Summary: Some of Jesus’ teaching on Prayer

“Jesus on Prayer - Part 2” - Luke 11:5-13

Gladstone Baptist Church - 1/10/06 am

S1 The Problem of No Answers - OOPS

Elie Wiesel was a survivor of the dreaded Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. He wrote of his experiences in the book “The Night”. In that book he relates the harrowing story of two Jewish men and a Jewish boy hanged alongside one another. Having mounted the stairs the two adults cried, "long live liberty", but the boy was silent. Behind Wiesel someone desperately asked "Where is God" Where is He?" The chairs the victims were standing on were kicked out from under them and the three hung there. The adults died quickly, but the boy’s weight wasn’t great enough to snap his neck immediately. For more than half an hour he hung there, dying in slow agony before their eyes. Again Wiesel heard the question "Where is God now?" And standing there Wiesel heard a voice within himself answer: "Where is he? Here he is. He is hanging here on this gallows."

When Wiesel said it was God hanging on the gallows he indicated the death of his faith. Faith in God died with that hanging child.

Why wasn’t God there doing something about that situation. Theirs was a cry for help, but God was silent. He didn’t answer their prayers for deliverance.

What does it feel like to pray and not get an answer?

S2 - What is God really like - When you don’t see answers, he seems like a distant and uninterested God - UGH

Unanswered prayer is a real problem for us isn’t it, because our theology says that God is a good God who wants to give us all good things. But the problem of God’s silence paints another picture of God.

When we cry out to God and hear nothing - What is the picture of God we have in our mind? When we ask God with conviction and in desperation, but receive no answer - what does this tell us about God?

Some of us begin to see him as a God who is still great and majestic but who is unapproachable. He is like the Queen of England - unapproachable. You can’t ring her for a casual chat or drop in for a cup of tea. She is protected. She is locked away in her palace. She is so far above us that we will never hope to have access to her throne room.

Is this the sort of God you picture? A transcendent God who is locked away in his heaven. Too busy with the important things of this universe to care about you. Distant, uninterested, distracted, uncaring.

That is what we imagine God to be like when our prayers aren’t answered. But is that really what God is like? Could there be another explanation?

Last week we had a look at the Lord’s prayer. The disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray and Jesus gave the disciples a model prayer to guide them in their praying. He didn’t give them a magic formula or a creed to mindlessly repeat, but a model of prayer. We talked about the meanings behind the various phrases of the Lords prayer and found that it was really a prayer where we

Respond to God in the proper way as a father yet a God who is transcendant and holy

Recognise who God is - a holy God who deserves our honour, reverence and respect

Surrender our lives to God and

Commit to serve God however he asks in order to expand his kingdom.

Rely on God for our day to day needs

Ask for forgiveness and the power to forgive others

Seek to Stand firm in the face of evil and temptation.

A great model to direct our prayers, but once Jesus gave the disciples this model, he told them a parable.

If you have your bibles there, open them up to Luke 11

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“¡¥Father,hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.

3 Give us each day our daily bread.

4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”

5 Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ¡¥Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’

7 “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.’ 8 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.

9 “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. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 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!”

S3 - But God is not like that - God will answer because his nature is love and kindness - vs5-8 - AHA

When we read this in our modern translations, on first glance, the parable in vs 5-8 seems to be all about persistence in praying. The story goes this way - an unexpected visitor turns up on your doorstep and you have nothing to feed him. You go to your neighbour to borrow some bread, but he is in bed and tells you that he is not going to get up. But you don’t give up, you are persistent and keep knocking and asking until you wear him down and he gives you bread. You got what you ask because of your persistence.

The obvious implication in this is that God is just like this stubborn neighbour - more concerned about his own comfort and not disturbing his household than about your needs. It implies that God isn’t really interested in helping you out. Notice that this has nothing to do about waiting patiently for an answer, because the neighbour (God) gave an answer to the request for bread immediately - the answer was “no - go away”. As typically interpreted, this parable is all about getting God to do what you want by being persistent. If you are only persistent enough, you can get God to change his mind.

Does this ring any alarm bells in your mind? Can you manipulate God? - No. Is God uncaring of your needs? - No. Does God sleep? - No.

Too many people have mistakenly taken this parable as being an picture of God instead of a contrast to God. To really understand this parable, you have to understand the oriental culture of the day and the interpretation of one key word that most of our translations translate “persistence” - but Kenneth Bailey, an expert in Middle Eastern culture argues that this is a wrong interpretation of this word as we’ll see soon..

