Monday, January 27, 2014

Luke 11:5-13 - PERSEVERANCE IN PRAYER

Perseverance: “…to persist in anything undertaken; to maintain a purpose despite difficulty, obstacles or discouragement; to continue steadfastly.“

There ought to be no doubt in our mind that  the practice of biblical  prayer  demands perseverance. It ought to be one of the easiest things, since  the most basic definition of prayer is “talking to God”. However, the most seasoned  Christians  will tell you  that  there are many obstacles, difficulties and discouragements in the way  of prayer in this world of sin,  where our hearts and minds are so often weighed down  by so many matters of  secondary and lesser importance. The Lord Jesus  anticipated  this  and that is why, I believe, He  attaches this  teaching on perseverance in prayer in addition   to  the outline  of prayer given in response to the question of one of the disciples:  “Lord, teach us to pray[1] (Lk  11:1). 

Before  we move on to the subject of perseverance in prayer  (Lk  11: 5-13) allow me to repeat  what we have  said  over the last two  Sundays   concerning   the “Lord’s prayer”.

The order of  this prayer  suggests  that there is  a structure   to  prayer.  We are called  begin with God  and His Name  and His kingdom and  thereafter we  are invited to present  all  our physical, emotional and spiritual needs. This is what is suggested in Matthew 6: 33 :
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you…”
This  simple outline  is profoundly comprehensive. Everything  is covered here.  God is at the top of the prayer agenda  as He is remembered,  worshipped and honoured. This is followed  by the  invitation to  present  all our daily  needs  to  God.[2]  Prayer is speaking to  the God  who knows everything, sees everything and who can do everything. So we must  not think  that prayer is  an information session,  for we cannot add any knowledge to God.  David says, “Even before  a word is on my tongue, behold O LORD you know it altogether” (Psalm  139:4).  Neither is the purpose  of  prayer  to remind God,  just in case God forgets! God  is not a man . He who has planned and executed  every detail of this universe  continues to uphold  everything  by His  perfect knowledge.

So prayer  is  a gift  from God, and it is for our benefit. He invites us and enables us to speak to Him. Christ is the Mediator  through whom we have access into His  presence. That is why we pray to God the Father  in the Name of Jesus.  In prayer  we speak to God   like a child would speak to  a father. The father  is the child’s provider,  and the child trusts him to provide his  essentials. The father has the resources, and the father has the knowledge concerning  what is  really  needed and  what is  really  important, and what is not important or beneficial. 

And so,  as the Lord  Jesus  teaches  His disciples  these principles of prayer,  there is now  an added   matter-  that of persevering in prayer!  In verses 5- 13 He addresses 2  questions   which  we would   often ask in connection  with  the matter  of perseverance in prayer :
1.      How much  of prayer is my responsibility? How much effort  must I put into prayer and how long must I persevere in order to obtain  an answer? 
2.     Why   and on what  basis  should  God  be  obliged to answer my prayer, and why does it  often take time  before He answers  prayer?

1.     My Responsibility – Patience and Perseverance in Prayer

By means of a simple story Jesus teaches us an important fact about prayer. A man goes to  the house  of  his friend at midnight, and asks him  for food.  He tells him  that a  friend has arrived unexpectedly from a journey  and he has no food  to set before  him. You will understand  that for  a man in bed with his family all tucked in, this  is   an inconvenient hour,  and yet amidst protests (v.7)  the man perseveres  and gets what he wants.(v.8)  
The point  of the story is simple:  If perseverance in asking  works so well  between man and man, how much more may we expect  when we persevere in prayer with God?   May I remind you that Jesus used this illustration  to encourage  us  not to give  up in prayer – particularly in relation to those  prayers  that  carry   God’s  approval.  Your duty  is to persevere   in prayer! In fact, perseverance is one of the ways in which you show that  you really mean business with God!

Your duty is to persevere by asking:  If the man had not asked his friend for bread, he would not have received it. The same is true for prayer. If we do not ask God,  then we  must not expect to receive. Jesus  encourages us to ask  perseveringly : “…ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find ; knock, and it will be  opened to you…”.  The matter of  asking with perseverance  is taught here and later again in Luke 18:1-8, in  the parable of the persistent widow, where it is explicitly  said that “… he told them a parable to the effect that  they ought always to pray and not lose heart.”  (Luke 18:1).  We must learn to persevere in prayer.

Your duty is  to  persevere  by asking  with sincere motives:  We are making this point  because we do need to understand  that  our prayers are not always  answered immediately  for  we often ask  in the wrong spirit or with wrong motives.  Thus James tells us: “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:2,3).  Now the man in Jesus’  story had a  sincere and legitimate need. There was  no issue of wrong or of hidden motives or self-gain implied  in his asking. He was asking  for  three loaves of  bread, and this  for another person who had  suddenly arrived on his doorstep, and who needed something to eat.
James makes the point  that asking (praying) in a context of unconfessed and ongoing quarrels and fighting and covetousness  causes  God to be deaf  to our prayers. [3]  A self -centered spirit as is described by James perverts  our prayer life, and  we  will not receive anything from God.   
This  partially answers our question  as  to why   God keeps us  sometimes waiting  in terms of an answer to prayer.  Often God teaches us in a time of waiting to  confess our sins. At other times we learn adjust our prayers, or to drop them altogether  as we discover that our motives have been  wrong  or misdirected. At other times it is just a matter of God’s sanctifying work  within us by which He teaches us to be patient and perseverant.  It is important to understand these things  as  we  turn to the next point.

