The Point: God always answers persistent prayer.
Ask, Seek, Knock: Luke 11:5-13.
 And he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves,  for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’;  and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’?  I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.  And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  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?  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!" [ESV]
“Seeing the consistency of His prayer life, and sensing His intimacy with the Father, the disciples asked Jesus how to pray. In response, He gave them the flexible form of intercession that has been the basis for Christian prayer ever since. Jesus taught His disciples to pray to God as their Father, seeking the honor of His name and the glory of His kingdom, and asking Him to meet their daily needs for food, forgiveness, and freedom from temptation. We call it the Lord’s Prayer: the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray, and that is answered by His grace. Then, having given His disciples the basic content for their prayers, Jesus proceeded to show them how boldly they should ask for what they needed, and how generously their Father would answer. The Parable [5-7]. Jesus did this by telling them a story. This story is meant to be absurd. Whenever Jesus introduces a parable with a statement or a phrase like Which of you, we know that He is about to describe something that would never happen [e.g., Luke 12:25; 14:5,28]. The question is a signal that the answer is “No one”: no self-respecting member of the covenant community would refuse to help a neighbor in need. To see the absurdity of it all, it helps to know the cultural context. In biblical times hospitality was a sacred duty. When a guest arrived – especially a friend – the host had a holy obligation to provide a bountiful meal. Travel was difficult in those days, there were few reliable inns, and travelers usually arrived hungry. Thus the first order of business was putting a good meal on the table. Bread was essential, not just to eat, but to use for dipping and sopping everything else. Thus the man in the story was in a real bind. His bread was gone, and needless to say, there were no twenty-four hour minimarts or all-night bakeries. So when the man’s friend arrived at midnight, he found himself unable to meet the high demands of biblical hospitality. There was only one thing to do, which was to see if the people next door had anything left to eat. Under ordinary circumstances, he would not think of putting their friendship to the test by bothering them at midnight. But the demands of hospitality required him to take action. He had to find some bread, so he went to the neighbors and pounded on their door, making a reasonable request at an unreasonable hour: Could he please borrow a little bread – not for himself, but for a friend from a far place? His neighbor was already in bed, his whole family sleeping together in a one-room cottage. Just about the last thing the man wanted to do at that hour of the night was to get out of bed. So he told his neighbor “No” four different ways. It was a quadruple refusal: Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything . None of these excuses is very persuasive. If the door was shut, it could be opened; if the children woke up, they could be tucked back in. The real issue was not that the man could not help, but that he would not. He heard the request and he had the bread, but he did not bother to get up and help. Nevertheless, his neighbor insisted. His hospitality was at stake, so he would not take “No” for an answer. Jesus does not give us the rest of the dialogue, but if anyone has ever tried to persuade you to do something that you did not want to do, you know basically how the conversation goes. Eventually the man in bed realized, to his annoyance, that it would be easier just to give the man what he wanted. So with a sign of exasperation, he rolled out of bed and gave his neighbor what he needed, being careful not to step on the children. He did not do it for love or friendship, but simply because he wanted to be left alone. He did it because his neighbor had the audacity to come at midnight and keep asking until he got what he wanted. Audacious, Persistent Prayer . We should come to God with the same kind of bold perseverance when we pray. The key phrase in the parable comes in verse 8: because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. The Greek word translated impudence refers to someone who acts without any sensibility to shame or disgrace. We all know the type: someone who does not particularly care what the neighbors think, and who has the sheer audacity to come right out and ask for something that no one else would dare to mention. This, then, is how we should pray: not timidly dropping God hints about what we need, but boldly, even shamelessly presenting our petitions before God and then continuing to pray about them until we get an answer. We need to be careful here, because if we press the details of the parable too far we will end up making some serious errors. Jesus is not saying that God gets annoyed when we bother Him at midnight, or that He has to be cajoled into giving us what we need, or that we should never take “no” for an answer. In fact, God is not like the man in bed at all. Jesus is making