PRAYER


 

V.                             PRAYER.

 

A.          Did Jesus teach that God is resistant to answering prayers (Luke 11:7-9)?

 

1.      (Luke 11:5-10) records Jesus' parable about prayer in which a person knocked on a friend's door at midnight in need of three loaves of bread.  The one inside answered, "Don't bother me.  The door is already locked, and my children are with in bed.  I can't get up and give you anything" (verse 7).  (This was likely a one-room house, which means that if he got up in the night, he would probably wake the children).  The parable concludes by pointing out that even though friendship was not enough to cause the person in the house to get up and provide bread, the boldness expressed in knocking on the door at midnight and the persistence in doing so (verse 8) was enough to yield the result of bread.

 

2.      Since this is a parable about prayer, it may seem at first reading that Jesus is implying that God is resistant to answering our prayers.  But that is not the intent of His words.

 

3.      The whole of Scripture affirms that the Father readily responds to the needs of His children every bit as much as an earthly father responds to the needs of his children (Matthew 7:9-11).  Our heavenly Father is not resistant to answering our prayers.  In fact, not only does the parable not teach that God is resistant to prayer, but it gives us an assurance that God does answer prayer.

 

4.      The primary purpose of the parable was to teach Christ's followers to be persistent in prayer.  As expositor Leon Morris puts it, "It is not that God is unwilling and must be pressed into answering.  The whole context makes it clear that He is eager to give.  But if we do not want what we are asking for enough to be persistent, we do not want it very much."  The point then, is that we need to be persistent in prayer precisely because God longs to give good gifts to us.

 

5.      We see this persistence stressed in (verses 9 and 10), which follow the parable.  Here Jesus said, "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."  In these verses the words "ask," "seek," and "knock" are in the present tense, which indicates continuous activity.  We are to keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking.  If we do so, we will obtain our desired result, assuming that our request is in keeping with God's will for our lives.

 

B.         Did Jesus teach that we should recite only short prayers (Matthew 6:7)?

 

1.      In Jesus' instructions about prayer, He taught His followers, "When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words" (Matthew 6:7).

 

2.      These words of Jesus were aimed straight at the Pharisees.  These individuals always made a public show of their prayers.  They would typically pray in a public place--perhaps on a street corner--to impress people with their piety.  They would pray conspicuously.  They very much enjoyed being seen as they prayed.

 

3.      The Pharisees also made their prayers excessively long, a practice picked up from the pagans, who engaged in endless repetition and incantation.  An example of such endless babbling is found in (1 Kings 18:26)…"They called on the name of Baal from morning till noon.  'O Baal, answer us! They shouted."  The belief was that endless repetition of specific requests endeared the petitioner to God, and hence God would be obligated to answer.  Prayer was used by the Pharisees as a lengthy formula or technique to manipulate God into action.

 

4.      So the point of Jesus' instruction is not that we should necessarily utter short prayers before God (although short prayers are just fine if that is all you have time for or if that meets your particular need at the moment).  The point of Jesus' instruction is that we should not engage in endless babbling, repeating the same request over and over again within the confines of a single prayer, as if that would force God's hand to answer.

 

5.      God answers prayer not because He can be moved to do so by endless babbling but rather because He desires to do so as our heavenly Father.

 

6.      In support of the fact that Jesus is not forbidding long prayers is the fact that Jesus Himself is portrayed as praying at length (Luke 6:12).  He also repeated Himself in prayer on occasion (Matthew 26:44).  He further instructed His disciples that "they should always pray and not give up" (Luke 18:1).

 

7.      Jesus' point was not that one should avoid long prayers, but that one should avoid the Pharisaic misconception that prayers are effective simply because they are long.

 

C.         Does Jesus teach that God shows favoritism in terms of whose prayers He answers (Matthew 15:22-28)?

 

1.       In (Matthew 15:22-28), we read:

 

"A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.”  Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”  He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”  The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.  He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”  “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour."

2.       In this passage Jesus makes reference to the Gentiles as "dog."  Is He here showing favoritism in terms of whose prayers God answers?

 

3.       Let us look at the context.

 

a.       In this passage, we read about a Gentile woman who came to present her need to Jesus.  Notice that she addressed Jesus by two messianic titles --"Lord" and "Son of David."  She was begging from the One she knew to be Israel's Messiah.

 

b.      It may seem odd at first glance that Jesus ignored her request (Matthew 15:23).  But all becomes clear in the verses that follow.  Jesus informed her, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel" (verse 24).  What Jesus means here is that He had come specifically to offer the nation of Israel the kingdom that had been promised in the Davidic Covenant many centuries earlier (2 Samuel 7:12-14).  It would not be appropriate for Him to pour out blessings on a Gentile woman before such blessings were bestowed on Israel.

 

c.       But the woman continued in her plea.  Jesus responded, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs" (Matthew 15:26).  It is well-known that the Jews of Jesus' day looked upon all Gentiles as being dogs.  It is also well-known that the Jesus considered themselves to be God's children.

 

4.       The picture Jesus was painting was that of a family sitting around a table at dinnertime.  In the analogy, it is the Jews who are the children seated at the table, eating the food provided by the head of the household.  The Gentile woman recognized herself in the story as the household dog.  The choicest morsels of food were for the "children" at the table, but as a "dog" the Gentle woman saw herself as eligible for the crumbs that might fall from the table.

 

5.       It seems clear that the woman was not seeking to interfere with God's blessing of Israel but rather was hoping that a little bit of the overflow of such blessing might be extended to her in her time of need.  It took great faith for her to say this to Jesus.  And because of her faith, Jesus granted her request.  How ironic that the Gentile woman's faith was in great contrast to the lack of faith of Israel's hypocritical leaders!

 

6.       After studying this passage, it may be that Jesus was exhibiting a sense of humor in His comments to the woman.  Surely since Jesus is the Creator of all humanity (John 1:3), He does not actually look upon any person as being a "dog."  Could it be, then, that Jesus had a twinkle in His eye when He alluded to current Jewish sentiments and said to the woman, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."  Maybe so.

 

D.         Did Jesus teach we can obtain anything we want if we ask for it in the name of Jesus (John 16:24)?

 

1.      In (John 16:24) Jesus said, "Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, that your joy may be made full" (NASB).

 

2.      These words should not be taken in isolation from what Jesus and the apostles taught elsewhere about prayer.  In (John 15:7), for example, Jesus said, "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you" (NASB).  Here "abiding" is a clear condition for receiving answers to prayer.

 

3.      We are also told that "whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3:22 NASB).  Moreover, we are told, "This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him (1 John 5:14, 15).

 

4.      Finally, we are told that if we ask for something with wrong motives we will not receive what we asked for (James 4:3).

 

5.      These are important qualifications to keep in mind when seeking to understand what Jesus meant in (John 16:24).  Yes, we will receive whatever we pray for in Jesus' name so long as we abide in Christ, obey His commandments, and ask with the right motive, and so long as the thing we ask for is in keeping with God's will for our lives.