Today’s Old Testament reading is a continuation from last week’s. There we saw that the Lord, certainly the pre-incarnate Christ, came to Abraham to announce to him that after many years of promise, the son the Lord promised the 100 year old Abraham was to be born from Sarah, his 90 year old wife. We then read: Sarah was listening to this from the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well into old age. Sarah was past the age for childbearing… Of course, their son Isaac was born a year from then. But this was not the only reason the Lord came, as He told Abraham in today’s reading: Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and their sin is very flagrant, I will go down now and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has come to me. If not, I will know. Of course, as we find out later, Sodom and Gomorrah was full of sin and vice, in particular sexual sin, the sin of homosexuality.
Abraham obviously knows how wicked Sodom and Gomorrah are. But does he rejoice in that wickedness will finally be punished and the cities destroyed? No! What does he do? He has the LOrd, the preincarnate Christ before him and he pleads with Him, appealing to the Lord’s mercy: Will You really sweep away the righteous along with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep them away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? You would never do such a thing, killing the righteous along with the wicked, treating the righteous the same as the wicked. You would never do such a thing. The Judge of all the earth should do right, shouldn’t he?” The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people within the city of Sodom, then I will spare the entire place for their sake.” And then Abraham haggles the Lord down to ten: Please, do not be angry, my Lord, but I will speak just once more. What if ten are found there?” He said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.” Of course, as we find out later, not even ten righteous were found so it was destroyed.
And then we come to today’s Gospel reading, which begins: On another occasion, Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.” And, of course, the rest of today’s Gospel is about prayer. So, what is the connection between today’s OT and Gospel? It’s that both deal with prayer.
The OT reading is a beautiful depiction of prayer. Because, what is prayer? It is a heart-to-heart talk with God. It is a talking with God as you do a friend. We tend to make a big deal about prayer–in a wrong sense. When something becomes great and challenging, when something is a huge, monumental, difficult task, when we blow it up in our minds, it becomes easier to put off and delay. And Satan rejoices when we do this! The more we don’t pray and put it off, the greater his victory.
Lord, teach us to pray. Abraham didn’t need to be taught. He “got” what prayer is–that heart to heart talk with God as one talks with a friend. We don’t need to be “taught” how to talk to a friend. Yes, in prayer, we are talking with Almighty God. Abraham knew who he was talking to–he calls Him the Judge of all the earth. But what does Abraham do? How does he show he is talking with God as he talks with a friend? –He haggles with Him even though Abraham recognizes and knows that He is still the Judge of all the earth and He is both righteous and merciful.
Let Abraham be our example in prayer. Let his boldness and honesty in prayer motivate us to see our prayers not as some huge, monumental ordeal but as that heart to heart talk with God. May that embolden us to go to the Lord often and faithfully in prayer. The thing is, prayer is an expression of faith and worship–the Holy Spirit in us leads us to pray, but if we stifle that urge to pray we are stifling the Holy Spirit in His work in us and on us.
With the disciples’ request, Lord, teach us to pray, Jesus gives the Our Father: When you pray, say… Then Jesus goes on to encourage us, first, with persistence in our prayers. He gives this illustration:
Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and tell him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine who is on a journey has come to me, and I do not have anything to set before him.’ And the one inside replies, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give it to you.’ I tell you, even if he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his bold persistence, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
Here Jesus points us from the lesser to the greater–if this “friend” will finally get out of bed and give him the three loves of bread because of that bold persistence, that continued shameless asking, then certainly God will answer us in our prayers, in our continued shameless going to Him and asking Him. In this illustration, the guy appeals to his friend– Friend, lend me three loaves of bread. In prayer, our requests are to One much greater than a mere friend. But as we would talk to and ask a friend for a favor so would we in our prayers go to our dear Lord, Friend, lend me three loaves of bread–He is the only source of grace and provides all we need.
Look at when this guy shows up at his friend’s house–at midnight when the door is already locked, and [the] children and [he] are in bed. That’s the most inconvenient time possible. But for us, dear Christian, there is no inconvenient time. The Lord is always ready and willing to hear our prayers. If you wake up in the middle of the night, don’t toss and turn, use that time to pray/ to talk with God. During the day, even when you are doing something else–especially something repetitive like cutting the grass–use that time to think on Scripture and to pray.
