If Scripture is the primary means by which God speaks to us as his followers, prayer is the primary means by which we speak to God.
Luke 11 is a key text on prayer because it’s the one place in the Bible where Jesus’ disciples literally came to him and asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” So what follows are the words of the rabbi to his apprentices, saying, “This is how you pray.”
1. The Precedent of Prayer.
You ever think about this? Why was Jesus so often found praying (e.g. Mark 1:35; Luke 5:15-16; 6:12; 11:1; 22:39-41)? He’s the eternal Son of God. He has all authority and power. He didn’t have to ask for permission, forgiveness, or even assistance.
So the precedent Jesus set in prayer is that it’s not primarily about getting God to do what you want. It’s about intimate communion, humble dependence, and surrender. It’s about taking time to focus on being particularly present with the Lord.
2. The Pattern of Prayer.
What follows sounds a lot like the more familiar “Lord’s Prayer” from Matthew 6, except this version is a bit shorter. Jesus’ point is less, “Pray these exact words just like this every time,” and more, “Here’s a framework with some basic themes that you can flesh out with your own words.” It’s a model, not a mantra.
First, there’s adoration. These are words of affection and reverence for God. It’s a setting apart of God’s name and character and works, and refusing to treat him as common. This sounds like worship, praise, gratitude, and thanksgiving.
Second, there’s acceptance. These are words of surrender to the kingship of Jesus. This is asking him for the grace to do his will, rather than telling him to do ours. It’s the longing for his freedom to reign in Denver, in our neighborhood, in our marriages/families, in our vocations, in our church.
Finally, there’s asking. We acknowledge our need for God’s provision, pardon, and protection. This discipline to ask protects us from sinful self-reliance on the one hand and from anxiety on the other. Our God is a loving and good Father, and he invites us to share with him our needs.
3. The Persistence of Prayer.
Here Jesus uses a humorous short story to get his point across. If you wake up a friend in the middle of the night to ask for help, you might have to ask a few times to get him out of bed. His point, of course, is not that God is a crochety old man or a belligerent, reluctant giver. His point is that God invites you to practice impudence – shameless audacity – in coming to him with your needs.
God doesn’t give you everything you ask for, the moment you ask. That wouldn’t be wise, and it wouldn’t be good for you. On the contrary, God wants prayerful persistence to shape your faith and your character into his image.
4. The Promise of Prayer.
On the surface, it might sound like Jesus is saying, “If you ask, seek, and knock, you’re guaranteed to get whatever it is that you want.” But we know that’s not true theologically or historically. Plus, we’ve all asked for things that would be downright bad for us if we got them.
Tim Keller captures the spirit of Jesus’ words when he writes, “God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows” (Prayer, p. 228). The promise is that God delights to give what is good to those who ask … and keep asking in faith. When it appears to us that God isn’t answering, we need to grow in our capacity to see this final point:
5. The Presence of Prayer.
Jesus compares the goodness of an imperfect, earthly father with the goodness of the perfect, heavenly Father. “If earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their kids, how much more will the heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him?” Read that last line again in quotes. That’s what we expected Jesus to say. But that’s not quite right, is it?
No, Jesus said, “If earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their kids, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?” See, prayer isn’t just a way to get bigger and better gifts from God; prayer is a way of getting more of God himself. Ultimately, we seek the Giver and not the gifts. We seek God’s face, God’s heart, God’s presence, not just his hand.
The hope and the dream is that we become more and more a praying people. And not just any old, rote, “Christmas list” prayers, but audacious, persistent, surrendered prayers. May we be a family that goes to prayer as a first impulse, not a last resort.