More Lessons From Jesus About Praying
Amazing and Astonishing
Through the years I have found out much about prayer, but I am certain what is left for me to know is about as vast as an ocean would remain after drawing one bucketful from it. Prayer is as infinite as God Himself. It touches eternity. As a practice and privilege that is ours in Christ, it is to me, even with my little knowledge, the most practical and valuable asset that I own. My Lord has given this most valuable asset to me by His grace. And, for anyone who may read this, this holy and awesome gift is available for you also. We’re all made from the same mud and we all have the same grace extended to us.
Through several articles, with Scripture we find in Matthew 6:9-13, we have considered what the Lord Jesus taught His disciples about praying. In this passage we have what many have called “The Lord’s Prayer.” We have found it contains seven urgent petitions. To consider the last four of these, we will jump from the Matthew passage to a similar lesson in Luke 11. Here the Prayer is somewhat shortened and does not have an “Amen” where we find one in Matthew. Instead of the conclusion we have come to expect from Matthew, we have a parable about how to make our petitions. What we learn in it serves to strengthen what we have said before about the seven petitions each being recorded in the form of an Aorist Imperative. This manner of Greek grammar gives the petitions their urgency.
In learning from this parable ,we expect the Holy Spirit to strengthen us for the discipline of intercession into which we are about to engage for this coming twelve months. We will not forsake the Prayers the Lord Jesus has taught us. We will continue with them and, as well, take on the disciplined use of the prayers we find in three of Paul’s Prison Epistles—in Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians.
Learning from Jesus will give us the nerve and muscle to strengthen us for the discipline we will gain from Paul. So, let us go now Luke 11.
1 And it came to pass, that, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said unto Him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.
2 And He said unto them, When ye pray, say Our Father Which art in heaven, •Hallowed be Thy name. •Thy kingdom come. •Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.
3 •Give us day by day our daily bread.
4 And •forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And •lead us not into temptation; but •deliver us from evil.
As we have noted, there is no conclusion to the prayer here. Instead there is a story to teach us how to press in to the One Who holds the answer to the four petitions that touch upon our needs. These four follow the first three petitions that have to do with the glory of God and the coming of His Kingdom on earth. The last four are important, but they are secondary to the spiritual concerns of the first three.
The story begins abruptly. This makes the point clear as there is no break in the praying.
5 And He said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves;
6 For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him?
7 And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee.
8 I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of HIS IMPORTUNITY he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.
The language of this little story is strong. When the man who owned the store, and who held the bread, responded to his friend knocking, he said something which meant, “Don’t keep holding out to me your wearisome and vexing demand. You are obnoxious in your request.”
The man making the request had not knocked one time softly to see if perhaps the storeowner might still be awake. He knocked loud and long. He went beyond the bounds of propriety. He showed no regard for the man who was asleep with his children. He only had regard for his own need. But, consider this. The need and the urgency of the man knocking was that he might have something to give to another person.
On looking at this in the Greek New Testament, we might discover that the man who came to this man’s house in his journey had lost his way. He had missed his road and happened upon this man who might help him for the night—if only that man were prepared with a cupboard of food.
This man who had no bread in his house got his request, not because he was a friend of the man on whose door he was knocking, but because of his importunity.
Importunity? What is importunity?
Importunity means to have no shame or modesty. It is from the Greek anaí’deian. This is a quality that exists in a person who is brash and rude and who shows no respect for others. It is the exact opposite of the reverence and godly fear with which we are admonished to serve God in Hebrews 12:28.
How could Jesus use the story of so disdainful a person to illustrate that deeper level of prayer into which He was leading His disciples?
I don’t know how He found the liberty to do this, but He did. And there are lessons for us to learn from it.
That man “prayed” to his friend for two reasons.
One: the situation upon him demanded an answer.
Two: he knew that the man on whose door he went to knock held that answer.
There was no appeal to that man inside as a friend. There was no mention of his own goodness or worthiness. There was no sense that he had anything coming to him. There were but two factors involved in his supplication: he had a need and he knew a man who could meet that need. He needed bread and he knew there was bread in the house of the man on whose door he was knocking.
The story simply teaches that when we have a pressing or embarrassing need, one with which we cannot continue, there is Someone who can relieve us, if we but persist in our push in unto Him.
But wait. Jesus continued His lesson on importunate praying. The next three verses are important if we are to understand what He was teaching. You will see in this next verse three more Imperatives. But this time they are Present Imperatives. Remember, Imperatives give commands. If they are Aorist Imperatives, as were the seven petitions of “The Lord’s Prayer,” they make an urgent request that must have an answer right away. A Present Imperative is a command that is repeated over and over and over.
9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
10 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?
Three actions associate themselves with the kind of prayer Jesus was teaching: asking, seeking and knocking. In verse 9 they occur as Greek Imperatives in the Present Tense. Jesus was telling the disciples to “ask and keep on asking, never ceasing until what you are asking for is given to you. Seek, and keep on seeking, never ceasing until you find what you are looking for. Knock and keep on knocking, never ceasing until the door at which you are knocking is opened. For everyone who asks and asks and asks receives; and whoever seeks and seeks and seeks finds; and to the one who knocks and knocks and knocks it will be opened.”
That’s importunate praying, the kind that refuses to be denied. It is implied in “The Lord’s Prayer” and taught directly by the Lord Jesus in parables.
