Jesus told over three dozen stories with profound meanings that are not always obvious. In our series Profound Stories, we’re looking at some of these stories to learn important lessons for our lives. My message today is entitled “Confident Prayer.” The topics of Jesus’ stories are some of the most important topics in God’s Word. And one of the most important things that Jesus taught His disciples was how to pray.
What is prayer? Prayer in its essence is communicating with God. Often times, I might say most of the time, people view prayer as one-way communication. You tell God what you want and you hope that God fulfills your request.
Kind of like Christmas when you were a child. You let your parents know what you wanted for Christmas and you hoped and prayed it was in the package underneath the tree. Everybody prays when they want something or are in trouble. There is a lot of truth to the old saying, “There are no atheists in fox holes.” Yet many of the prayers that people pray never get answered. Why not?
Let’s watch a video called “Everybody Prays.” You see, prayer is not just about asking the Santa Claus in the sky for your next present. True prayer is about communicating with God and building your relationship with Him. All relationships are built by two-way communication. We talk to God and He responds, talking to us. In a minute, we’ll talk about how we hear from God, since we can’t see Him and audibly hear His voice. How does this two-communication affect our prayer life?
1 John 5:14-15 (ESV) And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
These two verses begin to answer many of our questions about prayer. What kind of prayers does God hear? God hears prayers that are according to His will. In other words, when we ask for things that God desires to give us, He hears us. If we ask for things that God doesn’t want to give us, things that are not His will, He doesn’t hear us. Therein lies one of the major reasons for unanswered prayer. Requests that are simply what we want, not what God wants, don’t make it past the ceiling. But when we pray according to His will, He hears us and gives us the answer to our prayers.
So, that leads us to the next question. How do we know God’s will, so that it can inform our prayers? There are four main ways to discover God’s will in any particular matter our question. We’ll list them briefly.
When we know God’s will in a situation, we can pray according to that will. God then hears us and will answer us according to His promise in 1 John 5:14-15 Today, we’re going to look at three profound stories or parables that Jesus taught on prayer. We’re going to discover principles of prayer that can guide us in having more answered prayer in our lives.
Luke 11:5-6 (ESV) And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’;
In this story, a man had a friend arrive at his home late one night on a journey. The man had nothing to feed him with, which would have been the normal hospitality. This was a genuine need, as the traveler was undoubtedly very hungry and in need of food. To the man whose home the traveler had arrived at went to a neighboring friend’s home and asked him to lend him some bread. But it was at midnight. In this story, we are meant to identify with the main character. His request to his neighbor for bread symbolizes prayer. So, what happened to him went he went next door, asking for bread at midnight?
Luke 11:7-8 (ESV) and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.
Houses in Jesus’ day generally consisted of one room in which everyone slept on mats on the floor. In the night, everyone was sleeping on the floor and the front door would be locked and barred shut. So, the man sleeping inside the home told his friend to go away, it was too late for him to get up and give him the bread.
But that’s not the end of the story. Jesus said that because of the friend’s impudence, or boldness or shameless audacity, eventually the sleeping friend would get up and answer his request. The take home lesson is that the friend knocking on the door at midnight, continued knocking until the answer came. He wouldn’t take No for an answer. In a way, the sleeping man inside represents God, who doesn’t always immediately answer our prayers. But if we keep on bolding asking, eventually the answer will come.
Luke 11:9 (ESV) And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
Jesus’ instructions to us then in how to pray were to ask, seek and knock. Each of these terms is more intensive then the other. The man in the story asked, but got No for an answer. Then he kept on seeking but still got no answer. Finally, he continued to knock loudly on the door until the door was opened and his request was answered. Each of these terms indicate continual or repeated action in prayer. Jesus ends by telling us what the best gift that we as children of God can ask for. He says that no earthly father would give his children a bad or dangerous gift and the same is true of our heavenly Father.
Luke 11:13 (ESV) If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
The best gift that God has for each one of his children is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Do we need to ask God for the Holy Spirit to indwell us when we believe in Jesus? The answer is No, He automatically indwells us. So, what is Jesus talking about here? He is talking about asking the Father to baptize you in the Holy Spirit, the best gift that God desires to give each of His children. When we believe that prayer is effective, we will pray boldly, not give up until the answer comes and look to God for the fullness of the Spirit.
In this story, who was the main character asking for? It really wasn’t for himself, was it. He was asking for bread to meet another person’s need, to feed his friend. All too often, our prayer requests focus on ourselves. That’s not wrong, but if that’s what all our prayers are about, that’s a problem. We’d see a lot more answers to prayer when we pray for others first and foremost. And when we keep boldly praying until the answer comes. In fact, Jesus promised that when we seek His kingdom first, He will meet all of our needs. It’s important to keep our priorities straight in prayer. Next Jesus taught us to …
Luke 18:1 (ESV) And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.
