Some Surprising Lessons from Jesus on Praying
I ONCE HAD A FRIEND WHO SPENT MANY YEARS STUDYING the Greek New Testament and who sometimes tantalized me with statements like, "Every demon is armed to the teeth with thirteen weapons, and the first one is distraction." Or, ‘There are nine words in the Greek New Testament for prayer all of which speak of different levels of praying." Then he would say, "The last level is attainable only by the Lord Jesus Himself." With this he would leave me, to discover for myself the other twelve demonic weapons, or to find those nine words for prayer.
Through the years I have found out much both about demons and prayer, although 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. This is especially so with regard to prayer. Demons have their end, and our knowledge of them will one day be complete. But prayer is as infinite as God Himself; it touches eternity. Yet, as a practice and privilege that is ours in Christ, it is, even with our little knowledge, the most practical and valuable asset that can exist in any person’s life.
Through several articles, we studied what the Apostle Paul gave with regard to prayer. From him we learn some of the most powerful petitions of intercession possible. What he teaches becomes the backbone for much praying and brings us, and those for whom we pray, to a deep level of healing.
On the other hand, from Jesus we learn how to make those petitions. He teaches us some surprise lessons, especially in the Gospel of Luke, and gives us the nerve and muscle that will make the petitions from Paul work. Jesus teaches us how to approach God with our needs—and the needs of others. Following is one of His lessons.
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.
This is only the beginning of Jesus’s response to the request of the disciples that He teach them to pray. It’s similar to a lesson of His we find recorded in Mt 6:9-13. Many call this "The Lord’s Prayer;" others, "The Disciples’ Prayer." In the Matthew lesson there is an Amen. Here in Luke, however, there is no conclusion to the praying till He tells a story to teach us how to press in to the One Who holds the answer to a need. The story begins abruptly. It makes the point clear 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 had knocked loud and long, beyond the bounds of propriety. He showed no regard for the man 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.
He got his request, not because he was a friend of the man inside, but because of his importunity.
Importunity? What is importunity?
It means to have no shame or modesty. It is from the Greek anaídeian. 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 Heb 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 inside held that answer.
There was no question as to his rights as a friend, no appeal to his own goodness or worthiness. There was no sense that he had anything coming to him. There were but two factors involved: he had a need and he knew a man who could meet that need.
The story simply teaches that when we have a need so pressing, or so oppressing, that we cannot continue with it, there is Someone who can relieve us of our pressure, or oppression, if we but persist in our push unto Him.
BUT WAIT. JESUS CONTINUED HIS LESSON on persistent praying. These next three verses are vital to our understanding with regard to what He was teaching.
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 with the kind of prayer Jesus was teaching: asking, seeking, knocking. In verse 9 they occur as Greek Imperatives in the Present Tense. An Imperative is a way of giving a command or of telling some persons what to do. When the Imperative is in the Present Tense, it means they are told to continue doing a certain thing. 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 till 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."
This is not the prayer of vain repetition against which Jesus warned in Mt 6:7. It is not a by-rote and religious use of the model prayer He gave. This is the prayer of desperation, the praying of a man who, if he does not receive his request, will be shamed. And he WILL NOT be shamed. But take note. The man making request was not selfish. He was poor and ill-prepared, but his life and his request turned not on himself. This "praying" he did 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? Verse 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 to the principle we are learning. It means to ask, without ceasing, till the answer from God’s Spirit be given.
THERE IS A WORD IN THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT, among those nine words I mentioned, that describes this kind of praying. 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 request 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 to the petition will come, but knowledge knows the answer already exists. It is resident in God. He must but 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—Lk 1:13. It had been God’s purpose that John be born. He was even foreseen in the Scriptures (Mal 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 till 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...Lk 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—Lk 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...—Lk 22:31,32. Prayed in this passage is from the Verb deómai. Even Jesus, in an issue that involved the demands of Satan upon a disciple whom He loved—but who Jesus knew was prone to lose heart—prayed and prayed and prayed. Jesus knew well this level of prayer. With Him, often 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 and prayed with an earnest supplication that demanded an answer. He was making supplication that Peter’s faith not come to an end in his conflict with Satan. This is an example for us of intercession. The prayer was answered after Jesus departed to His Father in Heaven.
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. Recently a letter came from him requesting material for study so he could prepare for the call of God upon his life. Her petition had reached God’s Throne.
Jesus was moved with compassion when He beheld the multitudes scattered and worn out like wounded sheep with no shepherd and struggling with wild animals. He said, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray (from deémai) ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest—Mt 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, not intercession. It involves not the need of another, but one’s own urgent need. This is found in Lk 18, a passage that 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.
