Sermon Transcript — January 14, 2006 A Parable About Persevering in Prayer by Mr. Lyle Welty A number of years ago my associate and I were visiting a woman member who had an antagonistic husband. So we planned it in such a way that we would be there when he was not there. We were planning to see her early in the day and we did not want to antagonize him any further than he already was. So we were pretty much through the visit, we had finished up most of what we wanted to cover, and the front door opened and he came in. And I don't know about my associate, but I was a little nervous about what we were going to encounter. He was not violent. I just didn't know how antagonistic he was. So he came past, walking through the living room where we were sitting, and we said hi. We were hoping that would be disarming to some degree. He didn't acknowledge us. He just looked at us kind of strangely and very cynically and said, "How is the praying going?" Well I thought that might be a good question actually to ask our church. Not cynically. Not as sarcastically as he did. But, how is your praying going? How well do you pray? If you were to rate yourself or grade yourself, what kind of grade would you give yourself? How effective do you feel your prayers are? Do you feel you really know how to pray? And could you teach someone else how to pray? A good place to start would be our children, of course. But who is going to teach people during the millennium and White Throne Judgment how to pray? Someone is going to have to do that. That is going to be one of our toughest, in one sense, but challenging responsibilities. Are you ready for that assignment? Could you begin right now teaching this class "Learning How To Pray 101"? Could you teach it? Throughout the Bible God gives a lot of instruction about prayer. It's fascinating to see bits and pieces, little by little, he teaches how he wants us to address him. God is very concerned that we learn how to pray and pray properly. God is a fabulous teacher and he wants very much for us to learn how to pray, and to pray properly. Because prayer does not come naturally for us. It is not an instinct. It is not something we are born with. It is something we honestly have to learn. To learn to pray effectively is one of the most important and valuable accomplishments we can accomplish in this life. There are many worthwhile things we may set as goals in this life. We may like to travel to many international countries and see the world in that sense. And certainly travel is broadening and it's very instructive and very educational. But that cannot even begin to compare to learning the importance of how to pray effectively. Today we want to look a particular parable Jesus gave, a parable found only in the book of Luke. A parable is a story to teach us a lesson. By telling a story Jesus could turn his disciples ears into eyes so they could see the point he was making, and hopefully remember it as well, because people remember stories. The parable we are examining today teaches some very important points about prayer. It is kind of a humorous story when we look at it, one that is designed to teach us some very important lessons about prayer. It gives us a deeper insight not only into how to pray, but also gives us some interesting insight into the way God thinks, what kind of God he is. Before we turn to the parable we want to set the stage by reviewing the question, why do we pray? Why is it that you and I pray? What is the purpose for prayer? Prayer is talking to God. It is communication. Communication is necessary in any healthy relationship. There has got to be conversation, communication. And God wants what? He wants a relationship with us, his children. He is creating a family. He wants contact. He wants to develop a relationship with us, his children. Prayer is a tool for developing this healthy, strong bond, this connection, this relationship with God. And since prayer is talking to God we perhaps ought to ask another question, why do parents teach children how to talk? And how to talk to them? Why are parents anxious for those kids to learn to talk? And to teach them to talk. Much of it is so there can be this relationship to develop, this close family rapport, this bond between parents and children. We understand that on a physical level. But the same thing is true spiritually, that God wants us to learn to talk. And to talk to him effectively so that relationship, that deep, close, personal relationship can be developed. Because there is a closeness that comes with good communication. There is a feeling of belonging, a feeling of connecting, I think you know what I mean, of interacting and relating with one another in a close and meaningful way. A special relationship in a family is not only enjoyable between parents and children, but parents also use this to teach the children lessons. To direct them so as they mature, as they develop, as they become adults they will know how to learn, how to avoid certain obvious mistakes and be a success in life. In a similar way, God enjoys our company. He enjoys talking, listening to us, and I am sure that he enjoys us reading the Bible and giving him a chance to talk back. But primarily I am talking about our responsibility of learning to talk properly and effectively to him, because it does deepen this very special family relationship that God is developing. Like human parents he wants us to use prayer and communication to teach us how to live and how to prepare us for eternal life, not