Please read Luke 11:5-13 – Why persevere in prayer?
Ask the Holy Spirit for his help as you come to God’s Word.
Whether this is a parable or an illustration has been the subject of much discussion; I am taking the view that it's a story that illustrates Jesus' point of perseverance in prayer.
V5. The asking to meet a need.
A man comes to a home. He has been travelling, is hungry and tired. The homeowner doesn't have any food to give him, it's midnight, and no shops are open. So, the host goes to a neighbour's home, a person he knows, and asks for three loaves. But the people in the household he has gone to are all in bed. The man asking for the bread sees this, but, undaunted, he keeps knocking on the front door to get what he needs. His neighbour hears the knockings, gets up, but doesn't open the door. Instead, he shouts through the door, saying that he can't do anything for him. But the man needing the bread isn't going to take no for an answer, so he just keeps on knocking, until eventually, the man inside the house gives him want he wants.
The lesson is simple – don't give up when asking God for his work in your life or the life of another; he will respond.
V8, 9. Sit up and listen.
The commands and promises that follow, like the Lord's prayer, are taught more than once by Jesus, Matthew 7:7,8. Jesus introduces them with an assertive statement – "I tell you". Jesus has been teaching and telling his disciples many things, and all of them are significant. But you get the sense here that he is saying to them, 'sit up and listen'.
V9. Ask, seek, and knock.
The use of three imperatives, ask, seek, and knock, emphasizes the necessity of this coming to God. Note also the ascending order of intensity. To ask is important, to seek demands more investment, and to knock requires deliberately engaged activity. It is not that we are to ask, and if that doesn't get it done, then we are to seek, and if that doesn't work, then we step it up to the knocking stage and hope that does it. The three actions, asking, seeking, and knocking, are all part of the one process. When we ask, we are also to be seeking; and when we are seeking, we are to be knocking. As we engage in all three simultaneously, we are communicating that, 'I really want this!' It is the focus, the intensity that lies at the root of the asking, seeking, and knocking, that is important. Lackadaisical, half-hearted, communion with God won't work. It has to be being 'all in'. Jesus was 'all in' in obedience to the Father. It is because he was 'all in' that we have the opportunity and privilege to be 'all in' with him and the Father and the Holy Spirit. Nothing less will do; why would it?
V9. Asking, seeking, and knocking.
The fact that the verbs are also continuous mean that Jesus is saying, 'you are to do these things, today and tomorrow, and every time you have a need.' The command is to be persistent in coming before God. We are not to ask once or twice, and then leave it with God. We are not to seek God a couple of times and then say, 'God, you know what I need, I'll wait and see what you come back with.' Our knocking is not to be a few taps on the door and a hanging about outside to see if anyone answers. Today, we are to ask, seek, and knock; tomorrow we are to ask, seek, and knock; and we are to keep on asking, seeking, and knocking until we get an answer. Oh, how much I should have adopted this approach in my life down through the years. It wasn't that I was half-hearted in my asking, seeking, and knocking, but I just gave up too quickly. It was too frequently a case of 'God already knows what I am asking for so why persist.' 'I haven't heard anything back, so it's clear that he doesn't want me to have it, so why persist.'
V9, 10. The promise is clear and repeated.
Jesus utters a specific promise. Asking will produce a response, seeking will produce a response, knocking will produce a response. What will be that response? We will be given what we ask for? But surely that is not always the case, frequently we pray and don't get what we desire. How does that sit with Jesus' promise? It sits perfectly. The issue is in what we are asking, seeking, and knocking for. The critical issue is whether our praying is consistent with the will of God. How can we know if it is or not? By submitting our asking to what God has revealed in his Word. If your prayers and mine arise out of what God has commanded, then our asking, seeking, and knocking will solicit from God what we desire. If we take God's promises in his Word and own them in prayer, for example, if we ask God for the help to 'seek first his kingdom', then we will get it. Does that mean that we can only pray for the promises in God's Word? No, we can ask God to heal those we know who are ill, but here is the key point. We must do so acknowledging God's Sovereign will for each individual's life, and in our asking, we must accept that he does know what is best for his glory, in respect of that life which he has created and sustains.
V10. An answer will be given.
The fact that Jesus reiterates, albeit it in a different form what he has just said, underscores the importance of the point he is asserting, the command he is giving. The promise is emphatic. Everyone, without exception, who asks will receive; everyone, without exception, who seeks will find; everyone, without exception, who knocks will get the door opened to them. There are no exceptions, for there cannot be. If God hears, which he will do, if our praying is done in Jesus' name and through a relationship with him, then he will answer. The answer will come in God's time and in his way, but he will answer. That is an astonishing thought. If only we could understand and own that promise, would it not bring a greater degree of care, intentionality and deliberateness to our praying?
V11. The lesser to the greater.
Just as Jesus has argued from the lesser – the man being asked for bread – to the greater – God being asked for what we need, now he does so again. The lesser – if our human fathers responded to the requests we made of them as they were able, then the greater – how much more likely is our Father in heaven to answer us given who he is.
Some people had fathers who were not kind to them. In my visit with someone in the congregation this week, I was reminded of that. We didn't all have good fathers. I am blessed to have a wonderful father who couldn't have done more for my siblings and myself. The idea that a human father would not give their child what they ask for, but would give them that which would hurt them, is unthinkable. Setting aside the cases where such cruelty does exist, the norm is that it doesn't happen. In general, if a child asks their father for food, the father doesn't give them something that will be harmful to them.
V13. Our Father will unquestionably give us what is for our good.
The final statement of Jesus is powerful. His point, as ever, is simple. If men, human fathers, who are evil in their natural state, know how to give good gifts to their children, then how much more will God our Father not bless and give to us what we ask, seek, and knock for. And what is the highest good we could ask, seek, and knock for in our lives? It is the work of the Holy Spirit, making us more like the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit's work enabling us to fulfil our chief end in life, to glorify God and enjoy him forever. This is what we need to be asking for, seeking out, and knocking the door of heaven persistently for. When you and I do this, both in respect of our lives and the lives of those around us, and it can be done, the answers will come thick and fast in God's time and for God's glory.