Let’s pray together everybody. We thank you our gracious God for giving to us your word as rule and God we thank you for the gift of your holy spirit, who illumines, strengthens, teaches. And we pray that now as we tend to this portion of your word that it would be for us food and light, help and strength, comfort and challenge. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We’re looking at some parables on these Sunday mornings. These are stories told by Jesus collected by Luke in the third of the gospels in the new Testament. Very powerful stories these stories, they’re not little cute bedtime stories for kiddies. These are more like alarms going off. And today there are two parables on the subject of prayer. Now, of course it’s assumed that anybody can pray. And some people think God of course is desperate for friends, but there is one prayer that a non-Christian can pray and God will listen to.
And that is the prayer to be saved. The Bible says the one who calls on the Lord will be saved. He may of course listen to the prayers of those who are not his people and do anything he wants. But he has promised to hear the prayers of his people because he has given a mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, who enables us to come to the father in his name. Now we need help in our prayers, we’re not good at praying. We find it difficult and Jesus gives us help in Luke chapter 11. I wonder whether you value the privilege of being able to pray if you are a believer. Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher of the 19th century tells a story of a man who’s walking through the fields. He comes across a visiting evangelist who’s come to do a mission in the town. And the evangelist says to the man walking through the fields, “Will you be coming to the meetings?” And the man says no.
The evangelist says, “Do you go to church?” And the man says no. He says to the man, “Are you planning to pray at some stage?” And the man says no. So the evangelist says to him, “Look, I will give you a shilling.” Which I guess was about $50 in those days. “If you will promise me that you will never pray.” And the man says, “Well, that’s easy. I never pray, I’m not planning to pray.” And he takes the money. Over the next few days he begins to reflect on what he’s done. He wonders what he will be doing on his sick bed unable to pray. That a family member might be in trouble and he’s not able to pray or that he comes to his deathbed and he’s unable to pray. And he becomes very anxious, he becomes quite sleepless.
He goes off his food, his wife notices that over the next couple of days he’s become very tense. And he tells her what he’s done. And she says to him, “You must take back this arrangement.” And he goes down to the meeting hall and sneaks in the back and the evangelist is announcing his text, what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul. And he waits until the talk is over. And he goes to the evangelists and says, “We’ve got to take back the deal.” Which the evangelist is happy to do and leads the man in his first prayer to be saved. It’s a priceless gift to be able to pray. Well, what is it that causes you to pray? Is it just a habit? Is it a duty, a ritual? Do you only pray when you’re in trouble as if God is an ambulance?
Or do you pray when you’re grateful? Do you pray with a sense of desperation? I’ve got to get this over and done with or a sense of privilege and confidence. Well, in Luke chapter 11 it’s obvious that when Jesus went to pray and his disciples watched him, they saw him having a great privileged experience of talking to his heavenly father. And they felt attracted to the whole idea of prayer. And they said to Jesus, “Would you teach us to pray?” And he did. He told them what we call the Lord’s prayer, chapter 11 verses two to four. Maybe he was repeating what he had said at the sermon on the Mount. And of all the things that we might say about the Lord’s prayer, which is not really our subject this morning. I just want to mention too and that is that the Lord’s prayer forces us to be God centred.
The first thing we say is father in heaven, be honoured, your kingdom come, your will be done. And so we begin to think about his concerns before our concerns. And I heard a layman preach on this back in 1980 and it completely revolutionised my life. It was like a Copernican revolution. I saw that the universe revolves around God and not me. The second thing about the Lord’s prayer is that it is a framework or a skeleton. It’s only got about 40 words in it, and you could pray the 40 words and that would be fine. But you can also expand and put on it a lot of flesh. And so you could pray something like this, heavenly father, please be honoured in my life, in the life of my family, in the church, in this particular person’s life, in this street in which I live, in this city. Or you could pray may your kingdom come in this city in which I live, may your kingdom come in this state, in this country, in this wider world.
That’s the Lord’s prayer. Now after giving them the model of prayer, which is the Lord’s prayer, he gives them some motivation for prayer in the parables. And he teaches basically three wonderful things about God. First, that he is a God of honour. Second, he’s a God of invitation. And thirdly, he is a God of generosity. First of all, he’s a God of honour. He is a God who promotes his honour and defends his honour. Chapter 11, verses five to eight. We know that in the Lord’s prayer we read or pray may your name be honoured, revered, respected and we can be absolutely sure that God is keen for his honour. And that’s why the story in chapter 11 verses five to eight is about a man defending his honour. And I’m going to put the parable into very simple language. Jesus is basically saying something like this.
