Prevailing Prayer – Luke 11:5-13

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Prevailing Prayer

One area of the Christian life where we experience most struggle and defeat is undoubtedly that of prayer.  It may seem that nothing could be easier than talking to God, yet often when we come to pray we find ourselves lethargic and uninterested, with our attention wandering.  There may be various reasons for this, including tiredness or anxiety, but above all, it indicates our lack of sanctification.  It is certainly a point where Satan will be especially active in attacking us.  If prayer is a powerful weapon in our spiritual warfare, his attacks should not surprise us.

The Lord, however, graciously gives us all kinds of encouragements to stimulate our praying.  John Calvin said, ‘There is nothing better to stir us to make our prayers, than a firm assurance that we shall succeed in them’.  The Lord Jesus provides the kind of assurance we need in our passage today.  Let’s look at Luke 11:5-13 Prevailing Prayer.

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity[a] he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for[b] a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Luke 11:5-13 (NIV)

1. A parable (v.5-8)

After providing an example of the content of prayer in what we now call ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ (v1-4), Jesus uses a vivid story to illustrate the right attitude to prayer – ‘the parable of the friend at midnight’.  The situation is easy to visualise: ‘a friend of mine on a journey has come to me’ (v6).  Travel would take place at night to avoid the heat, so the host is caught totally unawares by his visitor – ‘I have nothing to set before him’.  We can imagine the reaction of the sleeping friend.  Most of us would say, ‘Don’t bother me’ (v7).  He doesn’t want the trouble of waking his family, who would probably be sharing the room with him, preparing food for the visitor, and generally being burdened.  But the friend at the door will not give up.  He stretches friendship to the limit, and beyond, yet he succeeds.  As v8 says, ‘not…because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness (or shamelessness) he will get up’.

What is Jesus’ lesson here?  He argues from the less to the greater – if a human friend in such circumstances would give ‘as much as he needs’ (v8), how much more will our heavenly Father do so?  Consider the comparison Jesus is making: our relationship with the Father is richer and deeper; there is no night with God and he never sleeps or makes excuses; we are not asking on behalf of strangers, but we are his children, fully known and loved by him; our needs are not small (like the ‘three loaves of bread in v5) but are very great, both physically and spiritually; the Father gives great promises to encourage our asking.  He offers no self-interested excuses for not responding.

On all these grounds we can come and expect a positive answer.  We can be bold, not letting anything deter us.  That does not encourage in us an attitude of presumption or a demanding spirit.  Our praying relates to our needs, not to our selfish wants.  Keeping that in mind, we have everything in our favour when we approach the Lord in prayer.

2. A promise (v.9-10)

Building on his parable, Jesus gives us direct encouragement to prayer.  Notice that the commands ‘Ask…seek…knock…’ are continuous tenses, indicating persistent asking and repeated coming to the Lord with our needs, We do not come with the ‘meaningless repetition’ of Matthew 6:7, but we are to come every time we have a need, with no limit to our requests.

Ask’ implies humility and a consciousness of need.  We have to set aside our pride, unlike the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:10-13, who actually asked for nothing.  Asking implies faith in a God who can and will answer.  Without faith, prayer is an empty ritual.

Seek’ implies action, doing what we can to gain what we seek.  We are not to be passive as the means of answer may be at hand.  Above all we should seek a deeper knowledge of the Lord, making use of Bible study along with our praying.

Knock’ – there needs to be perseverance until the door is opened.  We are often commanded to persevere in prayer: we should ‘always pray and not give up (Luke 18:1), ‘Be faithful in prayer’ (Romans 12:12).  God sometimes delays in order to stimulate our prayers.

When we obey these commands we meet with a 3-fold promise – ‘will be given…will find…will be opened’ (v9).  These promises are full of encouragement for Christians.  The response will exactly meet our need, and the Lord knows that need perfectly.  It is not a blank cheque so that we ask for anything we think we would like.  In I John 5:14 we read, ‘if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us’.  That is vitally important.  How do we know what his will is?  Sometimes we not sure, but the closer we are to God, the better we understand his will, and so we know better how to pray.  Verse 10 is a great promise to all who come in this way: ‘everyone who asks receives…’  Every Christian can testify to the many ways in which the Lord has kept his promises regarding answering prayer.

3. A pattern (v.11-13)

To clinch the argument Jesus again argues from the less to the greater.  He uses a very homely image that everyone can identify with – ‘Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish…?’ (v11).  Any good parent wants to provide the best for his child.  When asked for what the child needs (bread, fish, egg), he will not provide what is useless (stone) or potentially harmful (snake, scorpion).  A parent’s love moves Him to give what is best for the child.  Verse 13 provides the application of the illustration to our praying.

Human love is inevitably limited and imperfect, even in the best of us.  Jesus mentions ‘though you are evil’ to take account of our imperfection, yet we ‘know how to give good gifts’.  He then makes the comparison with our perfectly loving and all-knowing Father.  Hence he asks, ‘How much more will your Father in heaven give…?’  Already he has given the greatest gift: ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’ (Romans 8:32).  In particular, Jesus mentions that he will ‘give the Holy Spirit’ to those who ask him’.  Does it surprise you that Jesus speaks particularly about the gift of the Holy Spirit?  The Spirit is, in fact, the chief gift bestowed on the Lord’s people, the one through whom all other provision flows.  We should above all be praying for more of the ministry of the Spirit in our lives.

Based on the nature of our heavenly Father and the rich promises he has made, we can be sure of the perfect answer to our prayers and have the strongest encouragement to give ourselves to prayer.  No matter what our circumstances, we can engage in the ministry of prayer.  We may be locked down, but our prayers can circle the world, a world in the palm of the Lord’s hand.

Rev David McKay

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