The prayer of importunity does not make use of vain repetition. Jesus warned against this in Matthew 6:7. When you pray, do not keep talking on and on the way ungodly people do. They think they will be heard because they talk a lot.NIRV®
Sadly, many have used the Prayer Jesus taught us to pray in a by-rote and religious way. We must remember that, in Matthew 6:9, He said, After this manner therefore pray ye. He then followed with the seven points of urgent supplication. As we take these points into our heart, they give us direction for our praying, much as a road map will give us direction for travel. What we encounter and where we stop along the way will unfold as we travel. If we’re shut in and cannot travel, then what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. By this, we can travel around the world. The fact is: those who are on “lock down” might travel farther than those who are outside and a beset with “busyness.”
The kind of prayer illustrated by the man who refused to be shamed was not selfish praying. He was poor and ill-prepared, but his life and his request turned not on himself. His “praying” was even an inconvenience in his own affairs. He, too, could have been sleeping, but he was out making request for someone else. This is close to being intercession.
What was the desperation that caused the importunity? The man had nothing to set before his friend. It was midnight, a desperate hour. Could this point to the last hour? Probably so. Why was there nothing in the house? Luke 11:13 gives us insight. Is it not because the Holy Spirit had not been free to do His work? See the verse. If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him? This word ask clues us in again to the principle we are learning. It means to ask, without ceasing, till the answer from Heaven is given. The bread for which the man asked represented the Holy Spirit.
There is a word in the Greek New Testament that describes this kind of praying we are discussing. It is deésis (de-AYE-sis) and means the supplication that arises out of urgency. Its kindred Verb is déomai and means to beseech, or, to make supplication. It means to have, or to behold, a need and to make urgent requests that it be granted. There is an absoluteness about this kind of praying, a factor in the petition that says, “There is no use in considering not granting my request. It must be granted, and I know You can grant it.”
Knowledge is the foundation for this kind of praying; faith is secondary. Faith reaches and supposes that the answer will come, but knowledge knows the answer already exists. It is resident in God. He must give it up. It’s an unusual word for prayer, not like the more frequently used proseúche (pros-EU-keh) which means to approach God in a worshipful attitude. This word, with its kindred Verb, occurs a total of 124 times in the New Testament. Deésis with its Verb occurs 41 times. Some of the places where deésis, or its kindred Verb, occurs are very enlightening.
It was the kind of praying Zacharias did before his son, John the Baptist, was born. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer (deésis) is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John—Luke 1:13. It was God’s purpose that John be born. The Scriptures foretold him in Malachi 4:5,6. Yet, the burden for his birth fell on Zacharias. For that reason he prayed and prayed with a supplication that would not give in until John was conceived in the barren old womb of his wife. It is worth noting that this kind of praying got the attention of one of the greatest angels in heaven. The angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God...Luke 1:19. He came to announce that the petition of Zacharias was being granted.
Then there was Anna, about 84 years old, who departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers (deésis) night and day—Luke 2:37. Dear old Anna prayed this way. Her heart was taken with desire for the Redeemer to come. The urgency and the necessity for Him to arrive was, as it were, conceived in her womb of intercession. Of a certainty He would come. The Scriptures demanded it. The faithfulness and Covenants of God demanded it. The need of mankind demanded it. But Anna’s heart also demanded it, so she prayed and prayed until He came and she both beheld Him and held Him.
There is an interesting account about Jesus and this kind of praying, also in Luke’s Gospel. And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not...—Luke 22:31,32. Prayed in this passage is from the Verb deómai. In an issue that involved the demands of Satan upon a disciple whom He loved, Jesus prayed and prayed and prayed. Jesus knew well this level of prayer. With Him, prayer was not a briefly stated matter, but one that took hours, all night long, or even days. In spite of His omniscience (knowing all things) and His omnipotence (having all power), in spite of His union with the Father, He prayed with an earnest supplication that demanded an answer. His praying was an example for us of intercession.
All this reminds me of a mother I knew who prayed and prayed for her son in prison. She died, not having seen her request granted, but a letter came from him requesting material for study so he could prepare for the call of God upon his life. Her petition had in fact reached God’s Throne.
Jesus was moved with compassion when He beheld the multitudes scattered and torn like wounded sheep with no shepherd and struggling with wild animals. He said, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; pray (from déomai) ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest—Matthew 9:37, 38. What an urgency He was imparting! He was saying, “Do not give up making supplication to your Father. Press through to Him Who is the Lord of the harvest, beseeching Him to put forth laborers into His harvest field.”
Further on in Luke, Jesus taught another important, and surprising, lesson about praying. In it, however, we see pure supplication for one’s own personal need, not intercession for another. This passage demands our attention for more reasons than one. Among them is the binding necessity that one continue always with praying and not to lose heart or become despondent. Following is from Luke 18.
1 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; (The Greek word used here for pray is not deómai. It is the much more general word proseúchomai. This means simply to approach God with a request. The lesson taught in the story, however, illustrates that kind of prayer about which we are telling in this article.)
2 Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:
3 And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
4 And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;
5 Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her CONTINUAL COMING she weary me.
6 And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.
Whereas the key in the lesson recorded in Luke 11 is importunity, in the above it is continual coming. That the unjust judge should represent God and the widow represent us is as strange as the two friends in the earlier story. But again, it was Jesus Who told the stories, so we listen.
What rings through in both of the parables from Jesus is the prevailing faith, both in the man who asked for bread and in the woman who approached the judge. Their faith grew from their knowledge that the one to whom they made supplication could— indeed, he could—answer. The parables illustrate a faith much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire—I Peter 1:7.
We will cover the last four petitions of “The Lord’s Prayer” in the accompanying “prayer starters.” Become ready for us to enter “The Discipline of Intercession” together as we go into the new year.
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