Robert Jeffress - Prayer 101
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. When you bow your head to pray, are you confident that God even hears you, or do you feel like your words are falling on deaf ears? Well, I can assure you that God is listening, and today we'll turn to the most familiar prayer in all of scripture and draw some practical application for your prayer life that you likely never considered until today. My message is titled "Prayer 101" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
In his book, "Overcoming overload" Steve Farrar says he wishes he had a nickel for every time one of his children asked him for something and he said, not now, or maybe when you're older, or I don't think this would be good for you. But the fact that he occasionally, even often, said no to his children's requests didn't keep them from continuing to ask him. They believed that their father loved them and was capable of providing for them, which is why they kept on asking. Jesus teaches us a similar truth in the passage we're going to look at today. Even though we have a Heavenly Father who often says no to our request, we should continue to boldly, shamelessly ask him for what is in our hearts.
If you have your Bibles today, I want you to turn to Luke chapter 11, Luke chapter 11. Today, we're going to take a refresher course in the basics of prayer. I'm calling it prayer 101. And in the passage today, we're going to discover four invaluable lessons about prayer that Jesus taught his disciples by both his word and his example. The most basic lesson any of us can understand about prayer, first of all, is that prayer is essential to our spiritual life. Notice in verse one, this story, this incident in the life of Jesus begins with the disciples making a request of the Lord. "And it came about that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples'".
Did you know in the Bible there is never any record of the disciples asking Jesus to teach them how to preach? Lord, teach us to preach, never anywhere. Nor did the disciples ever say, Lord, teach us to heal like you heal. Or Lord, we sure would like to learn to walk on water. That's a great trick. Can you teach us how to do that? The only thing they ever asked Jesus to teach them how to do was how to pray. And isn't it interesting that this came after they watched him pray. I've said this before. The disciples weren't necessarily the brightest bulbs in the socket. But even they, after a period of time, saw the relationship between Jesus' miraculous, supernatural life and his commitment to praying. They saw the connection.
It was prayer that gave Jesus that sense of peace no matter what was going on around him. It was through prayer that he was able to tap into God's supernatural power, to love those who were persecuting him. It was through prayer that he gained the power to speak with authority to those around him. They said, we want some of that. We want to know how to pray. Lord, teach us to pray. And he taught them this through his example. By the way, parents, do you realize that the greatest lesson you can impart to your children and grandchildren is how essential prayer is? And the way you teach them that, again, is not through your words, it's through your example. As your children and grandchildren watch you, is prayer more than just a little ritual you go through before the meal? Is it foundational in your life? That's the most basic lesson we can learn, that prayer is essential to our spiritual life.
The second lesson, we should pray as Christ instructed us to pray. We should pray as Christ instructed us. Look at verses two to four. Now remember, the question was Lord, teach us to pray. "And so he said to them, 'when you pray, say, father, hallowed,'" that's a word that means holy, separate, different, "Is your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation". Now, this is a shortened version. This is Luke's version of what we call the Lord's prayer. A longer version is in Matthew chapter six. Perhaps Jesus prayed this several times. I think he did. Or perhaps it is Luke's paraphrase. But these are very familiar words to us, and I want you to notice three facets of our prayer that are based on this model.
First of all, prayer is based on our relationship with God. When Jesus prayed, he said, now this is the way you're to pray. He didn't say pray, oh great force in the universe, whoever you are. He said when you pray, pray our father. Prayer is based on the unique intimate relationship we have with our Heavenly Father. Isn't that what Paul said in Galatians 4:6? "And because you are sons, God has sent forth the spirit of his son in our hearts crying Abba, father". That word abba is more than a singing group. It's Aramaic. It means literally daddy, papa. That's how we can come into God's presence. He is our daddy, he's our papa because of our relationship with him. As we'll see in a moment, that's why we boldly, confidently come before him. Secondly, Jesus said prayer is conditioned by the will of God. Thy kingdom come. Matthew adds, thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.
We pray that so often, we don't even know what we're praying for sometimes. What are we praying for when we ask God's kingdom to come? A king's kingdom represents that geographical area where the king's will is being done, where his authority is recognized. That's a king's kingdom, the sphere over which he has authority. Right now, God's will is being done perfectly in heaven. The angels obey God perfectly. Right now, God's will is not being done on earth, but it will be one day when the king returns. And we are to pray, God, just as your will is being done in heaven, may it be done on earth, and may it be done in my life as well. The hardest part of praying is surrendering our will to God's will. Everything else is a piece of cake when it comes to praying, but the hard work of prayer is saying, God, this is what I want, but I surrender, I capitulate to whatever you want.
