The Gospel of Luke - Part 50: Persistence in Prayer  — Luke 11:5-8
(These notes are based on lesson notes prepared by Rob Mahon for connection class leaders at Hoffmantown Church.)

Review:

Three weeks ago, we finished our study of the pattern that Jesus gave us for prayer. In the teaching that we usually refer to as The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says we should acknowledge the Person of God, that He is our Father but that He is our Heavenly Father. Closeness but reverence also. Then Jesus suggests that we should be praying for God’s will to be done rather than ours. We need to join His work, not be asking God to join ours. Jesus suggests that we should be praying daily and asking God for what we need, not what we want, but what we need. Then we should ask for God’s forgiveness and we should be forgiving others. Then we should ask for God protection from the temptations that we face every day. Then a good closing would be to praise God for who He is.

Luke Chapter 11 teaches us:

A.   To Be Prayerful
B.   To Be Powerful and
C.   To Be Pure

The Lord’s Prayer was His teaching to be prayerful. Now let’s turn to how to be Powerful. Jesus is going to teach us about:

Persistence in Praying:

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; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 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.’ 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.” —Luke 11:5-8
This isn't the only place where Jesus emphasizes the important of persistence in prayer:
Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart. —Luke 18:1
We’ll consider this verse later in our study of Luke 18. What can we learn from the story that Jesus tells here in chapter 11?

The word “persistence” (or “boldness” in NIV) is from a Greek word that literally means “shamelessness”. The concept of this kind of persistent, shameless prayer is illustrated in a number of places in the Bible. Here are two:

Remember the story of Jacob wrestling with someone all night?

Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” —Genesis 32:24-30
Then in Matthew we have the story of the Canaanite woman with a demon possessed daughter.
And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once. —Matthew 15:22-28
The persistence that God desires is not rooted in pride or willfulness but in faith. We don’t give up, not to force God to do something, but because we believe that God will do what we are asking because we are convinced it is His will.

Why do you think God wants us to keep on asking? Why isn't once enough?

One reason might be to strengthen our faith. As we continue to bring something to God, we show that we really believe that He will answer.

Another reason might be because God wants to work on our character. God waits to answer for our sake, to work in our hearts.

George Mueller says: "The great point is to never give up until the answer comes . . . The great fault of the children of God is, they do not continue in prayer . . . they do not persevere. If they desire anything for God's glory, they should pray until they get it."

Warren Myers says: "Persistent prayer does not change God's will, but it is often His way of accomplishing His will, and it does change us."

So what can we expect as a result of persistent prayer? Jesus gives us His promise to praying people in the next verses.

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. 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? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? 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? — Luke 11:9-13
This passage is also very important for a correct understanding of prayer. We’re going to highlight three important truths about prayer that Jesus teaches in this passage:  We need to ask God.

Ask and it will be given to you;
Seek and you will find;
Knock and it will be opened to you.

All of these verbs are in the present imperative verb tense in the Greek. The present imperative verb tense implies a "commitment to a long term way of doing something. A command to keep on doing an action as one's general habit or lifestyle". It could be translated "ask and keep on asking . . . seek and keep on seeking . . . knock and keep on knocking . . . ".

So this verse also reinforces the importance of persistence.

The little word “ask” is central to a correct understanding of prayer. The Bible teaches that when we pray, we are to ask God. Over and over again, in His teaching and by His own example, Jesus taught us that prayer is asking God:

Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. —John 14:13-14

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. —John 15:7

You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. —John 5:16

Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full. —John 16:24
What are some different ways we could complete this sentence?

“Jesus told us to ask when we pray, not to ____________.”

The little word “ask” implies:

1.   Initiating:

You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. —James 4:2

That’s a sobering truth. It is our responsibility to ask, to take the initiative of bringing matters to God.

