Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 11:5-13 – How Should We Pray?

Grace For The Journey

We are studying through the Gospel of Luke, verse-by-verse, believing this is the best way to learn the Bible.  If we are saved, we are called to be students of the Word.  We study God’s Word and we read His Word like we would a love letter written to us, so we will not take a verse here and a verse there, but read we will read and study it verse-by-verse, line-by-line, cherishing the Word and reading it carefully, thoroughly, and studiously.

Chapter 11 begins with one of the disciples asking Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus began His teaching on prayer with what we should think about when we pray.  Unlike most of our prayers, Jesus tells us that we should focus on God, His character, and His loving provisions.  We pick up today with our Lord’s continued teaching on prayer in verses 5 and following.

 This passage continues the reply of Jesus to the request of the unnamed disciple back in verse 1, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  Most of us struggle to keep an ongoing, vibrant prayer life.  Of course, there are many reasons to pray.  R.A. Torrey in his famous little book on prayer provides among the many reasons for praying, these considerations . . .

  • Because there is a devil, and prayer is a God-appointed way to resist Him (Ephesians 6:12-13, 18).
  • Because prayer is God’s way for us to obtain what we need from Him (Luke 11:3-13; James 4:2).
  • Because prayer is the means God has appointed for us to find “grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
  • Because prayer with thanksgiving is God’s way for us to obtain freedom from anxiety and to receive “the peace of God” (Philippians 4:6-7).

William Cowper said, “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest Christian on his knees.”

In today’s passage, our Lord specifically gives us three ways we are to pray. 

First . . .

 1. We Must Pray Boldly – Verses 5-8.

Jesus has just taught in the Disciples’ prayer that there are some things for which it is proper to ask God.  In the previous verses we saw . . .

  • In verse 2 we are to pray for God’s name to be honored and to advance throughout the world.
  • We are to pray for God’s kingdom to come, understanding the danger of holding onto things in this world as though this world were all there were. 
  • In verse 3 we are to ask for daily provision – all that we have comes from God – and we pray for forgiveness and for protection from temptation. 

Then Jesus goes on to teach about how we are to ask for these things and others, and He teaches first that we are to ask boldly.  Look again at this illustration Jesus gives in verses 5-6, “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; ‘for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him.’”  This does not happen to us very often today – someone knocking at your door at midnight asking for three loaves of bread – but in Jesus’ day this was something that would not have been very unusual.  The hot, near eastern climate during the day was such that it was safer and more comfortable to travel long distances at night when it was much cooler, so arriving at a destination around midnight was not uncommon. The same is true today in much of Asia and Africa.

Jesus says this guy has been traveling on a long journey, he finally arrives, and he is famished.  Imagine, says Jesus, this guy is at your house, and you are looking for something to give the guy to eat, but the cupboard is bare – nothing, not even a piece of bread.  In Jewish culture to have nothing to give someone to eat is the epitome of inhospitality.  It was embarrassing beyond belief.  Jesus says this guy who has nothing in his kitchen to feed his famished friend decides to go over to his friend’s house where he knows the guy has got plenty of food.  I love the way he addresses his neighbor at this hour at the end of verse 5: “Friend, lend me three loaves.”  Friend!  Friend, help me out.  The man does not return the salutation.  He does not reply to his knocking neighbor with the same kind word, “Friend.”  In fact, he may have muttered another word or two as he began to awake from his slumber.  Verse 7 tells us, “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.’”  He does not sound very happy, does he?  He has been awakened at midnight!  But again, understanding the ancient near eastern culture is helpful to us.  First, he says in verse 7 that “the door is now shut.” During the day, house doors were open.  People were invited to come and go into the neighbor’s houses.  It was not like it is today with gated communities and air-tight seals and locks on every door.  It was a very open culture.  The door was open during the day, but shut at night.  That alone signaled that one just did not come knocking at the door – plus it is midnight!

