More Help on Prayer
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More Help on Prayer

Luke 11:5–13  (ID: 2162)

In Jesus’ culture, people lived in close community; it was unthinkable to turn away a needy friend. In the same way, our heavenly Father is eager to hear our petitions. Examining Jesus’ parable of the friend at night, Alistair Begg reminds us that while God may not grant us our every request, He will always do what is best for us. Prayer should become a pattern in our lives as we eagerly knock at the ever-open door of our Father.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Luke, Volume 7

When You Pray, Say… Luke 11:1–13 Series ID: 14207

Sermon Transcript: Print

Father, it is on account of your amazing grace that we’re even in this room, and it is only by your grace that we can take our Bibles and open them, and only by your grace that we can read them and begin to plumb their depths. And so we come to rely entirely upon you. Our very weakness gives to us the opportunity of discovering your strength, both as we endeavor to speak and hear, to understand, and to put into practice the teaching from the Bible. So meet with us, we pray. Help us, Lord Jesus. We so desperately need your help. And we pray in your lovely name. Amen.

Well, can I invite you to turn again to the Gospel of Luke, and to chapter 11, where we pick up our studies there at the fifth verse, Jesus having provided for his disciples a prayer, which he gave in answer to the request of one individual, his request being recorded in the first verse?

Our fellowship with God through his Son the Lord Jesus Christ finds its principal expression in prayer.

As we worked our way through the Lord’s Prayer, we reminded ourselves that our fellowship with God through his Son the Lord Jesus Christ finds its principal expression in prayer —finds its principal expression in prayer. We might be tempted to think that it is in our talking about God, or even in our sharing God with others, that we make the principal and vital expression of the reality of a relationship with him. But it is clearly possible for all kinds of people to talk about God, and even to talk about their experiences of God. But the chilling challenge of it is simply this: that what a man or a woman is on their knees before God, that is what we are, that and nothing else.[1] And more than any other thing in my Christian life, the thing that speaks to the reality, to the consistency, to the significance of the fact that God knows me and I know God by his grace, is to be found in the privacy of my own personal prayers.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I find this to be immensely challenging. Surely I’m not alone in being dissatisfied with my attempts at prayer—dissatisfied at how little I even desire to pray, and how when I start I so quickly want to stop; how routine are the words that I use; how representative of a static relationship, rather than the dynamism that marks friend communing with friend. I wonder if we don’t all find ourselves in the position, this morning, where we long to know more and more of what it is to truly pray.

To the extent that that is true of us, we find ourselves in good company. The disciples of John the Baptist urged upon him the instruction necessary that they might know what it is to pray.[2] The disciples of Jesus here, as is recorded for us in chapter 11, were concerned that they might learn “[how] to pray.”[3] And not only on this occasion, but on a number of occasions, they were intrigued by and stimulated by the prayer life of Christ himself: waking early in the morning and finding that Jesus was already gone, searching for him and finding him in the posture of prayer; recognizing that he was missing from them on a certain number of evenings, and when he returned, they pressed him as to where he’d been and what he’d been doing, and it was clear that he had been out and spent the whole night in prayer to his Father.[4] Surely in the absence of Jesus they must have said to one another, “What do you think he says when he has these amazing long prayer times? When he spends the whole night in prayer, how does he fill up a whole night in prayer?” Someone responding, “Yes, that’s what I was thinking, as well. I find,” says one disciple to the other, “that after a few minutes, I just come to the end of my words. I’m hardly started till I’m stopped. If you put down an egg timer and turn it over, I would’ve opened my eyes four times before all of the sand went through. And that’s for a three-minute egg!” And yet, isn’t it interesting that most of us don’t have difficulty with words when it comes to bellyaching, or when it comes to complaining, or when it comes to expressing bitterness? William Cowper, nipping this notion in the bud, writes in one of his great hymns on prayer,

Have you no words? Ah, think again:
Words flow apace when you complain,
And fill your fellow-creature’s ear
With the sad tale of all your care.[5]

And when someone comes to you and says, “Do you have a moment?” it’s never a moment. “I just want a minute!” It’s never a minute. I was in the company of someone the other evening; I made the mistake of being prepared to listen to her story as to how it was that the travel agent had made a hash of her travel arrangements. When my eyes glazed over after about quarter of an hour, I think she got the impression that I really wasn’t tuned in to what was going on. Her story was an epic, right up there with the Iliad and the Odyssey. For those of you who read Sohrab and Rustum at school for your sins, this was right up there with Sohrab and Rustum. This lady had a soliloquy that never ended, better than any penned by Shakespeare for Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. And I found myself walking away saying, “Goodness, gracious! Make a mental note: never, ever, ever give that lady the opportunity to start on you again.”

