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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
January 1, 2017
Perseverance in Prayer
Resolutions. Happy New Year! The beginning of a new year is often marked by reflections on the past year and resolutions on making the new one a better year. However, as one person quipped, most resolutions go in one year and out the other. Making resolutions is well intentioned, but often difficult to fulfill. Why? Because old habits are hard to break and new ones are hard to make. Does that mean you should give up and not bother with resolutions? Certainly not! Recognizing that something in your life is bad or simply that it is not as good as it should be is the first step to success in making the necessary changes. The stronger your conviction that the particular areas identified need to change, the more likely you will actually make those changes. How do you make those changes? To change a habit you must replace it with something else, then purposely do that for a long enough time that it becomes the new habit or routine. You also have to be careful not to set yourself up for failure by keeping around or doing things that would tempt you to go back to the old habit. It also helps to have someone hold you accountable or do it with you
For example, if your resolution is to lose weight and get in better physical shape, you have to change your diet and increase the amount of calories you burn per day. That could mean going to the gym and working out or just increasing your physical activity by exercise at home or going on regular walks or something similar. There is generally more motivation for exercise if you do it with someone else. In regards to what you eat, your new diet has to become a new lifestyle which means you need to get rid of the temptation of the junk food in the house and not go to places where you would over eat. And keep in mind there is spiritual component to such changes. As Romans 13:14 states, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regards to its lusts.”
One area that people often make resolutions about and then have a hard time making the changes they desire is prayer. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago when I introduced Luke 11:1 and the disciple’s request for Jesus to teach them to pray, prayer is something that godly people want to improve in no matter how well they are doing at it. Because of that, it is common for Christians to resolve to be better at prayer in the coming year, yet even when a valiant effort is made, it seems that too often the desired changes in prayer begin to wane and too soon the old way of life returns. I don’t believe it has to be that way even if there will always be some sense of lack because of the ever increasing desire to be drawn closer to and more intimate with God as you get to know Him better. Our passage for study today touches on several of the issues that usually hinder a robust prayer life. My goal this morning is to both enlighten and challenge you to make and carry out a resolution to improve your prayer life even if it is already good, and to radically change it if it is not.
Proper Prayer – Luke 11:1-4
I need to begin with a quick review of the sermon two weeks ago to set the context. (See: Teach Us to Pray) Follow along as I read Luke 11:1-4, 1 It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” 2 And He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 3 ‘Give us each day our daily bread. 4 ‘And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’ “
Luke does not tell us exactly when or where this takes place. In this context such exact detail could actually detract from the point he is making. Religious people make time and location important in prayer because they follow a mysticism which gives value to such things thinking God gives more attention to prayers made at certain times or places. True prayer is simply talking with God and that can happen anytime and any place. Luke does not tell us which disciple asks Jesus the question since that is also not important. What is important is the motive for the question which Luke suggests by including the detail that the disciple approaches and asks Jesus to teach them to pray just after Jesus had finished praying. The motive was simply wanting to be able to pray as Jesus did. This is a desire for more than just an example because they could have already followed that. He wanted a better understanding of how to approach and talk with God. Jesus obliges with a model for prayer that has two sections. It begins with a focus on God and ends with man’s need for God. It is still the model for us to follow.
Prayer begins for the believer by being able to address God, the creator of everything with a term that speaks of both access and intimacy. We who are Christians are privileged to call Him Father having been redeemed by His grace through faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ and adopted into His family.
The first two petitions concern God and His glory. Our first request is that God’s name, which represents Him, is to be hallowed. We desire for Him to be treated with honor and reverence in every respect. We accomplish that by believing Him and what He has revealed in the Scriptures is true. We speak of Him in a reverent manner and encourage others to do the same. We live in a godly manner so that others can see Christ in us.
Our second petition is that God’s kingdom would come. This expresses two desires. The first is for the future physical return of Jesus to set up His kingdom in Jerusalem on David’s throne. The second is for the present manifestation of His kingdom. The Christian prays, “Thy kingdom come,” as a pledge of allegiance to the King and dedication to follow Him now as if He were already physically present, and through the Holy Spirit He is present within us.
The second section of Jesus’ template for prayer gives voice to man’s need for sustenance, forgiveness and protection. It begins with the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread,” with bread symbolic of all our physical needs. God is the ultimate source for everything whether it comes through our own labor, the generosity of God’s people or His own sovereign methods which may border on the miraculous. This prayer acknowledges our dependence upon Him and trust for His provision of what we need in all circumstances.