Note also the man says in verse 7, “My children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you.”  In other words, “If I get up, everybody gets up.”  This was especially true in the poorest of Jewish homes, which were essentially one room, with the entire family sprawled across the floor at nighttime.  To get up was to wake everyone up.  It is a bit like camping for many of us.  Imagine your whole family in one tent and you decide to get up and go out of the tent.  It is not always easy doing that without waking someone.

Verse 8 tells us, “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.”

The guy does not get up merely on the basis of his friendship with his neighbor.  It is not merely because his knocking neighbor happens to be his friend that he immediately jumps up and empties the cupboards for him.  He does not think: “Oh well, this is my friend knocking at the door and what are friends for?”  No.  He does not go to the door merely on the basis of his friendship.  Jesus says, rather, that the man gets up because of his neighbor’s boldness.  The word in verse 8 is the word “persistence,” but it is an unusual word in the Greek, found only here in the entire New Testament.  It is better translated as sort of a “shameless boldness.”  This neighbor coming to him at midnight and knocking at the door has a particular kind of boldness that drives him to come and ask with great confidence and assurance that he will get what he needs.  The neighbor rises and gives him “as many as he needs.”

The point is this: just as this man boldly approached his neighbor, so should we boldly approach God in prayer.  Unlike the man in the parable, God does not need to be awakened because he never sleeps.  And unlike the man in the parable, God is always glad to hear from us, whatever the time, whatever the occasion, whatever the need.  We are to approach Him boldly.  On the one hand, it is understandable why we may, at times, think of God as a sort of “distant neighbor” whom we dare not disturb.  But remember the context.  Jesus says back in verse 2 that this is the God of the universe we address as, “Father.”  He is our Father.  He loves us.  He loves for us to come to us.  He loves for us to come at any hour for any need.

The Bible says in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Some of you are so worried about bothering the heavenly Father with your so-called petty needs.  Do you not realize He loves to hear from you?  He expects you will come to Him at any time of the day with any request for help.  He is not too busy to hear from you.  Consider the omnipotence of God.  He is all-powerful and has the ability to hear every single request going up to Him at once and with perfect clarity of understanding.  If we all prayed right now at the same time, He would not be too busy to listen and to hear each and every request.  What an awesome God He is!  Come to Him boldly. 

Secondly, when we pray . . .

2. We Must Pray Continually – Verses 9-10.

Jesus teaches, in light of the parable of the knocking neighbor, that we must develop the habit of prayer.  It must be a habit of life, something we do continually.  Look at verses 9-10 which say, “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.”  The verbs here – ask, seek, and knock – are in the present tense and imperative mood which suggests a regular habit we must be about continually.  Verse 9 is better translated, “Ask, going on asking, seek, going on seeking, and knock, going on knocking.”  Do not stop . . . Continue this habit of prayer.

It is as the Bible teaches in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”  Do not stop.  Continue praying.  Make prayer a habit of your life as predictable as getting dressed every day and eating every day.  I dress every day, I eat every day, I breathe every day, and I am to pray every day.  Pray continually.

It is not so much that we are to ask for something over and over again.  That is not the idea here in verses 9 and 10.  That is how the verses are sometimes used – wrongly, I think.  There are other places where that idea seems to be taught, like the parable of the persistent widow we will get to in chapter 18.  The verses here seem most likely to teach the development of the habit of ongoing communication with God.  We are to be seeking a vibrant, ongoing relationship with our heavenly Father.  When you pray, go on asking, go on seeking, and go on knocking and you will find.  You will find grow in your relationship with the heavenly Father, the One who gives to you and opens the door for you.  Pray without ceasing.