a contrast to show that God is ready and willing to help us. If even the surliest of neighbors can be persuaded to help us in the middle of the night, then how much more will our Father in heaven hear us when we pray! We know that God neither slumbers nor sleeps [Ps. 121:4], and that He loves to help His people in need [Ps. 34:15]. We also know that when we pray, we should always submit our requests to His perfect will [Matt. 6:10]. Prayer is not a way of getting God to do what we want, or of persuading Him to do something that He does not want to do. But prayer is an audaciously bold request for God to do what He has promised to do. So when we ask God to hallow His name, to establish His kingdom, to give us bread, to forgive our sins, and to save us from temptation, we may do it with shameless persistence. Of course God always has the prerogative to say “no” to our petitions, but when we pray the way that Jesus taught us to pray, we may come to God with the holy boldness of a confident faith. And we should keep praying. According to Leon Morris, the lesson of this parable is: “We must not play at prayer, but must show persistence if we do not receive the answer immediately. It is not that God is unwilling and must be pressed into answering. The whole context makes it clear that He is eager to give. But if we do not want what we are asking for enough to be persistent, we do not want it very much.” How much do you want the things for which you pray? Do you boldly persevere, or do you get discouraged and give up, not daring to beg God for an answer? Asking, Seeking, Knocking [9-10]. It is hard to persevere and keep on praying. To help us persevere in our prayers, Jesus applied His parable with some of the most encouraging words in the bible: And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened [9-10]. As we have seen, this parable is more about how we should pray than about how God answers. But in the application of the parable, both our part and God’s part are clearly in view. Our duty is to ask, seek, and knock. There seems to be a progression here. It is one thing to ask, but to seek requires a higher level of commitment. To seek is to pursue what is asked. Then to knock is to pound at the very door for an answer. These three verbs move in the direction of a more serious intention to get what God has to offer. What is even more important, however, is the form of these verbs. All three of them describe a continuous action: asking, seeking, knocking. Jesus is not just telling us how to come to God in the first place, but how to go to Him again and again: keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking. Prayer has this kind of efficacy not because of the way we pray, but because of the way God answers. He is a generous Father who loves to give us what we truly need. When we have the audacity to pray the way that Jesus taught us to pray, God has promised to hear us and answer us. In the dialogue of prayer, we are pressing God for something that He is longing to give. In these verses Jesus assures us that God will answer our prayers. He offers this assurance, not just once or twice, but six times – three in verse 9 and three in verse 10. In verse 9 Jesus says that our asking, seeking, and knocking will not be in vain. God will give, God will reveal, God will open. In case we have any doubt about this, Jesus goes on to repeat Himself in verse 10 in order to give us extra assurance that our prayers will be answered. Of course Jesus is not saying that God will give us anything and everything we want. In this context, He is talking about the way God answers the petitions we make in the Lord’s Prayer. As we will discover when we get to the end of verse 13, He is talking most specifically about the spiritual blessings that God gives to every believer in Jesus Christ. If we ask for these things, we will receive. Notice that this promise is for everyone who asks, seeks, and knocks. This gives special encouragement to anyone who has never come to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ, or who is afraid that God will not give a gracious welcome. Everyone who asks in faith will receive. Everyone who seeks with a sincere heart will find. Everyone who knocks on the door of Jesus Christ will go in and be saved. Jesus is telling us not to hold back, but to go to God and ask for what we need. Good Gifts from Bad Fathers [11-12]. The promises that Jesus makes in verses 9 and 10 are so immense that they may seem impossible to keep. So to prove that God really is this generous, Jesus added two little parables that come from family life. Once again, Jesus asks a question that is meant to sound absurd. What kind of father would give his son a snake instead of a fish, or a scorpion instead of an egg? A man who did such a thing would be a fiend, not a father. Sadly, there are such men in the world, but the point still stands: no ordinary father would be so cruel as to give his son something dangerous when he asks for something good. Having made this point, Jesus proceeded to argue from the lesser thing to the greater: 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! . At this point, some of us might be tempted to say that Jesus is being too hard on fathers. Is it really right for Him to say that we are evil? After all, He was speaking to His disciples, who may not have been the best of fathers, but probably were not the