In recognition of our need for God’s pardon, we pray, “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” The “indebtedness” here (ojfeivlw / opheil ) is a reference to sin, not a financial or other obligation. It begins with the forgiveness of sins that comes to those that repent through redemption by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It continues for the Christian in daily life in keeping sin from hindering our relationship with God, our Father. It is demonstrated in extending the mercy and grace we have received from God to others and forgiving them.
The final petition is “And lead us not into temptation.” Since God has no part in a solicitation to evil (James 1:13), I believe the sense here is in agreement with 1 Corinthians 10:13, “Father, do not lead me /allow me to enter a trial that is too great for me – one in which I would fall into sin.” The prayer is a safeguard against our own presumption and false sense of security. We are to pray that the Lord delivers us from evil according to His promises, for evil is a real danger that is all around us.
It is important to point out that all of the petitions in this prayer are also things that God promises. God has glorified His name and will glorify it again (John 12:28) and will cause every knee to bow to Jesus and confess that He is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11), yet we are to pray for His name to be hallowed and His kingdom to come. God promises to meet the needs of the righteous, yet we are to pray that they are met. God promises to forgive, yet we are to pray that He will forgive us. God promises that He will not allow us to get into a trial that is over our heads, but will “provide a way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it,” yet we are to pray that He will not lead us into a trial that is beyond us. Prayer aligns with God and His will so that we can see His hand at work and glorify Him for it.
These truths must be kept in mind as we examine the parable and principles of prayer that Jesus taught immediately following in Luke 11:5-13
Parable of Prayer – Luke 11:5-8
5 Then He said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; 6 for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
This a simple story that Jesus told immediately after giving His model for prayer to illustrate the need for persistence in prayer. This is part of His instructions in answer to the disciple’s request to be taught how to pray. Let me point out a few of the cultural elements of that time that they would have easily understood but which can leave us a little confused. This is not an allegory, and those who try to interpret it as such end up with even more bizarre ideas because they read their own culture into what Jesus describes.
First, there were not any stores open late at night where you could go to purchase food or other items. The disciples were mostly from the small towns and villages of Galilee, and in rural areas people relied on neighbors for help when they needed it. That included getting food when you run out. It may not be common in our area with convenience stores close by that are open all night, but I can still remember as a kid being sent next door to get a cup of sugar or flour when my mom was cooking and found herself short of what she needed. No one thought twice about borrowing such things because neighbors helped each other. That is the case here with the added dimension that Jesus specifically mentions three times that these two are friends.
The situation seems unusual to us, but in hot climates it was common for travel to occur in the late evening, and Israel has hot dry summers on its western side and even hotter and dryer summers in the desert areas on the East and South. Since people then walked from place to place, it made sense to wait until the temperatures dropped in the evening and journey by moonlight, which is quite easy to do in such an arid and open country.
A dilemma is created when this man had an unexpected friend arrive from a long journey about midnight and he had nothing to feed him. This indicates a poor family without extra stored food to share and / or lacking the means to prepare something to eat at that late hour. Hospitality was extremely important in that culture which left him with a choice of either being inhospitable and leaving the man hungry, or going out and seeing if he could borrow some food from another friend even though it was already late and past the time when people would have gone to bed. In such cultures people usually went to bed fairly soon after dark. Oil lamps could provide low levels of light, but oil was relatively expensive so most people went to bed early and also got up early when it became light again near daybreak.
The man goes to a friend’s house to borrow three loaves. These would were not the large loaves of bread we buy in stores now, but closer to a roll or a flat bread three which would have been enough to feed his guest. As could be expected, his friend had already shut the door and gone to bed with his family, but he calls out his request anyway. There is no anger expressed about being awakened, but his friend points out the obvious as a reason he could not fill the request. The description here indicates a poor family that shared a bed or at least the same room for sleeping. The home of the poor could be just one room and the bed would be a raised platform with a mat that the family would share. If they were a little better off their simple house might have a few rooms with one of them designated for sleeping with two or three beds in it for the parents and children. In this case, the man makes it clear that he could not get up to get the loaves for his friend without disturbing everyone so he tells him to leave and stop bothering him.