You’ve probably heard the story of the man who dreamed he died and went to heaven. As he was being shown around by angel, they passed an area of gigantic warehouses. He asked the angel about these huge buildings and the angel said, “You don’t want to know”. But he persisted so the angel took him around to the front of one of the buildings. Across the entrance was a sign that read, “Answers To Unasked Prayers”. The angel explained that these storehouses were filled with blessings from God, answers to prayers that were never prayed. Imagine being shown all the wonderful blessings you could have experienced on earth if you had only asked — “You do not have because you do not ask” —James 4:2

Chuck Swindoll says:

The Western world is not characterized by prayer. By and large, to our unspeakable shame, even genuine Christians in the West are not characterized by prayer. Our environment loves hustle and bustle, smooth organization and powerful institutions, human self-confidence and human achievement, new opinions and novel schemes; and the church of Jesus Christ has conformed so thoroughly to this environment that it is often difficult to see how it differs in these matters from contemporary paganism. There are, of course, exceptions; but I am referring to what is characteristic. Our low spiritual ebb is directly traceable to the flickering feebleness of our prayers: ‘You do not have, because you do not ask'.
Let me ask you a question, what’s an issue in your life that you tend not to pray about? What’s an area you need to be praying about more, asking for God’s blessing?  Probably the ones you don’t pray about.  The little word “ask” also implies:

2.   Submitting:

Another implication of the word “ask” is submission, surrender to God. When we pray, we must never demand our own way. Jesus taught us to ask, not to insist or demand.

How many times have you heard someone say, “I prayed about such and such a matter (for God’s protection or deliverance or healing or whatever) but God never answered.” What they really mean is that God didn’t give them the answer they wanted! It’s ironic that few people recognize the fact that God may very well choose to say “No” to some of our prayer requests.

Of course, the greatest example of submitting in prayer is Jesus Himself. When He was praying in Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion, what did He say?

“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” —Luke 22:42
Jesus teaches us to ask when we pray. He teaches us always to submit our requests to the overriding will of God. The little word “ask” also implies:

3.   Trusting:

It implies that I am coming to God with some issue in my life rather than trying to handle it myself or rely on others. Luke 8:14 says

The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. —Luke 8:14
In this verse, Jesus talks about three factors that can choke our spiritual lives so that we become unfruitful. By unfruitful, He means a lack of Christ-like character and Christ-like influence on others.

Notice that the very first factor Jesus mentions is not lust or materialism or false doctrine but worry. Why is worry so dangerous, so harmful? Maybe the answer is that worry is a lack of trust.

Paul says:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. —Philippians 4:6-7
Asking God to handle some issue we are facing shows that we are putting our trusting in Him.

As I pointed out earlier, you could translate the verbs in this section as “ask and keep asking”, “seek and keep seeking”, “knock and keep knocking”.

One implication, then, is that bringing our needs to God needs to be a daily habit, a lifestyle, for us. It’s not just something we do once or even once in awhile. Every day we need to “keep asking”, which means we’re to be praying about everything every day. This section also teaches us that:

We need to believe God:

For everyone who asks, receives. —Luke 11:10
God is committed to answering prayer. This second truth concerning prayer flows naturally out of this verse: we need to believe God. We need to believe His promises. It’s really a connected thought to the last section on trusting God.

God tells us again and again that we can trust Him.

Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the Lord your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed. —Joshua 23:14

Blessed be the Lord, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised; not one word has failed of all His good promise, which He promised through Moses His servant. —1 Kings 8:56

We need to know God:

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! —Matthew 7:11
What are some things we learn about God in verses 11-13? Jesus points out that God is a better parent to us than we could ever hope to be to our children. Even as sinful as we are, we give "good gifts" to our children. How much more confident should we be in God that He will give what is good to us when we ask?

Understanding prayer in light of a parent's response to a child's request is an effective picture. If your child asked for something that was good for them, would you give it? If your child asked for something that you knew would be harmful to them, how would you respond? Has your child ever asked for something that you wanted to give them but the timing was wrong, they needed to wait to receive it?

Yes, no, wait — God responds in the same way to our requests and for the same reason. He knows what is best for us. We should be as thankful for His no answers as we are for His yes answers!

