The Lord's Day Morning
June 20, 2010
“Don't Stop Praying (and if you have, start again)”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good! His steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has delivered from trouble and gathered from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. Let us worship God!
If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke 11 as we continue to work our way through the gospel of Luke. The last five weeks we've looked at just the first four verses of Luke 11, concentrating on each of the five petitions that Jesus taught His disciples in answer to the question, “Lord, teach us to pray.” As we worked through those petitions we learned a number of things. One of the things we learned is that in answer to the question, “Teach us to pray,” Jesus took His disciples to the Bible, that is, all of the petitions that He gave them to pray come in their form and their substance right out of the Bible. You can go to numerous passages in the Old Testament to find where these five petitions come from that Jesus gave to His disciples. And so one of the things we learned from that is that in answer to our question, “How can we more effectively pray? How can we practice our prayer? How can we participate in prayer more helpfully, more fully?” the answer is to go back to the Bible and to pray the Bible and that's one of the emphases that we have repeatedly come to over the last five weeks.
We also said that Jesus, in a marvelous way, in the outline of this prayer — just think back over the five petitions of the Lord's Prayer as they’re recorded in Luke 11. In Matthew 6 of course, there are six petitions but Luke lumps in, in this rendition, the third and the second petitions into one so he ends up with five petitions, but just think through those petitions. The first petition is about the Lord's name or His glory. The second petition is about the Lord's kingdom or His reign. The third petition is about the Lord's provision or His gifting of us of our daily bread. The fourth petition is about the Lord's forgiveness of us and of course about our being forgiving towards others. And the fifth petition has to do with the Lord's guidance or deliverance as He keeps us from the evil one.
Now notice in that order of prayer, in that pattern of prayer, God's glory and our needs are all wrapped up in one and the same ball. That is, there's not a part of this prayer that focuses only on God's glory and not on our own interests or God's interests in us. It's all wrapped up together. So even when we begin to pray, “Give us Lord our daily bread,” it is the Lord who is the source of that daily bread that we are asking for and His glory is magnified in the provision of that bread to us and our interests are taken care of in the magnification of His glory and the provision of that bread to us.
And so one of the glorious things that we learn from Jesus’ pattern of prayer is it's impossible to glorify God without your own best interest being taken care of. And it is impossible for God to glorify Himself without in His amazing goodness and love and generosity also at the same time cultivating your own best interest.
Now sometimes you may not feel like your best interests are being cultivated in His glory. I'm sure when Moses was on Mount Nebo wanting to go into the Promised Land and God was telling him, “No, you can't,” I'm sure he felt like his best interests were not at God's heart, at least for a moment. Surely he struggled with that. And all of us have those instances in our lives. But one of the things that Jesus is teaching us here is that when we seek God's glory, God is always concerned about our best interests even though we may not think He is. In fact, that's one of the points of one of the stories He's going to tell in the passage that we study today.
Now there's one other thing I want to say before we read the passage. If you look at verse 8 of the passage we're about to read, there's a word that we don't normally use in our just daily conversation, impudence. When we use that word it often carries the connotation of being, how should I say, either uppity or snarky. Uppity in the sense of not giving due deference to someone that we ought to be treating with respect — “He was impudent” we might say about somebody who was disrespectful towards someone. Or snarky in the sense of being sharp and inappropriate in the way we address.
That's not the meaning of the word here. In fact, some of you have different translations. Some of you have the New American Standard and it says “persistent” and you’re wondering, “How in the world did we get from persistent to impudent?” And then you’ll notice in the margin of the New American Standard it says the word actually is “shameless” and that starts you scratching your head and you’re going, “Okay, how did they get from shameless to persistent?”
Well, as you can tell the translators are wrestling with how to say this. The word impudent can carry the meaning of doing something in a way that transgresses the rules of normal, social behavior. The English word impudent actually is based on the Latin word, pudens, which was often given to women as a name in the early days of the Christian church. It's a word that means modesty. So a person who's modest is a person who follows the appropriate conventions of social interaction and impudence indicates somebody who kind of crosses those boundaries.