Now, I’d like to introduce her to you this morning. But unfortunately, my wife was at the first service. No—may I be forgiven, that was all for effect. There is a lady, it’s not my wife, and I don’t know where she is.

But here’s what struck me: I see my own sins best in other people. I find I can identify impatience in someone else—I’m prepared to admit it in myself—I can identify the length of this dissertation by this lady, and I know that people’s faces dim in the prospect of one of my long stories, and yet when I’m alone with God, where do all the words go? Says Cowper, following up his verse,

Were half the breath thus vainly spent
To heav’n in supplication sent,
Our cheerful song would oft’ner be,
“Hear what the Lord has done for me!”[6]

So Jesus moves from this form of words that he has provided, that may be prayed as given, may be a pattern to be used in a variety of ways, and then he goes forward and he gives an illustration, then he makes a point of application, and then he gives a call, if you like, to contemplation. And I want to move just through the verses 5–13, using that as a template.

A Powerful Illustration

First of all, will you notice the illustration in verses 5–8? When you sit around and tell jokes to one another, as a number of us were doing traveling on a coach last week, trying to make the time pass more quickly, the introduction was always, “I’ve got one for you.” And as soon as someone said, “I’ve got one for you,” then everybody listens up. And you could imagine that Jesus, in the course of his instruction, would turn to his disciples on occasion, says, “Hey, guys, I’ve gone one for you. I’ve got one.” And they said, “Okay, go.” And then he says, “Listen: suppose one of you has a friend, and he comes to him at midnight,” and he says this, and the disciples are all ears, listening to this illustration.

Now, I don’t know if you read it very carefully, but if you allow your eyes to scan it right now, it perhaps seems, on initial reading, just “long ago and far away.” After all, how many of you in the last twelve months have had somebody wake you up in the middle of the night and ask you for three loaves? How many of us even think that for somebody to wake us up in the middle night and ask us for three loaves is even a big deal? No, you see, two [millennia] of life take this illustration and bury it. And therefore we need to understand the Eastern context in which this story was given. And those of you who’ve traveled in the East or have read will be able to bring it to the foreground of your thinking easier than some of the rest of us.

Let me give you just a little background: In the East, hospitality is a sacred duty—not only in the East, but definitely in the East. You see that even when you travel today. This last week, Sue and I had the privilege, under the auspices of Prison Fellowship, of not only teaching the Bible with a group of 208 people, but also of being on the receiving end of all kinds of expressions of hospitality. And on a sunny afternoon in the middle of the week, in Turkey, in Ephesus, as I waited for Sue to come from somewhere, standing somewhat listlessly in the middle of this small town square, I heard a voice say, “Sit down, my friend.” And I turn around, and there was a gentleman, and he was speaking to me. And so I sat down. And I found myself seated in between these two Muslim traders. And as if by magic, all of a sudden, a man appeared carrying a tray, and on it were two of those tiny cups of Turkish coffee. That coffee is excellent for curing dandelions, but it is not to be consumed by human beings, with apologies to all of you who are from Turkey. It’s an acquired taste. And since I was only there for four hours, give me a break. But it was an expression of hospitality: “Sit down, my friend.” There was really no question about it. “You’re my friend, sit down. If you’re my friend, I talk to you. If you’re my friend, I serve you. This is what I want to serve you. Drink this.” And so we did.

And so it’s unthinkable that this individual, who finds himself with a traveler coming without anything to provide for him, he’s not just going to say to him, “Well, why don’t you have a bowl of Rice Krispies and call it a night?” That is not the way they did it! First, they had no Rice Krispies, and secondly, that would have been a fiasco, because the demands of Eastern hospitality were such that he must put himself out in order to minister to the one who’s in need.

