READ : Luke 11:13
If you then, who 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!
Luke 11:13 RSV
Jesus has been teaching His followers how to pray. As we read the gospel records, we’re impressed at how often He did that. It seems to have been one of the chief subjects for His instruction. We find surprisingly little from His lips about how to preach, how to conduct worship services, even how to evangelize. But there’s abundant instruction about the life of prayer. We get the sense that for Jesus, that was basic to everything else. If His disciples truly pray, if they live in vital communion with God, if they seek Him wholeheartedly, they will be channels for His power in everything else they do.
The disciples, you remember, had asked for this help. “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” And Jesus had given them the very first lesson, “Whenever you pray, say Father, say Abba.” Start with knowing God as the marvelously gracious Father revealed in Jesus.
Next, He taught them what their greatest concerns in prayer were to be. They were to pray for their daily bread, for forgiveness, for deliverance, both for themselves and for others. But first and foremost, they were to pray for God’s name to be honored in the world and for His kingdom to come. They were to seek for these blessings first. Whatever they prayed for, longed for, sought for most earnestly would shape their whole life and career.
Whenever you pray, say “Father,” because as we believe, so we pray. And whenever you pray, ask for God’s name and kingdom first, because as we pray, so we live.
Now for another lesson of tremendous importance. Jesus says to all His followers, “Keep on asking.” He knew how prone we are to lose heart. Maybe you’ve been praying for something that means a great deal to you. You’ve cried out to God about it for some time now, but the situation doesn’t seem to change. That nagging physical complaint doesn’t go away. That painful family rift is still there. And that person you love and long to see in Christ still seems so closed to the gospel. Your prayers don’t seem to accomplish anything and it’s getting you down. In your low moments you wonder, “What’s the use of praying? Is God actually listening to me?” Maybe the mood is even more depressing: “Does He really care?” You find yourself, in your confusion and sadness losing the heart to pray.
If ever you felt like that or if that’s the way it seems to you right now, listen to these words of Jesus. They are meant for you. I’m reading from Luke, chapter 11, at verse 5:
Then he said to them, `Suppose one of you who has a friend who comes to him in the middle of the night and says, “My friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine on a journey has turned up at my house, and I have nothing to offer him”; And he replies from inside, “Do not bother me. The door is shut for the night; my children and I have gone to bed; and I cannot get up and give you what you want.” I tell you that even if he will not get up and provide for him out of friendship, his very persistence will make the man get up and give him all he needs. So I say to you, ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, those who seek find, and to those who knock, the door will be opened.
`Would any father among you offer his son a snake when he asks for a fish, or a scorpion when he asks for an egg?
If you, bad as you are, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will the heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ (REV).
THE CHARACTER OF GOD
Let’s take hold of three wonderful assurances here that will encourage us to keep on asking. The first is about the character of God. Jesus tells a little parable about a man who had a friend turn up at his house after a long journey. It was late at night. The host had nothing to offer his guest, so he decided to go out at midnight to seek provisions from a neighbor, perhaps the best friend he had in the community. Remember, this was before the days of street lights. It was dark. He groped his way through the streets, finally found his friend’s home, and started knocking on the door. At first there was no answer. He knocked again. Still no answer. He knocked louder, longer. By this time the dogs on the street were starting to bark and neighbors were looking out their windows to see what was going on. But the man kept on knocking anyway. Finally a sleepy voice answered, “What do you want?” The midnight seeker told his story, voiced his request.
The man inside was understandably reluctant. “Give me a break, will ya? I’ve just gotten the kids to bed. I don’t want to give you any bread tonight. Come back tomorrow.” But the knocker outside was not to be denied. He kept on pounding at the door until his friend gave in. The sleepy father got up, stumbled around the house, gathered together some food, practically threw it out the door, “Here, take it, and give me some peace.”
What’s the point here? Jesus is saying that even a friend can be reluctant and uncooperative, then finally respond to continued asking. How much more the God who never sleeps and always cares? Our confidence that continued praying will receive a response rests ultimately on Him and His faithfulness.
NEVER IN VAIN
Now Jesus goes on to say that no earnest prayer will ever be in vain. “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.” He starts with asking, that is, making requests, appealing for a favor. Seeking adds the dimension of longing, eagerness, moving toward God. Knocking introduces action, the insistent clamor for attention. Maybe there’s a progressive intensity here, and each is in the present tense, which means continuing action. Keep on asking. Keep on seeking. Keep on knocking. Jesus assures us six times over that such a believing search for God in prayer will not be disappointed. You will receive, you will find, the door will be opened. Everyone who asks receives, He says. Those who seek find, and to those who knock, the door will open. How could He say it more strongly than He did?
