Sermon from 24th Jul 2022 (Pentecost 7)

Luke 11:1-13 (EHV)

1 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.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’”

He said to them, “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.

“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. 10 For everyone who asks receives. The one who seeks finds. And to the one who knocks, it will be opened.

11 “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? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, would give him a scorpion? 13 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?”

Dear Heavenly Father, send us your Holy Spirit so that we may be persistent in our prayers through your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Most of us don’t like it when people bug or bother us. We don’t like it when they’re pushy or persistent.

For example, children can be pushy. They often bug their parents for things like new toys, new games, new phones, or the wrong type of foods. They can be incredibly pushy and persistent and can wear their parents down!

Husbands and wives often do the same thing. For example, how many wives have bugged their husbands to fix something, clean up after themselves, help with the dishes, or take out the rubbish? How many husbands have bugged their wives for a new car, a new tool, a new fishing rod, or a new TV to watch their favourite sport?

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he didn’t just give them his own prayer, but he also taught them about their attitude toward prayer. In this way, he didn’t only tell them what to pray for, but how to pray.

But Jesus surprises us because, as he teaches us how to pray, he tells us a story about a persistent or pushy friend who bothers and bugs his neighbour at midnight as an example of how we should pray.

The parable goes something like this: It was about midnight and a friend unexpectedly showed up to stay for the night. The owner of the house doesn’t have any bread or wine to give his guest, so he goes to his next-door neighbour and knocks on the door loudly.

He’s persistent in his knocking until a sleepy voice is heard saying, “I’m asleep, and so are my kids and the donkeys and goats and chickens, and if you keep on knocking, you’re going to wake everybody up!”

But the owner of the first house who has the guest is so pushy and persistent, he keeps knocking until he wakes up his neighbour, his kids, his animals, and his whole household!

Jesus then said, “The neighbour will give the wine and the bread, not because they’re friends, but because of the friend’s persistence.” In the same way, we’re to be persistent and pushy, bugging and bothering God with our prayer requests!

Jesus then continues with a very famous saying: “So I say to you. Ask (and keep on asking) and it shall be given you. Seek (and keep on seeking) and you shall find. Knock (and keep on knocking) and the door will be open to you.” 

In other words, our prayer life is to be persistent and pushy toward God with our constant asking, seeking, and knocking.

Unfortunately, most Christians don’t pray like this at all.

Most likely, we’ll might politely knock God’s door once a day or once a week with some short but polite prayer requests.

This means there’s an enormous difference between the teachings of Jesus about what our prayer life should look like and what our own prayer life actually looks like!

Now, one possible reason we’re not very pushy or persistent in prayer is because we’re so busy. We think we’re too busy to pray. And when we do pray, it might be a quick mumbled selfish prayer and then we wonder why God doesn’t answer us the way we want him to!

It seems the busier we are, the less likely we’ll pray, after all, whenever we’re busy, the first thing we drop is our prayers to God. So, you could argue that if you find a busy person, most likely you’ll also find someone who doesn’t pray very much!

Another possible reason we don’t pray very much is because we doubt it’ll do any good. After all, how many times have we prayed and didn’t get what we wanted?

We may have prayed for healing, for peace, for a good experience, for people to come to faith, and so on, but it didn’t happen. Since our prayers weren’t answered the way we expected, or in our demanded time frame, we figure prayer is as effective as star gazing.

It’s possible we then think of prayer as something we’re expected to do out of duty or because we think God wants us to, but we don’t expect it to do anything. We don’t think our prayers will change God’s mind. We don’t think God will do what we ask. As a result, we tend to give up after the first couple of knocks because we didn’t get a reply or had to wait too long before we got any response.

Another possible reason we don’t pray very much is because we expect a good and loving God should protect us from all the disasters of life, to save us from cancer, save us from car accidents, save us from Parkinson’s, to save us from disease and virus, and save us from tragedies. But when God doesn’t save us or our loved ones from these things, we may want to give up on our prayer life. We think it didn’t work. We figure God isn’t listening. We wonder if God isn’t as powerful and loving as we first thought.

