This is a copy of a talk I gave at Saint Mary Magdalen, Billericay, at our midweek Communion service on Wednesday 27 July 2022. The Bible Reading was Luke 11:1-13. 

Jesus’ teaching in Luke 11 grew out of a prayer meeting, a miracle, and an invitation to dinner. Jesus used these occasions to give us instructions about prayer and the Holy Spirit.

The Priority of Prayer (vs 1)
We usually think of John the Baptist as a prophet and martyr, and yet the disciples remembered him as a man of prayer. John was a ‘miracle baby’ filled with the Holy Spirit before he was born, and yet he had to pray. He was privileged to introduce the Messiah to Israel, and yet he had to pray. Jesus said that John was the greatest of the prophets (Luke 7:28), and yet John depended on prayer. If prayer was that vital to a man who had these many advantages, how much more important it ought to be to us who do not have those advantages!

John’s disciples had to pray, and Jesus’ disciples wanted to learn better how to pray. They did not ask the Master to teach them how to preach or do great signs; they asked Him to teach them to pray. We today sometimes think that we would be better Christians if only we had been with Jesus when He was on earth, but this is not likely. The disciples were with Him and yet they failed many times! They could perform miracles, and yet they wanted to learn to pray.

If Jesus, the perfect Son of God, had to depend on prayer (how many times do we read that Jesus went off to a quiet place to pray?) how much more do you and I need to pray?

Effective prayer is provision for every need and the solution to every problem.

A few years ago, when we were in Texas on holiday, we visited the Kennedy Space Centre in Houston – quite a remarkable place! On the ‘tour’ of the site a NASA official was explaining to us the complexities of sending human beings to Mars. Someone asked about how the crew would return to Earth. ‘That involves a highly complex plan,’ the representative said, ‘and it begins with the words: “Our Father, who art in heaven.”

A Pattern for Prayer (vs 2-4)
When Jesus introduces this prayer, he doesn’t say: ‘If you pray’ but: ‘when you pray.’ He assumes that we will. These words of Jesus have become a universal language for prayer, and we call it ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ not because Jesus prayed it (He never had to ask for forgiveness) but because Jesus taught it.

The Anglican tradition is to pray this prayer whenever we meet together, and that’s not a bad thing, nor is it a bad thing to pray this prayer personally, so long as we do it from a believing and sincere heart. How easy it would be to ‘recite’ these words and not really mean them – but that can happen when we sing and recite liturgy.

This is a ‘model prayer’ given to guide us in our own praying (see Matt. 6:9-15 for the parallel). It teaches us that true prayer depends on a spiritual relationship with God that enables us to call Him ‘Father’ and this can come only through faith in Jesus (Rom 8:14-17; Gal. 4:1-7).

True prayer also involves honouring God’s kingdom and doing God’s will (Luke 11:2). It has well been said that the purpose of prayer is not to get man’s will done in heaven, but to get God’s will done on earth. Prayer is not telling God what we want and then selfishly enjoying it.

Prayer is asking God to use us to accomplish what He wants so that His name is glorified, His kingdom is extended and strengthened, and His will is done. We must test all of our personal requests by these overruling concerns if we expect God to hear and answer our prayers.

It is important for Christians to know the Word of God, for when we do we discover the will of God. We must never separate prayer and the word (John15:7). I have heard many people over the years justify their situations by saying well I prayed about it! But if the outcome is out of sync with God’s word, then they haven’t been listening nor praying the right prayers!

Once we are secure in our relationship with God and His will, then we can bring our requests to Him (Luke 11:3-4). We can ask Him to provide our needs (not our greed’s) for today, to forgive us for what we have done yesterday, and to lead us in the future.

Persistence in Prayer (vs 5-8)
In this parable, Jesus did not say that God is like this grouchy neighbour. In fact, He said just the opposite. If a tired and selfish neighbour finally meets the needs of a bothersome friend, how much more will a loving Heavenly Father meet the needs of His own dear children!

We have already seen that prayer is based on our relationship with God (‘Our Father’) not on friendship; but Jesus used friendship to illustrate persistence in prayer. God the Father is not like this neighbour, for He never sleeps, never gets impatient or irritable, is always generous, and delights in meeting the needs of His children. The friend at the door had to keep on knocking in order to get what he needed, but God is quick to respond to His children’s cries (Luke 18:1-8).

If persistence finally paid off as a man beat on the door of a reluctant friend, how much more would persistence bring blessing as we pray to a loving Heavenly Father?

Promises for Prayer (vs 9-13)
In vs 9-13, Jesus deals with some of the difficulties we may have in receiving from God.

Doubt: People have many doubts: If I ask will I receive? Jesus says simply, vs9-10: Ask and it will be given to you. Jesus must have seen that they were a little sceptical because he repeats it in a different way: Seek and you will find. And again, he says a third time: Knock and the door will be opened to you. He knows human nature, so he goes on a fourth time: For everyone who asks receives. They are not convinced so he says it a fifth time: He who seeks finds. Again, a sixth time: To him who knocks, the door will be opened. Why does he say it six times? Because he knows what we are like. We find it very difficult to believe that God will give us anything for nothing – let alone something as wonderful as his Holy Spirit.

Fear: Even if we clear the hurdle of doubt, some of us trip up on the hurdle of fear. The fear is about what we will receive. Will it be something good? Jesus uses the analogy of a human father, vs11-13: Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If we would not treat our children like that, it is inconceivable that God would treat us like that.

He is not going to let us down.  Jesus: 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!

Inadequacy: Sometimes we can harbour feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy and we cannot believe that God would give us anything. We can believe that he would give gifts to other Christians, but not to us. But Jesus does not say, ‘How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to more spiritual Christians.’ He says, ‘How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?’

It’s interesting how Jesus turns around a request to learn how to pray to speaking about the blessing of the Holy Spirit.

Does God always answer Prayer?
I guess the question many people ask is: does God always answer prayer? In a sense, yes, he always hears our prayers. But like a good parent, he doesn’t always just say ‘Yes’, because a loving parent won’t say ‘Yes’ to all the requests of a child. Does, or should, God answer all our prayers? I wonder, what would be your response: Yes, no, always, sometimes, never?

Garth Brooks is an American Country star and one of his most famous songs is called ‘Unanswered Prayers.’ And the song includes the line: Sometimes God greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. Sometimes I think it’s just as well that God doesn’t!

I mean, what would our lives be like if all our prayers were answered! I’d have lived in a Kibbutz (the 1982 Lebanese War put an end to that!); I’d have married a different girl; I wouldn’t be a father to Ben and Annabel; I’d probably still have had eight years in prison – only this time on the ‘wrong’ side of the bars! I’d have a different job; I probably wouldn’t have gone to Theological College; and Billericay wouldn’t have me as Team Rector!

Sometimes God says yes; sometimes he says wait; and sometimes he says no – but these are all answers to prayer, aren’t they?  Only, no and wait are the answers we don’t want to hear!

In all my prayers, whether I get the answers I want or not, I can count on this one fact: God can make use of whatever happens in my life because He is sovereign and, because he has a purpose for my life. And we can be sure, wherever we may find ourselves, that it is a good plan. And it starts with us opening up our hearts in prayer to our Heavenly Father.

This might be an interesting read alongside the above A Lord’s Prayer For Justice