The famous evangelist, Dr. Billy Graham, once said, “When I am asked to list the most important steps for an evangelistic mission, my reply is always the same Ð three things: ÔPrayer, prayer, and prayer.'” He then goes on to say, “Prayer is crucial in evangelism. Only God can change the heart of someone who is in rebellion against him. No matter how logical our arguments or how fervent our appeals, our words will accomplish nothing unless God’s Spirit prepares the way.”
Prayer was a priority for Jesus as well. Even though his ministry lasted only three years, he was never too hurried to spend a few hours in prayer. He began and closed each day in communion with his Father. It was an absolute necessity.
So Jesus’ disciples made a request of him: “Lord, teach us to pray.” Notice. They didn’t ask Jesus to teach them to preach, or do miracles, or even to be wise. Consequently, Jesus gave his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, which serves us well as a pattern for prayer. In it he tells us to turn to God as one of his disciples. Talk to him as your Heavenly Father who loves you. Tell him how you want his name to be hallowed and held up as special, especially in this world. Talk about his mission, and ask him to make you receptive to serving him. Turn to him with your needs for provision, and ask for pardon from your sins as we pardon others who hurt us. Ask God to protect you and save you from temptation and evil.
Then Jesus gave them some theology to live by, which is where I want to spend most of our time today. Jesus teaches them about the God who hears their prayers and is good and faithful. He begins by describing the scenario of a man who receives an unexpected visitor in the middle of the night. Societal hospitality demanded visitors should be fed. However, he was out of bread, so he went to his friend down the street and calls out to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves. I’ve got a friend who showed up unexpectedly and I need to serve him a meal.”
Imagine this friend responding in a rather grumpy way, “ÔDon’t bother me now. The door’s bolted, and my kids are asleep. I can’t give you anything.’ Jesus continues with his story, “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.”
He then goes on to say, “So I say to you, Ask and you will be given, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened.'” It’s as if Jesus is saying, if you can expect a friend down the road to give you bread in the middle of the night, surely you can rest assured that your Father in heaven, who loves you so much, will treat you with more respect and faithfulness than even the best of friends. He is far greater and more faithful than any friend you can possibly have. Rest assured that, when you turn to him, he will answer your prayers.
Jesus then repeats: ask, seek, knock. Everyone who asks, everyone who seeks, everyone who knocks. Keep on knocking, keep on asking, keep on seeking. Your Father knows what is best for you and will answer with what is best.
He then offers up another picture. Imagine your child comes to you and asks for a fish. Would you give him a snake? If he asked for an egg, would you trick him with a scorpion? Of course, not. So then, if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to you?
Followers of Jesus are God’s children, and they can be confident that their Father knows them and will supply their needs with what is best for them. In fact, our Heavenly Father gives his Holy Spirit to empower and guide them to serve as his disciple.
Sitting beside me at my computer, I have Martin Luther’s Sacristy Prayer, which reminds me to pray for power in my preaching. It reads,
“O Lord God, dear Father in heaven, I am indeed unworthy of the office and ministry in which I am to make known Thy glory and to nurture and to serve this congregation. But since Thou hast appointed me to be a pastor and teacher, and the people are in need of the teachings and the instructions, O be Thou my helper and let Thy holy angels attend me. Then if Thou art pleased to accomplish anything through me, to Thy glory and not to mine or to the praise of men, grant me, out of Thy pure grace and mercy a right understanding of Thy Word and that I may also diligently perform it. O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, Thou Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, send Thy Holy Spirit that He may work with me, yea, that He may work in me to will and to do through Thy divine strength according to Thy good pleasure. Amen.”
I take that prayer seriously. Before each service in which I will preach, I ask someone to join me in asking God’s power to stir the Holy Spirit in me as I preach. When we ask, “Your will be done,” we know he will give us his Holy Spirit and God’s Word will be shared. As we face situations in life, he fills us up with himself.
We often use an old saying around our church that goes like this: God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good!
That’s pretty much what Jesus is telling his disciples in the text. He is committing them to a life of prayer. He tells them what to ask for in the Lord’s Prayer, and then reminds them that the hearer of prayer makes it work. He is good and he is faithful. That’s the power of prayer at work.
Like a child confidently goes to his loving father, we can confidently go to our loving Father. He will answer Ð not always the way we want it answered but Ð with what is best for us.
One of my favorite Lutheran writers, Gerhard Frost, wrote a little sonnet called, “I Thank You, Lord” about his prayer life. It goes like this:
Thank you, Lord, for always answering prayer,
but not indulging my every petty, private give-me.
Thank you for winnowing and refining, vetoing and delaying, refusing and revising.
Thank you for being God and never less, for freeing me for wide horizons,
for protecting me from my limited vision and wayward will.
Thank you for foiling my every effort to unseat you and make myself king.
Thank you for keeping it safe for me to pray.
We have a Father who knows best. Jesus encourages us to keep asking, keep knocking, keep seeking. Keep praying the prayer he has given us. Whatever the circumstance, whether we need to make a decision or ask for forgiveness, daily bread, or for God’s will to be done on earth, pray. Pray. Don’t give into the temptation to skip prayer because you are too busy. It is the most powerful weapon God has given us against the evil one.
I once read that the biggest concern of Satan is to keep the saints from prayer. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil and mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray. Jesus tells us to persist in it. Keep on asking. Keep on seeking. Keep on knocking.
Jesus has drawn in this text the picture of a faithful friend and a loving Father. If that isn’t enough, consider the picture of a cross with the Son of God hanging upon it. Our Father saw our greatest need is to be safe from sin and death. Out of love he gave his all. He went all out to make you his child. That’s how good and faithful he is. Surely we can trust that kind of love in our daily walk with him as we serve him in this world.
It’s time to pray.