But following this logic, we figure God should have saved St Paul from his ‘thorn in the flesh’ which was never removed from him despite his persistent prayers. We think God should have protected Job from the disasters which he experienced despite his faithfulness and regular prayers. We reckon God should have saved his specially chosen apostles from their cruel deaths. We might also wonder why God didn’t save his own Son Jesus Christ from unjust treatment, false accusations, cruel suffering, and a humiliating death!

The truth is, God hasn’t always spared his people from suffering, and we don’t always know why. But when God doesn’t deliver us or our loved ones from experiencing evil to body or soul we’re tempted to give up on our prayers.

As Jesus responded to his disciple’s request to teach them how to pray, Jesus knew his own prayer life was vital for him and for his relationship with his Father, and he knows it’s also vital for us and our faith. In fact, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them about prayer, he had just finished praying.

If you were to read through the gospel according to St Luke and highlight every time he prayed, you’d discover he was very persistent in his prayers. He prayed in the morning. He prayed at night. He prayed before every important event. He thanked God at mealtimes. He prayed from the cross for me and you. Jesus teaches us a lot about prayer through his own teaching and his practice.

But Jesus also wanted his disciples, including you and me, to be people of prayer. This is why he teaches us how to pray. If Jesus didn’t want us to pray, he wouldn’t have taught us. But he taught us so we may learn how to pray.

Jesus wants us to be pushy and persistent in our prayers, but not just for ourselves.

For example, the prayer Jesus gives us never uses the singular pronoun ‘I’ or ‘me’. We pray ‘Our Father’, ‘give us’, and ‘lead us’. In Jesus’ example of a pushy and persistent neighbour, we note the neighbour kept on knocking because he needed help to serve something he didn’t have for his visiting guest.

Jesus wants us to bug and bother God the Father for the needs of those around us. This is also why St Paul keeps teaching people through his letters to the churches to be constant in prayer, to pray at all times, to be steadfast in prayer, and to pray constantly. We’re to pray, and pray, and pray, and not lose heart. We’re to keep knocking, keep asking, and be pushy and persistent as we pray for ourselves and those God places in our lives.

Of course, there’ll be times our prayers will be answered differently to our expectations. This doesn’t mean God doesn’t answer our prayers, but since he’s God and we’re not, he’s the one who decides when and how he’ll answer for our own good and the good of those around us. The teaching here is for us to be pushy and persistent in our prayers, fully believing God will hear and answer in his way and in his time.

Jesus ends his teaching by telling us the most important prayer request is for God to give us his Holy Spirit, because he knows the resource and energy behind all faithful and persistent prayer is the Holy Spirit living within us.

So, we Christians ask for the Holy Spirit to be given to us so we might pray rightly and faithfully and persistently and in full trust. We pray the Holy Spirit will enable us to pray in such a way our prayers aren’t mere mental exercises, or dreary duty, but needed daily conversations of faithful trust in our Triune God.

If any of you haven’t been persistent in your own prayer life, then hear the good news that you’re forgiven by Jesus Christ for not praying as you should. On the other hand, may you also hear Jesus’ encouragement for you to be faithfully persistent in your prayer life.

God always listens to your prayers and will answer them. He may answer them in the way you ask and expect, but he may also answer your prayers in surprising ways which will deepen your love and trust in him.

He knows what’s best for you, which is why he doesn’t always give you what you want. God knows your needs better than you do, and he’ll provide what you need with (or without) your payers. But he still wants you to recognise him as your prime source of everything good and necessary for you and those around you. He desires you would want to deepen your relationship of faithful trust with him by asking him for what you need through prayer.

So sure, most of us don’t like pushy people, but God encourages us to be pushy and persistent in our prayer life. After all, Jesus is! And it’s through the persistence of Jesus’ love for you and me that…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.