Your duty   is  to persevere  with boldness!  The story  of  “the  friend at midnight”  teaches us  something else. Be  persistently bold  in your prayers! This man knew that he would get what he wanted from his friend.  Why? Jesus says, firstly because   he was his friend, and secondly because of his  persistence.(v.8). Now notice  that Jesus is building up to His final argument, illustrating  in verses   9-13  that God  is  our friend, and as  such He is neither tight fisted  nor unsympathetic to our urgent pleading. He is after all our Father in heaven  (11:2,13).  Both,  Abraham and Moses  are good examples  of men ‘urgently arguing ‘ with God  on behalf of  their people.[4] They are clearly  doing this on the basis of their relationship with Him. God was very real to them.  We learn from  their example,  and from Jesus example here and in Luke 18:1ff  that   God is  not offended if  you  ask  with boldness and persistence. He is your Father  and He is your friend. He is for you and not against you.
The secret  of bold prayer  lies  in understanding and appropriating ‘the promises of God’ – the things that He has clearly said  and promised in the Scriptures.   We pray  on solid ground  when we  ask according to the promises  of God’s Word. Spurgeon says :  “Our prayers are according to the mind of God when they are according to the word of God.”

Monica,  the godly mother of Augustine (b. 354 A.D),  the North African Church father prayed for him  relentlessly   before his conversion. I quote this transcript of  a  prayer of Monica[5], Augustine's mother, as a beautiful example of this earnestness and simplicity of faith in pleading the promises of the word :


 'Lord, these promises were made to be made good to some, and why not to me? I hunger;  I need; I thirst; I wait. Here is thy hand-writing in thy word; … I am resolved  to be as importunate till I have obtained, and as thankful afterwards,  as by thy grace I shall be enabled; being convinced that I am  utterly lost and undone, if thou hearest not the desires of the  humble: and if thou dost hear and grant, I am so well acquainted  with myself and with my own heart, that I have nothing to glory in; but I shall wholly glory in the Lord; and I do resolve and believe,  that I shall to all eternity celebrate and magnify the riches of thy grace. Thy promises are the discoveries of thy purposes, and  vouchsafed as materials for our prayers; and in my supplications  I am resolved every day to present and tender them back to thee;  and if thou wilt have regard to them, and appear to be a "God of truth to my soul; a poor creature, that hath long feared to burn in hell for hypocrisy, will be secured and made happy for ever. I  am resolved to wait upon thee, and to cast down my soul upon thee.”


The practice of persevering prayer then is a Christian’s duty, and so I trust that you have the answer to that question answered : “How long must I pray?”. The answer is this : “Until God answers! “ God is not deaf. He is not ignoring you. He is working out his plan. While Monica was praying, God was working in Augustine’s life[6] to bring him to his end and to repentance and to conversion.[7]


2.     God’s Responsibility: Faithful,  Fatherly Love

So,  how much commitment can I expect from God  when I present my prayer  persistently  and boldly  and without selfish motives to Him?  The answer is this: God  is fully committed to answer every  God honouring  request  in prayer!  The biblical basis  for this is found  in  verses 11 & 12 : “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? “  Your heavenly father  is good and kind. He will not give you something evil in return  for a  reasonable  request. So if  you ask  what is  God glorifying  (Your  kingdom come – i.e.  to see souls saved-  your children or family members  saved), and if you ask  for what you need (daily bread;  forgiveness and power to forgive; escape from temptation)   will God  refuse you  these things? No! He has promised  to look after your daily  physical, emotional and spiritual needs.   The basis for this is the fact that God is a good, caring Father to  His children. A good father does not ignore the legitimate needs of his children. He may not give them everything that they want, but He will provide  everything that they need. That is good parenting. Even if the answer is “no” or “wait a little longer”  it is a good answer  and a loving response, and it is for our benefit. How thankful we can be that God  does not always grant us the  desires of our heart. Standing  at this particular point in life, and looking back, I can say with gratitude: ”Thank you Lord that you did not grant me certain things which I had asked, and that you have closed certain doors.” So, God  will withhold no good thing from me; yet at the same time  I know that He will not grant me anything that would set me back spiritually, for the chief  reason for which I exist is to glorify God.[8]

A brief  comment on the last verse : “ 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!” (v.13) In giving us the Holy Spirit, God gives us Himself , and in giving us Himself He gives us  everything that we need and desire :
·       Salvation to eternal life  which is the work of the Holy Spirit ;  this  promise is for us and our children  and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” (Acts 2:39)
·       Sanctification, which is power from the Holy Spirit  for holy living.
·       Spiritual Gifts - the ability  to work effectively  in the kingdom of God and in our local church  through  the spiritual gifts which the Holy Spirit gives us.

Persevere  in prayer  then, dear brothers and sisters. God is for you. But be prepared  for Him to work in you  while you pray . Ultimately we persevere because He perseveres with us . Amen!



[1] Jesus was probably asked   this  many times, and when He did  He  gave  this  outline which we find  in Matthew 6:9-13 and also here in Luke  11:2-4, which clearly were different occasions.
[2] The 10 commandments ( Ex 20:1-17)  follow a similar pattern : God  and His honour first , and then  the various human relationships .
[3]  God is deaf to our prayers when we deliberately  and habitually sin against Him : see  for instance  Jeremiah   7:17 ;  11:14; 14:11
[4] E.g. Genesis 18: 22-32  ( Abraham) ; Exodus 32:11-14 ( Moses)
[5]  Quoted in Charles  Bridges commentary on Psalm 119 : 76  p.207

[6] Augustine’s insights in this regard  are  remarkable  ( Sheed : p.72)
[7] Confessions  of Augustine : translated by F.J. Sheed , p.141f
[8] Westminster Catechism : Question 1 : “What is the chief end of man?” Answer : “The chief end of man is  to worship (glorify) God  and to enjoy Him forever. “ 

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