Look at the request: Friend, lend me three loaves of bread. It may have seemed great at the time, but that is really a small request, a slight need! When we go to the Lord, let us bring even our small requests to Him; let us bring Him our simple thoughts and needs. There is nothing too small for the Lord, nor is there anything too great. God wants us to go to Him with all of our needs. If we think something is too small to “bother” the Lord with, that we can handle it ourselves–that’s really confidence/ reliance on self and pushing the Lord to the side. Ask Him to guide and bless your day; ask Him for wisdom in doing the tasks for the day. Let’s not just stop with the three loaves but let us ask the Lord for much greater–all we need for body and soul.
Finally there is that contrast: Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give it to you. There is a selfish, unfriendly excuse for not helping. God is completely the opposite. He is all kindness and love and eager to bless us and, in fact, gives us many promises to coax us to go to Him for His help and blessing. So, yes, we have every reason to be persistent praying!
Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give it to you. Remember the goodness of God when you pray, when you talk to God as a friend, when you have that heart to heart talk with Him. Yes, it may very often seem like He is behind locked doors, in bed, ignoring you. But He isn’t! But we dare never doubt God’s goodness. Often the problem is us–we pray once or twice and are seemingly not heard and so we give up and get mad at God or disappointed. But this is doubting God’s goodness and a rejection of His promises. No, instead we keep praying–it’s not like a whiny child trying to wear down its parents. Instead, it is faith in God, trusting in His word and promises and relying on Him to answer the prayer how we like/ expect Him to or to lead us to a deeper longing or better understanding of His will.
So what does this persistence in prayer look like? Jesus answers in our text: I tell you, keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep seeking and you will find. Keep knocking, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives. The one who seeks finds. And to the one who knocks, it will be opened. Notice it begins with asking. There we feel our need so we ask God for His help and aid. We, holding to our Lord’s word and promise, ask in prayer, in spirit and truth. But when the help is not immediate, there is a more earnestness and urgency to our request as we feel the need more. Keep seeking and you will find. And here we not only are more urgent in prayer, but we seek by learning God’s truth. We delve into Scripture and refresh ourselves all the more with God’s word and promise. And as we delve into Scripture, the Holy Spirit is there strengthening and preserving us in the faith while we wait on the Lord, as we wait while the Lord is preparing us to receive His answer–for the more we wait, the more we recognize and rejoice when the Lord answers.
Finally, Keep knocking, and it will be opened to you. Knocking with firm faith, our persistence will not be denied. As the apostle writes [Jas. 1.6]: But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.
Tied in with this persistence in prayer is also, then, praying with confidence. We can pray with persistence when we have the firm confidence of faith. And that confidence of faith surrenders all in the confidence that God knows the best way to answer that prayer. Jesus says in our text:
“What father among you, if your son asks for bread, would give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, would give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, would give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
Here we see what is our will as Christians. As Christians, our will is to desire what God desires. That’s what our baptism does. Today’s epistle: You were buried with Christ in baptism. And in baptism you were also raised with him through the faith worked by the God who raised Christ from the dead. Our baptism unites us with Jesus in His death and also in His resurrection. Now, baptized, we were raised with Christ in His resurrection. We have a new life; we have the holy desires of God; we want to do His will; as Christians, as His dear children, our will coincides with His will. So when we pray as Christians, it’s always as Jesus did: Not Mine but Your will be done. So that’s why, when we pray with persistence and the Lord doesn’t seemingly answer how we like/ expect Him to, we continue to pray– but with all the more attention to Thy will be done and ask God to give not what our whim dictates but what is in accord with His command and promise. If our prayer is not for our good–which God knows far better than we ever will–then we ask God not to grant it but to grant what is good/ best for us. That’s the confidence that we pray with: that God will answer our prayer in the best way for us. It’s the confidence that He does not leave any prayer unheard/ answered and that He will not give us a stone, snake or scorpion. He will not answer our prayer by giving us something that looks or seems good but isn’t or is bad for us.
Remember the first verse of the Gospel: His disciples said to Him… and now Jesus says here: though you are evil. Jesus addresses this teaching on prayer to us, His dear Christians, who are also weak and sinful, who are stuck in the reality of sin. And so often what we pray for is centered in our earthly life. That’s to be expected. We sinners living in a sinful world. We suffer troubles, adversities, sorrow. And God commands us to pray for His help and hears and answers us. But Jesus then turns our attention to what God truly wants us to pray for persistently and confidently and wants to give us above all: how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him? And this is the most amazing thing: the lesser things we ask for–like earthly blessings for us or others–God may very well refuse because they would be for us the stone, snake or scorpion; but God’s most perfect gift, the Holy Spirit, He gives most easily and never refuses! So dear Christian, let us learn from the Lord to pray with persistence and confidence especially for the great spiritual gifts and His most perfect gift, the Holy Spirit. INJ