Inspired to Pray
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Summarize Jesus’ teaching on asking, seeking, and finding.
2. Give some examples of the kind of things he or she should and should not ask of God.
3. Create a prayer list of five things or people that he or she will lift up consistently and persistently before God in prayer.
How to Say It
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Jan. 14—Answered Prayer (Psalm 28:6–9)
Tuesday, Jan. 15—Teach Us to Pray (Luke 11:1–4)
Wednesday, Jan. 16—A Friend’s Request (Luke 11:5–8)
Thursday, Jan. 17—Ask and Receive (Luke 11:9–12)
Friday, Jan. 18—Persistent in Prayer (Luke 18:1–17)
Saturday, Jan. 19—God’s Gift of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13; Acts 2:1–4)
Sunday, Jan. 20—Give Thanks to the Lord (Psalm 106:1–3)
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.
Why Teach This Lesson?
The opportunity to pray and talk to God is a wonderful blessing. It is the chance to be in the presence of the creator of the universe. It gives us the privilege to communicate with our heavenly Father as often as we want to. Our prayer life is like our spiritual cell phone. However, in prayer God is never out of range, his line is never busy, we’re not put on hold, and our minutes are free.
But so many seemingly important things can be allowed to squeeze one’s prayer life down to nothing. The cure is for your learners to understand the unique place prayer is to have and the consequences for neglecting it. Prayer is to be central to one’s life and walk with God. Prayer gives us the chance to allow God to help us to do what we are called to do in his strength. This is obviously better than our trying to do God’s will in our own strength. This lesson can help your learners make prayer a top priority.
A. Asking and Seeking
Imagine going to your bank manager to ask for a loan. You sit at his desk and open the conversation with, “You probably won’t want to give me a loan. I know you’re pretty tight-fisted. In fact, I’ve heard you never grant loans—especially not to people like me.” In spite of your somewhat insulting tone, he continues with the usual process and asks you to present your proof of income. You respond, “Oh, I didn’t bother to bring any papers with me, since I expected you probably wouldn’t be interested in giving me the loan anyway.”
Do you think you’d get the loan? I imagine not; in fact, it would be natural for the flabbergasted bank manager to ask why you even bothered to come to his office if you had no hope that he would give you a loan. Leaving the bank, you tell yourself, “I knew he wouldn’t give me the loan,” as you blame the manager’s hard-heartedness. But would you be right in that assessment of his motives?
When we approach God with a request, how do we assess his motives? Do we assume he’s looking for a reason to give us as little as possible? Do we neglect even to approach him when we sense a need because we think he doesn’t care? As we’ll see today, when it comes to dealing with the one who knows our hearts, motives are as much a factor as the specifics of the request.
B. Lesson Background
The passage for today’s lesson is the final component of the larger teaching section of Luke 10:25–11:13. In this section, three events give rise to Jesus’ description of characteristics of those who wish to follow him. In the first, Jesus is approached by a lawyer and is asked how one could inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25–37); that question gives rise to the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The second is the situation of Martha fussing about Mary (Luke 10:38–42); that gives rise to Jesus’ pronouncement that the good disciple seeks Jesus above all else.
The third section (Luke 11:1–13) contains our passage for today (11:5–13). In this section Jesus’ disciples asked him how they should pray (11:1). Jesus responded by offering a “model prayer.” Then he offered further teachings on the nature of prayer, the teachings with which our lesson is concerned.
Before proceeding, we should take stock of the model prayer, since today’s lesson extends from it. The model prayer of Luke 11:2–4 is also located in Matthew 6:9–13 in a fuller form, although the points overlap. In Matthew 6:5–7, Jesus criticizes prayers that are meaninglessly repetitive. He stresses that such repetition is unnecessary since God already is aware of our needs before we pray (Matthew 6:8).
It is this last comment that ties the model prayer as presented in Matthew to this prayer as presented in Luke. In fact, the point of our lesson today is essentially the same as that made in Matthew 6:8: God is already present in our lives, knowing our needs before we pray. Prayer is, on one level, an affirmation of our awareness of God’s presence in our lives. The content of this kind of prayer is our need, which God already knows.