In the original Greek, this parable is asked as a rhetorical question. Jesus literally asks “Can any one of you imagine having a friend and going to him at midnight in search of some bread and have him refuse you?” The answer would have been a emphatic No. None of the hearers could have imagined a friend ever refusing to get up and give bread - even if it was midnight, even if the door was locked, even if your children were asleep - they would never have been acceptable excuses. Why? Because one of the sacred duties you had in that society was to be hospitable to others. Being a good host was a thing of honour and it wasn’t just an individual’s responsibility, but a communal responsibility. A typical greeting used for visitors was “You have honoured our village with your visit.” The focus was always on the communal not the individual. Therefore, the neighbour had a duty to get up and provide help. To refuse would have been unthinkable provided the request was reasonable and here it was reasonable - it was for 3 loaves of bread ... It was definitely reasonable.

There were 2 types of bread found in Palestine at this time - there was the large flat bread about 2 feet across and then there was another kind that was rounded - like our modern day cob. One loaf would have been more than sufficient to feed one person, but the host asks for 3 loaves from his neighbour. In that culture, it is would be an insult for a host to offer anything other than a full loaf of bread to a visitor. Offering more than what would be required was also a sign of courtesy for your visitor - thus the reason for 3 loaves instead of just one.

It was apparent that the host had used up most of his bread and probably only had scraps left. Palestinian households didn’t bake every day - they would often bake enough bread to last them for a week or more. The task of baking was a communal activity - often done in a communal oven. All the women of the village helped each other in this task and so they would all know who had recently done some baking and who had some bread to offer an unexpected visitor.

The bread asked for was not the meal itself. They weren’t going to have sandwiches. The bread was the humblest part of the meal. When they ate a meal, people would be given a loaf of bread and sit around in a circle. In the middle would be the meat dish or other dish. You would break off a piece of bread, dip it in the dish and then eat it. A few loaves of bread were not an unreasonable request to make and so the neighbour would have been obliged to get up.

Jesus, however, relates the absurd situation where a neighbour refused to get up. His excuses were Weak - he was in bed, the door was locked and the family asleep. It was a rather unusual hour to be making such a request - granted. While people in the deserts travelled at night to escape the heat, in Palestine and Lebanon, the highlands with cool coastal breezes meant that daytime travel was the norm. It was very unexpected for a visitor to arrive at midnight, but the hour didn’t give an excuse not to show hospitality. His other 2 excuses were not valid either. The door bolt wouldn’t have been a huge drama in a Palestine peasant’s home. We know he was a peasant because the whole family were in one bed. And with regards waking his family - well they would have gone back to sleep eventually. So it would not have been a big issue.

The point is, that Jesus asked the question “Can you imagine this scenario?” He asked the question in order to get the people to say no. The neighbour would never refuse to answer a cry for help because to do so would be shameful. And this is the proper interpretation of the word where many translations have used “persistent.”

The Greek word here is ƒÑƒÞƒÑƒÙƒÔƒÕƒÙƒÑ and is made up of 2 words - ƒÑƒÞ which means “not” or “without” and ƒÑƒÙƒÔƒÕƒÙƒÑ which means “modesty” or “respect” In all of Greek literature of the same era, this word ƒÑƒÞƒÑƒÙƒÔƒÕƒÙƒÑ means to be “shameless” - without modesty or avoiding shame. It has nothing to do with being persistent at all. Besides this evidence from other sources, in its context here in this passage, it makes more sense that it be applied to the neighbour, not the host.

So Verse 8 should read ...

I tell you, though he [the neighbour] will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, but because he wants to avoid shame, he will get up and give him whatever he wants.

The New Living Translation puts it this way ...

But I tell you this-though he won’t do it as a friend, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you what you want so his reputation won’t be damaged.

If this neighbour didn’t help out in this, he would have failed to fulfil his duty and would have been disgraced. Jesus’ audience would expect nothing less of the neighbour because that would be the only honourable thing to do.

The logical interpretation for us then is that God is a God who is honourable. Just as you could never imaging a neighbour acting in such a dishonourable way, God could never act in this way either. He would never dream of refusing to answer us because he is preoccupied or because he has more important things to do. God wants to hear our prayers and he will answer our prayers. He is not some unapproachable, uninterested God.