just adult life. There's one other point we want to consider as sort of a foundational point of prayer before turning to the parable we will cover a little later. Most of us are aware of the fact that there are conditions for prayers to be answered. For example, Jesus said when we are praying and we ask God to forgive us of our sins there is a condition. And that condition is that we also be willing to forgive others who injure and hurt us. There is a condition there. The Bible says, forgive us our sins AS we forgive others. Another condition that Jesus laid down was, he said don't call attention to yourself when you pray. Don't have a motive of trying to impress people. In fact he said when you pray don't be like the hypocrites who love to stand in synagogues and on the street corners to pray so that everybody can see them. So don't do that. There are conditions. When you hear the statement that there are conditions for answered prayer, how does that strike you? What effect does that have? There are conditions in order for our prayers to be heard. Does that discourage you? Does it seem as though God has set up a series of hurdles that we have to successfully jump over before we have our prayers heard, that it is complicated, that he has made it difficult? I hope not. Because I believe when we understand it, those conditions are there to encourage us. They are to encourage us that if we meet the minimal conditions, if we are willing to follow the conditions as they are laid out, then God says I guarantee, I promise you that I will hear you and I will answer you. So they are there basically to educate us, to correct us if we are off the track and put us back on the right track. It should give us confidence that when we meet the minimal conditions, the basic requirements that God lays down, he guarantees we will be heard and our prayers will be answered. We can know for sure that we meet those conditions, and God will certainly help us to meet those conditions. There's no question about it. And when we do that we know for sure that our prayers are not just bouncing off the ceiling, and we are wasting our time and God's time, but we really are making a connection with God. We believe this connection is being made from earth to heaven, that in heaven something actually takes place when we are praying, that God listens, that he sees what our needs are, he looks at our attitude, he looks at our life, and then because a relationship is developing, because he knows and understands us and he does love us he responds in an appropriate way. God will hear and he does answer. In many places in the gospel Jesus taught his disciples bits and pieces here and there, important points about how to pray, and emphasized the importance that if you do this properly, in the right attitude and in the right way, you will be heard. Let's begin by turning to 1 John 3. We'll see one important point here. It is basically a foundational requirement to answered prayer. When we finish this we will cover the parable I mentioned earlier. 1 John 3 should be a familiar scripture to us because it is fundamental to having prayers heard. 1 John 3:22. John wrote to the church and said, Whatever we ask in prayer we receive from Him (and notice the condition) because we keep his commandments and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. God tells us that obedience is a key factor to the subject of prayer. The two are connected. They go hand in hand. If we want God to answer our prayers it is obvious we have to live an obedient life. We cannot casually and carelessly just live a sinning life and expect our prayers to be heard. It doesn't work that way. There is a condition. It doesn't mean of course, and we always need to clarify this, it doesn't mean that God expects us to be perfect. Because no human being is ever perfect except Christ. We all sin. We all have weaknesses that we are working on to overcome. But it is possible to be living a life of very real obedience, and that is what God expects. God wants us to have a right heart, a right attitude, and make a sincere daily effort to live his way of life. God loves people. That is the reason he created us and put us on this earth. He wants a family. He does. He loves people. He hears us when we pour out our hearts to him. He is much more merciful and compassionate than we really even understand. What we need to show him is that we are completely sincere, that we understand our calling, we understand our position, we understand our responsibility, and that we want to be in his family. And to do that we want this relationship started and resumed. From today's sermon I hope it will become obvious that is the direction we are going, and I hope that is an accurate reflection of where we are as individuals, that we sincerely are living a life of obedience to God. Let's turn now to the parable in Luke 11. During the time Jesus taught and trained his disciples he set an example of praying. They saw him go off into areas, have private time and space, and pray. It was an example that impressed his disciples. They never forgot it. Luke 11:1. Now it came to pass that he (Jesus) was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased one of his disciples said to Him, Lord teach us to pray as John also taught his disciples. So the disciples did see Jesus go off regularly to pray privately. It made an impression on them. They realized there is a connection between Him praying and how He lives. There is a correlation there. They wanted to learn