Monday, January 30, 2012

Ask your Heavenly Father in Prayer for the Help of the Holy Spirit

As we approach prayer week , we   want  to understand the role of the Holy Spirit  in prayer. Last week  we considered  Romans 8:26,27: “ Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”  This text indicates  that we must  include  the Holy Spirit in  the work of prayer.
Our fallen nature is  disinclined to do that which is right ( Romans  7). This  includes our  desire for prayer. We know  that we ought to pray  but we don’t pray!  
What then shall we do? We  must  ask  the Holy Spirit to help us.  He  is given  by God  to help  us in our weakness.  Not only that, but He also  helps us to formulate effective  prayer  before the throne of grace.  I trust that you are greatly encouraged by that  knowledge, and that you will  keep that in mind as you struggle with prayer.

And now  I want to  back up  Paul’s teaching   with Jesus’ own words . Turn with me to the Scriptures     , as we read Luke  11:  1-  13 (ESV)
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John 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 forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”
[5] 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, [6] for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; [7] 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’? [8] 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. [9] 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. [10] For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. [11] What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; [12] or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? [13] 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!”

Context :          
The Lord Jesus  Christ , being who He was  , was a man of prayer.  In taking on a human form  He  chose not to use the attributes which made Him equal to God (Phil 2:6) , but  lived  His life  as we do on  earth  . One of the things that this means is that  He needed to live  in perpetual dependence  upon  God , His Heavenly Father. That is  how we were created to live  . That is what prayer expresses  in essence .  Prayer declares  that we are dependent  upon our Father in Heaven  . We see  this in Jesus . We see  Him always praying. As a child He loved  to be in His Father’s house of prayer. At His baptism (Lk 3:21)  He prayed  as the  Holy Spirit descended on Him.  He  started  His ministry  with  a 40-day fast. (4:1–15).  Many times we see Him  withdrawing to  quiet places  to pray (5:16). He  spent a night in prayer before  choosing the twelve  disciples (6:12).  Other instances of  Him praying are found in   Lk 9:18, 28 ).  At the end of His earthly life we find Him praying on the Mt of Olives  (Lk  22:39-46)  and  then finally on the cross  ( Lk  23)  as he gives up His spirit.

So too we find Him  praying here in Luke  11: 1ff .  The disciples  saw how He drew  His comfort  and strength from His heavenly Father , and therefore they asked  Him:  Lord teach us to pray“.   They wanted to be more like Jesus. Do you want to be more like Jesus?    Then you need to be a woman or a man of prayer.  Prayer is  ultimately the greatest vote of confidence in  God. When we pray  we  honour  Him  because we place our confidence in Him. We act like dependents – like children - like family  who ask their Father for  help, and who receive only the best  from their Father.  God is our heavenly  Father .  To Him Jesus is now directing His disciples’  attention .  

Allow me to briefly  point out the lessons  that we learn from  Jesus concerning  prayer, before  we  focus on verse 13 .
1.     Jesus teaches us that  praying is a God centered activity !  Prayer is to be directed  to  your Father who is in heaven.  True prayer does not  put  ‘ourselves’  at  the center  of prayer . We  are not encouraged  to begin  prayer  by saying  Father … I need ….” . No ! You begin with worship . You begin by FIRST seeking  your Father’s glory   and His  kingdom ( Praise and Missions) !  So you pray :  Father , may your Name be made holy ; may your kingdom come … may your influence extend over me , my home , my city , country , continent , and indeed , the whole  world .  Christians must  learn  to  FIRST  desire  the spread of the glory of God ‘s name  in all the earth.  (see Ezekiel  36:23) .   Following this  we  are encouraged to seek  everything that  we need  for  this life -  physically (daily bread) , emotionally ( forgiveness; healed relationships)  and spiritually (protection from the evil one) . Please note that this too is part of God-centered praying . God  is glorified  when  you consider Him as your Provider . People who think that their own hands produce the food they eat  naturally do not see reason  to give thanks. Don’t be like them !  Give glory  to God  in  seeking first His glory, His  kingdom  and His  ongoing  provision  in your life .
2.      Jesus teaches us  that prayer  needs  patience and perseverance . He helps us to see this point by telling us a story  in  vv 5–8 to illustrate  this point .  A man  has  a guest  arriving , and he has no food to set before him. So he goes to his friend at  midnight – an inconvenient time asking for a loan  of  three loaves of bread. The  friend is already in bed  and disinclined to get up , AND YET  because of perseverance   he will get up and give   the man what he asks.   Jesus sees a  vital lesson for prayer  in this  : Ask … seek … knock  ( 9-10 ) . The Greek tense is  present continuouskeep asking … keep seeking … keep knocking. Jesus  wants you and I to be persistent in prayer.  What is the point of this illustration? Is God really an asleep ,  grumpy   perso9nality  who gives  reluctantly , because He has to?  We have to be careful with illustrations. This illustration  is not meant to teach us anything about God’s character. The  nature of God’s character  is that He is a father . The story  merely illustrates  a principle  in prayer – perseverance! 
3.      You have  a  Father in Heaven :  Here  we find  the  key  to prayer  and the encouragement to all prayer . Here we find the reason why we must persevere. We  are in the hands of  our Heavenly Father. In His nature  He is loving and  benevolent . He is for us , and  we   are in the hands of One who is sovereign  and who  knows the beginning from the end. He knows us better than we know ourselves.  He knows what is ultimately  good for us. This fact is illustrated in  vv 11 -13 .  A good father will not give his son a serpent if he asks for a fish.  He will not give  scorpion when you ask for an egg.  A good father will only give his children what is good for them.  So , when God  is pleased not to answer our  prayers  immediately , we must understand  that He is in the process  of giving us what is best!   I trust that this encourages you.  