Well, that's exactly what's going on in that story, isn't it? Because in the story we're going to read, a person goes and wakes a whole family up in the middle of the night. That's why the ESV translates impudent here but it doesn't mean it in the sense of being disrespectful or uppity. It means it in the sense of crossing the bounds of normally accepted social behavior. I just wanted to say that since we don't use that word all the time. Let's pray before we read God's Word.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You for teaching us to pray from Your Word and as Jesus exhorts us again to pray we ask that You would teach us by Your Holy Spirit all that He has for us in this passage. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Let's read God's Word. It's beginning in verse 5 of Luke 11:
“And He said to them, ‘Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence, he will rise and give him whatever he needs.
And I tell 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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened to you.
What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 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!’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write it's eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Jesus isn't done with prayer. He has given an outline, a pattern of prayer to His disciples to pray in response to their request, “Lord, teach us to pray,” but now He wants to urge them as to the importance of prayer. And there are so many things in this passage. I'm so tempted, for instance, to go to verse 13. Just look in verse 13 alone. There are two sermons in verse 13 alone and those two sermons come out of just two phrases. And you’re reading along and you get to verse 13 and Jesus, in passing, says, “If you then who are evil.” Well there's a sermon on total depravity right there, the only empirically proven doctrine and yet the most hated doctrine of all of the Bible.
And then look at the end of that verse — “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” Well many of you, because you've studied the gospels a lot, know that Luke is uniquely interested in the Holy Spirit and this carries over, of course, into the sequel to the gospel of Luke, the book of Acts. And it would be so, so tempting to just take right off on a tangent and look at the giving of the Holy Spirit in the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts and talk about the significance of that.
So there's a lot in this passage that we're going to leave untouched, but I want to focus on three things that Jesus tells us about prayer.
If I can put this provocatively, Jesus wants us to learn to beg in prayer. Jesus wants us not to stop praying, and if we have, to start again. And Jesus wants us to believe, and this is the most provocative thing I may say today, Jesus wants us to understand that God's answer to our prayer is always “Yes,” that He always answers our prayer.
Now have I got your attention? Let's work through each of these.
I. Jesus wants us to learn to beg in prayer.
Jesus wants us to beg. If I could put that in a little more elegant way, Jesus wants us to be importunate. Now there's another word that we don't normally use in our day to day conversation but it just means to beg, to plead, to appeal. Do you remember the story in the gospels of the importunate widow who went to the judge and she basically bugged him to death until he gave her justice? That's what it is to be importunate. He wants us to beg, to plead, to appeal in prayer. And the story that He tells us of that is this fascinating story that would have gripped that attention of all His original hearers immediately because it had to do with hospitality, and it had to do with very famous near-eastern hospitality, a hospitality that I must say was even more emphatic than Southern hospitality. In the near-east, when someone showed up at your home, the idea of not putting before them something was unthinkable. In fact, when a visitor showed up in your home, you were to provide them not with just what you would normally provide your own family, you were to provide them with a generous appointment of blessings.
And so Jesus tells a story. He says a man's at his house one night, a friend shows up unexpectedly in the middle of the night, and the man has absolutely nothing to put in front of this friend. And when Jesus says those words, everybody who's listening to him goes, “Gasp!” It would be, how can I convey this to you, it would be like it's the day of your wedding and the florist has prepared the wedding reception and it is beautiful. And the guests are at the door and they’re getting ready to come in and there's no food! There’re not even mints and peanuts! There's nothing! Are you with me now? This is how the ancient near-eastern folk would have thought of having a visitor show up at the house and there's nothing to put in front of them.
So what does this guy do? He says, “Okay, I've got a friend. He lives a couple of doors down. I'm heading to his house and I'm asking for some food.” So he gets up in the middle of the night, he goes to his friend's house, and he starts knocking on the door. “Hey, hey, friend, a friend just came to my house and I have nothing to give him. Please give me some food so that I can give that food to him.” And his friend says, “Go away! We’re already asleep!” And does the guy just go away? Now I must confess, I'm of the personality, I would have just gone away. If my wife had been there, no, we would not have gone away! (laughter) If I'm overcharged a dollar and twelve cents on a dinner receipt, I'm just going to let it go. Not my wife. The manager is going to hear about it! So he's saying he doesn't stop. “No, no. I really, really need the food. Please, please friend!” “But if I get up it's going to wake up everybody in the house!” “I know, I know, I'm sorry, but I really need this food!” And finally the guy says, “Okay, okay, I'm getting up. I'm going to give you the food.”
And Jesus makes an analogy out of this. He says, “If that friend would get up and get his friend the food, not so much because he was a friend, but just because he was bugging him to death with his begging and his appealing, how much more do you think the heavenly Father will hear and answer your prayers when you plead and appeal and beg?”
