A man once dreamed that he was traveling down a road. As he walked along that path he came to a tall white church. Upon the roof of the church there was a demon laying sprawled out, fast asleep. Further down the road he went and he came to a log cabin, and it was surrounded by a multitude of devils. These though were all wide awake and bustling about in a flurry of commotion.
A spirit replied, “The fact is that that whole church is fast asleep and one demon can take care fo them all. But in this house lives a man and a woman who pray, and they have more power than the whole of that church.”
Though this was a fictitious dream, I do not in the least doubt the truth of it. The Scripture says that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. I believe that this is the Bible’s way of saying that prayer causes the demonic world a great deal of consternation.
That is why our passage this morning is so important. Here in this passage the Disciples call upon Jesus for instruction. They ask the Lord for guidance in the art and craft of prayer. And I would like us also to sit in the school of prayer. I want us to take heed to what is said here so that we might graduate with honors in this trade. We must become more apt in prayer. For if we do not hone our skills in this work, then we will allow devils to yawn or go fight their battles elsewhere.
There are three simple truths that I believe our passage addresses about prayer. It tells us why we should pray, what we should pray, and how we should pray.
I. Why we should pray [1, 11-13]
Our passage gives us two reasons why we should pray. The first of which is seen in the very first verse. At the outset of our passage we are told that Jesus himself was off in prayer.
This is perhaps what gave rise to the disciples asking for prayer. They saw that Christ was a master at prayer, and they are moved to ask him about it.
But think about this. If the Eternal Son of God found a need to pray, then how much more should you and I be giving ourselves to it?
He who was very God of very God found it necessary to carve out time in his day to pray. If anyone could go without it, we would assume it would be Jesus. But it was a high necessity for him. And we should think that such should be the same for us!
Another reason why we should pray is that we should expect our prayers to be answered.
In verses 11-13 he promises that our prayers will be answered. Jesus tells us of this child who asks his father for a fish. Will his father torture him and give him a snake or scorpion? Of course not! Even earthly fathers, with all their sin, usually treat their sons with respect. How much more, says Jesus, should we expect our heavenly Father to give us grace and favor?
Here we learn that God is good! He is the infinite spring of blessing and he is ready to open the storehouse of heaven and pour forth his favor upon those who ask.
Now, I know that some people will object to this. They say, “If you believe that God already has everything predestined and set in place, why pray?” They will say that prayer is a fruitless thing and a waste of time if God has already written the end from the beginning.
The answer to that is right here in our text! God says he will answer our prayers. That means that he has ordained our prayers. Our prayers are part of his grand scheme. They are the means by which he works out his divine decree.
This always blows my mind! I don’t fully understand it, and I’m sure I never will. There is as much mystery here as there is with the Trinity or the two natures of Christ. But God has somehow orchestrated things such that you and I play a vital role in the outworking of history.
And really, when we come to grasp this grand concept, the question will no longer be “Why should we pray?” It will be more, “Why am I not praying!?”
Such should certainly move us to prayer!
But, of course, it is not enough just to pray. We need to pray aright. That’s why Jesus directs us as to what we should pray in verses 2-4.
II. What we should pray [2-4]
When it comes to what we should pray, there should be no question. That’s because in verses 1-4 you see that Jesus basically composes a prayer for you.
He says, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”
Now, there are a lot of things that I could say about this passage. I actually thought about having a series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer and developing each petition of the prayer. But I decided against that.
What I want you to notice is that this is what Jesus wants you to pray. He is essentially putting the words in your mouth. The Lord composes a simple prayer—it is only around 40 words in length—so that you can commit it to memory and easily recite it at any time.
It might sound rather silly at first, and you might think that it would be pious to compose your own prayers. And certainly there is a place for that. But I want you to remember that Jesus said, “Pray this. This is what you should pray.”
Throughout Church history the people of God have understood that Jesus wants us to simply recite and repeat these words. Some of you might have grown up in churches where they recited the Lord’s Prayer each Sunday during their service. That used to be one of the most basic components of a church’s service. That fell by the wayside with the seeker sensitive movement a few decades ago. But it used to be a staple among Protestant churches.
I believe that it was Martin Luther who said that you should begin and end each day by reciting the Apostle’s Creed, the 10 commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. That was one of the disciplines he prescribed for his congregation.
One Puritan minister (Lewis Bayly, by name) commended his congregation to pray the Lord’s prayer 5 or 6 times a day. Once when you woke up, once after each meal, and once before you went to bed. That was his way of trying to help his people spend the whole day in prayer.
I don’t know if we need to go to that extreme, but I think the idea is right. We should be praying the prayer that Jesus gave us.
I understand that there is some danger in simply reciting rote prayers. It can be a mindless thing, and considered a vain babbling that simply annoys God. We do not want to be like the Catholics with their Hail Mary’s and their rosary beads.
Yes, we should guard against that. But that should not hinder us from praying as he taught us to pray. I mean, what better thing to pray than that which he wants us to pray? Isn’t he more likely to give us these things?
If you go into a restaurant, what is it they say? Ask for anything on this menu and we will give it to you!
Jesus is saying, “Pray this because I will be glad to give these things to you.” By praying “hallowed be your name” pray for our greater sanctification. When we say, “Your kingdom come” we are petitioning the Lord for the expansion of his church through missions. We seek him for our physical needs when we ask for bread. We seek him for our spiritual needs when we pray for forgiveness and protection against temptation.