The man remains persistent, the word here, ajnaivdeia / anaideia, means shamelessness, impudence, audacity. The man lacks sensitivity and keeps pestering his friend. Jesus then points out that though the man would not get up to get the loaves out of friendship, he will get up and give what is needed because the man is so persistent. From a pragmatic point of view, the friend might as well get up because the man was going to disturb the whole family if he did not. The man was not going to give up on his quest to get what he needed. Jesus used this to illustrate the need for perseverance in prayer which He immediately explained with several principles in verses 9-13.
Principles in Prayer – Luke 11:9-13
Jesus introduces this section with an emphatic statement that would be literally translated as “I to you I say . . .” He is putting stress on that fact that He is the source of this teaching which explains the lesson of His story. 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 “Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? 12 “Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? 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?”
The context here is different, but the wording here is nearly the same as what Jesus’ said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:7-11) because it is the same general principle that humans can approach God with confidence because He is good. In the Sermon on the Mount the context is part of its message of pursing true righteousness and within a specific section of dealing with judgment. You can be confident in your pursuit of true righteousness because God is more than willing to grant you what you need to be truly righteous including discernment to recognize good from evil and false teachers from teachers of the truth. The context here in Luke is much more general. You can pray to God with confidence knowing that He is good and so will grant what is good and not bad or evil.
Ask, Seek, Knock – Luke 11:9-10
Our English translations do not clearly bring out the idea in each of the verbs in verse 9. If you are not careful it would be easy to wrongly conclude Jesus is saying that if you ask once then you will receive, and if you seek once then you will find, and if you knock once the door will be immediately opened. However, that would be contrary to context and the actual tenses of each of these verbs. Ask, seek and knock are second person present imperatives. That means they are commands from Jesus to you that are to be continually carried out. You are to continue to ask, and then it shall be given. You are to continue to seek, and then you will find. You are to continue to knock, then the door will be opened. The point of Jesus’ illustration was the importunity of the man trying to get bread from His friend. Jesus’ instructions here about prayer match. We are to persevere in prayer.
Many have made much about each particular element – ask, seek, knock – with commentators making gradations of them both ways. Some explain this that you knock first and get in the door, then seek out the Father, then once you find Him you ask of Him. Others explain it the opposite way saying you are to ask first, then you seek and finally you knock and the door is opened. Still others make them into different applications that sometimes you just have to ask, other times you have to seek out, and still other times you have to bang on the door. I agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones that each of these elements all stress the same point which is importunity in prayer. God wants you to perseverance in prayer. The seeking and knocking are pictures of asking. All of them together stress the point of actively petitioning God very strongly. Hebrews 4:16 invites us to come boldly or with confidence to God’s throne of grace to receive His help.
This is the solution to first reason why people don’t pray or pray as they should. They come to the conclusion that prayer does not work. They asked, they sought, they knocked, but did they not get what they wanted, they did not find what they were after, and the door remained shut. Why? They did not know and follow Jesus’ commands about prayer. Their ignorance resulted in their disobedience and subsequent discouragement and giving up. The solution is learn what the Scriptures teach and keep praying.
The Scriptures are full of instructions and examples concerning the importance of continuing to pray whether you see the results quickly or not. You are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and devoted to and keeping alert in prayer with thanksgiving (Romans 12:12; Colossians 4:2). You are to “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). You are to pray at all times and not lose heart (Luke 18:1). David said in Psalm 55:16-17, “As for me, I shall call upon God, And the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, And He will hear my voice.” Paul explains his own practice and instructions for prayer in Ephesians 6:18, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints . . .”
Examples of perseverance in prayer abound. Nehemiah prayed for at least five months before he was able to bring his petition about Jerusalem before king Artaxerxes. Hannah prayed for years before the Lord granted her petition to have a child (1 Samuel 1) as did Zacharias and Elizabeth (Luke 1:13). Samuel continued to pray for the people even when they had pursued sinful desires, and in fact, he considered it would be a sin against the Lord not to pray for them (1 Samuel 12:19). In similar manner, men like Job, Daniel, David and Paul are noted for praying throughout their lives.
A second related reason people do not pray or do not pray properly is they lack confidence God will hear and answer. The solution is given in Luke 11:10 when Jesus restates His point to emphasize its surety. Translated to better reflect the verb tenses, “For everyone asking is receiving; and the one seeking is finding; and the one knocking will have it opened.” James 4:2 states, “You do not have because you do not ask.” You can be confident that God hears and answers prayer.