Now, is He trying to teach us that God is towards us somewhat like a friend who is in bed in the middle of the night who does not want to get up? No. No.
God is far greater than that and His posture towards us is totally different from that.
So why in the world would Jesus tell us that He wants us to beg in prayer? Because most of us have no idea how needy we are and how vulnerable our situation is. Let's face it, the times in our lives when we have been most faithful in prayer have been the times in our lives in which we most sense our need.
But my friends, we are always needy. We simply vary and fluctuate as to our awareness of that need. And most of us have no idea that we are on the edge of a precipice, that we are on a tight wire, that we are hanging in the balance by a thread all the time. And Jesus wants us to know our need. And He says, “Therefore, I want you to beg like a friend who does not have what he needs to provide unless he gets it from this other friend.”
You see, it's not just that God is greater than the friend in this illustration, it's that our need is greater than the need in this illustration. As horrific as it would be for a bride in the deep south to throw a wedding reception at which there was no food, as horrific as it would have been to someone in the ancient near-east to have a visitor show up and not be able to provide them food, your need is greater than that.
You know it's not like a dad, three days before Father's Day, and your wife and your kids are quizzing you, “What do you want for Father's Day?” And the tape is running in your mind — “I don't need anything.” And you’re thinking, “Don't give me an ugly tie.” You just don't need anything. “Just give me a card. Just spend the day with me. I don't need anything.” Well, that's kind of how we think about prayer most of the time. Every once in a while something will come along that we're really, really passionate about in prayer but we're kind of like, “There's nothing I need.” And Jesus is saying, “You've got to be kidding. You have got to be kidding. The world is falling down around your ears. You ought to be on your knees begging God for what you need.”
You know there are a hundred people in this room, or more, who people in this community, they look at you and they think to themselves, “I would give just about anything to be in his shoes or her shoes. I'd love to have his wife, his life, his house, his income, his status. I'd like to have her husband, her life, her friends.” And they have no idea of the disappointments that you carry around in your hearts or the trials or the despair.
And you know what? Not even you know how much of that you carry about in your own hearts.
Jesus is saying, “Life hangs in the balance 24-7…beg, appeal, plead, not because God is like a friend who doesn't want to get up in the middle of the night but because, whether you realize it or not all the time, you are like that friend who has nothing to give unless your friend gives you something to give.”
Do you really feel like that? There's nothing you can do unless God gives you what you need? Do you feel like that? You know this story is almost the flipside of the petition, “Give us Lord our daily bread,” right? It's almost saying, “Lord, we're not going to have any daily bread unless You give it to us. I'm not going to have any daily bread to give to somebody else unless You give it to me.”
So Jesus is saying, here's the first thing I want you to know about prayer — in prayer, you need to beg. You need to plead. You need to appeal because you are needier than you think and your circumstances are more dire than you have contemplated and you need what only God can supply. So don't approach prayer like the Father's Day present conversation — “I really don't need anything.” Beg, plead, appeal, because you’re needy. There's the first thing Jesus says.
II. Jesus wants us to be persistent.
The second thing that Jesus says in this passage is to be persistent. Now He says this a bunch of different ways. One of the ways He says it is in the story. You know, when the friend is appealing and the other friend says, “Go away!” does he stop? No, he just keeps on.
Another way He says this, if you’ll look at verse 9 though, is in the verbs that He uses — Ask, seek, knock. For those of you who are grammarians and interested in all things grammatical, these are present imperatives and they have an on-going force about them, but they also have a certain progression to them. Don't just ask; seek. And don't just seek; knock. There's an on-going force and a progression to these verbs and it implies a persistence, a continuation of the activity of asking. Jesus is saying, “Be regular, be continual, be constant in your prayer.”
Why? Why? Well again there are a lot of good answers to that question. One though is simply this — prayer is the root of vital, living, practical Christianity. It is the root of our experience of the presence of God, of the promises of God, of the power of God. It is so necessary that Matthew Henry says this provocative sentence: “Those who live without prayer live without God in this world.” Now he's not saying that in a legalistic way, like if you don't get up every morning at 5:45 and do your fifteen minutes of quiet time, God's not going to be with you today. That's not his point.
