How Do We Pray?
When one of the disciples asks Jesus to teach them how to pray Jesus answers by teaching them the Lord’s Prayer. But then Jesus continues teaching them more about how to prayer through a story.
Here is His story or parable about prayer. “Suppose one of you has a friend who goes to his neighbor at midnight and says, ‘Neighbor lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey just dropped in and I have nothing to serve him for dinner.’ Then the neighbor inside the house answers, ‘Don’t bother me. My door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’” (Luke 11:5-7)
Jesus seems to be teaching here that prayer often occurs because of a sense of need. In this story the neighbor would probably have never gone over to his friend’s home in the middle of the night to borrow food if he was hungry. But the need seemed so much greater when his traveling friend needed dinner and he had nothing to give. In ancient times it was very important be hospitable to a traveler. How many times do we pray and ask for help or strength or money when we have nothing to give and someone in our care is in need?
Even though the man’s neighbor insisted that he would not get out of bed and unbolt his door the man who wanted the bread didn’t listen to his excuses. He just kept pounding on the door and begging and crying about how hungry his friend was after his long journey. Jesus continues with the story. “I tell you, even though the neighbor will not get up out of bed and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the friend’s boldness and persistence his neighbor finally got up out of bed and gave him as much as he needed.” (Luke 11:8)
What is Jesus trying to teach us in this story? Is He teaching us that God is a reluctant God who must be wheedled out of things? Or is He asking us to be bold and come to God and ask for what we need and pound on the door and know that if a reluctant neighbor would finally answer that of course God will answer?
Jesus doesn’t stop teaching about prayer with this story. He continues with these instructions on how we should pray. Jesus says: “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 and he who seeks finds: and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11: 9-10)
Jesus’ words sound too good to be true. He continues his teaching with more insights and truths. Jesus wants us to trust our heavenly Father. So He tells us: “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? (Luke 11:11-12)
Jesus is saying that God does not hold out false hopes in prayer: You as an earthly father would not do that and of course neither will your heavenly Father. God, our heavenly Father means what He says. He holds out His hands to us inviting us to ask and receive.
But we are still not sure. We remember so many times when we have prayed for something and God didn’t give it. Or perhaps we didn’t receive it? Just last month we prayed over and over again that our sick dog would get well. Our vet did everything he could but our beloved dog died, leaving a big hole in our hearts. So what does this mean? Did God not answer our prayers? Or did God answer with a “no” because He sees the beginning from the end and knows what is best?
The apostle Paul had a physical problem – a thorn in his flesh. Whether this was a real thorn or his “thorn”: represented some physical problem, we don’t know. But we know that Paul either had a real thorn or a pain or illness that he had to live with- that God did not remove or heal. Scripture says that Paul prayed three times asking God to remove this painful thorn and God did not remove it. His answer was “no”.
God answered by saying this to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor.12:9) In the past God had revealed great revelations and visions to Paul and the Holy Spirit was moving with great power through Paul’s ministry. Perhaps Paul would have become proud and arrogant if he had not had this physical problem to keep him humble. God knew best.
The Bible tells us that God answers our prayers and gives us what we ask for if it is in His will. And God’s will is always good and loving. Here is one of the many Scriptures that speak to this. “And this is the confidence we have in Him that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (1 John 5:14) Aren’t you glad that God has to approve what you and I ask for? He doesn’t just give us a blank check but He tells us to ask and He will co-sign.
We may ask for things that would not work together for good for reasons we can not understand at this time. God promises to give his followers what will work together for good for them. (Romans 8:28) We can learn to trust the providence of God since He is all knowing and all seeing and all loving. Since our walk is a walk of faith, trusting the providence of God is one more way that we can learn to trust God.
Scripture says: “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord.” (James 1:6-8)
We are told to ask in faith. God’s gifts are given on the basis of faith and not unbelief. The problem is what do we do after we pray and ask? We have faith that God will answer since God is faithful. God loves to give His children good gifts. When we ask, we take it for granted that He will answer because He promises that He will. God loves to be trusted and faith lays hold of what He gives. Jesus says: “Ask and it shall be given.” Thank God and move out on it, trusting that God is answering.
Scripture tells us that we are God’s children because we have been “born again” when we believed in Jesus as Savior. (John 3:16) We can not come into God’s presence on our own since we are sinners and God is holy. But we can come to God through Jesus Christ because in Christ we are cleansed from all our sins. So when we come to the Father God we come in the Name of Jesus and when we pray to God we pray in the Name of Jesus. All of God’s promises to us are through Christ.
When Jesus said “Seek and you shall find” it would seem that there might be an element of time involved in the seeking. Prayer is not just asking but it can be seeking and knocking too. Seeking or searching is a process, a series of acts. Something may be lost and we search for it. We pray for insight, for understanding, and for help. We may have to search or knock for a long time before we find, or wait for years before we receive. Abraham and Sarah waited almost seventy years for the son God had promised them to be born. In our modern generation we want to get what we ask for instantly. But often we have to wait awhile for God’s answer to be fulfilled. We, like Abraham, need to keep trusting while we are waiting.
It takes power to live a Christian life. And God gives us this power by giving us the Holy Spirit when we believe in Jesus as our Savior. We can open our lives to the Holy Spirit or we can shut Him out and try to run our own lives. The Holy Spirit will be a river of life flowing out of us if we keep asking and believing that He is there working through us. And if we don’t keep trusting God that mighty river can slow down and be a tiny stream in our lives. Trusting God keeps the door open.
Our heavenly Father is here beside us with His hands outstretched towards us inviting us to believe and ask and seek and knock. He is asking us to stand on His promises. Promising us that if we ask in His will even the most difficult problems will be taken care of. And promising us that in the end there will be victory for things we have almost given up on if we believe His promises. Scripture says: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are all “Yes” in Christ. And so through Him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” (2 Cor. 1:20).
God’s promises to us are all “Yes” in Christ! And we are to say “Amen” to (or to trust in) all of God’s promises!
Some of these ideas are taken from Ray C. Stedman’s article,” Prayer’s Certainties”.