Prayer has always been a large part of the Christian story. As far back as you can go in the human narrative, we have been having conversations with and at God. We ask Him for things. We vent our frustrations. We express our worries and concerns. Whether we are young Christians or we have been a part of the Family of God for a long time, prayer is something we all do. Or we are supposed to do.
The discussion here isn’t how often do you pray, or whether you do it standing up or kneeling down. The aforementioned Scripture, pulled from Luke 11, is what is of real importance. How do we pray? What should we say? What should we not say?
This was what the disciples of Jesus were wondering. It wasn’t that they had never prayed before. As observing Jews, they would have had included prayer as a normal part of life. But they were interested in how their Rabbi, their Teacher, their Master prayed. So they ask Jesus to give the same kind of instruction to them as other teachers or rabbis had done.
I find this a wonderful setup for a modern conversation about prayer. For anyone who calls themselves a Christian, this is how we should pray. If we call ourselves disciples of Jesus, followers of the Way, the Truth, and the Life, this should be our regular practice of prayer. I should be able to listen to your prayer and pick out these pieces. Not just the newcomer or the first time prayer, but this should be the habit of the seasoned Christian as well. It should resemble this: all of us should be praying the way Jesus taught. That way consists of 4 A’s and 1 B.
“Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’
“Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’
“I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” – Luke 11.5-13
One quick note before I dive into the 4 A’s, we’ll look at the one B in Part 2.
This passage of Scripture is Jesus telling a story. He is instructing his disciples on HOW TO pray, not how prayer works. Many Christians over the centuries have misunderstood this aspect of Jesus’ teaching and assumed that this is how it works. If you should read this story as the way that prayer works, you draw an unnatural picture of God and His character. You would think that God is a miserable old man that has His goodness and blessings all locked up, hidden away from you. And when you pray, you need to harass Him for as long as you can until God gets sick of your knocking, seeking and asking and finally gives into your request. One would assume that God doesn’t love you, but almost loathes you for bothering him.
This is a wrong reading of Scripture and a terrible misunderstanding of the character of God. Look at the end of the passage. Jesus calls on the fathers in the crowd and says, “If you being evil…”. He is not saying that the people surrounding him are satanic monsters that despise their children, rather that they are a broken people that are prone to make sinful decisions. But, even as sinful fathers, they known how to act good, how to give gifts of blessing to their children when they ask. Jesus takes it a step further, “How much more will your Father in heaven…”, how much more will your God who is not tainted or effected by sin give you good things? How much more will your God who is good, pure and holy give you the greatest gift He can give?
This story is not an explanation as to how prayer works, but a story about how we should pray. Remember that.
Now, on to the 4 A’s Of Prayer. This is how we should pray:
Jesus starts his story to the disciples with a man being visited by a traveling friend, and upon looking in the cupboards for something to feed his traveling friend, this man realizes that he has nothing. He takes notice that he does not have what he thought he had, or what he should have. The man is lacking. He is in need. He has a guest that he is supposed to provide for, but he can’t. He is in a situation that there is no easy solution for. He is stuck.
They say the first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is one. The same is true of prayer. The man has to admit that he is lacking. He doesn’t have what he really needs. He is stuck without the things that are required. If he does not acknowledge that fact, the problem will go unsolved and only get worse. The traveling friend’s hunger will increase and go unsatisfied.
The man in Jesus’s story starts by admitting that he is in need.
When we go to prayer, we need to start by admitting that we are in need. And we are in need of a great many things. You could start off a list of things that we need to admit to needing with a lack of daily bread. But you could take it beyond the physical needs for ourselves. We lack the means to properly love our neighbour, or the traveling friend that has stopped over for the night. We lack money. We lack the wisdom to properly use the money God has blessed us with. We lack health. We lack patience. We lack the will to be obedient to God. We lack the ability to save ourselves from our sins.
The list would be endless if I were to continue. Whoever you are, wherever you find yourself in the world, or in life, we are all lacking. If we are going to pray, if we are going to do this the way Jesus taught us, we need to start by admitting that we are lacking
After the man admitted that he was lacking, he didn’t have any bread to give to his traveling friend, he left and went to a neighbour. You could say that he had to abandon his home, and go somewhere else for his answer, but that isn’t the kind of abandoning I think that Jesus is getting at here.