I John 5:14 says, "And this is the confidence which we have before him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us". Hear me today. There's no blanket promise in the Bible that says God will answer every request we have. It's those requests that are keeping in his will. And when we surrender ourselves to the will of God, we are saying, God, this is honestly what I want, but I trust you to do what is best. James five talks about the prayer that is offered in faith. What does it mean to have a prayer offered in faith? It means surrendering to the will of God. Here's a definition of praying with faith. Praying with faith means boldly asking God for what is in our hearts, and quietly surrendering to what he wants. Let me say it again. Faithfulness in praying means boldly asking God for what we want, and quietly surrendering to what God wants.
A third lesson Jesus teaches us, or pardon me, a third portion of our prayer, an important ingredient of prayer is this. Prayer includes our requests to God. A lot of people think it's selfish to ask God for any need that you have. You should just pray for God's glory or God's will, but never bother God with your needs. No, Jesus said, we ought to pray for those things that we need. He taught us to do this. He said there are a lot of things we need. Pray for forgiveness, forgive us of our debts. Pray for the ability to forgive other people. That's a need we have. Pray that God won't lead us into difficult circumstances in which our faith might falter. Lead us not into temptation. But at the top of the list, he says pray for your daily bread. Give us this day our daily bread.
We need to pray for those material needs. There's nothing wrong in doing that. Perhaps you think, well, that's real quaint, but I don't have to pray for something to eat. I mean, I earn a good living, I've got money in the bank, I don't need to depend upon God for my daily sustenance. Do you know the Bible says our ability to even make money to provide for our needs ultimately comes from God. Deuteronomy 8:18, God said, "But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who is giving you the power to make wealth". We ought to pray as the Lord instructed us to pray. And that leads to a third lesson. The fact is even though praying in faith means boldly asking for what we want and quietly surrendering to what God wants, this passage is not so much about quietly surrendering. It's about boldly asking. And this is an aspect of prayer that is often missed in most sermons and most teaching.
We ought to boldly, shamelessly approach God with what we want. And to illustrate that truth that God rewards boldness in praying, God rewards boldness in praying, Jesus uses this example. He says, "And Jesus said to them, 'suppose one of you shall have a friend and shall go to him at midnight and say to him, friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey and I have nothing to set before him'. And from inside, he shall answer and say, 'do not bother me. The door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything. I tell you,' Jesus said, 'even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence,'" the Greek word, anaideia, because of his shamelessness, "He will get up and give him as much as he needs". We can't really appreciate this example until we appreciate the Middle Eastern culture in which it's written.
In your English Bible translations, verse five says, suppose you have a neighbor and you go to him asking for food, and so forth and so forth. That's not how it reads in the Greek text. In the Greek language, it's actually a question, an interrogative, that anticipates a negative response. Here's what Jesus is saying literally in his example. Can you imagine going to your neighbor in the middle of the night asking for food and being turned away? Could you imagine such a thing? Well, truthfully today in our culture, we could imagine such a thing. I mean, I can imagine hearing a knock at my door in the middle of the night, and some stranger that I don't know. Yeah, they say they're a neighbor. I don't know my neighbors. I don't know about you, maybe you know yours. I don't know whether they're my neighbor or not. I wouldn't dare open my door at midnight for anybody. But that's our culture.
Our home is our fortress, it's our place of security. But in the Middle Eastern culture, one of the greatest virtues of all was hospitality. And if somebody came to visit your neighbor, a visitor, he wasn't just a guest of your neighbor, he was considered to be a guest of the entire community. And it was your responsibility to show that guest hospitality as well. And so that's why Jesus said, can you imagine going to your neighbor asking for food for a guest of yours and being turned down? It is unthinkable. But this man in Jesus' story did the unthinkable. He turned down the request initially. And so the neighbor kept on knocking, kept on knocking until he wore his neighbor down and got what he needed.
Now, what's the application of this example? Remember, the story is told to illustrate how we should pray. And so in verse nine, Jesus gives this application about prayer. "And I say to you, ask and it shall be given to you, seek, and you shall find, knock, and it shall be opened to you". Again, in Greek, this is a continuous action. Literally, I say to you keep on asking and it shall be given to you. Keep on seeking, and you shall find. Keep on knocking, and it shall be opened to you. Verse 10, "For everyone who asks receives, and he who keeps on seeking shall find, and to him who keeps on knocking, it shall be opened". This is a story Jesus told to illustrate the importance of persistence, persistence in getting what is in our heart.