Also, we need to understand that a closed door in this context was akin to a sign on a hotel door, Do Not Disturb. In the Eastern world, as they lived in close proximity to one another, when the sun was up and the doors were opened everybody was involved in one another’s businesses. And the same is true in parts of the world elsewhere. In the north of Scotland, even today, you can walk in and out of certain people’s homes; the door is always open. But when the door is closed, it simply is saying, “The time for privacy has come.” And the door was closed, demanding that this man go and knock.

At the same time, in the poorer houses of Palestine, there was just one room. The floor was of beaten earth; it would be covered with rushes or with reeds. The family would live in that one room, they would sleep on that one floor. Mom, dad, children, any kind of creatures that they had around, would all be gathered in; two-thirds of the floor would be here, one-third slightly raised; a charcoal fire of some kind, that would be kept going as long as possible, would be the focal point not only for conversation, but for gathering themselves around as the evening shadows fell and as the temperature dropped. And therefore, in that very close quarter, the family would fall asleep.

Therefore, it becomes immediately apparent… And that’s why it’s important for us to set this in context. It may be that some of us slept in sleeping bags last night beside a charcoal stove, and everybody in the one room, but I think it is highly unlikely. And therefore we’ve got no concept of this, of someone ringing the doorbell after having come up a driveway that was a 180 yards long, or a 150 feet long, or set back from the road by 350 feet. We’ve got not concept of this. But imagine, if you can, all of the family together in one room. And when you buttoned it down for the night, the one thing you didn’t want to do was unbutton it. And you certainly didn’t want somebody coming banging on the door in the middle of the night, because it was impossible to awaken one member of the family without awakening the whole family. Indeed, such was the proximity in which these people lived that you actually couldn’t hardly waken a family up without it becoming a community event. And so, it’s in that kind of context that the man wishing to show hospitality to a traveling friend goes to his friend’s home to borrow bread.

Now, what we need to grasp is simply this: it was a big deal, and it was a bold demand. It may be hard for us to understand that it was a big deal, but it was, and therefore on account of that his demand was bold. What was the foundation for him going as he did? Friendship. “Friend,” he says, “lend me three loaves.” His request, bold as it is, demanding as it is, is made on the basis of friendship. His request, as you note carefully, is not the product of selfishness, but it is the product of necessity. He’s not there because he wants more stuff, and he’s just cajoling his friend into it; he’s there because he has a circumstance that he cannot address, the whole matter of hospitality is there, and so he comes to his friend and he says, “Friend.” You can imagine his wife saying to him, when the visitor came, “What are we going to do now?” and he said, “I’ll go over to Levi’s house.” And she would have said, as most wives would, “Do you really think you should do that? After all, look at the time that it is, and all the doors are closed for the night.” And he probably would have reasoned with her, “Well, I would do it for him, therefore he can do it for me.” “In good times and bad times, that’s what friends are for.”[7] So it was the basis of friendship, motivated not by selfishness, but by necessity.

Now, in this illustration, what do you think is the point of emphasis? Look at it: “Friend, lend me three loaves, because a friend of mine made a journey,” and so on, “Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The [door’s] already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he [won’t] get up and give him the bread because [he’s] his friend, yet [he’ll get up] because of [his] boldness.” Most of the commentaries say that the emphasis is persistence—that the reason Jesus is telling this is to encourage his followers to persist in prayer. I’m not sure that’s right. It may be; later on, in chapter 18, Jesus expressly teaches this in the parable of the persistent widow. In fact, Luke records for us, in the opening of chapter 18, he says, “And Jesus taught his disciples that men must always pray and not faint,” or, “They must always pray and not stop praying,”[8] and then he tells the parable of the persistent widow. Now, it may be that the emphasis is the same here, but I don’t think so.

The emphasis in this little section is upon just how impossible it is for a normal human being to refuse anything that is needful for his friend. However he gets to it, at the end of the day it’s impossible for genuine friendship to say no—whether it’s because he banged forty-seven times, whether it’s because he remembered something he’d done before, whatever it is, eventually friendship comes through. And the one making the request reveals how much he dares to ask and expect from the friendship. And the point is plain: How much more may the disciples rest assured that God, who is our heavenly friend, will never refuse anything needful when we come to him with sincere prayer? “If a normal human relationship,” he says, “produces a response like this, you can be absolutely confident that your heavenly friend”—your “heavenly Father,” as he is about to call him—“will be prepared to respond to every needful request that you make in sincerity of heart.” Jesus is here moving from the form of words that he has given them to the forming of an attitude of heart. And he’s seeking to instill in his disciples, it seems, confidence that isn’t presumptuous, but a confidence which is grounded in the nature of the friendship they enjoy and in the nature of the promises that God has made.