worst either. But of course it is right for Jesus to say this. Here He is speaking from His intimate knowledge of our total depravity. He knows that fathers are capable of doing something good. In fact, His two little parables assume this. But He also knows that the hearts of fathers are as wicked as anyone else’s, and that in our sinful nature we are as likely to harm our children as to help them. Nevertheless, for all our shortcomings, most of us fathers know what our children need. When they ask for something, we listen to what they are saying. We provide what they truly need, and if we are able, we do much more than that. The point is that if even bad fathers know to give good gifts, we can trust our perfect heavenly Father to give us the best gifts of all. Knowing that we can count on God’s fatherly care gives us confidence when we pray. We can pray with a boldness based on the benevolence of our Father’s love. God wants to answer even more than we want to ask. God has given us His generous invitation, offering us everything we need in Jesus Christ. The question is whether we will go to Him and ask for what we need, seeking and knocking until He answers. The Father’s Greatest Gift . The last thing to notice is the surprising twist that comes at the very end of this passage. Jesus had been teaching His disciples how to pray to their Father. First He gave them a model for their daily prayers. Then He told them how to approach God in prayer with sanctified audacity. Next He encouraged them that when they came to God asking, seeking, and knocking, He would hear them as a loving Father. But what, exactly, would God do for them? This is where the surprise comes in verse 13. This is surprising because the Holy Spirit is not specifically mentioned anywhere in the Lord’s Prayer, or in the instructions that Jesus gives about asking, seeking, and knocking. It is also surprising because Jesus seemed to be talking about earthly blessings. The parables of the friend at midnight and the father’s gifts all deal with material needs. Nevertheless, when Jesus comes to the end of His instructions on prayer, He promises that when we ask, God will give us the Holy Spirit. Of all the gifts that God could possibly give us, none is greater than the gift of God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. If we do not believe this, it is only because we do not know the greatness of the Spirit’s person or the scope of the Spirit’s work. To demonstrate the unique blessing of having the Spirit, one need only consider the extraordinary ministry of the apostles once they received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: they had the power to perform miraculous wonders and to preach a gospel that changed the world. The Spirit is a great gift because He is divine. There is one God in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Spirit fully shares the divine majesty; He is to be worshiped with the Father and the Son. Therefore, when the Son promises that the Father will send us the Spirit, He is promising that God Himself will live within us. What will the Spirit do in us? He will reveal the truth of God through the teaching of Scripture, which He Himself first revealed. He will give us the conviction of sin, granting us the gift of repentance. He will persuade us of the truth of the gospel, working in us the gift of faith. By faith He will unite us to Jesus Christ, so it is only through the Spirit we receive the blessings of salvation: justification, sanctification, and adoption. That is not all; it is only the beginning. The Spirit will win us the victory over sin. The Spirit will equip us with gifts for ministry. The Spirit will grow in us the fruit of godliness. The Spirit will assure us that we are the children of God. One day the Spirit will raise us from the dead, just as He raised Jesus from the dead, and by His transforming grace He will change us into glory. Do you see what a great blessing it is when Jesus promises us the Holy Spirit? In short, to have the Holy Spirit is to have everything that God has to give us.” [Ryken, pp. 581-593].
Questions for Discussion:
1. What is the cultural context of the parable Jesus taught in 11:5-7? What lessons concerning prayer is Jesus teaching us in this parable ? What is the key phrase of the parable ? What contrast is Jesus making in this parable?
2. How does Jesus apply the main lesson of the parable to our prayer life in 11:9-10? What does it mean to keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking in prayer? Note the progression in these three verbs. What promises does Jesus give us in these verses?
3. What do we learn about God in 11:5-13? How is this teaching about God an encouragement to us to be persistent in our prayers?
4. What is the surprising twist that Jesus adds in verse 13? (In both parables Jesus is dealing mainly with earthly blessings, but in verse 13 He mentions the gift of the Holy Spirit). What does it mean to have the Holy Spirit? What will the Spirit do in us? (Ryken mentions at least eight things the Spirit will do in us).
5. Ryken gives us the following quote by Leon Morris: “If we do not want what we are asking for enough to be persistent, we do not want it very much.” Think about this quote the next time you are tempted to give up praying for someone or something.
Luke 9:51-24:53, Darrell Bock, Baker.
Luke, Volume 1, Philip Ryken, REC, P&R Publishing.