The truth of these verses should do a lot to help us trust God. As parent, we love to give them gifts. Because we love them, if they ask me for something, the only reasons for saying “No” are if we am unable to do what they ask or if we believe that it would not be good for them.

These verses reminds us that God is our perfect heavenly Father. As a Father, He delights in giving “good gifts” to His children. We need to remember this. Remember, God is a better parent than you are!

But our ability to trust God is tied directly to how well we know Him. This is true of trusting people as well. We trust someone because we know how good, how trustworthy that person is. If we have trouble trusting God, this fact suggests that the problem lies in our relationship with Him. Maybe we don’t know Him personally as well as we should.

Let’s renew our commitment to trust God. Let’s determine to ask God for the “good gifts” He so greatly longs to give each of us — gifts He’s described in promises found throughout the Bible.

God is Good!

One of the most important and fundamental truths in the Bible is that God is good. Many of the questions people ask are really questions about the goodness of God. For example, when we ask, “How can a loving God allow so much suffering in the world?”, what we’re really asking is, “Is God really good?” When we ask, “How can God say Jesus is the only way to heaven and ignore all the other good people?”, we are really asking, “Is God really good?”

As parents, we understand that sometimes the good things we did for our children did not seem good to them! For example, when you told them to turn off the TV and go finish their school work. You may have said that they had to clean up their room and help with housework before they could go play on the weekend. You can probably think of many other examples. Many of the things parents say and do don’t seem “good” to kids. Instead, they seem unfair or unreasonable. So what’s the problem? The problem is that a child has a limited, immature perspective.

Do you see how this applies to us and God?

Sometimes it’s hard for us to understand what God says and does. It seems unfair or unreasonable. But we need to understand that the problem is with us not with God, because God is always good.

Here’s a different way to consider the Lord’s prayer; think of the sections of this prayer as the Lord directing our focus:

1.   Look Upward:

Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. --Matthew 6:9-10
2.   Look Outward:
Give us this day our daily bread. —Matthew 6:11
3.   Look Inward:
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. —Matthew 6:12-13

4.   Finally, look Upward again:

[For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]’ —Matthew 6:13
An article in the Denver Rocky Mountain News described various web sites to which people can submit prayers. One site, Newprayer.com, says, "Simply click on the 'Pray' button and transmit your prayer to the only known location of God." The site claims "that it can send prayers via a radio transmitter to God's last known location," a globular star cluster called M13 believed to be one of the oldest in the universe.

Crandall Stone, 50, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, engineer and freelance consultant, set up the site last winter after a night of sipping brandy and philosophizing with friends in Vermont. The conversation turned to Big Bang theories of creation, and someone suggested that if everything was in one place at the time of the explosion, then God must have been there, too.

"It's the one place where we could be sure he was,"  Stone said. 'Then we thought that if we could find that location and had a radio transmitter, we could send a message to God."  After consulting with NASA scientists, the friends settled on  M13 as the likely location. They chipped in about $20,000, and built a radio-wave-transmitting Web site." Stone reports that they transmit about 50,000 prayers a week from seekers around the globe.  

[Trouble is, M13 is over 20,000 light years away, so at the speed of light, those radio signals won't reach M13 for another 20,000 years! -dw]

This article shows how widespread the desire is to pray in such a way that God hears and answers. Well, that’s exactly what Jesus teaches us in Matthew 6:9-13.

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words —Romans 8:26
Two truths from this verse:

First, there’s the truth that “we don’t know how to pray as we should”. Jesus knew this was true; that’s why He gave us the Lord’s prayer!

Second, God promises that the Spirit will help us. That’s great. When is the last time that you acknowledged your weakness in prayer and asked for God’s help?

Haddon Robinson wrote: “Although God in His grace does give good gifts to His children, He offers us more than that. He offers us Himself. [Don’t miss] the best reward of prayer — the reward of communicating and communing with the God of the universe.”