Let me just say I'm so thankful for that because if that were the point we’d all be in trouble. If God were only with us when we did what we were supposed to do we’d be in real trouble and if God only watched over us and blessed us when we had prayed for it we would be in real trouble, but that's not Matthew Henry's point.
Matthew Henry's point is this — the way that God has appointed for us to experience assurance and nearness to Him in this life is by communing with Him in prayer. So if you are not communing with Him in prayer you are going to be, at least to some extent, impoverished of the assurance and the sense of relationship and fellowship and communion with Him that He wants you to have. If you’re His child, if you've trusted in Jesus Christ, if you know Him as God and Savior, the way you experience His on-going assurance of you, presence with you, promises to you, power for you, is in prayer, so that if you do not pray, you do not experience that. No wonder Jesus says be persistent, be regular, be continual, be constant, because prayer is the means of communion with the living God.
III. Jesus wants us to expect that God will answer our prayers.
But Jesus also says something that is just mind-blowing. He tells us to expect God to always answer our prayers. Now, I understand that all of us have heard sermons on unanswered prayer, and guess what? I've preached sermons on unanswered prayer and I don't take anything back. That's a perfectly appropriate issue to wrestle with. And Jesus is actually just looking at the issue from a different angle so don't make a new theological camp about what I'm about to say here.
Jesus, in this passage however, emphasizes what? That if you ask, you will what? You will receive. If you seek, you may find? You will find. If you knock, the door might possibly, maybe, one day, might could be opened to you? No, it will be opened to you. Jesus, throughout this passage, says if you pray, He will answer. If you ask, you will receive. If you seek, you will find. If you knock, the door will be opened.
This is why health and wealth, name it and claim it preachers love to go to this passage because Jesus makes absolutely no qualifications on His promise that God answers prayer. And so health and wealth preachers go to this and say, “You want a Maserati? You've just got to ask!” And when you come up the next week and you say, “Ah, Pastor Benny, I didn't get my Maserati last week.” The answer is, “Oh, you didn't have enough faith because if you had enough faith you’d get your Maserati!”
That is not what Jesus is saying here. He's saying something infinitely greater, so listen to what He says. He tells you not only to be importunate, to beg, to plead, to appeal in prayer, He tells you not only to be persistent, that is to be regular, to be continual, to be constant in prayer, He tells you to expect God to answer your prayers and to know that none of your prayers will be unanswered.
Now here's the trick — not as you pray them, but according to the Father's goodness He answers all your prayer. Not as you pray them, but according to the Father's goodness He answers all your prayers. That's the basis of the story. Look at the story in verses 11 and 12. “What father among you?” — ah, here's the Father's Day tie in — the illustration is a fatherly illustration — “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?”
Here's the story. The little kid says, “Daddy, I want a fish.” He doesn't give him a snake that will bite him and hurt him. “Daddy, I'd like an egg for breakfast.” “Here's a scorpion son!” And he's stung by the scorpion. What's the point? A father doesn't give bad gifts to his children. He loves his children. Fathers, that's something to think about. Sometimes the greatest gift that you can give your child is, “No, I'm not going to give you what you want because it's not what you need.” Moms, whenever you’re in a store I know that you by principle are committed to giving our children anything they ask for, aren't you? At the checkout line, “Mommy, I'd like fourteen Reese peanut butter cups!” You love them so you give it to them, right? No! You give them the answer they need because you love them and it's not the answer they want.
And you know this illustration works the other way around too. You notice if a child asks his father for a serpent the father doesn't give him something that's going to hurt him. If the child asks his father for a scorpion the father doesn't give him what's going to hurt him because the father's gifts are good. So Jesus is saying God's answers are always good, even when you can't see it. He is always answering your prayers, “Yes,” but for your good. I love the way that Calvin says this — “God does not answer our prayers as we pray them, but as we would pray them if we were wiser.”