how to do that. It made quite a deep impact. Here we see the disciples specifically went to Jesus and said, how do we do this? Can you tell us? Give us some instruction. We don't know how to do this. It wasn't the first time the disciples made this request. The gospels show they did it more than once. So maybe the first time they didn't quite get it. You know sometimes you can hear something explained and you think, yeah, I understand. The next morning you wake up and think, I didn't get it. I lost it. Forgot it. Maybe that was part of it. Maybe part of it was they heard and they tried, but it wasn't working quite the way they expected. And they thought, we need to know more about it. Tell us more. How does this actually work? They needed to learn more about prayer. The disciples knew some things about prayer already. They mentioned the fact that John the Baptist had been teaching his disciples to pray. We don't know exactly what John taught his disciples. But it was enough to pique their interest. And they were curious. They went to the one who could teach them very well how to pray. They went to Christ himself. And we learn from the same person. Because as we read His words in the scriptures, He is teaching us the same thing He taught His original disciples. All of us need to be reminded from time to time, regardless of how long we have been in the church or have God's Spirit. It is important for all of us from time to time to be reviewed and reminded of the basics. To see what we have learned and be refreshed even though we have moved beyond that point to other growth areas. It is important to go back and put what we are learning now into context with what we learned earlier. It's important to understand this subject deeply, especially if we are going to be teaching it. Luke 11:2. He said, when you pray say (what follows we understand is an outline or model for prayer. It is not something we just repeat every day. But it outlines for us the topics to cover and in what order. We are not going to focus on the outline so much today, although we will read it.) Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins. We also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Jesus was training his disciples about how they should pray. So they could later be able to teach other people also how to pray. And Jesus went on to give his disciples some additional instruction, to kind of take them another step from where they were, to move them down the path toward growth and progress and maturity. So He gave them more than just an outline. He also gave them some perspective. Jesus said in effect, there is more to prayer than just knowing what to say. There's more to prayer than just knowing what to pray about in what order. Here is a story, He said, that will teach you more about prayer. And in the process you will learn more about God. This will give us some insight into the way God thinks and the way God responds to people. Jesus was always a step ahead of his disciples. So here He not only taught them HOW to pray, which is so important, but He actually went ahead and answered a question before they asked it, and that question was how can we know that our prayers will be heard and that they will be answered? I mean, isn't that as important to us as knowing how to pray? Knowing how is important, but isn't it equally important to know if I do this and do it properly, am I sure that I am going to be heard? Can I be sure God is going to hear me and respond? Verse 5. Then he said to them, (and this is where the parable begins) which of you shall have a friend and go to him at midnight and say to him, friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has come to me on a journey and I have nothing to set before him. Obviously this was a different time in history. There were no Motel 6's and Wendy's was not open until 1:00 in the morning. It was a very different setting than it is today. So the story basically involves three friends. One friend was a man traveling late at night. He needed a place to stay so he went to a second friend's house. The second friend took him in, happy to have him, but he didn't have sufficient food to feed him. So the man who took the friend in went to a third friend's house. And he said, you know, I am really in trouble here. I'm desperate. I don't have enough food to feed my guest. Will you loan me some bread, some food? Verse 7. And he will answer from within and say, don't trouble me. The door is now shut, my children are in bed with me, I cannot rise and give it to you. Meaning, it's too much trouble. The friend was not at all happy being disturbed at midnight. The man in the story who was awakened at midnight was probably a poor man from the description. The house could very well have been a one-room house. They could have all had one large bed that they slept in. And if he would have gotten up to get the food he would have disturbed the whole family and he was trying to prevent that. He was trying to protect his family. So it was concern for his family, but his friend out there is hurting. So you get the feeling that he didn't mind sharing his bread. That wasn't the point. He wasn't being selfish. The problem was that the request came at such an odd time, such an inconvenient time. Verse 8. So I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is a friend, yet because of his persistence, (that is the key word there), because of his persistence he will rise and give him as much as he needs. This is the part of the story that