You know, most people think that opportunities are doors that just magically open before us. I don't know about you, but most of the opportunities that have come in my life, I had to pry that door open with a crowbar. It didn't come automatically. It required a lot of effort and persistence. Now, I know some people are shocked to hear that. Oh, well pastor, if it's God's will, it ought to just happen easily, effortlessly. If you have to put any effort to it, it must not be part of God's plan. No, throughout the Bible, God talks about the importance of persistence, of keep on keeping on. Yeah, eventually it's God who provides the crowbar, it's God who gives us the energy to keep on going, but God wants us to be persistent in every area of our life, including our prayer life. And that's what he's teaching.
If you ask God for something and there's no reply, you don't walk away, gee, shucks, I guess that wasn't God's will. No, you keep on asking, you keep on seeking, you keep on knocking. That is the point of this parable. Now, don't misinterpret what Jesus is saying. Jesus is not saying prayer is a matter of wearing down a reluctant God to give you something he really doesn't want to give you. That would be a misinterpretation of the parable. In other words, Jesus is saying if a neighbor who really doesn't care that much about you or anybody else can be worn down by your persistence to give you something you need, how much more will your loving Heavenly Father who cares about you reward your persistence in asking him?
And that leads to a fourth truth or lesson about prayer, and that is God's reputation and God's love are his motivation for answering our prayers. The reason we can boldly, literally shamelessly come before God with what is in our hearts is because of God's reputation and God's love for us. And one of God's greatest motivations in caring for you is his reputation is on the line. Do you remember in the Old Testament, the mostly holy name for God was the name Yahweh. The Israelites wouldn't even pronounce that name. Yahweh not only described who God was, I am that I am, but it was also the covenant name for the special relationship God had with the nation of Israel. The nation of Israel was God's object lesson to the entire world of his power and his love, and that's why God cared for the nation of Israel. If God let his people down, then it would say to the whole world God cannot be trusted to keep his promises. And it was on the basis of God's reputation that we find some of the greatest prayers in the Old Testament.
Remember in Exodus 32, God got ticked off with the Israelites because of their disobedience. He said, I'm going to wipe you all off the face of the earth. And in Exodus 32, Moses came to God and said, God, you can't do that. You have made an unconditional promise with this nation, and if you obliterate your own people, your name will be mud among the heathen. And so God relented of his decision. Later on in Ezekiel 36, when the children of Israel were in captivity in Babylon, Ezekiel said, I will bring you back, I will forgive your sins, God says, I will restore you to the land for my name's sake. One reason we can boldly, shamelessly plead for God's provision in our life is his reputation is at stake. If God doesn't watch over us, if he doesn't provide for our needs, if he doesn't forgive our sins, if he doesn't redeem our bodies when we die, then his name, his reputation suffers in the universe.
God's reputation is one reason we come to him boldly and shamelessly. But there's an even more powerful factor at work, and that is his love for us. It's natural for any parent, Christian or non-Christian, to want to give good things to his children. It is natural for a parent to give our children what they need, what they want, and occasionally some things they couldn't even think to ask for. That's just part of being a parent. That doesn't mean we can give our children everything they ask for. And unless it's something that's going to hurt them, or something that is not going to be best for them, or something they're not ready to handle, you're going to move heaven and earth to give them what is in their heart. And that's what God does for us. When we repeatedly, persistently ask him for something, it is a way of saying to God, God, this isn't some superficial request.
This is something that is really important to me. That doesn't mean God answers every prayer, it doesn't mean he's going to answer our prayer to win the lottery so we can pay off the visa bill or take a trip. It doesn't mean he's going to allow us to drive a Mercedes. But what it does mean is God is going to give us that which we need, that which is good. This is a prayer, this is a parable about the bold being shameless in talking to our Heavenly Father. Can you imagine, Jesus said, going to a neighbor in the middle of the night and asking for food and being turned away? It's unimaginable. Can you imagine a child asking his parent for a fish and being given a snake? That's incomprehensible. Can you imagine a Christian going to his Heavenly Father and asking for the Holy Spirit's power to overcome temptation, or his grace to go through a difficult trial, or the ability to love his family members as he should. Can you even imagine asking your Heavenly Father for those things and being turned away? It's unthinkable, and that is why we should boldly, shamelessly ask God for what is in our hearts.