The man starts to bang on the door of his neighbour’s house. He calls out into the night, “Hey! Help me out! I need some bread!” This was not a soft whisper into the keyhole in the door. This wasn’t a small, gentle rap on the door so as not to disturb anyone. Quite the opposite I would say. The man came yelling. He came banging on the door. And the very idea that the whole block, the whole neighbourhood, even the whole town may hear him didn’t seem to register. Or it didn’t seem to bother him.
I think that this man in Jesus’ story had to abandon something before he was going to get what he needed. He had to give up something before anything was going to happen. When he started screaming and banging on the door, he abandoned his pride. The whole town could have heard him. But it seems that didn’t stop him, because his need, his lacking of bread was so great an issue he was willing to risk it. The neighbourhood may have changed their opinion of him because of this erratic behaviour. He didn’t seem to mind, because he was stuck in a bad situation and he was willing to do whatever it took to get out of it. If that meant laying down his pride, his dignity, his image, that was a small price to pay.
The whole block could have started talking about him, how irresponsible he was not to have bread in case a traveling friend stopped by. The way Jesus tells the story none of these things occur or would have phased the man as he cried out into the night, banging on his neighbour’s door. I can imagine the man thinking, “Who cares what they think? I am in need. I am lacking, and I will give up everything and anything so that I can have my need met.”
Laying down our pride, the image that we have cultivated of the opinions of those around us, is no easy task. For some people it is extremely difficult. But regardless of the ease or difficulty in doing this, this is a part of how Jesus tells us to pray. We need to abandon our pride, to lay down our self-righteous image. We are called to be humble before God when we pray. We are not so special that we don’t have needs. We all do. We aren’t so great and mighty that we do not struggle or find ourselves lacking in some way. We are all in need at some point. So, give up your pride. Walk humbly before your God, as you come to pray.
Only after the man had admitted his need for bread, and after he had abandoned his pride and any image he may have cultivated of his reputation, only then did he ask anyone to fulfill his need.
The NIV translation of this passage of Scripture says that the man asked with “boldness”. Other translations use words like “persistence” or “repeatedly”. My favourite was this: the man asked “without shamefacedness.” What a word, and what a posture to describe a man when he went to ask, or when we are supposed to pray. This man banged on a door, he cried out into the night, without shame on his face. He wasn’t looking down at the ground. He wasn’t trying to hide his face, should someone pass by. No, he had his face up. He didn’t feel shame or guilt that this was the place that he was at. He knocked on that door with determination and purpose. This man wanted to have his need met. He wanted bread to feed his traveling friend, so he gave up his pride, and banged on the door like there was no tomorrow.
Quite often when we talk about prayer as Christians, someone mentions the time they prayed for something a lot, they prayed a dozen or more times for God to do something, but nothing happened. They kept asking, seeking, and knocking but they didn’t get a response. So they quit. They just gave up.
When Jesus was telling his disciples this story, and he described this man as knocking with boldness or persistence, it wasn’t just a few knocks and then he gave up. He kept going. He knocked and knocked and knocked. It was more than a repeated thing. This was constant. It was an unending barrage of door banging and calls into the house for bread. It didn’t stop until there was an answer, until the need was satisfied.
I was a Christian when the WWJD bracelets were cool. Everyone had at least one back in those days. But then they started introducing other bracelets. Rather than just What Would Jesus Do?, there was FROG, Fully Rely On God, and PUSH, Pray Until Something Happens.
Yes, those bracelets were cheesy, and no, cool may not have been the word to describe them, but the truth and intensity of how Jesus taught us to pray was packed into each PUSH bracelet.
Just like the man seeking for bread, who asked relentlessly, so we are to pray until something happens. If that means we pray for a week, 4 months, or 25 years, we are supposed to pray, to ask without shamefacedness.
Now, understand me. I am not saying that asking like this is easy. I am not saying that praying with great persistence is not going to be exhausting at times, because it will be. I am not saying that it will be easy to wait for God to give you an answer, to fulfill your need. Look at the people in Scripture, for example. Abraham had to wait 25 years for the child that God had promised him. Israel waited for over 400 years in captivity, asking for a deliverer before Moses came along. Think about how long the children of God longed for their Messiah. There is a 400 year gap between the last book in the Old Testament and the first book in the New Testament, and they were waiting for Jesus long before that.
It will not be easy to ask, but without asking our needs will not be met. Our lacking will never be satisfied. We need to ask, and ask with great boldness.
