I was browsing Amazon.com some time back and landed on C.S. Lewis’ book page, “Mere Christianity.” As you all know, that’s one of the most read books in the 20th century, and naturally, you see nothing but raving five-star reviews. I wondered if there were any one-star reviews and what they had to say.
There is no perfection in this fallen world. Even if you created a masterpiece, you would still find some naysayers who try to pick bones inside an egg. Then, I found a negative review that drew my attention. It was short, “Christianity is a myth, and there’s no God.”
Out of curiosity, I commented on his review, saying, “You made a strong statement without support. Would you care to elaborate on how you got to that conclusion?”
He said he grew up in church, went through Sunday School, and learned the scripture says, “Ask, and it will be given to you.” However, he had asked many times but was never given, so he stopped believing in Christianity because this verse is a piece of solid evidence that Christianity is false.
I said you shouldn’t take this verse out of context. He said, “Don’t give me that crap! I have heard it all. You Christians always try to defend the Bible with all kinds of excuses. This verse is black and white, the language is not vague, and the meaning is not debatable! It says plainly, ‘Ask, and it will be given to you.’ Since it’s proven untrue, Christianity is a sham.”
After further discussion, I discovered he was angry at God because his father passed away when he was only 12 years old. His father had cancer, and he asked God to heal him, but his prayer was not fulfilled the way he wished. So, ever since his father died, he had abandoned God.
He left me speechless. I felt for him since his request was reasonable. He wasn’t asking God to let him win a lottery or make him rich. He simply wanted to grow up with his father. It was difficult for a 12-year-old to reconcile such tragedy with a Bible verse taken out of context. I hope he eventually reconciled with God.
I wished God miraculously answered his prayer and kept his faith. I also wish all my prayers get answered unconditionally. Don’t we all have prayers that we felt God has no reason to refuse?
However, God is not a genie. Some people think prayers are like rubbing Aladin’s Lamp and expect God to come out like the genie, saying, “Your wish is my command.”
The truth is that God has bigger fish to fry. However, Jesus did make a bold promise to answer our prayers. He says,
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10).
He says, “everyone who asks receives.” That’s a bold promise, but we know every promise comes with a premise, and every text has a context. If we study the context and understand the premise, we crack the code to the kind of prayer God answers, and we will never get stuck wondering why our prayer is not answered and get disappointed, discouraged, and lose faith.
Today, we will put the text in the context, the promise in the premise to discover the kind of prayer God answers based on what Jesus taught us in this week’s scripture lesson. So, let’s begin!
[Hi! In case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone—the Lightkeeper. You are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]
The scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel according to Luke 11:1-13. [Listen to the Word of the Lord.]
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.
5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:1-13).
[This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!]
The story begins with Jesus praying in a certain place which triggered the disciple’s curiosity about how he prayed. It was not the first time they saw Jesus praying. Since Jesus was on his final journey to Jerusalem, this might be their last chance to learn how to pray from the Son of God himself.
One of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1).
These disciples knew how to pray according to Jewish tradition, but they wanted a signature prayer from Jesus like that of John the Baptists. Jesus began teaching them the four premises to an answered prayer. These four premises lay the foundation of the promise, “Ask, and it will be given you.” So, let’s put the text in context.
1. Pray Confidently
He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name.” (Luke 11:2a).
Jesus wants you to pray confidently as if talking to your Father. That means you must develop a close relationship with God and know him like your father. The term indicates intimacy. The more intimate you are with God as a father, the more you can confidently articulate your prayer to his delight.
Most of the time, I knew how my father would answer my request even before I asked him. Sometimes, I didn’t even have to ask him and knew his decision.
Many people in this world worship idols and pray to images made of wood, stone, or clay that cannot respond. Idolatry destroys civilization because it dumbs people down. Just look at the history of the nations around the world. Most idol-worshiping cultures generally lagged behind in civilization.
If you have a hard time imagining what the heavenly Father is like because you didn’t grow up with a father or didn’t have a good father, get to know Jesus intimately. The Bible says,
No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. (John 1:18).
Jesus also said,
“If you know me, you will know my Father also.” (John 14:7a).
Jesus is God in flesh. He revealed that God is characterized by “love and grace.” Once you know God is love and grace, you have confidence in praying.