This is a monumental prayer! And we shouldn’t shy away from just offering up this prayer as it stands. After all, Christ said, “When you pray, pray this.”
We now know why we should pray and what we should pray, but let us not miss what Jesus says about how we should pray.
III. How we should pray [5-10]
In verses 5-10 Jesus tells us that boldness and persistence are two traits that ought to mark our prayers.
A. With boldness
The boldness with which we should pray is seen in the little story that Jesus tells in verses 5-8. Here is a guy who comes to his friend in the middle of the night and asks for some bread. He’s had some company drop in on him and he hasn’t had a chance to get to the grocery store yet. So he runs over to his friend’s house and starts banging on the door.
Now, you should be thinking, “How rude!” And that is something of what the text says in verse 8. Jesus says, “he will get up and give something to his friend not because he is his friend, but because of his impudence.” The word “impudence” is not one we use a lot. The Greek word is a little more illustrative. The Greek word actually mean not-bashful. In other words, he is bold! He is forward. You can see the guy walking up to the house with determination and noisily banging on the door in order to wake the fellow out of his slumber and coax him out of bed.
That is the way Jesus wants us to approach the Lord. He does not want us to cower or back away. He wants us to come to the Lord with confidence and let nothing hinder us in seeking His favor.
I know that there can be all kinds of reasons why we shirk back in prayer. Our sins are many, and we can say, “We don’t deserve to come to the Lord.” And you are right. We don’t deserve it. But Jesus says, “Come anyway! Your sins are covered by his blood.”
There are other times where we think, “I haven’t spent much time in prayer, and all I do is ask for things. I never really spend any time praising him or thanking him for his gifts.” And so we might shy away from our petitions. And Christ says, “Yes, you should spend more time with adoration and thanksgiving. But come anyway!”
My children know that when the door to my office is shut, they should not bother me because I am working. But that never stops our 2 year old. Sometimes she sneaks away from her sisters and makes her way to the doors. She works it open and starts to head in. My daughters catch her and chase after her, calling to her “Don’t bother Daddy!” That’s when she gets “the face.” She knows that she is going to be pulled away and she gets the look of bursting into a screeching fit.
She will not be stopped. She will not be hindered. She will do anything within her power to get onto daddy’s lap in his office.
That is the same boldness that ought to characterize your prayers
But it is not just boldness that ought to characterize our prayers. Our prayers should also be marked by persistence.
B. With persistence
That’s what verses 9 and 10 are about. It says, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.” The verbs here are actually more clear in the original language. They should be translated, “keep on asking, and it will be given to you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking and the door will be opened.”
The idea is that of a relentless pursuit. Here is what Matthew Henry says,
“Pray; pray often; pray with sincerity and seriousness; pray, and pray again; make conscience of prayer, and be constant in it; make a business of prayer, and be earnest in it. Ask, as a beggar asks alms. Those that would be rich in grace, must betake themselves to the poor trade of begging, and they shall find it a thriving trade.”
That imagery of a beggar that Henry uses is perfect. Isn’t this what a beggar does? When he is desperate, he comes to you and makes his case. When you blow him off that doesn’t deter him, does it? He merely asks again and pleads his case again.
When my wife and I were first married we took a day trip into Chicago. We set off to see the Sears Tower. Of course, we looked like we just stepped out of the sticks by the way we were staring up at all the tall buildings. We were obviously tourists. A panhandler had us tagged right away. He came up to us and said, “You guys are looking for the Sears Tower, aren’t you? It is just up two blocks and to the right. You can’t miss it.” After giving us this handy advice he went on to say, “Now, I work for the city of Chicago. I am commissioned by the mayor to help people. Now, I don’t take any remuneration, but if you would like to make a donation, I would certainly appreciate it.”
We got the picture. He was trying to hustle us. We thanked him for his time and proceeded on our way. However, he stepped in front of us, and made his request again. This happened twice more.
The man was persistent. He would not take no for an answer.
That’s what the Lord wants you to do. Show the Lord that you know that he is the only remedy for your soul! Remind him that he is the only source by which your desires can be achieved.
Do not fear his lack of answer. That should just be all the more reason for you to pray. If there is silence on his end, then there should be none on yours. Let your words be spoken, and—if need be—let them be spoken again.
That is how Jesus wants you to pray. Jesus wants you to be bold and persistent in prayer.
It is said that the Queen of England trembled when John Knox went to his knees in prayer. One time she even exclaimed that she feared Knox's prayers more than an outfitted army.
Why was she so shaken? It was because Knox believed that God worked through prayer. This was no simple assent to a truth. Knox acted on his belief. He would boldly come before the throne of grace like no other, throwing his petitions repeatedly at the Father's feet.
Author Larry Christenson attests to this in his book The Christian Family. As a matter of fact, Christenson almost goes so far as to attribute the whole reformation of Scotland to Knox's prayers. He writes,
"[Knox] prayed with such power that all Scotland was awakened. 'Lord, give me Scotland or I'll die!' he cried. And he prayed with such intensity that the Lord answered."
Our God has indeed incorporated our prayers into his divine plan, and he has laid out a simple prayer outlining the things he is most willing to give. Ought we not then to come to him with that same kind of boldness?
May we pursue our God in prayer in the same manner until he sheds forth the abundance of his blessing unto us.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.