1 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; (The word used here for pray in the Greek New Testament is not deómai. It is the much more general word proseúchomai, which 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 Lk 11 is importunity, in this one 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.
Take note of the widow. She was the essence of weakness and hopelessness. And she had a problem, an adversary. It may have been someone who spoke against her. Perhaps it was someone who would take away the meager livelihood by which she eked out her existence. The adversary may have been demonic. Whether the adversary was spiritual and attacked her within her soul, like a demon, or whether it was a man who attacked from without and withheld the necessities of life and living, we do not know. In either case, it was a real adversary. She could not, and she WOULD NOT, go on with the trouble he brought. And there was but one who could help her, the unjust judge.
The judge was sovereign, answerable to no one. He held no quality of pity or mercy. He was not bound to give in to the request of anyone. But he held the answer to the widow’s need and she persisted in coming to him. She waited at his door in the morning. She followed him to his office. She besought him at his, desk. She continued long, and perhaps loud, in her demand that he grant her request. She was as brash and rude as the man who knocked at the door of his friend. She did not faint in her supplication until she got what she wanted. Indeed, she did not stop until she laid hold on what was demanded in her life if she was to continue living. She got it, not because she was poor or because she was good. She did not get it because the judge was indebted to her, or because she followed the right course in approaching his dignity. She received an answer to her demand because of her continual coming. Actually, this is faith stretched, almost, to its greatest degree.
There is no attribute of a merciful God found in the judge except that he had power to grant the widow’s request.
There was no appeal to his mercy or grace, no appeal to his goodness. All we can see is that he, and he alone, could grant the widow’s request and deliver her from her adversary. The necessity of an answer forced her through every forbidden zone to touch the one who could help.
THERE FOLLOW ON THE ABOVE STORY from Jesus two more verses that are important with regard to all this. In them He asks two leading questions. One poses the possibility that a time may come when God will not quickly answer the prayers of His Own elect. The other poses the possibility that some of those who once believed shall have allowed their faith to be destroyed before the end comes. See these verses carefully.
7 And shall not God avenge ("obtain justice for") His Own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them?
8 I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?
To the first question, in verse 7, Jesus gives the answer in the first part of verse 8. "I tell you that He will bring justice to His elect with alarming speed when the time for their deliverance comes." Seeing this will work iron into our souls with regard to waiting, with expectancy, on the Lord.
When I was young, I saw the probing question of verse 8. It was one of the first Scriptures to bring to my attention that the closing days might be rough. Even though I was being brought up in a spiritual environment that laid out the claims of "eternal security," I began to see that some might not survive the fury of the last days. This question from Jesus poses this possibility.
Paul warned young Timothy of this same thing. Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart ("apostatize") from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils ("demons")—I Tim 4:1.
The call of God came early upon me to see a people made ready to withstand the demonic fury of the latter times. I began believing—and do even more so today—that the spirits that seduce and the demons that teach can be overcome by a people who do know their God (Dan 11:32). Our objective in these articles is to see a people made strong in knowing God and His Kingdom, not only to withstand the attacks of the enemy, but to continue with faith even when He does not seem to answer. Circumstances that scream, "Impossible!" will come upon believers everywhere in the end. They will press us into the bosom of a God Who cares, and Who can, and Who will avenge us ("obtain justice for us"). We will know Jesus was true Who said, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible—Mk 10:27. And again, He said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God—Lk 18:27.
In Lk 21:36 Jesus spoke more to His disciples about the close of the age, and admonished them to the kind of praying that would not give in, coupled with watching.
Watch ye therefore, and pray (deémai) always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
"Make it your practice to be awake and alert to the season and time in which you are living, praying with strong supplication through every circumstance and oppressing situation, that you may be strong enough to get the upper hand and make your escape in the things which are about to come to pass."
It is as though He was saying, "You are important to my purposes. If you are sown in the world as sons and daughters of My Kingdom, I want you strong, and not overcome during the season of severe trial that is sure to come. Therefore, learn to watch and to do the kind of praying about which I’ve been teaching you."
There is a faith that believes and receives, sometimes immediately. There is also a faith that believes and does not receive, but continues believing because it is part of something eternal. The reward of this faith reaches far into the eternal Kingdom. Heb 11:36-40 tells about people who had this kind of faith. Read the passage.
There is a faith that connects us to a far greater purpose in God than having needs met. The people of Hebrews were joined to that kind of faith. We join with them and open ourselves to a faith much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire—I Pet 1:7.
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