Asking God  for  the Holy Spirit
I would like to spend a  bit more time on this  aspect of Jesus’  teaching  since we are interested to learn what the Holy Spirit’s role in prayer is.
When we speak  about the Holy Spirit  , then we understand that  we are speaking about  the third person  of the Godhead.  He is a person distinct from God the Father. The Holy Spirit is God of very God.  Within the Trinity He fulfills  a specific role  - one which particularly  comes to light in the  New Testament  and subsequent to Christ’s  ascension to heaven .  The gospel of John  helps us to understand  His work  when Jesus  teaches us concerning Him:
(i)       He is the Spirit of Truth  - whom the world doesn’t know , but who will be   with and in each believer (Jn 14:17 ; Jn 16: 12)
(ii)     He will  teach each believer and remind them of the things  that Jesus had said (Jn 14:26)
(iii)     He convicts the world of sin  (Jn  16:8)
(iv)  He glorifies Christ  by drawing attention to Him and the Words that He has spoken (Jn16:14)

Returning back to  our  text in Luke’s gospel , Jesus  is saying that  if there is any  aspect  of prayer in which we ought to prevail ,  it is  that the Holy Spirit  might be given : "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!"

We need to see  the importance of what Jesus says here. The Holy Spirit is vital to powerful and effective prayer . We see this in Jesus’ own life .  Remember  how in  Lk 3:21ff  we  saw  that  whilst Jesus was praying, the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove.  We see  that  in response to the  prayer of the gathered people   in Acts 1  , the Holy Spirit  is poured out in Acts 2  ( By the way – “Acts” is  Luke’s second volume !) .  In my next sermon  we shall look at a  text  in Acts 4  where  in response to prayer , the place was shaken  and all were filled  by the Holy Spirit.   It is  remarkable  to see how often the Holy Spirit and prayer  are seen together  ( see also  Acts 8:15 ; 13 :2,3 ) . Even when He is not mentioned explicitly  it will be reasonable to say  that the  Holy Spirit  is always implied in the work of  effective prayer . True and effective  prayer   can  only ever be  when the Holy Spirit energizes that prayer . That is what we have learned  from Romans 8:26,27 , and it is a  principle that effective prayer  must always be  in the Spirit  ( Eph  6:18)   .

It is in  this matter that we must persevere. We may be weak in prayer ; we may sense powerlessness , but all that  should not  discourage us .  We must  ask the Father  to give us the Holy Spirit , so that  He  can take our feeble prayer and  present it  rightly before the throne of grace  .   Persevering  prayer in this  matter  is  what opens the door  to  a mighty  outpouring of the Holy Spirit , because it is the Spirit that changes hearts  and circumstances .  But we need to persevere, and keep on asking , seeking , knocking  !  
We need to hear this , and we need to be encouraged to pursue this promise. Unfortunately we are not a people  who  are inclined  to wait. Our instant , ‘ now’ , impulsive society  demands instant solutions. Well, not in this case! God is teaching us to trust Him by patience and perseverance.  

The encouragement that we have received today  from this Word is that God is willing  to give good gifts to His children.  What  kind  of  prayers must you persevere in?   What  prayers is God likely to answer when we persevere?
1.  We must persevere  in wanting God’s glory outpoured   upon the earth. We must pray for the coming of his kingdom. Think about that . How much better  for the world will it be when Jesus reigns in the hearts  and minds of many people ! How much more peace and love there will be.
2. Practically this means that  the kingdom must come in many  people, for the kingdom of God is primarily   a kingdom  that has  people in it.  How can a king rule, if he does not have people?  So pray  with perseverance  for those  that are entrusted in your circle of influence: your  immediate unsaved  family,  unsaved friends; the many unconverted in  your country, your continent and the world.  God is inclined to answer this prayer. That  is why it is important now that we get together and encourage one another  in this church to pray.

So let us enter this week of prayer  knowing that God is for us. He is  our Father, who  designs  and desires only our good.  But since we are so weak  and disinclined to pray , let us ask the Holy Spirit  to help us to pray. Persevere in this! God is  for you  when  you ask in this way.  Amen !

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