would make a great comedy skit. Can't you see I Love Lucy or Carol Burnett really using that opportunity to do something really hilarious. The man outside would refuse to take no for an answer. He would not go away. He would not let his friend go back to sleep. He kept knocking on the door. He kept calling out to him. According to "Vines Expository Dictionary" the word importunity or persistence here in verse 8 is a Greek word which means shamelessness. It is a strong word in the Greek, boldly persisting in the face of all that seems reasonable, refusing to take denial. In other words, he was refusing to take no for an answer. He was persistent. So in this parable the knocking and calling out to his friend for bread did not stop. He did not just take no for an answer. You can imagine the looks on these two faces of the two men being very different. The man on the outside is beating the door and being very insistent. The man on the inside is plugging his ears hoping he will go away. Please just go away! Stop making all of this noise! But at this point the man inside realizes, he says the more I think about this if you keep knocking and you keep calling, not only is my family going to be awakened but all of my neighbors. And then I am really going to be in trouble. So, he said the lesser of the two evils is basically for me to get up, get the bread, give it to you, and then will you shut up and go away! So he did that, he got the bread and gave it to his friend, if he still was a friend at that point. The story doesn't tell us, but I wonder. It is very important for us to understand what Jesus was teaching here about God, and about prayer. Because it is easy to misunderstand. It is important we understand that we draw the right lessons, the right points, from this parable. Jesus was not saying that God was like the man in bed. Please don't misunderstand. That annoyed and irritated man was not describing God, who really did not want to get up and get the bread for his friend. Jesus was not saying that we have to nag God, that we have to wear him down with persistence. That's not the point. This parable is not about wearing God down in order to get our way. We will see that as we cover the next few verses. God does not answer our prayers to get rid of us. He doesn't answer them so we shut up, like the man in the story, to get rid of us. God answers our prayers because he loves us. And because he is kind, and generous, and good. There are many scriptures that verify that point. We are not going to take the time today to look at those, but I think that is self-evident. But we need to remember that God is more ready to hear our prayers than we are to pray. That is important for us to understand. God WANTS to hear from us. He never sleeps. And it is impossible to disturb him. In the book of James God is referred to as a giving God. Giving is one of God's delights, and He never gives reluctantly. He is glad to help us. It is His nature to help provide our needs. That comes as natural for Him as us loving our children and wanting to give them good things. He is a true friend, a faithful friend, who will never let us down and never fail us. So one point Jesus was making in this parable is this. If someone who doesn't want to help us eventually will respond and give us what we need, how much more should we expect God to respond favorably when we come to him and pray? That was one of the main points. But I wonder, brethren, if you and I ever get things out of perspective. Does it always feel like that when we are having a difficult time? Or do our feelings direct us in a different direction? Do you ever lose perspective and feel like maybe God isn't listening, and God doesn't care? It's easy to do that. So it's good for us to rehearse from time to time what a privilege it is to know what God is really like. And this parable gives us some keen insights. Hopefully you are still there in Luke 11 with your Bible. We will continue in verse 9 where Jesus added some important teaching in follow up to this parable. Verse 9. So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened to you. As we have explained so many times in the past, a better translation of that verse really is this. Ask and keep on asking. Knock and keep on knocking. Seek and keep on seeking. In other words, be persistent. Don't give up even when it feels like and seems like God is not answering. Keep at it. Don't give up. We like to hear other people say, hey, if you need help give me a call. And we know they mean it. And we say, great, if I need help, I'll give you a call. But here God is saying, if you need help just ask. No problem. If you need help, just ask. In fact, keep on asking. How much more encouragement could we have from God than that, when he is saying, the door is always open. My line is never busy. You call any time. Anything you need you call and ask. In fact, you keep on asking. Just keep asking. Be persistent. We understand persistence, persistent asking, on a human level. Many years ago when our son was a teenager he worked a couple of years in high school at a restaurant after school. And that particular restaurant I suppose is typical of many restaurants. At the end of the day they take up the rubber mats that are on the kitchen floor and they scrub the floor. Because a lot of grease is spilled and these rubber mats protect the feet so they don't slip on the slippery floor. Well he was out in the main restaurant area bringing in dishes, doing whatever it was, and they had removed the