Some people are on another extreme, treating God as a genie, like a slave. They want God to give them what they want without giving due respect and honor to the Father. To prevent that, Jesus wants us to pray with confidence and reverence, “Father, hallowed be your name.”
Familiarity breeds contempt, but Jesus wants us to have intimacy with God and maintain reverence. That will set our minds to pray correctly. So, here is the first premise for the promise: pray confidently as if talking to a loving father. The second premise is,
2. Pray Comprehensively
Then Jesus said that we need to pray to address the root problem first.
“Your kingdom come.” (Luke 11:2b).
We often become fixated on the symptoms rather than the root problem because symptoms feel urgent. But, Jesus wants us to prioritize the comprehensive solution. It doesn’t mean we should not pray for our pressing and urgent needs, but he reminds us that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing because, in God’s kingdom, all our problems are solved. Jesus said,
“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33).
Here the promise is “all these things will be given to you as well,” and the premise is “stive first for the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God is the comprehensive solution. What is the kingdom of God? The Apostle Paul explained,
“For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Ro 14:17).
In other words, being in the Holy Spirit is equivalent to being in the kingdom of God. That explains why Jesus concluded this passage by saying,
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).
Without the context, you might wonder, “Holy cow! Where did the subject or the Holy Spirit come from?” Now, you know Jesus was talking about the same thing when he talked about the kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit.
The kingdom of God is from eternity past to eternity future. So, we can experience the kingdom of God in the present. The secret key to the kingdom is the Holy Spirit. So, Jesus wants you to ask for the Holy Spirit so that you will see the problems of the world as citizens of the kingdom of God.
That means you can still see the big picture of how your prayers are answered. Your prayer is always answered, even though it might not be how and when you want it. However, by having the mind of God through the Holy Spirit, you will see how your prayer fits in God’s comprehensive solution for the world.
You might even find your problem too small in the grand scheme of things. Of course, Jesus reveals that God does not treat your prayer as trivial. “Even the hairs of your head are all counted.” (Lk 12:7a). The crucified Christ knows your pains and frustrations and wants you to participate in his comprehensive salvation with your prayer so that all will be saved.
3. Pray Confessionally
Jesus wants us to pray for the kingdom to come but doesn’t want us to miss it. The next two verses keep us from getting locked out of the kingdom of God. Jesus teaches us to pray next,
“Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” (Luke 11:3-4).
Two things will keep us out of the kingdom: greed and sin. He teaches us to pray for our daily bread, but not our monthly bread or even weekly bread. That mindset leaves no room for us to pray for winning a lottery. Greed blinds us from seeing God’s grand scheme of things and praying for the wrong things.
Then he teaches us to get our sins forgiven by forgiving others. Most other important gifts from God are free and unconditional, but forgiveness comes with the condition that we must forgive others. I have talked extensively about forgiveness on other occasions, so I won’t elaborate here.
Once our sins are cleansed, we also need to stay away from trials and temptations to remain clean. That’s why Jesus wants us to pray, “do not bring us to the time of trial.” The point is that our prayers become more effective by praying from inside the kingdom because we know what we are praying about. Confession keeps us holy and allows us to be in the kingdom through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Now, there’s one more premise for the promise.
4. Pray Continually
After the first three premises are met, your prayer is on the right spot, and all you need is to pray continually because the rest is a matter of heavenly timing. Jesus tells a parable to teach us to pray continually and persistently once we have the prayer right.
The parable is about a man who wants to provide hospitality to his guest. For the past several weeks, we have discussed the importance of hospitality in God’s eyes. So, this parable falls on the same theme. The man asks for help from his neighbor to provide hospitality to his guest. Jesus said,
“I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” (Luke 11:8)
He persists because he knows he is asking for the right thing. His neighbor eventually relents even though it is not convenient for him. The parable reveals that, even though God has His own timing, he can make exceptions for those who persist.
There are many instances in the Bible where God relents. One example is Moses changed God’s mind through his prayer during the Exodus (Ex 32:14).
If you feel praying continually might make you sound annoying to God, you might like to know the word “persistence” is actually translated from Greek, “αναίδεια” meaning “shamelessness.” Jesus implies that if you are asking for the right thing, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Paul also taught us to pray continually in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
So, there you have it. Let’s pray the prayers God answers by following these principles:
- Pray Confidently
- Pray Comprehensively
- Pray Confessionally
- Pray Continually
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound happiness.