Just a few illustrations of this. Genesis 37. Genesis 37:4 tells us the story of Joseph and his brothers, right? And it tells us in Genesis 37 verse 4 that they could not even talk to one another kindly. There was so much tension in that family the brothers could not have a cordial conversation. Now, let's just suppose that Joseph one day had knelt down on his knees beside his mat and prayed, “Lord, would You somehow bring harmony into our family so that we love one another?” I don't know whether Joseph ever prayed that prayer or not, but I do know this, God did that. But do you know how God did that? Well, He had his brothers first attempt to kill him and then throw him into a pit, and then sell him into slavery. And then he went into Egypt and he was false accused by his employer and thrown into prison. And then a famine came into the ancient Near East that killed thousands of people. Now that's pretty rough, but in Genesis 50 — it's either verse 18 or 19 — we're told that Joseph and his brothers spoke to one another and cried on one another's shoulders and embraced one another. And what God had done in that family, He had brought a family, where there was a wall a mile wide and a mile high between the people in that family, and He brought that family together, but boy, did He do it in a way that Joseph never would have thought. Look, here's — “Lord, I've been thinking of a strategy whereby You could bring about unity in our family. Why don't you have my brothers attempt to kill me, sell me into slavery, then me get thrown into prison in a foreign country and then send famine to the ancient Near East.” But that's what God did. But you see, God's answer to Joseph's prayers we do know were in accordance to His promises to Abraham that He was going to bless Joseph and He was going to keep Joseph and He was going to be gracious to Joseph and He was going to give him peace and He was going to give Joseph the enjoyment of communion with Him.
Think of Job's prayers. He prayed that his children would be kept from sin. They were all killed. Think of Elijah's prayers. He prayed that he would see God's glory in Israel and God's temporal answer was “No, you’re not going to see God's glory in Israel the way you are praying it, Elijah.” And then you get to Luke 9 and Elijah is looking into the face of Jesus in Israel. He answers his prayer, not as he prays it, but as if he would have prayed it if he were wiser. Jesus is telling us, and Luke is recording this fact that for the believer in Jesus Christ, God always answers our prayer. That does not mean that our lives are easy. It does not mean that we immediately have domestic tranquility and material prosperity. But it means whenever we pray for whatever we pray, God on high is saying, “Yes child, I will pour out My Holy Spirit on you. I will fulfill the promise of Abraham to you.”
If I could just direct you again very briefly to verse 13 so you can see this. “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!” Now, Luke constantly talks about the Holy Spirit and he's already talked about the Holy Spirit in Luke 1, Luke chapter 1, as the fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham. In Acts chapter 2, Luke will talk about the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as a fulfillment of God's promises through Jesus in Acts chapter 1, but also as Paul elaborates in Galatians 3, the coming of the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham. So when Luke tells us that whenever we pray God will give us the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him, he is saying that whenever we pray God always honors His promise to Abraham, and that promise entails the giving of the Holy Spirit so that we are blessed, we are protected, that we experience God's grace and peace and communion with Him.
So that when there is a believer crying out, “Lord, I want to marry him. Lord, I want to marry her.” And the Lord is thinking, “Child, you have no idea what you’re asking for and I'm not going to answer that prayer the way that you want Me to answer that prayer, but here's My answer, child, you will have the Holy Spirit. You will be blessed. You will be kept. You will be given grace. You will be given peace. You will be given communion. And I’ll give you something better than what you’re asking for.”
Or you may be praying, “Lord, could I just get along with my wife? Could we just get along? Could we just have peace here and just sort of like one another?” And the answer, it may be, “Child, I'm going to give you something better than you’re asking for.”
You know, it may just be something as simple as, “Lord, I'd like to pay the mortgage next month. I'd just like to pay the mortgage. Could we do that?” And again the answer may be, “Child yes, I'm going to give you something better than that.”
The answer is always “yes” — it's just not always the “yes” that we were wanting. It's the “yes” that we need but the answer is always “yes.” This is what Jesus is wanting you to see. Be expectant. God is going to answer this prayer. He's going to answer it as if you would have prayed it knowing what He knows and being as good as He is. He is going to answer that prayer.
Now, why in the world would Jesus say this? Because He knows that you pray and you stop, and sometimes you stop because you don't think it's working, because you’re not getting what you've prayed for, because it's not turning out like you’d expected or hoped. And Jesus is saying, “Don't stop praying, and if you have, start again because blessed is he and she who starts to pray over and over and over again.”
Lord, we need to learn these things. We need to do these things, because in the doing of them we begin to experience all that You are and all that You have promised and all that You have provided. In Jesus' name, amen.
Let's conclude by the singing of number 628. And notice this whole song is an argument that we're singing to ourselves to give ourselves reasons to pray. The word “suit” here is not a lawsuit or a men's garment. It is a petition. “Come my soul, your petition, your request prepare.” Let's sing it to God's praise.
Receive this blessing from the One who has promised to answer and give when you ask. The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.