rubber mats from the kitchen floor and he didn't realize it. So he came in expecting them to be there and slipped right on the greasy floor, fell on his face, broke his jaw, and broke a tooth off. A bad day. Well we did all the medical things, the oral surgery, and he had his jaw wired shut for a period of time. And we filed a claim with Worker's Comp. Filled out all the paperwork, dutifully sent all the material that they needed, and we waited. Nothing happened. So we called. Did you get it? Yes, we did. Is it a legitimate claim? Yes, it is. Has it been approved? Yes, it has. Will there be a check? Yes. We waited some more. No check. Called again. Case number. Called on such and such a date. I checked with so and so. Are you folks still alive? Are things still going there? How are we doing? Oh yes, legitimate claim. Check will be to you. We waited, and we waited. Made numerous calls, nothing happened. So one day when I was going to Columbus anyway I stopped in to the Worker's Comp office, face to face, had all my paperwork, walked in. Tried to be Christian, tried to be kind about it. It was a challenge. I said, can you tell me where we are with this case? It started way back here. And here we are now chronologically. How are we doing? Are we still on the same page, the same planet? Where are things? And they said, oh yes, sure, fine, no problem. I said, could I speak to a supervisor? So I spoke to a supervisor and she assured me that there had been some reorganization in the department and some changes had been made, and as a result the whole process had been slowed down but a check would be coming. And very shortly thereafter a check came. But I had to be persistent. On a human level I had to call, and call, and call. I am not trying to compare God to Worker's Comp. Please don't misunderstand. But humanly I think you can see the point that even physically how many calls does it take to get one transaction changed? Calls, numerous calls. It doesn't seem like one call does it any more. So on the human level we have learned to be persistent. And we have learned to take it in stride. We say, sure, that's the way people are. Without realizing that God also asks us very directly and very concisely, he doesn't try to conceal it, he is right up front, and He says be persistent. Keep asking. Keep seeking. Keep knocking. He tells us that. God expects us to do the same thing in dealing with Him. But if we don't understand that we can get frustrated and feel like God doesn't care, Like He doesn't really hear us or want to help us. Continuing here in Luke 11: 9 Jesus here gives us three promises. He said, when you ask keep on asking. The promise is it will be given to you. He goes on to say, when you seek and keep on seeking the promise is, you will find . When you knock and keep on knocking, the promise is, it will be opened to you. This is pretty incredible when you look at it. Amazing promises for God's people, because in essence He is saying what? He is saying no prayer will go unheard or unanswered. No prayer will go unheard or unanswered. Maybe Jesus knew that some people would think, well that works for some people, applies to some people, but God is not talking about me. So He went on to repeat these three promises for emphasis. And he says in verse 10, notice verse 10, because this is a very important verse. He says, for everyone (it doesn't say everyone except you) for everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds. The point is, everyone who seeks finds, and basically he is saying everyone who knocks, it will be opened to you. We will stop there for a minute to be sure we don't misunderstand what is being said. Because in the parable the man specifically asked for three loaves of bread, and he persisted and persisted, and what did he get? He got three loaves of bread. We don't want to try to conclude from this parable that shows us that we get everything exactly the way we ask for it. That's not a part of the parable. He is promising we will get an answer, absolutely, but He is not promising exactly what that answer will be. That would be taking the parable further that its intent. What He is promising is that we will be heard, and that we will receive an answer. God will listen intently to every prayer, and every prayer will receive an answer from God. In verse 10 God promises we will receive an answer, we will find an answer, that an answer will be opened up to us. And although there is no promise it will always come right away, God says keep praying, I love hearing from you, I will always answer your prayers. I want to hear from you. I will always answer and it will be in a loving, wise, and appropriate way and in a perfect time. The answer God gives might be a yes. And very often it is yes. Or as we saw on this parable, it might be yes, but not right now. You have got to persist. A little later it will come. Keep on asking. God is perfect in his timing. There is a right time for everything, God says. For example, when we pray every day and we pray, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, what is God's answer to that prayer? God says yes, it is coming, but not right now. It will be there, but not right now. But keep on asking, and keep on doing your part. And we know the time is coming when God's kingdom will come to this earth. In regard to waiting, we need to remember that God is the Father and we are the children, regardless of our age. Around the time of the last presidential election I heard something that was kind of