more clearly identify them when they come so we can praise and thank God for the answers.
The main principle of the parable is this: If the unfriendliness of a selfish earthly friend can be overcome by persistence—how much more will not persistent praying bring an answer and reward from our heavenly Friend who is also our heavenly Father?
The passage is not saying that God holds back answers because He is unfriendly or doesn’t want to be bothered. As we will see from the context, He is the all wise heavenly Father and holds back answers in His perfect wisdom and goodness because He cannot give us anything but what is best for all concerned.
The Prescription for Persistent Praying
Luke 11:9 So I tell you: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
The Greek text employs the continuous present with each of the commands (“ask, seek, knock”). But as you can tell by what has already been said, by persistent praying Scripture is not telling us to just keep on asking or repeating the same request. There is a great deal more to it than that.
“So I tell you” in verse 9 is kagw ( kai + egw) and legw which means “and I, I say.” Or “now I, I say.” This was used as a kind of special formula to introduce a point of truth or doctrine which needs to be gleaned from the parable. It is like saying, “here is the point.” This is followed by three commands, which, in the context give us the following principles.
Keep on Asking
This is a command to keep on bringing our request, keep on coming to the Lord with the need and the issue. Don’t give up or faint. Don’t throw in the towel. We are to persevere before the Lord in our requests. But how?
Keep on Seeking
Some see this as just another way of saying the same thing, but I believe this is a call for searching and discovery in the midst of continuing to pray. I believe this means more than just asking or seeking for the thing requested. This means, in our prayers and through the prayerful reading and study of the Word, we are to search for God’s will and the lessons He want us to learn. Pray for spiritual wisdom and understanding and for that which God is doing in the situation (James 1:5). We need to ask questions like: What is God seeking to teach me or us? Is the Lord wanting to take us in another direction or is the timing just all wrong for now? Is He wanting to develop our patience, trust, change our values, or reveal the wrong sources of happiness or sources of self-trust and self-management?
Keep on Knocking
This is a call for expectant waiting in our prayers. Don’t give up and go away. Don’t stop. Stay, wait and rest the matter in the Lord’s hands and timing. We have here the principle of waiting on the Lord, of the faith-rest life—resting patiently by faith in God’s wisdom and love. The answer and revelation of what God is doing will come. Just trust in the goodness and wisdom of God.
With that in mind, the Lord quickly focuses our attention on the nature of God and our relationship with Him as our heavenly Father as believers in Christ. Why? To encourage us to keep on asking, seeking, and knocking. God is a faithful father kind of God.
The Promise of God’s Sure Answer
Luke 11:10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
This verse simply states that those who keep on asking, seeking, and knocking, who persist in prayer, will receive answers from the Lord. They will receive, they will find, and God will open the door.
It is helpful to note that the present tense is used with each of these verbs regarding God’s sure answer (“receives, finds, knocks”). In verse 9, the future was used, but not here, at least not with the first two. There is a manuscript problem with the third and it is difficult to determine from the evidence if this should be the present or the future. Probably the present as with the first two verbs.
The present tense stresses the actuality of God’s sure answer even more emphatically. This may be what we call the future present which denotes an event that has not occurred, but which is regarded as so certain that in thought it may be viewed as a present reality. Or, it may be the gnomic present of what is a general, timeless principle. The Lord consistently gives to those who persist in prayer. It’s God’s pattern. The Lord is emphatically assuring us of God’s concern and involvement in our lives to direct us, transform us, and answer our prayers.
Now to strengthen our faith and to demonstrate why we can be assured of God’s answer and concern, the Savior focuses our thoughts on God’s MUCH MORE GRACE by calling our attention to God’s infinite and holy love as our heavenly Father.
The Principle of God’s Much More Grace
Luke 11:11-13 What father among you, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
The Comparison to Human Fathers (vv. 11-12)
God is our heavenly Father who can do no less for his children than would our earthly father.
Matthew 7:11 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Romans 5:9 Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath.
Romans 8:32 Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?
The rather extreme examples given in these verses 11-12 represent the norm, the general pattern among men. When societies degenerate and morally go bottom up, child abuse follows, but in general, fathers do not break with these principles. They do not give harmful gifts or gifts that mock their children’s requests. They will often be unwise in their gifts, but they generally do what they think is best.
These examples reinforce the point that God, because of who he is as a holy and infinitely wise God, can only respond in perfect kindness and love.
The Contrast to Our Heavenly Father (v. 13)
Because God is perfect and infinite in all aspects of His character and being, He can do nothing less than the most and the best. He will do much more than our earthly fathers who, though they generally seek to give good gifts, are also sinful and finite in their wisdom.
In this verse we see a contrast of nature and a contrast of gifts. In contrast to the limited and material gifts of earthly fathers, our heavenly Father gives the highest and greatest gift, one that involves and is important to every other spiritual gift—He gives the Holy Spirit.
But what about asking for the Holy Spirit? Can this prayer be legitimately prayed today? NO! Either one of two things apply:
(1) In the Old Testament, the gift that God had promised His people was the Holy Spirit (cf. Ezek. 36:25-27; Joel 2:28-29). So the Lord was here telling the disciples that during this interim period, before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as promised in the Old Testament, if they would ask in persistent prayer, they could then have been indwelt and empowered by the Spirit.
(2) Or, our Lord was saying that what the Father had promised would one day be realized once Israel turned and repented. At that time Christ was being rejected, so the promise would have to be postponed. Christ was saying they should not give up hope, but should continue praying and wait for the gift that would come after His glorification or death and resurrection (cf. John 7:37-39). In the upper room, this is precisely what the disciples did (Acts 1:14).
I personally prefer view number one above.
Conclusion and Application
Because of our lack of wisdom and finite human condition, and because of our sinfulness, if God answered all our prayers just as we ask them we would receive that which would be equivalent to either a stone, a serpent, or a scorpion. But God as our heavenly Father through Jesus Christ (as the one who knows best, who knows all the facts, and who can give only what is best) waits until, through persistent asking, searching, and knocking, our prayers are changed into the will of God (if against it) or until we have learned the lesson(s) He is seeking to teach us through the training ground of persistent intercessory prayer.
The capacity to have this kind of faith in God is dependent upon our knowledge of Him and our confidence in His will. Until God’s will is known and sensed on a request, prayer will have to fall into two categories:
(1) The prayer of confident expectation and faith knowing that God will answer in His own time and according to His wisdom.
(2) The prayer of submission and trust as the Lord prayed, “Nevertheless Father, not my will but Thine.”
One aspect of our prayer should involve asking the Father to help us know His will about the issues for which we are praying. Another aspect involves giving thanks to the Father for answering according to His will. In the meantime, our prayer should be that God would enable us rest in Him and to grow and learn from what He is doing.
97Ray Steadman, Jesus Teaches on Prayer, Word Books, Waco, TX, 1975, p. 63.
98 The Ryrie Study Bible, NASB, Expanded Edition, Moody Press, Chicago, 1995, p. 1839.