We always want an answer to our prayers. But what is striking about Jesus’ story is that we don’t get a real answer. Jesus tells his disciples that if the man needing bread keeps banging on the door, eventually he will get bread. But not that he got it instantly. Sometimes our prayers do get an instant answer, but other times, they don’t.
In the Old Testament book of 1 Kings, there is a story about a prophet of God called Elijah. He was in the middle of a showdown with 450 priests of a pagan god, Baal. Elijah had called them all together to determine which god was truly God. Was it Baal, or the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? To determine who was really God, a contest was set up. The 450 priests of Baal would offer a sacrifice to their god, but they couldn’t set fire to it. Elijah would do the same, and the God that answered by fire would be declared as the real God.
The priests of Baal went first. They danced around the alter and sacrifice. They shouted at the heavens, they sang songs. All day they did this, they even went to the extreme of cutting their bodies to grab Baal’s attention. But nothing happened. The sacrifice was not lit by divine fire. Then Elijah tried.
He drenched his offering and alter in water three times, then he said a simple prayer to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Instantly, fire fell from from heaven. It consumed not just the sacrifice, but the alter and all the water as well. God had answered Elijah’s prayer and proved he was God. That is a fantastic story of prayer working, is it not? But what is equally amazing is the story that follows it. It isn’t even a new chapter. There is no new heading in my bible to divide the two up.
Once Elijah calls down fire from heaven, he takes off to a hill to pray for rain to fall. At the time, Israel was in the midst of a terrible drought. So Elijah prayed for God to send rain. He prayed, and then Elijah sent his servant to go see if he could see any clouds in the sky. He didn’t see any. So Elijah prayed again. The servant went to check for rain clouds. Nothing. Elijah prayed again. The servant went to check for rain clouds again. Nothing, again.
Seven times Elijah prays before the servant returned with any news. There was a cloud, but one as small as a man’s fist.
Why is it that one moment God answers immediately and the next moment God seems to be hard of hearing and it takes a while for Him to respond? I don’t know. There are reasons that wiser men than I have come up with. Maybe there is sin in a person’s life. Maybe God is saying “wait” or “not now”. Maybe God is testing your faith through His silence. All of these are possible answers, but I have no way of knowing which it is when I pray and there is no answer. Jesus doesn’t shy away from that fact. Even in his story about how to pray, he doesn’t guarantee anyone that their prayer will be answered immediately. Nor does He say that you will get what you asked for.
For some people that is a difficult pill to swallow. For some, that may be their evidence that God doesn’t love them. That He is cruel and hardhearted. But those that think this way are not reading to the end of this passage. Jesus said, if you men, if you people that are naturally inclined to do evil know how to give good gifts to your children when they ask, what do you think a good God will do?
We quickly forget that God is good. That He at his worst moments, if he were to have any, is still far greater than we are at our best. God knows how to give good gifts to his children. He knows how to satisfy the lacking and needs in our lives. He knows what we need even before we ask.
Jesus tells us this astonishing truth, that when we ask, should we ask, God will openly and freely give Himself to us. He will give the Holy Spirit to us. Jesus promises us the most soul satisfying answer whenever we come to the Father with lacking or needing of anything. He promises to give us himself.
Think about all the times when you didn’t pray for material things. Think back to when you were praying for patience, or asking for peace. Think about that time when you were asking God for love for an irritating neighbour or the grace to look beyond someone’s sin. The best answer God could give in those situations would be himself.
Or think about the times you needed material things. You are low on cash and the bills are coming. What we ask for is money, but what we need is the peace of God to overwhelm us and the Spirit to remind us that God is good and takes care of our needs. When your children are driving you around the bend and you don’t know how you are going to make it, God answers your prayer with Himself. The Spirit can come upon you and remind you of the beauty of life, the good times you have had with your child. He can open up the heavens and pour out on you peace and patience even when the kids do not listen and will not stop.
How great and how refreshing this is. Yes, it is still difficult to know that I may not get exactly what I came asking for. Yes, it is annoying when I don’t get an immediate answer. But how satisfying it is to my soul to know that when I am in need, in any way, shape or form, God is there and freely giving me more and more of Himself. Even that knowledge, for me, gives my heart strength for the difficult times.
Despite how it may look on the surface, whether God responds to our prayers instantly or in His good times, there will always be an answer. We need to remember that. Our God is not deaf or made of stone, that He cannot hear. He does, and He answers.
Don’t worry. I didn’t forget about the 1 B of prayer. It’s coming in Part 2. And you can read that right here.
All Scripture references provided by Biblegateway.com
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