TEACHING ON PRAYER Luke 11
“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” (Luke 11:9).Luke emphasized both Jesus’ personal prayer life, and His teaching on how you and I should pray.
Jesus provided a model prayer (11:1–4). He taught confidence by contrast (vv. 5–8), by promise (vv. 9–10), and by reminder of God’s Fatherness (vv. 11–13). Later Christ refuted a charge that He was in league with Satan (vv. 14–28), and refused to provide a “miraculous sign” (vv. 29–32) for those who were purposely blind (vv. 33–36). Jesus concluded by confronting the Pharisees and experts in the Law with faults calling for their judgment (vv. 37–53).
Understanding the Text
“Jesus was praying in a certain place” Luke 11:1.
Luke frequently described Jesus at prayer (cf. 3:21; 6:12; 9:28). Now at last the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. Christ’s example motivated His disciples. It’s the same in our homes too. Mom and Dad’s example is the most powerful tool available for motivating children toward godliness. If prayer is a natural and observed part of our lives, our children will learn to pray. If reading the Bible is a regular practice of ours, our boys and girls will be more likely to pick up the habit. There is no suggestion in this Gospel that Jesus urged His disciples to pray. His example was much more powerful than any exhortation He might have given. “Hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come” Luke 11:2. The elements in this prayer are explored more thoroughly in the reading on Matthew 6 (see July 18, Reading 199). Here note that the first two “petitions” are not so much requests as worship. When we pray, it’s appropriate first of all to exalt God, praising Him for His holiness and the glory of His kingdom. In essence, prayer is talking to God, not necessarily asking Him for things. When we consider the greatness and love of our God, how appropriate if the first things we say to Him express our appreciation and praise. “Lead us not into temptation” Luke 11:4. God never tempts a believer to sin (James 1:13). Yet the Holy Spirit did specifically lead Jesus into the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan (Luke 4:1). Some people are uncomfortable with the notion of living by faith. They keep looking for tests, to prove to themselves that God is with them, that they are growing spiritually, that they are important, or for some other reason. Here Jesus teaches us to ask not to be led into temptation. God will at times permit us to undergo temptation. When He does, He will provide a way for us to escape without sin (1 Cor. 10:13). But it is both presumptuous and foolish for us to search out tests of our faith. “Ask and it will be given to you” Luke 11:9–13. Several specific teachings are combined here to give us great confidence in prayer (see DEVOTIONAL). God, the good Father, gives good gifts to His children—including the best gift of all, the Holy Spirit (v. 13). But note that we are told to “ask.” We are to bring our requests to God, expressing our dependence on Him. The Apostle Paul exhorted, “In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” And he added this promise: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6–7). “When someone stronger attacks” Luke 11:14–26. Maybe the Pharisees had been watching wrestling on TV. If so they surely noted that most of the audience couldn’t see the obvious fact that the bouts were staged, and nearly every blow a sham. If folks are dumb enough to take a fake for real, maybe we can make them think that what’s real is a fake! Some reasoning like this must have led them to charge Jesus with being in league with Beelzebub (a common first-century name for Satan). Jesus blunted their attack simply and decisively and turned it around. He showed that since His work of casting out demons could not be with Satan’s cooperation, it must have been done with God’s. The Pharisees could only acknowledge that God’s kingdom was present in Christ—or side with the evil one. What’s most fascinating is Jesus’ final comment. He described an evil spirit that comes out (not “is driven out”) of a man. After wandering awhile, it returns—and brings “seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there.” Jesus had power over evil spirits. But ordinary human beings are portrayed as helpless before them. Such spirits leave and return as they wish, apparently without even so much as a “by your leave.” How good to know that in Christ we have one “stronger” than every evil force; one who “overpowers” them all (v. 22) and sets us permanently free. The wealthy might place olive-oil lamps on metal stands. In most homes, however, lamps burned in nitches along the wall or were set on pottery stands like this one. In Jesus’ illustration, the “eye” is a lamp in that through it the body receives light. If Jesus’ hearers were blind to the meaning of the works they had seen Him do, they were in darkness indeed! “You Pharisees” Luke 11:37–54. When eating at the home of a Pharisee, Jesus identified six common sins of the “religious” of His day that kept them from seeing the light. The Pharisees and experts in the Law that Jesus indicted were furious. Instead of examining themselves, they reacted defensively and attacked Him. Let’s not read these verses so we can pile up more ammunition against the first-century Pharisees. Let’s read them for criteria we can use in examining ourselves. If we do, we’ll find—and hopefully use a checklist like this: ______ Do I spend more time trying to look holy, or seeking to be holy? (vv. 39–41) ______ Do my priorities reflect God’s? (v. 42) ______ Do I treasure the approval of others, or the approval of God? (vv. 43–44) ______ Do I make living a Christian life harder for people by my expectations, or do I encourage and help them? (v. 46) ______ Do I resist the Word of God brought to me by His ministers, or am I open and teachable? (vv. 47–51) ______ Do I distort the Gospel for myself and others by a legalistic attitude and approach to Christian faith? (v. 52) If anyone should ever accuse you of one or more of these flaws, the way you react will be a good clue to your guilt or innocence.
Keep on Knocking?(Luke 11:1–10)
“Just keep on prayin’ and prayin’. After while, God’ll answer you if you keep on long enough.” I surely don’t want to discourage persistence in prayer. But the “God’ll hear you if you keep on long enough” school of thought definitely misunderstands something Jesus taught here in Luke 11, in the Parable of the Persistent Neighbor. In New Testament times, hospitality was an obligation of the host family and of the entire village. So when a guest arrived late at night, it was all right for the host to go next door and ask for extra loaves of bread. It was all right. But it wasn’t convenient. When the host in Jesus’ story pounded on his friend’s door late one night, it was a pain! It was common for the whole family to sleep together in a single room, often on a common mat unrolled on the floor. (Thus, “My children are with me in bed,” v. 7.) For the father to get up, and stumble over the whole family, possibly awakening them too, wasn’t convenient at all. But Jesus said that such a householder would get up anyway—if the neighbor made a pest of himself and kept on knocking. Now, this story isn’t intended to teach us persistence. In fact, it draws a series of contrasts between God and the best of neighbors. First, while the host and his neighbor had a duty of hospitality, the duty of a father (v. 2) to his children was far greater. Second, it’s not inconvenient for God to answer our prayers. He doesn’t have to wake from a sound sleep and stumble over dozing angels to groggily find us a few stale loaves of bread. And third, we don’t have to make pests of ourselves to force an irritated Deity to respond. Our Father loves us. He provides what we need, not because we bother Him, but because He cares. And so Jesus says to us today, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” When we understand who God is, and the nature of our relationship to Him, we can ask with confidence and with joy.
Don’t rely on your persistence. Rely on God’s pervasive love.
No voice of prayer to Thee can rise, But swift as light Thy Love replies; Not always what we ask, indeed, But, O most Kind! what we most need. -H.M. Kimball