Luke 11:1-13 “Do You Pray?”
1 Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
2 So He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
3 Give us day by day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.”
5 And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; 6 for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’? 8 I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.
9 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 11 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
If I ask you the question, “Do you pray?” it almost sounds silly in the ears of a Christian. Most of us would answer, “of course I pray.” But, how often do you pray? And how sincerely? Is it just a formality? I listen to people pray the Lord’s Prayer, that we have read here, and I often wonder if they mean it. No, I am not against praying the Lord’s Prayer, although I think our Saviour Jesus gave it to us as an example, and not necessarily for us to just repeat. But I hear people pray the Lord’s Prayer as if it is a formula, just to be repeated over and over again.
The first think we notice is that Jesus was praying. This sounds almost natural, and yet remember, Jesus is God. He doesn’t have the same need for forgiveness, and salvation, that we do. And yet, we find him in prayer. The first thing I would ask is “How often could you be caught in prayer?” I visit people and often find them watching television, but I have never, never, visited someone who was in prayer. But, more importantly, Jesus, who needed no salvation or forgiveness, was often in prayer. He and his Father shared communion with one another, as he approached his Father in prayer. How much more so should we, in need of forgiveness and salvation and everything else, be found in prayer. Not just in church, not just at meals, not just when we have an emergency, but daily, constantly, and earnestly. If Jesus needed to pray, or even it he only felt it was good and useful for him to pray, how much more so should we, sinful and frail and helpless as we are, be found in prayer.
But this reminds us of another effect of our being in constant prayer. His disciples saw his example. No, we should not pray to impress people, or to make ourselves seem holy, and yet, it should happen that people know us to be a people of prayer. As we pray with our spouses, with our families, with our brothers and sisters in Christ, they should want to imitate our example. And of course, the opposite is true. If our children or our spouse or our friends know that we are rarely in prayer, they will also not consider prayer to be a matter of great importance.
And so, we read in verse 1, “Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
The disciples have been inspired to pray by the example of the Saviour, and by the example of John and his disciples. And so they ask our Saviour, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” Jesus proceeds to do so by teaching them what we call the Lord’s Prayer. Some other time we will consider the Lord’s Prayer as such, but for now, we will pass over it to consider the other things that our Lord says about how and why we should pray.
He says to them in verses 5 to 8, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.”
You understand the situation—a visitor has arrived at the man’s house after a long journey, and he feels an obligation to show hospitality. But, he has nothing in his own home to offer him. So he decides to bother his neighbour, and ask for some food. The truth is that this is not really an emergency. No one is dying, or likely will die. And, it is not the neighbour’s responsibility to provide food for the traveller. This is important to note, because some people wait to pray until it is a life or death situation. And so Jesus uses an example of real need, but not a truly desperate situation, to show us that we should come to the Lord in prayer with our wants and needs, and not just when we completely desperate.
In this example, the neighbour considers the request for bread to be a bother, and tells him, “Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you.” Of course he could get up and give him the bread, but he doesn’t feel that responsibility, and tells him that he is in bed, and to leave him alone. But this obnoxious and bothersome neighbour will not leave him alone, and continues to knock and knock and knock until he gets up and gives him the bread. Jesus says about this that “I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.”
What Jesus is saying is that we need to be persistent in prayer. The neighbour did not wish to get up, but because of the persistence of the requests, he did, even though he didn’t really care. But Jesus is telling us that we too need to be persistent, and all the more so, because unlike the neighbour, our God is ready, and able, and willing, and even eager to answer our prayers. Think about this in your daily life. One time, I paid a Visa bill, and got the cancelled check back, but the bank did not credit my account. I called them, and they told me it was taken care of. But, the next month’s bill came, and they had still not credited my account. So, I did what most of us would do—I wrote letters and called them again and again until they credited my account properly. We are concerned about money, but are we as concerned about bringing our requests before God? Are we as persistent with our prayers as we are with taking care of our money?
And so our Saviour Jesus continues in verses 9 and 10 by saying, “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Jesus is telling us that if we ask, that it will be given to us.
It sounds very simple, and yet, there are those who object. Some say that God does not interfere in our lives, and that he does not actually change events. Jesus deals with this argument in chapter 12 where he says “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6, 7) God has an intimate knowledge and control over all of creation, and it is he who kills and he who gives life, and controls all events, so that no one and nothing is beyond his control and supervision.