Do not let laziness or unbelief or a combination of the two block your prayer life. Eve believed the devil’s lies and people still fall for his accusations against God, His character and what He promises. The devil’s goal is to get you to ignore God and do nothing because you do think it is worth the effort, or worse, he will prod you to take matters into your own hands to get what you want without seeking God. The solution then is to believe God and keep praying.
A third reason people pray improperly or very little is the discouragement from believing the lie that has led astray the health, wealth and prosperity preachers. Jesus’ teaching here and elsewhere does not mean you get whatever you want. Other verses give the qualifiers for this confidence Jesus speaks of here. Psalm 66:18 states the Lord will not hear if you regard wickedness in your heart, so confession, as pointed out in 1 John 1:9, is the starting point for confidence in prayer. James 4:3 adds, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” 1 John 5:14-15 adds, This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.”
You can be confident as you persevere in proper prayer that God hears and will answer, but you also must recognize that while the answer may be “yes,” it could also be “no,” or “wait.” You must leave the answer and timing of it in God’s hands, but you can also be confident that God’s answer is best because of what Jesus teaches in Luke 11:11-13. The solution then is to believe God and pray according to His will.
Expectations & the Father’s Goodness – Luke 11:11-13
Jesus uses the goodness of a normal human father to argue from the lesser to the greater about the goodness of our heavenly Father and making an emphasis on that fact since human fathers are evil. Any normal dad will not be so cruel as to give his son a snake if he asks for a fish nor would he give him a scorpion if he asks for an egg. Fish and snakes both have scales, but fish were clean and could be eaten and snakes were unclean and could not be eaten – and could be dangerous (Leviticus 11:9,40). Some scorpions will curl up in a ball and look similar to an egg, but an egg is safe to eat and a scorpion is dangerous because of its poisonous sting.
Jesus is talking to His disciples, so His statement is even more emphatic, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children . . .” It is possible that some dad could be so cruel as to play such a dangerous joke on his child, but the disciples were men who had already demonstrated that they were seeking to follow God and His laws, yet Jesus points out they were evil. The Scriptures are clear that people are not born as a blank slate or have some inherent goodness. Man is evil by nature from birth and the expression of that only grows as an infant becomes a child and grows into adulthood (Romans 3:10-18; 5:12; Ephesians 2:1-3). Evil man needs to be redeemed, but if even evil men know how to give good gifts to their children, then the rhetorical question is what will God who is holy and righteous give to His children? The answer is obvious. It is significant that Jesus does not state this the same was as He did in Matthew 7:11 in which He said, “how much more will your Father who is heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” Here in Luke 11:13 Jesus states this as “how much more the Father from heaven will give the Holy Spirit to those asking Him?”
Next week I am going to expand on all that we receive from God when we are given the Holy Spirit. I will include in that sermon how His presence can be gained by the non-Christian and how the Christian can be filled with Him, but for this week I simply want to point out that there no good thing that man could ask for, seek out, or a door that could be opened that can compare with the blessing of being given the Holy Spirit. He is the solution for a fourth major reason people do not pray properly or at all. Without the Holy Spirit man will pray with a mind of flesh for the things of the flesh and of this earthly world. That is why he does not get what he prays for, and if God does still allow him to gain what he desires it ultimately proves to be something that is not good. When you have the Holy Spirit, He will both prompt you to pray and to pray according to God’s will resulting in the demonstration of the truism of James 5:16 – “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” Proper prayer is accomplished by the leading and power of the Holy Spirit.
The disciple asked Jesus to teach him to pray. Jesus taught him that the essential elements of proper prayer encompass God’s glory and man’s needs. Those who are disciples of Jesus can come to God in the intimacy and access of Him being their Father in heaven. They seek God’s name to be treated with reverence and made holy. They desire His kingdom to come in its fullness in the future but to also be present in them now. They recognize and petition God for their needs according to His promises to provide what is needed to live, to be forgiven and to be protected from the evils of this world.
Jesus also taught that proper prayer requires perseverance. God’s promises are true and He will always fulfill His part, but you must fulfill your part by asking so that you will receive, seeking so that you will find and knocking so that the door will be opened. You can be confident because of God’s goodness expressed in His love, mercy and grace that you will receive what is good, find what is a blessing and have doors opened to greater ways to fulfill your purpose of existence in righteousness and service to our Creator. With the presence of the Holy Spirit as you pray, there is no doubt that you will be able to see His hand at work as your prayers are answered resulting in a blessing for you and glory for Him.