Here we have the main point of Jesus’ story or parable explained to us before we even hear the story. The point is that we ought to pray in every circumstance and not lost heart or be discouraged. The reason that Jesus wanted to address these issues is that we tend to not pray enough and we tend to get discouraged when an answer doesn’t immediately come. We must learn to …
Luke 18:2-3 (ESV) He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’
We have two characters in this story, a prideful judge and a poor widow. In those days, widows had little support from anyone and were often taken advantage of. The widow had been attacked in some way by an adversary, most likely someone who had taken financial advantage of her. She asked for the judge to give her justice concerning the person who had probably swindled her out of some considerable sum of money. Notice that the language says that she kept coming to him.
The next verses indicate that the judge initially refused the widow’s request. But she kept coming back again and again with the same request until she wore him down and he granted her request. Jesus ends this story with these verses:
Luke 18:7-8 (ESV) And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
God is much more receptive to His children than the unrighteous judge. We see that believers, God’s elect, should be crying to him in prayer day and night. Yet, Jesus ends with the question of whether He will find faith on the earth when He comes. Without faith, no one will keep on crying out to God day and night until the answer comes. Without faith, a person will become discouraged if an answer does not immediately come. But with faith and persistence, God will answer prayer and bring justice.
I believe the principles in this story are broader than the specific issue of the widow. But let’s think about what justice should we pray for. The widow was asking for justice to protect her from her adversary. We pray for protection from the attacks of Satan and the people who follow him. We pray for protection for ourselves, our families and our church. We ask for justice for those who are lost and in Satan’s clutches. That they would be freed, saved and come into the family of God. We must learn to pray always and finally …
Luke 18:9-10 (ESV) He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
This story of Jesus was directed at a group of people who were prideful. They trusted not in God, but in their good deeds. Not only did they have pride in themselves, they treated others contemptuously. The two characters in Jesus’ story are a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were thought of quite highly, whereas the tax collectors were looked down upon as being cheats. Jesus then shows how the two types of men prayed, which revealed what was in their hearts. He taught us …
Luke 18:11-12 (ESV) The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
The first prayer we hear is the prayer of the Pharisee. In his prayer, he compares himself with other evil men and even the tax collector he saw in the temple. The Pharisee is proud of himself because he regularly fasted and tithed, which were things God’s Word tells us to do. Notice though that the Pharisee doesn’t ask God for anything. He doesn’t think he needs anything from God. The Pharisee thinks he can take care of himself. The Pharisee clearly trusts in his good works to make himself acceptable to God, in contrast to those whose lives are filled with outward sins. As we’ll see, the prideful example of the Pharisee is one that we are not to follow in prayer.
Luke 18:13-14 (ESV) But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The tax collector on the other hand, recognized his sin and need for forgiveness. He humbly asked for God’s mercy to forgive him of his sin. Jesus then tells us that the tax collector was forgiven, whereas the Pharisee was not. The Pharisee, just as the tax collector, had sins, but he didn’t recognize those sins or repent of them because of his pride. He was not forgiven. When we humble ourselves in prayer, God will forgive and lift us up. In order for our prayers to be answered, we must pray with the right attitude, an attitude of humility.
So, this story adds another aspect to having our prayers answered. We must pray with a proper attitude or motive. Let’s consider a common example. Suppose, you’re sick and you desire for God to heal you. We look at God’s Word and we see that God still heals the sick, so it seems to be God’s will. But what about our attitude? Why do we want to be healed? Is just about us or is God and His kingdom involved in our motives? Do we want to be healed so that we can better serve God and His kingdom? Or do we want to be healed so that we can do the things we want to do, which have nothing to do with God or His church? James 4:3 tells us that when we ask for our own pleasure, it is a wrong motive and God will not answer those prayers. We must pray with a humble attitude and motive for God and His kingdom.
So, we’re back to where we began this morning with the question, how can I have more of my prayers answered? First of all, our prayers must be prayed according to God’s will. We must listen for God’s voice and then pray back the things that He wants to do in our lives and our world. Next, we must pray in faith, believing that our prayers are effect. We must keep on praying boldly until the answer comes. Finally, we must pray with a humble attitude, seeking God’s glory, not our own pleasure. As we grow in following Jesus’ teaching on prayer, we will see more and more of our prayers answered and God will fill our hearts with joy.