I. Friend’s Request (Luke 11:5–8)
A. Confident Expectation (vv. 5, 6)
5, 6. Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’
Today, not many of us would have the nerve to take a trip and show up unannounced at a friend’s door in the middle of the night! Ancient customs of hospitality are different from ours, however. Thus a person on a journey might drop in unannounced, especially since in the first century there is no telephone, e-mail, or text messaging with which to do the advance announcing! Such a drop-in visitor might need food, and there are no all-night diners or convenience stores at the time. Thus the need to knock on a neighbor’s door at midnight to ask for bread.
The willingness of the needy neighbor to go to his friend’s house to ask for food suggests that he is confident that there will be a positive outcome to the request. He has good reason for this confidence because hospitality is a part of the fabric of the culture. So, based on what is “normal,” he expects that the nearby friend will oblige (Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9).
What Do You Think?
What have been your experiences in asking favors from friends? How did the responses affect your friendships? How have you grown spiritually as a result?
Jesus thus is speaking in terms the audience can appreciate. Furthermore, the fact that Jesus opens the parable with the phrase suppose one of you brings this story to the level of actual experience. That is, Jesus is using a situation with which he expects them to be able to relate personally. As with other parables, Jesus forces his audience to confront a personal choice; those who hear him have experienced this situation in one form or another.
B. Reluctant Friend (v. 7)
7. “Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’
What Do You Think?
In what ways have you found God to be different from the one who said, “Don’t bother me”?
The response, in short, is “Go away, we’re asleep!” And let’s be honest: we are not surprised at this response in this situation. However, while we may consider this as somewhat “normal,” Jesus actually is using this as an example of ungracious behavior. Having just offered us the example of the model prayer—that we may pray to God for our needs (Luke 11:2–4)—Jesus now implicitly contrasts an ungracious attitude to God’s graciousness.
C. Ultimate Response (v. 8)
8. “I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
What Do You Think?
Is this an issue of (a) the friend being ungracious as opposed to God being gracious or (b) the friend reacting “normally” as opposed to God reacting in a way that is “better than normal”? What’s the difference, or is there any real difference? Justify your answer.
The word boldness refers to the courage to make an urgent request. Some may think that this verse means that if we badger God long enough, then he will give us whatever we ask for. To think along this line is to labor under a very dangerous assumption!
Let’s do a comparison with the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1–8). That parable describes a widow who keeps asking a wicked judge for relief that he is unwilling to give. However, because she keeps asking and asking, he finally relents: “Yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!” (Luke 18:5).
If we leave the text there, we may assume that the point is persistence pays off. But as we read on, we find that this is not the point at all. Jesus goes on to explain the parable—and it’s always helpful to listen to Jesus’ own explanations of his parables before we make our own interpretation! Jesus explains that in contrast with the wicked judge, God will respond quickly with his justice (Luke 18:6–8). He will not keep putting people off as the wicked judge does.
The point of the verse in front of us is that Jesus is drawing a contrast between ungracious behavior and the way God acts toward us. This is made clearer in our passage as we read along; the point is that if an ungracious friend will eventually live up to his needy neighbor’s confidence, how much more so can we expect our heavenly Father to do so.
We have characterized this part of our lesson using the idea of confidence. It is important for us, therefore, to draw the connection between confidence and persistence. Our ultimate interpretation of this passage will be that because of who God is, we can trust that our prayers will be answered. That kind of trust in God leads us to a certain kind of expectation. We observe this kind of confident expectation in the needy neighbor; it lies behind his persistence.
Persistence here is an expression of confidence; the abnormal behavior is not that of the needy neighbor, but that of the reluctant friend. On the basis of this reluctance, Jesus now goes on to make a point about how we can trust God to respond properly in contrast with the reluctant friend.
A Confident Request
Some years ago I was the interim dean of our seminary. That meant, among other things, that all applications for admission to the school came across my desk for approval. One request came from a potential student who did not have a grade point average that was sufficient to qualify for admission. It wasn’t even close. It was easy to turn down her application.
But then the admission department contacted me. “This girl really wants to come,” the admission officer said. I explained that her grades were too low. She would never survive graduate school—it was a waste of her money and our time.