There is no inconvenient moment for going to our heavenly friend.

Geldenhuys, the commentator, says, “If even an imperfect human being, notwithstanding the inconveniences to which he is put, will arise at midnight to give a friend what he needs if he comes and asks him for help, how much more will God … listen to the sincere prayers and supplications of his children who are really in need?”[9] It’s really a travesty when I hear people teach from this illustration and say, “You know, what you have to do is just keep going to God again and again and again, and what you’re trying to do is overcome his reluctance to get up and answer your request.” That is to dishonor God in his entirety! Plus, you can never go to God at midnight. There is no midnight with God! There is no inconvenient moment for going to our heavenly friend.  

A Point of Application

Now, that’s the illustration. Let’s go to the application—verses 9 and 10. Jesus makes application: “So I say to you…” The clause in Greek is clear; it’s what they call a hina clause, it advances the argument. He says, “You’ve understood—I can tell by your eyes—what I’ve been saying to you, and so let me now make application of this: since God the Father will arise and act on behalf of those who are in need, they ought to bring their requests to him.” And the verbs that Jesus uses convey a sense of urgency, as well as consistency and clarity, concerning that for which we pray.

Some of us learned this at Sunday School in that little song, “Ask, ask, ask, and it shall be given you.” Reminder to us that this is all in the present continuous; in other words, you don’t go once and “Ask, and then that’s over,” or “Seek, and it’s done,” but rather it is, “Ask, and go on asking. Seek, and go on seeking. Make this the pattern of your life,” he says. “Make this the framework of your days.”

Now, the asking, and the verb here for “asking,” is not some vague, half-hearted request, but it is the asking of an engaged mind and of a focused will. In other words, it’s the way that a teenager who has just got her driver’s license will come and ask her mum or dad for the car keys. It’s not a vague and half-hearted request; you can tell that her mind is engaged and her will is focused: “I want the car keys. I want the car. I’m asking you for it.” This, he says, is the way in which we should come to God, not with a bunch of vague generalities: “God, this is on my heart, this is my concern, these are my children, this is my business, this is the church, this is your kingdom, Lord. I’m here today to ask you about this express issue.” Are you specific like that in your prayers? I mean, if you have salespeople call on you, doesn’t it frustrate you if they take two minutes in a preamble? “What is it you want? Tell me. Life is going by.” The Father has a whole universe to listen to. Cut to the chase! Don’t use up time with a long preamble. He knows your needs, and he understands. He knows the words of your mouth before we even speak them.[10]

“Ask.” “Seek.” And the way in which we seek is with the object of finding or obtaining. This is not the seeking of the gentleman that you find at the mall who is sort of … just like this, he just … you see him, and he’s here, and then he looks there and stuff. And then you say, “Hey, Joe, what’re you doing?” He says, “Oh, I’m looking for my wife.” No, you’re not! You’re not seeking. You’re wandering. If you were really seeking, you would be in and out, and here and there, in order to achieve that for which you are concerned.

Now, that’s the verb that is used here for “seek.” And sometimes, when we seek God for specific things in prayer, we need to recognize that we ourselves may be the answer to our own prayers.  We have to be prepared to put ourselves into the equation whereby God answers prayer. For example, I had a wonderful illustration of it in the inception of Prison Fellowship as I heard about it this week. When Chuck Colson, Nixon’s hatchet man, went to jail after the Watergate scandal, he was in a jail in Alabama. In the course of a routine day, he found himself in the room: the guys are playing cards, some are watching soaps, some are playing pool. It’s an average day in an average jail. And in the midst of all of that, he said that a tall black man stood up and said, “Hey, Colson,” and suddenly it all went quiet, and people turned the TV down, they said, “We want to hear this.” He said, “Colson, what are you gonna do for us when you get out of here? You smart Washington lawyers, going in the jail like us, then you go away and you leave us. What are you going to do for us?” And Colson said, “I looked at the man and I said, ‘I will pray for you and I will not forget you.’”