interesting on a morning TV news program I think it was. Little kids were being asked, these were second and third graders, what would you do if you were President? Obviously hard news here, topics that we need to have answers to. What would you do if you were President? One of the kids said, I would let kids drive cars, and kids would rule the world. Now that boy may have been sincerely believing that was a good idea. But any of us who are a little older than second and third grade realize that is not a good idea. That 16 sometimes is even a little young for some drivers, let alone 8 or 9. And to be a world leader needs a little more time and experience. What if, though, suppose you had a 5-year-old sweet, darling child, and the child heard this conversation at breakfast. The parents were saying, if we just had one more driver we could accomplish this, we could do that, pick up the kids, drop off the dry cleaning, etc., etc. And suppose this darling 5-year-old child said, "I'll do it. Just give me the keys and I'll do it." And maybe the child sincerely thought this is one way I can help the family. It might seem like a great idea from a kid's point of view, but every responsible parent would say, thanks, but no thanks. You need a little more time. But in the meantime I've got some great ideas for you. We have some great things for you to be involved with. And as you mature more responsibility will come. But driving, not yet. Yes, but not right now. Later. That's an obvious illustration. I don't think any of us would argue with that. But how easy for us is it to apply that principle when we go to God and ask him for something and he says yes, but not right now. Keep asking. Be persistent. It is easy for us at that point to get frustrated. To feel like God doesn't care. A third answer that God might give us is no. No is just as much an answer as yes. But when God says no it is not a cold no. His response is no, because I have your best interest at heart, and I know something else is even better for you. It is an answer, but the answer is no, I have something better in mind. The apostle Paul gave an example from his very own life, where God answered his prayer by saying no, but I have something better in mind for you. We won't turn to 2 Corinthians 12 but three times Paul went to God and he persisted and pleaded with God to end this severe trial, to take this problem away, to resolve it. We know from Paul's writings that he could be quite vocal and go through detail and argue. He probably had a wonderful argument that he could give to God all the reasons why just removing this obstacle would make him so much more effective. And three times Paul went to God and laid out his argument. And probably every one was better than the former argument. But God's response to Paul was no. My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in weakness. No, He said, I have something better for you in mind. God's grace and God helping him through the trial was a better gift to Paul than removing the trial. Paul had to be pretty mature to understand that and to accept it. We just can't forget that God is the parent in this relationship and we are the children. He knows our needs much better than we do. If we look at our 5-year-old or 10-year-old we realize, love them and it's interesting to see the requests they make, but we know what is really best for them in the long term. God loves us more than we can understand. He loves to hear our prayers. He delights in answering our prayers. But sometimes our prayers are answered in a way that is different than we expect. But we know from the scriptures that it is always for our best. Like we heard in the sermonette, God knows what is best for us. He has a plan for us to bring us into His family, and He knows what is good for us along that path and what isn't. He knows what is truly good for us. You know, the man knocking on the door in this parable asked and got what he needed. When we knock on God's door, so to speak, when we are asking God for something He always gives us what He knows is best for us. And really the question there is, do we really believe it? Can we accept it, be comfortable with it? Do we have complete confidence that God knows what He is doing? It sounds awful to say that doesn't it? But isn't that really the question we are asking? The issue we are struggling with, can I trust God to know what He is doing? When we put it that cold and calculated it helps us realize, whoa, my thinking is wrong, because I can trust God. My point is we should grow to the place where we can completely trust God with the answer to every prayer, knowing that God is loving and kind, that He is wise, that He never makes mistakes, that He is never late. Can we really say as we pray, not my will but your will be done. Next in this parable Jesus used some logic with his disciples. He asked them to draw on their experience of what it is like to have a human physical father in order for them to understand the way God answers prayers. God created us to have strong family relationships, a close bond between parents and children. That is normal. That is healthy. That is desirable. Most parents would even die for their children because they love them so much. That is wonderful. Notice verse 11. Jesus said, stop and think fellows, if a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Kind of an odd question, isn't it? Would any normal father pull a dirty trick like that on his hungry son or daughter? Verse 12. Or if he asks for an egg, would