Sermon Notes – 1/1/2017
Perseverance in Prayer – Luke 11:5-13
Old habits are ___________to break and new ones are __________to make
__________a bad habit with a good one and do it for a long time! – and avoid what might tempt you.
People make resolutions regarding prayer, but then have a hard time __________the resolution
Proper Prayer – Luke 11:1-4
True prayer is simply _____________with God and that can happen anytime and anywhere
The believer has intimacy and access to the Creator calling Him _____________as His adopted child
We seek God’s ____________in His name being treated with reverence and made holy
We seek God’s glory in Christ’s future __________and His present one manifested in His disciples
Man is dependent on God for his _____________- We pray, Give us this day our daily bread
Man needs God’s ____________- We pray “forgive us our sins.” We are to likewise forgive others
Man need’s God’ _____________- We pray “lead us not into temptation.”
God promises all these things – pray aligns us with God’s will so we can see His hand at work & glorify Him
Parable of Prayer – Luke 11:5-8
The story illustrates the need for ______________in prayer
People rely on ___________when there are not stores close by that are open
People traveled in the ____________in hot climates – so an unexpected visitor arrives at midnight
__________was extremely important to them, so to be a good host, he choose to disturb a friend to get food
His poor neighbor does not want to _____________his family by getting up and tells the man to leave
The man is ajnaivdeia / anaideia – persistent, shameless, impudent, audacious in ______________________
Principles in Prayer – Luke 11:9-13
This is a different context, but the ______________of this teaching is nearly the same as in Matthew 7:7-11
Ask, Seek, Knock – Luke 11:9-10
This is __________ask once, seek once, knock once and then give up
Verbs are second person present imperatives – you are to _______to ask, continue to seek, continue to knock
All three elements stress the same point – ________________in prayer – Hebrews 4:16
People give up praying due to discouragement caused by ___________- follow God’s commands on prayer!
People do not pray because they lack ______________ – compounded by laziness or unbelief.
Reject the devil’s lie – _____________God and keep praying
People do not pray properly because they pray _____________- James 4:3
Pray properly according to God’s _____________- 1 John 5:14-15
God _____________prayer with “yes,” “no,” and “wait.”
Expectations & the Father’s Goodness – Luke 11:11-13
Jesus argues from the lesser to the _____________- if evil fathers do good, God does even better
There is no good thing man could receive from God that is _____________than the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit enables you to over come a ______mind and desires in order to pray according to God’s will
Jesus’ ______________enables you to pray properly for God’s glory and your needs
Proper prayer requires _____________- God will fulfill His part, but you must fulfill yours too
With the presence of the _______________as you pray, you will see God’s hand at work in answer to prayer
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the word “prayer” is said. 2) Discuss with your parents how pray according to what Jesus taught.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What in your life do you see you need to change or would just like to make better? What plan have you made to make those changes? Who will keep you accountable / encourage you in the effort? How is your prayer life? What would you like to see changed to make it better? Who can call the Creator, Father, and why? What blessings come with being able to call God, Father? What does it mean to want God’s name hallowed? How can you do that in your own life? Why is the desire for God’s kingdom to come both future and present? What commitment does it require in your own life to make that prayer? God promises sustenance, forgiveness and protection to His followers, so why should we pray for those things? What is the basic point of Jesus’ story in Luke 11:5-8? Why would an unexpected visitor show up at midnight? Why would the man feel obligated to go find food for his guest? Why did his friend initially refuse to get up and give him the bread? Why did the friend finally get up and give him the food? What is the importance of the grammar – verbs being second person present imperatives – have on the meaning of Luke 11:9? What are some reasons that people get discouraged from praying and even give up? How does Jesus’ teaching about persevering in prayer correct such discouragement? How does Jesus’ teaching about confidence that God will answer encourage proper prayer? How does Jesus’ about God’s goodness make prayer desirable even if a positive answer does not come? How do these three aspects of Jesus’ teaching about prayer affect your own desire to pray? Why is the gift of the Holy Spirit better than any other good thing God could give to a believer? What are some of the ministries the Holy Spirit has in the life of a true Christian?
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