Discharged from prison, goes home, tells his wife, “We’re going to go to Spain at the invitation of friends, we’ll live in this house in Spain, we’ll be done with all of this business.” The drama’s over, the media’s over, all of that stuff is over; his whole world had come crashing down. They made their plans to leave for Spain, but still he couldn’t get out of his mind the fact that he had promised this man, and the other men, that he would pray for them and he would not forget them. And so he said to Patty, his wife, “Before we go to Spain, we’ll just fly once to Alabama. I want to go back to that jail, and I’m just going to go in and tell these guys I haven’t forgotten them.” And some of you will remember the headlines in the paper. It was the headlines on the news. All of the news networks carried it as a top story. The headlines in the papers read, “Colson Goes Back to Jail.” And when he got to Alabama, he found that the press corps was there just in its absolute fullness. And he went back in the jail, and he said, “I’m here because I said I would come here.” And twenty-five years later, now, today, as a result of seeking God for an issue that was heavy upon his heart, he became part of the answer to his prayers—never returned to a Washington law practice, never returned to the privileges of government, never returned, in many ways, to the limelight and to the security that was represented in his previous existence.

“I want you to ask God in a way that engages your mind and focuses your will,” says Jesus. “I want you to seek, and to go on seeking, in a way that bears a commitment to being part of the answer, and I want you to knock with an urgent sincerity that is expressed in your praying and in your seeking.”

Do you ever wonder what would happen if we decided that whatever else we did at Parkside Church, we just opened that front door every morning from whatever time you want to start, and as in churches throughout cities all across America, it became customary for people just to come in here, and just to sit, or just to kneel down in this room and to plead with God for the issues of the kingdom, and to ask God for the concerns of the city of Cleveland, and to pray for the work of the gospel as it goes out in different ways. Jesus said, “I want you to ask and keep on asking, to seek and keep on seeking, to knock and keep on knocking. And if you ask you will receive, if you seek you will find, and if you knock the door will be opened to you, ’cause everyone asks, receives.”

Now, that raises a question that I always get, and I want to address it just briefly and parenthetically. And the question is this: “Well, does this then mean that we receive anything that we ask for?” In other words, can you ask God for anything and manipulate the answer? Are those who say all you have to do is “name it” and then go ahead and “claim it” teaching a dimension of spiritual geography that many of us have just never entered into and need to discover, or are they actually teaching something that is impossible to substantiate from the experience of life and from the unfolding of the biblical record? That’s the question.

Well, John Calvin was a great help to me here this week. Calvin says, “Christ does not give a loose rein to the wishes of men, that they should desire anything at their pleasure.… The Spirit must of necessity hold all our affections by the bridle of the word of God.”[11] “The Spirit must of necessity hold all our affections by the bridle of the Word of God,” thereby saving us from making outlandish claims and seeking somehow or another to use believing prayer as a mechanism whereby we seek to make God give us what we demand and to prevent him from giving us what we don’t want. Now, is that fair to human record? Is it fair to the biblical exposition?

Now, clearly, we can ask in total confidence for certain things, because there are things in the Bible that are imperatives, and the imperatives are obligations, and God never gives us an obligation without answering our desire to fulfill the obligation. For example, “I beseech you … brethren, by the mercies of God, [to] present your bodies [as] a living sacrifice,”[12] so that we may pray with absolute confidence, “Dear Lord and Father, I long to be a living sacrifice, and I long for your help”; we can pray with absolute confidence to become a witness to the gospel, because Jesus said, “Go [out] and make disciples of all nations”;[13] we can pray with absolute confidence that God will answer our prayers to become a worshipper, because “He seeks those who will worship him in spirit and in truth,”[14] and so on.

However, there is no absolute promise in the Bible that I have discovered that God, for example, will heal all Christians of their diseases, outside the ultimate healing that is ours, that is eventual and true and unending. There is no absolute promise that because you’re a good Christian, God will give you wonderful grades and make you the top of your class. There is no absolute promise that because you’re a Christian, you can ask God to have a rip-roaring business, and you will have the best business in the community. Now, he may give you the ability to be supremely successful in business, but you cannot go to others and say, “This is a categorical promise that I took to the bank; it had his name on it, and it was signed, and I simply cashed it in.” For we are to “seek … first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and [then] all these things [will] be added unto [us].”[15]

The fact of the matter is that there are good reasons why God would not always give us what we ask.  There are good reasons why God would not always give us what we ask. For example, our prayers are often substitutes for obedience. Do you ever use prayer as a cop-out? So, the kid doesn’t do his homework, goofs around in the class, and then sits like a pathetic little creature—you’ll notice that this is autobiographical every so often—sits like a pathetic creature, gazing imploringly at the teacher. And she says, “Now, Alistair, I’ve told you a million times: I’ll help you, but I’m not going to do it for you.”