he offer him a scorpion? The answer is obviously no. No normal, healthy human father would do that to his child. Verse 13. If you then being evil, in other words we all still have plenty of human nature, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. Notice how much more, it is showing that God's answer to us is much better for us than human gifts we can give our children. We can put confidence in the fact that God, just like a human father who loves his children, is always going to do good things and give good gifts. Jesus is saying that is how God views us, that is how God responds to our prayers. Here in verse 13 it says God gives his Holy Spirit to those who ask him. In Matthew's account of seeking and knocking, it says God will give good things to those who ask him. So it is referring to answers to prayers for both physical needs and spiritual needs. Both are going to come to us that are good for us. Both are included. And as we mature spiritually we realize that the spiritual things God gives us are even more important than the physical things God gives us. Things like the Holy Spirit. Things like forgiveness, or wisdom. But we want to notice another thing about this parable we read today. The man who did the asking, seeking and knocking for three loaves of bread, was he asking for the bread for himself or for somebody else? He was concerned about somebody else's needs, this visiting friend who was hungry. We don't want to read too much into any parable, but it is safe to say that much of our asking, seeking, and knocking ought to be done for the needs and concerns for other people, not just personal needs. To reinforce that point, when we look at the Lord's prayer, the example prayer, we see the same principle being made. Because it says, among other requests, give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins. So our prayers should include asking for the needs and requests of others, being as fervent and as diligent in asking for those, as persistent, as we do for our own needs. Why did Jesus give his disciples and us by extension this parable about praying? Well, for one thing I believe he wanted to teach us some things about the God we pray to. He wanted to give us confidence in prayer. At times it can be a challenge to find the time and to discipline ourselves to pray. But prayer is not to be just a ritual or a meaningless exercise. We can be much more motivated to pray when we realize that God first of all welcomes our prayers. He wants to hear from us, just like parents want to hear from their children. He wants the interaction. He wants the contact. He wants to listen to us. He wants there to be this relationship developed. He is ready to help us any time. He delights in hearing our prayers, delights in answering them. That in itself should give us tremendous peace of mind and motivation, maybe even inspiration, to pray. As a suggestion we know the book of Philippians tells us to never worry about anything but in every situation let God know what you need in prayer and requests while giving thanks, Paul said. Here is a suggestion for us on how to do this. As we begin to pray it would be good if we can ask God and thank God that he is pleased to hear our prayers. Acknowledge the fact that I am delighted that you want to hear my needs and my concerns. And then after we have asked God for our needs, to thank him for his perfect answer, that I know you, I know from your word and I know from your record and your reputation and your character that you will do the very best thing. You never make a mistake. A second lesson we can draw from this is that Christ wanted to teach us the right kind of boldness and confidence and persistence…that word again, persistence on our part. We are expected to keep praying even when it seems we are not getting an answer. The answer will come. In the meantime our job is to keep on praying, keep on asking. Sometimes we don't have to persist. There are some times we make a request and we get the answer right away. A couple of winters ago I was driving from Cleveland to Youngstown and I was about to enter the toll road. I was in a hurry, as I seem to always be, and I was driving too fast. It was snowing but the road seemed pretty clear overall. I came through the tollbooth and picked up my ticket and I was going down the on ramp. It looked pretty clear but as I got about half way down something odd happened. The car started going in circles on this ice and it was headed toward the guard rail. I just instantly prayed and asked God for help. And instantly the car stopped. It stopped perfectly still. I was able to turn it around and get going the right direction, and went down the road much slower this time than before. But the answer came instantly. And I am sure you have had experiences like that too, the type of thing you never forget. Every time I made that entrance onto that ramp I have thought of that experience. Every single time I went that direction. You never forget those things. I am sure many of you have had similar experiences. Those things are inspiring, encouraging. Often prayers are answered quickly. But by the fact that Christ gave this parable it is obvious that not every prayer is going to be answered instantly. Why would he say persist if there was never a time we need to persist? He is telling us, sure, some answers come quickly. Other answers don't. Sometimes you are going to have to persist. You are going to have to keep at it; maybe for days, or for weeks, or months, or years