But there are others, and perhaps even some here today, who say, “If God is in control of everything, why ask, since he’s running everything anyway?” It’s certainly true that he’s running everything, but, part of his running everything is that he has decided to include our requests in his plan. That is, he has planned for us to ask, and for him to answer, and so include our prayers in his plan. It is as he says in Matthew 6:8, “For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” And yet, he has chosen the means of prayer to be the way that he accomplishes his will, by hearing and answering our prayers.
But the third objection is the one that our Saviour Jesus deals with most directly. There are those who say, “I have prayed and asked God for something and he didn’t give it to me.” Such people think that God isn’t telling the truth when he says “ask and it will be given to you” because they have asked and not received what they asked for. So Jesus says in verse 11 and 12, “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?” That is, when we ask, God gives to us what is good. For example, a young man may see a beautiful woman, and forgets the verse that says, “beauty is vain” [Prov. 31:30], and prays to God that he might marry her. But, God gives her to another, and he is disappointed—until, perhaps, he sees that she is self-centred and vain, and nags her husband unmercilessly, and then he understands that God is wise. When we ask for bread he will not give us a stone. He will hear the true intention of our prayers, and give to us what is best for us.
Our Saviour Jesus gives various examples, about giving a serpent instead of a fish, and a scorpion instead of an egg, because it is our tendency to ask for things that we think we need, but are indeed deadly to us. How many of you would like to be rich? Don’t raise your hands! And yet, if you really think about it, how many lives have been destroyed by their wealth. If a private company made the claims that the state lottery makes for itself, they would be charged with fraud for their false promises that they make, but as it is, they promise happiness for many, and deliver for very few. I remember one time, many years ago, that a friend of my wife invited us to a presentation. We knew that it was a scam, but, we went, out of politeness to her friend. When we were there, the man giving the presentation asked the question, “What does everybody want?” When we didn’t answer, he asked my wife and me, “Don’t you want to be rich?” We spontaneously looked at each other and said in unison, “No!” This made the man giving the presentation very angry, but we were telling the truth. We understood, even then in our youth, that money wasn’t a goal, but just a means to accomplishing more important goals. And so it is with our requests before God. It is not wrong to ask for a specific thing—a job, a husband or wife, for children, even for money, if it is needed. But, we need to commit ourselves to God, in the knowledge that he is wiser than we, and can and will give to us what we truly need, and what is best for us.
And so our Saviour Jesus concludes this section on prayer by saying in verse 13, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” His point is clear—our prayers are directed to God our Father. Human fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, even when such fathers may not be really good, or may treat their children more like possessions than like their children. But that is the point—even sinful human fathers care for their children, and if that is true, how much more will our heavenly Father care for us.
And that is why the Lord’s prayer begins, “Our Father in heaven.” We say this so often, we may forget the importance of what it means. Jesus is teaching us that when we come to God, we come to him in two ways. We address him as our Father in heaven, indicating that we understand that he is the sovereign God of heaven and earth. We understand that he has the power and control over all things, and that is why we come to him as God omnipotent.
And yet, we call him Father. He is not just a force, out there somewhere, unknowing and unknowable. He is personal. He calls us his children, as we are told in 1 John 3:1, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” Truthfully, there are only a few places in the Scriptures where God is called our Father. Usually, the emphasis is upon his sovereignty and power and omnipotence. But, in prayer especially, we need to be reminded that that is why we can come to him in prayer. In Romans and Galatians, St. Paul makes exactly the same point, when he says, “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15) We are the children of God, and so, we cry out “Abba”, that is, “Daddy” to God our Father, knowing that such a Father will hear and answer our prayers.
And it’s important to notice that the only time that our Saviour Jesus uses this word “Abba” is when he himself is in prayer. He is preparing to go to the cross, to die for our sins, and in order to prepare, he goes his Father in prayer, and says “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.” (Mark 14:36) Even Jesus himself had to accept that his Father knew what was best, what was the only way for us to be saved. And so, in prayer, he committed himself to his Father, and to his will.
And we should do the same. We should come before the Lord in prayer, constantly depending upon him for all that we want or need, and committing ourselves to his wisdom and care. We should pray without ceasing, knowing that as a good Father, he will hear and answer prayer. Amen.