“Lord, I want to be pure.” Well, if I pray, “Lord, I want to be pure,” then it demands that, by the enabling of the Spirit of God, I do not put myself in the place of impurity. It demands that it addresses the issues of my reading, and my listening, and all those other things.

God knows what’s best for his children.

Another reason why God would not give us what we ask is because we’re poor judges of what’s good for us. We’re poor judges of what’s good for us. Do you think, for example, that the problem that we want rid of couldn’t possibly be the means that God wants to use to conform us to the image of his Son? God knows what’s best for his children.  Do you think that Paul would have been a better preacher if he hadn’t come to Corinth “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling”?[16] Surely he was concerned that he would have the “thorn in his flesh” removed from him: “I asked the Lord three times that he would take this away from me. I implored him that I wouldn’t have this anymore,” whatever it was, and God says, “No, my strength is made perfect in weakness. Paul, you’re not smart enough to know what to ask for yourself, because I have plans and purposes for you.”[17] And as difficult as it is for us to face, all of us have things in our lives like this—things that we would do differently, issues that we would change. We don’t know what’s good for us, and frankly, we don’t know what’s good for others. We’re not good judges of what is good for other people. We’d better be careful what we ask for our children.

Which of us would’ve brought about the end of Jim Elliot when he was only in his twenties? That doesn’t seem like a good idea, does it? You live your life, you’re committed to Christ, you marry your bride, you make these great statements, you finish your studies at Wheaton College, you go down into South America, you go to the headhunters, you go with devotion, you’re singing the hymns, you’re living the life, and all of a sudden, in the very first encounter, they chop your head off and eat you! Who would come up with that as a plan? You see, because what’s good for us is not necessarily good for the church, and hear me carefully: God is more interested in the church and his ultimate purpose for his people than he is ultimately interested in you and me as an individual. 

Now, don’t misunderstand me; that’s not to say that God is not interested in us as individuals. But in an individualistic, atomistic culture such as ours, whereby we gauge everything as how it relates to us, we’re tempted to believe that we know best. And God says, “No. I may take you through this, I may put you over there, I may put you in a wheelchair, I may do all manner of things to you, because my ultimate purpose is for my people, and to the end that they would be conformed to the image of my Son.” Which of us can make sense of the dreadful ravishing illness of Jim Boice right now? I look across the horizon of evangelicalism and I say, “Here is a star in the horizon. Here is someone to whom we can look as other young men. Here is someone who has proven that he’s standing the test of time and living for the issue of the gospel,” and his life is ebbing out. But God knows what’s best! And there are reasons why God does not give to us what we ask for, and we need to be humble enough to accept that.

A Call to Contemplation

Now, that brings us to the final note of contemplation: “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?” If we contemporize it, said, “Which of you will take your son to McDonald’s, and offer him a Big Mac, and stick a snake in between the two sides of the bun?” Or, “He asks for an Egg McMuffin, give him a Scorpion McMuffin.” There’s no earthly father that cares about his children that would mock his kids by handing them something that resembles what we requested but is actually basically different. It’s an easy picture, it’s from the lesser to the greater: so if our earthly fathers, with all their sins and shortcomings, honor the requests of their children, we should never fear that our heavenly Father will not put us off by offering us some shabby substitute.”