The admission counselor contacted the girl and then called me back. “She really wants to come,” he insisted. I explained again. “But she really wants to come.” In a moment of weakness, I said, “OK, but tell her we think it’s a mistake. We can’t give her any financial assistance. We’ll be glad to take her money, but we think she should stay home and not waste her money on tuition, books, and living expenses here.”
But she really wanted to come. So she came. Yet to conclude merely that “persistence paid off” is to look at things superficially. Her persistence was an expression of her confidence. That confidence proved to be well founded three semesters later when she made the dean’s honor roll. She ultimately finished two graduate degrees with us. She turned out to be a good student with a compassionate nature, a great sense of humor, and a real desire to learn and serve the Lord. Do you approach your service for God with confidence that he will help you? —J. B. N.
Visual for Lesson 8
Use this visual to start a discussion of right and wrong motives in asking, seeking, and knocking.
II. Ask and Receive (Luke 11:9, 10)
A. What to Do (v. 9)
9. “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.
When the statement Ask and it will be given to you is read in context, the emphasis shifts away from ourselves and toward God. The result is that we ask because we have confidence that God will give. The two statements that follow, which deal with seeking and knocking, are parallel to this one. Thus we are to be confident that when we ask, seek, or knock that God indeed will respond.
B. Why to Do It (v. 10)
10. “For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
God is always faithful to respond appropriately to our needs. But let’s be honest: are we sometimes too proud to ask God (or anyone else) for help? Do we think we always should try to meet our own needs without God’s help? If our answer to these questions is yes, then we may have a problem with pride.
Perhaps we think that the old saying, “God helps those who help themselves,” is a biblical truth. Actually, it is a quote from Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack of 1733 (page 81). The notion expressed in this saying is tied in with the early American ideal of “rugged individualism.” Yet God expects us to ask him for our daily bread (Luke 11:3).
Asking requires faith, and God honors faithful people. Jesus is the one who provides a way for us to have confidence that our requests will be heard and fulfilled. We should be wary, however, of the notion that we are the ones who have to get God moving on things, assuming that God won’t act unless we push him.
An important point in this and the previous verse is that a specific kind of person is in view here. Recall that today’s lesson text occurs within a long teaching section that deals with how Jesus’ disciples are to think and behave. Thus when Jesus refers to people who ask, seek, and knock, he is referring to the kind of person who has the sort of relationship with God that Jesus has been describing all along.
In other words, these verses are directed to the kind of people who ask, seek, and knock while having the right kind of motives and goals. This means that the person who asks to win the lottery is not the kind of person Jesus is talking about (compare James 4:3).
What Do You Think?
Why do you think people fail to ask God?
III. Giving Father (Luke 11:11–13)
A. Earthly Illustration (vv. 11, 12)
11. “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?
All parents have had the experience of their children asking to receive food. The questions that Jesus asks challenge his audience to think through a certain issue in light of their own experiences with their families.
12. “Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?
The proper response is obvious. That is just the point: the degree to which the right response is obvious is the degree to which we can be confident in placing our trust in our heavenly Father, who meets our needs.
B. Heavenly Reality (v. 13)
13. “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
That Jesus refers to his audience as evil does not imply that he is speaking to opponents. Luke 11:1 suggests, rather, that he is addressing his disciples. Jesus is sketching a broad contrast between humans and God. Compared to God, we all are evil (Romans 3:10–18, 23).
Thus, Jesus employs a lesser-to-greater argument: if we ordinary mortals are capable of being nice to our children, then God is all the more capable! And if we ordinary mortals are capable of being gracious to our friends, even after a period of ungraciousness (vv. 5–8, above), then God’s capabilities for graciousness cannot be doubted.
That Jesus points to the Holy Spirit as that which God will give us when we pray alerts us to an important fact: Jesus is not referring simply to bettering our material lives through prayer. A popular perception of God says that if you want a bigger car or a better house, all you need to do is ask for it in faith. This theory carries the assumption that God promises us health and wealth. It is a “name it and claim it” view of the gospel.
But there is no such promise in the New Testament. Human expectation of entitlement is just that. Remember that Jesus is teaching us how true disciples understand the nature of God; Jesus is not teaching that we can get from God all we want simply by virtue of persistence.
So, does all this mean that God is not at all concerned about our material situation in life? In next week’s lesson, we will see Jesus draw attention to this very issue. We are also instructed by Matthew’s version of today’s lesson text. Having presented an example of how not to think about prayer (Matthew 6:7), Jesus says that the true disciple understands that the heavenly Father “knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8).