Imagine you have visitors arrive at your place in the middle of the night. You’ve got nothing to give them. There’s nothing in the fridge. You’ve got no food, you’ve got no drink. They’re very hungry. There are no shops at midnight in the little village where you live. And so you go to a friend to ask for some supplies. And it’s embarrassing of course, to be going so late. What is the friend going to say to you? Well, the first thing he may say to you is it’s too late, we’re in bed. Don’t bother me I cannot help you. But then says Jesus, something will kick in. The man in bed will suddenly think about his reputation, he’s honour, how this will look in the community. And it will be quickly known how heartless he is if he does nothing. And so he gets up and gives what Is needed.
And that’s what Jesus literally says in chapter 11, verse eight. He may not get up because of the friendship, but he will get up because of his honour. The attack on his reputation will motivate him. And if a man says Jesus will defend his honour, how much more will God who has promised to care for his people to provide for their needs? And of course he doesn’t go to bed and get tucked up in bed. Therefore as you go to pray says Jesus, you must say to yourself I’m coming to someone who’s not only full of power and love and wisdom, but who has told us that we should come to him for provision and pardon and protection. And he will hear us because he has staked his honour on looking after his people. Of course the man in the story who’s tucked up in bed has got a number of resentments about being woken in the middle of the night and got out of bed.
But God has none of these obstacles or resentments. So difference, we must learn what Jesus is saying that even a friend will get up. They may be annoyed to save their reputation. How much more will God help us gladly to honour his reputation? Now, some people of course don’t like the idea of going to God at all. I was reading the biography of Frank Sinatra, a singer of course of the past and a fairly shady character. And he says in the biography, “I don’t believe in a personal God to whom I look for comfort. I am for anything,” says Sinatra, “that gets you through the night, tranquilisers or a bottle of Jack Daniels.” Now it all sounds very rugged, doesn’t it? But his daughter said after he died that Frank Sinatra spent all his life looking outside for what was missing inside.
But the Christian who goes to God in prayer will find a heavenly father who’s committed to help and to care because of his honour and his compassion. Second, he’s a God of invitation. Verses nine to 10 Jesus says, “Therefore ask, seek, knock.” What’s the obvious thing to say after you hear that God is committed to his people and cares for them? The obvious thing is therefore ask, knock, seek, and you will receive, find the door will be opened. This invitation my friends is a great incentive to pray because he gives us permission and a call to pray. And this will diminish the idea which comes into our heads every now and again that we are just talking to ourselves or that our prayer is a little bit of sort of self-help. We’re talking to the air that there’s nobody really there. No, God has invited us to pray. He says, “Call to me, cast your cares on me. Let your requests be made known. Ask, seek, and knock.”
There have been people in the past, great philosophers. I think of a guy called Feuerbach in the 19th century who said that God didn’t make man, but man made God. And man made God because he wants a father, he wants a cosmic father. And there are many popular atheists today who would say the same sort of thing. That Christianity is a bit of a crutch and prayer is wishful thinking. It’s a kind of desperation. These people however never really face up to the greatness of Jesus who knew what he was talking about. Jesus towers over these philosophers in character and in knowledge and understanding. And he says, “Ask, seek, knock.” Just like a good friend may say to you, “You contact me any time you want. Doesn’t matter when it is, doesn’t matter what’s happening. If I can help you, I will.” And that’s what God says to us.
Now we must face a much harder question. And that is when it comes to asking, seeking, and knocking how come some of us have done a lot of it and there has been no receiving, open door coming our way? God you see is not a Coke machine into which we put out prayer and immediately out comes the product. But this is a very painful thing because you think of the people for example who’ve prayed for a spouse for decades and they have not become believers. Or think of the parents who’ve prayed for children and they’ve not become believers. People have prayed for sick people, single people, infertile people. There’s been prayers for the resolution of a broken relationship and nothing improves or a breakthrough in the mission field and it’s still dreadfully difficult. Or a church and yet nothing seems to be happening. What do we do? This silence apparently from God has really distressed and destroyed some people. And I don’t want to minimise the pain. There are many things I have prayed that I’ve not had a yes from God for, but I’m not going to give up on God.
