How much do you pray? How much should you pray? And how much do you need to pray?
I like to think of prayer as a sort of continuous conversation with God. The Holy Spirit lives within us and travels with us at all times, being right there when everything is going well or turning disastrous. So why not be praying in an ongoing fashion?
Throughout the gospel narratives we see that Jesus was regularly and continuously going to God in prayer. Now there is a model for us; if Jesus saw it as that necessary, we had best learn a first lesson simply from that pattern.
The disciples made note of this frequent discipline and one of them asks Jesus about how to pray, recalling that John had given his disciples some manner of specific instruction.
Luke 11:1 – One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
The answer of Jesus could be divided into five parts. Prayer should have an interest in God’s glory, his kingdom work, our basic needs, our relationship with him (through forgiveness), and our need for his help to avoid situations where sin may abound…
2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”
Jesus goes on to use a couple illustrations about prayer. The first is one of those humorous stories that provokes quite a mental picture. A fellow goes to a neighbor at night because he has a special need: he is embarrassed that another friend has come from a journey and surprised him, and he has no food in the house. It is late. And if the petitioned person (likely in a small house with everyone sleeping in close quarters) is to help, it is going to wake up everyone, including the kids! Yet if the petitioner is persistent, the friend will surely help him – maybe not first and foremost because of friendship, but rather because the persistence demonstrated a genuine need.
5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
The application is all about persistence. That is how we should be in prayer.
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. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Some people are troubled by this story of the persistent friend. The homeowner with the children is obviously representative of God, but the picture would seem to be of a crotchety old fellow who is stingy and only willing to give up something after substantial pestering. Here is a point to remember about stories and parables: they are to teach a single, big lesson in particular. And not every point is to be taken in detail as a one-to-one exact representation. The big idea of the story is that a person with a genuine need will be persistent, and that true persistence will pay off. So pray openly and boldly.
The second story is a simple one. Even an average father cares enough about his children to meet their genuine needs. A dad is not going to replace a needed gift with one that is harmful instead. So if even sinful fathers are gracious, imagine the good heart of the heavenly Father to answer!
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 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!”
So, as you read this, how much conversation have you had with God so far today? Are you cognizant of his blessing? Are you looking to be rightly connected anew to him on this day? Are you trusting him for your needs and expressing your heart’s desires to him? If it is a genuine need, God is going to answer, though it may not always be in the exact way we imagine it. And if it is not a genuine need but is rather a desire to consume upon self, that awareness is likely to come to you through the ongoing conversation and the work of the Spirit in your life.
But more than anything else from this passage today, know of the rightful need and privilege to be a person of constant prayer with the sovereign God and heavenly Father who loves you more than anyone else ever has. He wants to hear from you. He desires your dependence, and he takes joy in supplying your genuine needs.
We can use the great words of Scripture today to describe this kind of prayer conversation: shameless audacity! That is awesome!