until the answer finally comes. I think it would be accurate to conclude that we really don't know how to pray effectively until we have learned how to be persistent in prayer, because that is one ingredient of prayer that is so important for us to understand and to apply. In some of our minds that may seem like a contradiction. Why would God say that he is eager to answer our prayers, that he will answer every one, but on the other hand he says you have to persist, keep asking, seeking, and knocking. It is as though we have to persuade him or convince him of the need. Stop and think for a minute. An important part of prayer is what? Building a relationship with God. It is not a Santa Claus list of what I want. We are building a relationship with God. How does that work? Well, for one thing persistence is a big part. It tests and strengthens our resolve, our patience, our faith. If God immediately answered every prayer every time, there would be a measure of faith built, but what would be the quality and the depth of that faith? It would be pretty weak. We would easily get discouraged. But each time we pray, without getting an answer immediately, we have a choice. Will we keep believing and keep praying, or will we just decide that God isn't interested and doesn't care and give up? God sees whether we really believe his word or whether we don't. He sees how serious we are. He sees how deep our relationship is. Whether it is just superficial to get what we want, or whether it is deep enough to realize there is a relationship that is being built here that is more than just getting my needs. It is fundamental that a relationship is established and strengthened. Let's use an example. Suppose a person loses his job because he refuses to work on the Sabbath. Let's say he prays after he loses his job. He prays for a day, nothing happens. He prays for a week, nothing happens. So he concludes, God is not hearing me. Prayer doesn't work. I guess I'll have to take a job working on the Sabbath because God didn't provide me with a job where I got the Sabbath off. What is that telling God about the depth of our relationship, the depth of our understanding? But the same person went through a similar experience and his response was that he prayed and kept on praying and persisted in prayer and didn't give up. And he waited and waited until God did provide a job where he had the Sabbath off. Think how much deeper that relationship would be between the individual and God than the person who gave up after two weeks and just took a job working on the Sabbath. Notice how much God would learn about us during that period of time. The scriptures talk so much about how God reads the heart, looks at the heart. You see, there is a lot going on that we don't see when we have to persist in prayer. There is a lot going on behind the scene of God learning, watching, observing, learning about us, a lot going on there. It is building a strong, healthy relationship between God and us that is preparing us for eternal life. And that persisting is part of God's program for training his family. It is an important ingredient. Another benefit that comes from understanding and applying this parable is that it gives us a tangible and effective tool for fighting discouragement. You ever get discouraged? I think all of us have at one time or another. We know what it is like. It feels like we are trapped in a maze where there is no way out. It seems gloomy and gray. We feel hopeless in certain areas of our lives. When we pray about something important, either our needs or someone else's needs, and nothing changes, no solution comes quickly, in fact, maybe they even get worse, what happens in our minds when that takes place? I doubt that any of us say, well, I asked for bread and I got a stone. I doubt we say, I asked God for a fish and he gave me a snake. I doubt we say, I asked God for an egg and he gave me a scorpion. No, we usually go silent. We go inward. We get discouraged. We feel like life isn't working, prayer isn't working, nothing is working. It is never going to get better. It is a very natural human reaction. I think we all experience that from time to time. But if we keep praying and remembering that God not only hears our prayers, but here the king of the universe has a heart that is moved by our prayers, that he listens intently, that he cares that much that he is actually moved by what we say, that he is moved with kindness, he is moved with love and tenderness, and not only is he moved but he promises that when the time is right he will give us a good answer to our requests. He will break open the door and sunshine will come into our lives. The maze will be over. This parable can give us a whole different perspective on life, a real true and accurate perspective. It can give us help to fight discouragement. I realize it is a short parable. But it is one full of encouragement and full of teaching for us. God is teaching us what he is like. We see a glimpse of him and a side of him that we don't always recognize, we don't always realize. We see how to pray, the importance of persistence. We see how to communicate to God on his level, the way he is comfortable, the way he wants us to respond. We learn to live like God lives. So I hope brethren we can understand how God responds to us, how he answers our prayers. Let's draw from this parable all that we can to apply to our lives the simple parable of the importuning or persistent friend.
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