Do you have an ongoing prayer life?  Is your life characterized by the habit of asking, going on asking and seeking, going on seeking and knocking, going on knocking?   Jesus teaches that you are to have that kind of prayer life.  Begin every day by talking to God.  That was David’s way in Psalm 5:3, where he says, “My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up.”  Let me encourage you to do the same.  Begin every day by talking to God and take time throughout the day to talk to Him.  There are times you will ask for help quickly between phone calls or interactions with others at the workplace.  There will be other times when you will get alone quietly before God.   Corrie Ten Boom said, “Don’t pray when you feel like it. Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it.  A man is powerful on his knees.”  Then pray in the evenings, pray before bedtime.  Pray for your children and your grandchildren.  Develop a habit of prayer and, in this way, you will ask, going on asking, seek, going on seeking, and knock, going on knocking.  We must pray boldly, and we must pray continually. 

Thirdly . . .

3. We Must Pray Expectantly – Verses 11-13.

What do you expect when you talk to God?  How do you expect Him to answer your prayers, especially when you are asking Him for certain things?  Verses 11-12 tell us, “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?”

This almost sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  Imagine a son asking his father for bread and his dad gives him a stone, instead.  If we contemporize these sayings, it would be like a son asking his dad for a Sonic sandwich and his dad says, “Sure,” and slips in a bunch of rocks between the bread.  Or a son asks his dad to take him fishing and his dad takes him to the lake and pushes him into a bed of snakes.  Or a son asks his father for an Egg McMuffin and his dad gives him a scorpion with the McMuffin.  You get the idea.

How many fathers act that way?  We would be hard pressed to find one father in a thousand who would treat his own children this way.  So, Jesus makes the application 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!”  Jesus argues from the lesser to the greater: ‘A’ is true, but ‘B’ is much more true.”  If you, being an earthly father, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to His children. 

Jesus actually says, “If you then, being evil.”  How do you like that?!  If you, “being evil.”  You say, “I resent that!”  No, you represent that.  You and I are, by nature, evil.  We are sinners.  Jesus’ original audience had no problem with this.  The disciples were well-acquainted with Genesis 3 which teaches why we are all sinners and why we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  This is precisely why God came to us in the perfection of His Son, Jesus Christ, to save us from the penalty of our sin.  We are, by nature, evil.

Jesus actually says, “If you can expect your earthly father or mother to give you good gifts (evil sinners as they may be) “then how much more, then, can you expect your heavenly Father to give you good gifts – good and perfect as He is?”  You can expect your heavenly Father to give you good gifts.

Actually, Luke puts a theological emphasis upon this.  He says, “How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”  Luke frequently stresses the Holy Spirit in his Gospel.  This, of course, is a reminder that our greatest needs are not material or physical, but our greatest needs are spiritual.  The greatest gift the Christian has is the Holy Spirit who resides within him.  He is the Holy Spirit who helps him pray and guides him or her along the way.

The Holy Spirit even helps us pray when we do not know how to pray.  This is the idea behind Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”  The Holy Spirit helps us pray when all we can do is groan.  He groans within us in such a way that the heavenly Father hears and answers our prayers.

Do you see the application here?  You can expect good gifts from your heavenly Father.   He delights in hearing you pray, and He delights in answering your prayers.  He will always give good gifts.  But two warnings here: Jesus’ teaching on prayer does not make the Father into a sort of divine machine dispensing gifts down to earth automatically and unconditionally.  We can expect good things from our Father when we are obedient to Him and when we pray according to His will.

John is helpful here. In 1 John 3:22 he writes, “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”  We must keep God’s commandments; we must obey His Word.  1 John 5:14 also says, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”  We must pray according to His will.

God is not an automated heavenly dispenser of unconditional gifts as though we could ask Him for a new house, a new car, a new job, a new mate, or ask Him for money, or success, or power, or even healing – as if we are asking with no regard for keeping His commands or seeking His will.  We often pray without regard to keeping His commands or seeking His will because we “are evil” (Luke 11:13).  We do not know how to pray as we should (Romans 8:26).  We must remember that God knows best.  He is working “all things together for good to those who love Him” (Romans 8:28) that He might “conform us to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29).  God knows best.  Trust Him to give you the good gifts you need.  When you pray, pray boldly, continually, and expectantly.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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