Luke: Don’t Stop Praying (and if you have, start again)

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on June 20, 2010

Luke 11:5-13

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The Lord’s Day Morning

June 20, 2010

Luke 11:5-13

“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.”

Let’s pray.

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.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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