Do you really think that’s what we do when we come to God in prayer? One, we have to coerce him into listening to us, like the guy banging on the door: “Oh, here I am, here I am, here I am.” Listen, God is more willing—in fact, what does the Bible say? “His ear is ever open to our cry.”[18] And do you think he wants to give us some shabby substitute for the real thing? No, he gives us what we need. What do we need? Good gifts. What is the greatest gift that he can give us? The gift of the fullness of the Spirit in all of his Christ-honoring majesty. And with that comes all the other good gifts we desire. That’s why Matthew, in his record, he says, “How much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to [them that] ask him?”[19]

Well, that’s really it: “Suppose one of you’s got a friend, he runs into a problem, goes over to his friend’s house. Don’t you think his friend’ll get up and help him?” “Yeah.” “Okay, well, if his friend’ll get up and help him, make no mistake about it: your heavenly friend is more willing to bless you than you are even to take the time to go over to his house at midnight. So in light of that, what I want you to do is, I want you to make it a pattern of your life to ask, seek, and knock. And by the way, think about this while you’re falling asleep tonight,” says Jesus. “What earthly father would act in this way towards his children? You know: absolutely none. Then do you think for one isolated second that God, your heavenly Father, would treat you in this way? Would hold out to you the offer of this, and then when you finally get it, like to going to buy a bag in a shop…” I don’t know, they’ve got all those knock-off bags, everywhere I went, selling things, you’ve got to be very careful, as you know. You come out, you think you’ve got a—whatever, I don’t know what they’re called, goodness gracious. Yeah, let’s say an Adidas bag, just for want of an illustration. And you say to your wife, “Hey, I got an Addidas bag. This sports bag is really nice.” “How much did it cost?” “It cost me three dollars.” And then she says, “Is that how you spell ‘Adidas’?” And you thought you’d got the real thing; you got some shabby substitute. Do you think that we come to God and he gives us shabby substitutes? It’s an insult to his name and to his glory.

Well, what’re we gonna do with all this? Because we’re leaving now, and we’re going home, and it’s Monday coming. Well, we need to be clear that we’re not by our persistency seeking to overcome some unwillingness on our Father’s part. He’s more willing to bless than we are to ask. Secondly, we want to be committed to seeing prayer become a central part of our daily walk with Christ. Some of us haven’t been doing too well on that, and God speaks to us today and he says, “Now, don’t let’s have it to be supplemental; let’s have it to be fundamental.” And in relationship to that, make it a pattern to ask and to seek and to knock.

And also, be reminded of this: that not only does our Father love it when we ask him for what we need, but he also loves it when we give him what we can’t handle. And some of us this morning are carrying problems around with us—this is not the only explanation, just “some,” and you will know if this is true, because it will become apparent to you as you think about it—carrying problems around with us that owe to our pride. We think we can just soldier on and carry it all by ourselves, and we’re not prepared to bow down before God and tell him, “I’m sorry, but my shoulders are absolutely far too narrow to carry any of these burdens.”

Let’s just pause for a moment and pray, shall we?

Oh, what a challenge it is to have to teach passages like this from the Bible. How arresting it is. Because you haven’t lived it when you’ve preached it; you’ve only preached it. You haven’t lived it when you’ve heard it; you’ve only heard it.

Father, forgive us, because we come to you with such paltry little requests. We forget that you “[own] the cattle on a thousand hills, [and] the wealth in every mine.”[20] Forgive us for limiting you by our own false thinking. Forgive us for seeking to manipulate you by means of wresting the Scriptures to our own destruction. Thank you that you love to respond to the sincere cries of your children, and thank you that you love to take from us the burdens which weigh us down. And in these final moments of our worship, let’s just give to God the burdens that we may be bearing for a loved one, for a personal concern, whatever it might be.

[1] Attributed to Robert Murray M’Cheyne. Source unknown.

[2] See Luke 11:1.

[3] Luke 11:1 (NIV 1984).

[4] See, for instance, Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16.

[5] William Cowper, “What Various Hindrances We Meet” (1779).

[6] Cowper, “What Various Hindrances.”

[7] Dionne Warwick, “That’s What Friends Are For” (1985). Paraphrased.

[8] Luke 18:1 (paraphrased).

[9] Norval Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 324.

[10] Psalm 139:4 (paraphrased).

[11] John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, trans. William Pringle (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1846), 3:19.

[12] Romans 12:1 (KJV).

[13] Matthew 28:19 (NIV 1984).

[14] John 4:23 (paraphrased).

[15] Matthew 6:33 (KJV).

[16] 1 Corinthians 2:3 (KJV).

[17] 2 Corinthians 12:7–9 (paraphrased).

[18] Psalm 34:15 (paraphrased).

[19] Matthew 7:11 (NIV 1984).

[20] John W. Peterson, “He Owns the Cattle on a Thousand Hills” (1948).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.