Let’s reflect on that. Jesus expects His followers to do a lot of asking, seeking and knocking, to raise a lot of petitions to Him. More, He commands them to do that and to keep at it. Reading this, pondering this, who can possibly doubt that petitionary prayer, asking, is meant to be central in a Christian’s life every day?
But the main stress is not on the command but on the promise. Think of the commands as so many gracious invitations. Jesus wants to give us the most powerful assurances imaginable about the effect of our prayers. Persistent, believing prayer will always find God responsive. It may not always be the response we expect. It will rarely come according to our time table. But no situation remains the same after sustained, believing prayer. Do you believe that?
This God whose name is Father responds. God acts when His people pray. That’s the vital nerve. Cut that and eager, sustained praying withers away.
I sometimes hear it said that the main value of prayer is psychological. It’s a kind of auto suggestion, a way of dipping into our little pool of ego strength. It makes us feel better, in other words. It stimulates us to use our own resources. But if that’s all that prayer is, no one will keep it up very long. Who will pray for a lifetime if we know, down deep, that it’s only psyching ourselves up?
The question is: Is God the real, living Lord of all? Is He the Master of history? Is He dynamically involved and active? Jesus says yes. You pray and He will act. He’ll do something. The effects of your praying will not be only subjective. Those inner benefits are very considerable, in the way you feel about things and about life as you pray. But there’s much more.
O believe it, friends, your prayers are golden. They’re like money in the bank, pressure building up behind the dam. Or better, like seed sown on the heart of God. And the harvest is sure. If you have really prayed, you have made a difference for God’s cause in this world. His future will make clear how great that difference was.
THE BEST ANSWER
Now in the closing words of this passage, Jesus seems to gather up much that He’s already said. He reminds us again that God is our gracious Father in heaven, far more ready to respond than the best human parent. He assures us again that our repeated asking has blessed effects. But listen to this as well: “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” He’s talking here about the best answer to all our prayers.
There’s a parallel passage in Matthew, chapter 7, where Jesus says, “How much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?” (v. 11). There we learn that the Father wants the best for us, that the gifts He bestows in answer to our prayers are good ones, full of blessing. Here in Luke, all of those are gathered into one. God will give to those who ask His Holy Spirit, His own Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
There are many mysteries about the life of prayer, many things that confuse and baffle us, long delays, seeming disappointments. Things often don’t work out as we plan. God’s way of answering often takes us by surprise. But of this one thing we can be deeply sure: whatever else He gives in response to our prayers, God gives us Himself. And that is best of all.
If you are a believer in Christ today, you have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. That’s God’s clear promise. You cannot be a Christian unless the Holy Spirit is dwelling in you, making you a new person in Christ, uniting you to Him. But the relationship that you and I have with the Spirit of God is a personal kind of bond. He doesn’t fill you like you might fill a basket with stones or a pitcher with water: there it’s full and that’s it. The relationship is rather dynamic and personal. He’s always filling you afresh with His own life and presence. You’re breathing out prayers and breathing in His quickening life and power. You receive the Spirit once and for all when you become a believer, but you can be filled with the Spirit over and over again. And that happens, Jesus says, when you ask and seek and knock. Let me stop here to ask you: Have you trusted Christ? Have you received the Spirit? Why not turn to Him right now? Trust Him as your Savior. Receive His best gift.
Sometimes people ask, “Why must Christians do all this praying?” If God is as gracious as He is said to be and knows all our needs better than we know them ourselves, why should it be necessary to ask Him for anything? Listen to this response by George MacDonald, mentor of C.S. Lewis: “What if he knows prayer to be the thing we need first and most? What if the main object in God’s idea of prayer be the supplying of our great, our endless need, the need of Himself? Hunger may drive the run-away child home and he may or may not be fed at once, but he needs his mother more than his dinner. Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other need. Prayer is the beginning of that communion.” Again, “that we should receive what we ask in respect of our lower needs is not God’s end in having us pray. For He could give us everything without that. To bring His child to His knee, God withholds that man may ask.”
Did you hear that: “to bring His child to His knee”? What God wants above everything else is fellowship with His beloved people. He longs to impart to them His own life, to bring them into living communion with Himself. And all His other gifts are summed up in this: to the praying heart He gives Himself. He breathes into us His own life. So, friends, don’t lose heart. Keep on asking. The best answer is on the way.
Prayer: Father, give encouragement to every praying heart that all who call upon You in the name of Jesus are heard and that You give to everyone Your best gift. In the name of Jesus. Amen.