The point of the contrast in Matthew is to highlight the difference between how pagans pray and how God expects a believer to pray. The fact that God knows what we need before we pray is to mark the way we pray. True disciples pray for what they need, realizing that God already knows their needs. He knows the distinction between what we really need and what we only think we need.
Luke’s account takes this even further by pointing to the giving of the Holy Spirit as being the result of prayer; that is, Jesus frames the issue of need mainly in terms of our relationship with God. The lives of true disciples are focused on serving God. True disciples see that fact as the basis for their prayers.
Moreover, true disciples are confident that God will indeed supply all that they need. Later, Paul will make the point that material possessions are valuable to him insofar as they assist him in his service to God (Philippians 4:11–18). Moreover, Paul’s idea of need is defined within one’s relationship to Jesus Christ. Thus Paul states “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
Jesus teaches us that prayer is something to pursue in godly confidence. Doing so reflects our relationship to God through Jesus Christ as we seek greater faithfulness as his disciples.
What Do You Think?
Was there ever a time when you “gave up” on prayer? What happened? How did you turn this around?
Good and Better Gifts
I have a friend who often had to do without things in his youth, although he was not raised in poverty. When he got married and became a father, he determined that his children would not have to go without as he had. Educated and trained as an engineer, he had enough income so that his family did not suffer any deprivation. He was never overly extravagant, but his sons had plenty of toys when they were young, cars when they got older, and all the benefits of his well-intentioned benevolence.
When the sons got married and set up their own housekeeping, they tended to continue the practice of their earlier years. Whenever they saw something they wanted, they bought it, often using credit. The habit of a lifetime was difficult to break. One son finally realized he was in over his head when his credit-card indebtedness reached $30,000.
Jesus says our heavenly Father knows how to give good gifts, just as earthly fathers do. But sometimes earthly fathers go too far. If we stop and think about it, it is undoubtedly a good thing that God does not give us everything we ask for. We could easily become smug, spoiled, satiated, and self-satisfied.
God gives us whatever we really need, but not all that we want. In the process he demonstrates that he is a better Father than earthly fathers. He sustains us, but he also keeps us aware that earthly gadgets don’t bring us lasting happiness. Only his grace can do that. —J. B. N.
A friend of mine who is a Bible college professor told me of a certain classroom experience she had had. One day she started the lesson by asking the class to respond to a certain question. The question was, “Are you confident of your salvation?”
She was astonished to find only a few of the 20 students responded in the affirmative. Why the doubt? Perhaps many hesitated to say yes for fear of appearing to be prideful. No spiritually mature Christian would dare think, “I’m so good that God couldn’t possibly deny my entry into Heaven.” Such an approach to salvation focuses on our goodness, not his.
Perhaps the same kind of hesitation shows up in our prayer requests at times. Many of us are aware of the pridefulness of the “name it and claim it” kind of prayers. So we take our prayers too far in the other direction in an attempt to avoid that error.
The result may be that we approach God in a tentative, hesitant way. We may question whether we “deserve” the good things that we request. Such an approach turns the focus away from God and onto ourselves. Avoiding the sin of pride is always a good thing. But being overly self-conscious and introspective in this area brings us right back to the problem of focusing on self!
If we understand just how much God loves us and just how good and generous he is, then our thoughts of our own worthiness (or lack thereof) will not be the main issue in our prayers. A tried-and-true prayer format is summed up in the acronym ACTS. These four letters stand for adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication; they describe a series of steps to follow when we are praying.
Notice that supplication (which means asking humbly for something) comes last. The first three steps refer to praising God for who he is, acknowledging the things that hinder our relationship to him, and recognizing what he has already done for us. If we go through those three prayer-steps first, then our supplications are more likely to be offered with right motives.
Thought to Remember
God helps those who forget themselves.
Our good and generous Father, we trust that you love us because of your own goodness, not ours. Help us to ask for those things you want for us and to trust that you will grant them to us. Even as we pray, we know that you will answer in accord with your perfect will. By Jesus’ generous work we pray, amen.
Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2007-2008. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing, 2007, S. 179