S4 - But God is not like that - He is a perfect heavenly father who is so much better than earthly fathers - vs11-13 - AHA

Jesus reinforces this message even further in vs 11-13. By again asking another set of rhetorical questions which comparing God to a father.

11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 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!”

Again, the answer to these questions is an emphatic NO. No father would give their child a snake instead of a fish or a scorpion instead of an egg. Some manuscripts have a third example ... a father who gives a stone instead of bread. Our earthly fathers, even though they are sinful and evil know how to give good things to their children. If that is the case, how much more will God in heaven - our perfect heavenly father - give us good things (one of them being the Holy Spirit).

God is not an unapproachable, uninterested and cruel God. He is a God who wants to give us good things and he has already done so by giving us the Holy Spirit .

S5 - God promises we will receive, find and have doors opened. - vs9-10 - WHEE

In fact Jesus portrays God as a God who will give. In light of all that he has said about prayer, he says in Vs 9-10

9 “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. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus encourages us to ask, seek and knock, because God is a God who loves to give, reveal and answer.

We can have confidence when we pray that God will answer, because Jesus has said that he will. He is not an unapproachable, uninterested, cruel God. He is a God who longs to answer.

“That’s nice in theory” you say, “but it doesn’t work - God hasn’t given me what I have asked for.”

S6 - The Key is to pray according to the model he gave us - YEAH

You are right. This isn’t a blanket promise that allows me to somehow name what I want and miraculously get it. We have to remember that these words are spoken in the context of Jesus’ previous teaching on the Lord’s prayer.

He had just taught his disciples what to pray and now he says - “ask for those things and you’ll receive them. Follow my model and you will see results.” What are the things we need to be praying for?

„X That the world would Recognise who God is - a holy God who deserves our honour, reverence and respect “That his name be hallowed”

„X That his kingdom would be established and his will be done in our hearts and in every corner of this world. - your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

„X That he would provide for our daily needs. - Give us today our daily bread

„X That we would be forgiven and have his power to forgive others. - Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors

„X Seek to Stand firm in the face of evil and temptation - And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

These are the things that we need to be praying for. These are the things we can be confident that he will answer.

But what about other things? Well, He does promise to answer us, but the answer might not be the answer we want.

Sometimes we don’t get what we want because it is not good for us. God is in heaven, he does want the very best for us and more than that, he knows what is best for us. So sometimes, he won’t give us what we want, because that is not the best thing for his purposes. Bill Hybels has said that

- when the request is wrong, God says “no.”

A carriage was once being driven along the road. The mother sat on the front seat and the maid, caring for the spoiled baby, on the back seat. The child began screaming for something. The mother impatiently said, "Why don’t you let him have what he wants?"

The nurse let him have it. And the next moment he started screaming blue murder. You see what he wanted was a wasp and you all know what happened when he got his hands on it. Well, the mother then called out to ask, "What is the matter with him now?" The maid quietly replied, "He got what he wanted."

Some times God loves us too much to give us what we want.

- when the timing is wrong, God says “slow”

- If we are wrong, God says “grow”

- But if the request is right, the timing is right and you are right, God says, “Go”

When Jesus prayed that God would save him from death. God answered that prayer and said - No. Jesus didn’t get the salvation he wanted, instead he got the salvation the world needed. God’s plan was best and Jesus was willing to do what it took to accomplish it.

So what have we learnt from Jesus about prayer... We’ve learnt that Jesus has given us a model of prayer. It is not a magic formula, but a pattern we can apply.

We have learnt also that God is interested in our prayers and wants to hear them. He’s not some distant and distracted diety who has no time for you.

We’ve also learnt that God will answer our prayer. Don’t be deceived by Satan. God does answer prayer. He is far better than a neighbour who helps you out of a sense of duty or honour. He is far more generous than a Father who seeks to give you good gifts. He loves you and cares for you. He has already given you his Spirit who lives in you.

Therefore, We can be confident when we pray. We can ask according to his will and we will receive. We can seek according to his purposes and we will find. We can Knock on doors which he directs us to and they will be opened. Have confidence in God. Have confidence in prayer. Have confidence and pray.

Let’s pray

Lord you have shown us today that you are a wonderful God who is intensely interested in us and our needs. You love to hear from us. You desire to answer our prayers yet so often we doubt that you care, that you hear or that you have answered. Lord, help us to align our requests with your will and to believe that in all things you have our best in mind. We love you and we honour you today. Amen.