I am sure that if everyone reading this post were to answer honestly, they would admit that there were times when they struggled with their prayer life. Maybe you felt a lack of intimacy with God. Maybe you were steeped in sin and felt you could not approach the holy God. Maybe you just didn’t feel like praying. Whatever the reason, You had a hard time praying.
Or maybe you are reading this thinking to yourself that in all honesty, you don’t know how to pray. Or you don’t even know if you can pray to God. Or you simply don’t know what to say in prayer. Every been there? Ever ask these questions? I don’t claim to have all the answers nor do I intend to answer all the questions in this one post. But I know one thing: the disciples of Jesus had a problem with prayer.
Jesus was in the custom of praying and Luke records that for us again and again (3.21; 5.16; 6.12; 9.18). Indeed, the pages of Luke are saturated with prayer (1.10, 13, 46-56, 64; 2.28-32, 37-38). Prayer is a major theme in the gospel of Luke. And nearing the middle of Luke we have this account of a problem facing the disciples. You see, they have been with Jesus for some time and they have seen him constantly engaged in prayer. They know he prays and that there is a certain level of intimacy that he shares with the Father that, I believe, they want to share in. In Luke 11 verse 1, Jesus is once again praying in certain place and when you can almost feel the tension between the disciples. Who will it be who asks the question? Jesus finishes praying and one of them can’t take it anymore and says, “Lord, teach us to pray…” A simple request which I think we can all identify with. We face, at times, the same problem these men faced: how can share in the intimate relationship of prayer and communicate my feelings and thoughts to the Father? Look no further than the one who came to reveal the Father, Jesus Christ.
Some have said that since they want a prayer “just as John taught his disciples” that there may be some pride within the disciples. Disciples were often known to be a disciple of someone based on the prayer they prayed in the open. When a person heard a disciple pray, they knew, “oh that must be John’s disciple” because he was praying the prayer John taught his disciples. This may be the same attitude the disciples have, wanting the attention and the identity as “Jesus’ disciples.” Certainly possible. But I think these were honest and sincere men who desperately were searching for a relationship with the Father, even a relationship like Jesus had with the Father.
Jesus gives them their request in v.2-4. That would have been enough right there. He gives them what they ask and it is indeed a prayer that is total and complete. It is refocusing in nature for it starts “Father,” drawing the disciples attention back to God as the holy one, the “hallowed” one who’s kingdom is coming. He is the supplier of daily needs (v.3), the forgiver of the sins of those who forgive and the one who keeps us and protects from the evil one (v.4). That is the prayer in total and if one were to say it to themselves it would take about 15 seconds.
Now think about that: this is the guy who spent a who night in prayer (6.12). Do you mean to tell us, Jesus, that the whole time you were in prayer you were praying this over and over again? No. I think this is the foundation of the prayer for the disciple and worshipper of God. I also think it is intentionally short and concise because it leads into the next part of this account.
Not only does Jesus give the disciple the prayer, but now he engages in his favorite style of teaching: parable. And the parable is about a person (a disciple, i.e. “one of you”) who goes to a friends house and asks for food in the middle of the night. Now keep this in context: getting up and out of bed and moving around the house was no easy feat. The usually consisted of one room with one bed in which the entire family slept. Surrounding the bed on the floor were livestock which were brought in at night. So with this setting, it is no wonder the man does not want get out of bed. But Jesus says the friend will get up for one reason: boldness (or persistence).
And to reiterate the point of persistence, Jesus ventures into giving an example of persistence when he says “Ask…seek…knock…ask…seek…knock.” Six times Jesus says this to reinforce the point that those who are persistent will come out with what they need. The one who sticks with it in their prayer life will get what they need. Be persistent – as a friend asking another friend, as an asker, a seeker, a knocker. Why?
Be persistent in prayer because God is a God who answers every prayer. Jesus reinforces this point by talking in human terms. A father will not give something harmful to his child, like a snake or something useless like a rock. Instead, he will give his child what he needs. And notice, Jesus says “though you are evil” (v.13). Compared to God, we are evil because of our sins. But God, a perfect and holy and righteous and just God, knows exactly what we need as our Father. And he gives the best gifts of all to those who ask. Every answer to prayer, be it a yes or a no or a wait or something better is a “good gift” from God. And notice, Jesus says he will give the “Holy Spirit” to those who ask. What a wonderful gift from the Father. The best gift he could give was his Son to die for us and he gave us Jesus (Rom 8.32). The second best thing he could give is his Holy Spirit and he can give us that as well.
First, let us acknowledge every answer to prayer as a “good gift.” God knows what we need and knows it better than we do. And when he answers with a no, let us not become discouraged or angry with God; it is a good gift from our heavenly Father. How about acknowledging that “no” answer with praise, thanking him for answering it that way. Thanking him that he even hears our prayers in the first place.
Second, James says “You have not because you ask not.” Could it be that we God is not or has not given because we have not asked? Or are we asking with right motives (James 4.2b-3)? And if we have asked and that with right motives, is God trying to teach me something? Is he trying to build some quality within me, like persistence or perseverance? The one thing we should never do is doubt that God does not hear us; never for a moment think that he has forgotten you or that he is ignoring you.