And I’m not going to give up on praying because the answer really is bound up in those early verses in the Lord’s prayer that I’m praying to the God of heaven. I’m praying to the God of the universe. I am a baby at best when I pray. He’s infinitely wiser and greater than me. And just as we cannot explain a needle which a child must endure at a hospital to the child. So there are things that we cannot understand that God cannot or doesn’t explain to us, but he still asks us to trust him. And I’ve often reflected on the fact that there were some prayers which were not answered quickly in the Bible and if they had been answered quickly things would have been much worse. You think of Jacob for example, losing his son Joseph. And if he’d said, “God, bring him back immediately.”
Well, Joseph would never have been sold into Egypt, he would never have become the prime minister, he would never have been given the dreams, help the Egyptian people to have the food for the next years ahead of them, enabled many nations around to come and survive. God knew what he was doing. Or think of Jesus in the garden, praying that the cup of judgment would be taken away from him. And what does God the father say, “There isn’t a way for the cup to be taken away.” If the cup had been taken away from Jesus and he had not gone through with the cross and the judgment well, there would be no forgiveness. There would be no salvation. There would be no church. There would be no future for God’s people. God you see is infinitely wiser than us and he does give us our daily bread, forgiveness and protection and so we must keep trusting him.
Third and finally, God is a God of generosity. Chapter 11 verses 11 to 13, Jesus finishes with a lovely little parable showing that God is better than we are, infinitely better than we are. He is perfectly generous. This is the quick parable in verses 11 to 13. Basically Jesus looks at the crowd and he says something like this. I wonder whether there’s a father here and your son is having a birthday coming up. And he says to you, “Dad, you know what I’d really like? I’d like a fish. I’d like an egg.” Such a simple request. And the father says Jesus thinks to himself, “No, I won’t give him a fish or an egg. When he opens the box and unwraps it, there will be a poisonous snake. There will be a deadly scorpion.” Would any of you says Jesus do that?
And you could imagine all the fathers in the crowd saying at that particular moment that’s impossible. We would never do that. And then comes the punch, chapter 11 verse 13. Jesus says, if you knowing that you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much will God who is without fault, perfect in character, give good gifts? And when Jesus goes on to describe the gift that God is ready to give it isn’t a fish or an egg, chapter 11 verse 13, it is his spirit. The holy spirit, the life of God that God would give himself to you. And we know that God will do this because he gave his son to the death in order that he might give you a brand new life. So not only is God ready to give his holy spirit, but we must of course be quick to ask for the holy spirit. We must ask God to give us new life, that this spirit would indwell us.
And we must ask God when we’re believers that his spirit would fill our hearts. So here we see you see these wonderful teachings of Jesus in the subject of prayer. God guards his honour. He will give what you need. His reputation is at stake. Therefore be encouraged as you think of him. Second, he’s a God of invitation. You’re not making this prayer life up. He invites you to pray, he calls on you to ask, seek, and knock. And thirdly, he is a God of generosity. Infinitely better than the greatest father in the world. He’s able and willing to provide. I’ll finish by telling you a simple story, a true story of a missionary lady called Helen Roosevelt, who was a doctor in Zaire back in the sixties and the seventies. And there was an occasion where in the hospital a little baby was born premature and it desperately needed to be kept warm.
The hot water bottle of the hospital, this primitive little hospital, had burst. And when Helen Roosevelt went that afternoon to the orphanage to see the children as she used to do, she said to the children, “Let’s pray for this little baby. It needs a hot water bottle.” And one of the little children, one of the orphan children prayed a fairly bold prayer saying, “God, please bring a hot water bottle and for good measure, a doll for this little baby.” And Helen Roosevelt of course thought this is a fairly bold prayer, but the next day in the mail came a parcel. And in the parcel were the normal things of cards, maybe a book or two, maybe a little bit of transferrable food. And there in the middle of the parcel was a hot water bottle and underneath it, a little doll. Helen Roosevelt says what is remarkable is that that particular parcel had been sent by the Sunday school of a church back home in England five months before.
And God you see who is sovereign, gracious and good full of wisdom knew exactly the timing of that particular parcel. So as we pray to him, let’s remember what we’ve been reading. We’ve been taught how to pray, God centred prayers, but we’re also encouraged to pray motivated because God is a God who defends his honour. He will not let us fall. He’s a God of invitation. He calls us to ask, seek and knock. And he’s a God of generosity greater than any father in this world. He will give what is needed, especially the holy spirit, the very life which comes to us because Jesus died for us.
Let’s bow our heads
We thank you heavenly father, as we lift up our voice to you, that you’re a God who invites us to pray. And we ask that you’d help us to pray with confidence in you, confidence in your honour, thankful for the invitation, trusting your generosity. We look to you and we give you our thanks in Jesus’ name, Amen.