5 Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, 6 ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ 7 And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ 8 But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.
There was a pastor who was once invited to a church as a guest speaker. He was asked to preach on behalf of his seminary friend one summer while he was on vacation. Reaching the pulpit that first Sunday, he found this note addressed to him that said this: “Don’t pray over two minutes. My people aren’t used to it!”
What about you? Can you stand a prayer that’s over two minutes? I hope so.
When you think about prayer, what comes to your mind? Is it something that you want to spend some significant time doing, or is it something you want to get it done quickly? Is it something that you set aside time to do regularly, or is it something that you barely do before a meal? Do you believe that it makes a difference to pray, or not? And, if you think that it might make a difference to pray, how much do you pray for what you’re asking? And, by the way, what are you praying about anyway? As Christians, we all acknowledge that prayer is an essential part of our spiritual walk, yet, there seems to be a lot of misconception about prayer. And, misconceptions on prayer can make this powerful spiritual expression become more like a religious chore. So, this morning, I’d like us to look into the why, how, and what of prayer. And, because the topic of prayer can be quite broad, I will be focusing on the importance of praying with persistency.
Let’s first look into the question of why. Why do we pray? Why should we pray? What’s the purpose of praying? Does it make any difference? I’ve heard people say that it’s useless to pray because God will do whatever He wants to do anyway, and that there’s no way to change that. Such fatalistic view of prayer is not only wrong, but it also sucks the life out of what should be a joyful and powerful Christian life. One of the basic reasons why we pray is simply because our loving Father wants us to pray. God said in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” In Psalm 34:17, it is written, “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” Jesus also said in John 15:7, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Apostle Paul encouraged the church in Philippi not to be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let their requests be made known to God (Phil. 4:6). All of these verses (and many more in the Bible) point to our God, who desires us to pray.
Why does God want us to pray anyway? There may be many reasons, but let me give you just three. First of all, He wants us to pray because prayer is an expression of our trust in God. God desires us to depend on him, and prayer communicates our humility and dependence on God. A related side benefit of prayer is that our trust in Him can also increase as we pray. Every time our prayers are answered, it adds to our memory of how God responds to our prayers.
Another reason why God wants us to pray is because prayer brings us into deeper relationship with God. A couple, who are in love, go out on dates because the time they spend together talking to each other bring about closer and deeper relationship. It is the same concept for prayer as well.
A third reason why God desires us to pray is because He wants us to be involved in activities that are eternally important. The work of the kingdom is advanced on earth when we pray. God promised in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” God’s will is done on earth as we pray.
As you might have noticed, the reasons for prayer are more for our own sake rather than for the sake of God. God is whole and perfect on His own and does not need our prayer. Rather through prayer, we get to engage and partner with the Holy God in His divine work. So, again, the first big reason why we pray is because God wants us to pray.
The second big reason why we pray is because prayer can actually change the way God acts. For example, do you remember in Exodus 32 how God got so angry when His people erected a golden calf to worship? He said to Moses, “Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them.” At that moment, Moses interceded for the people and pleaded to God to turn from His fierce anger, relent and not bring disaster on His people. How did God respond? Did He say, “Forget you, Moses! I’m still going to do what I said I was going to do?” No. In v.14, it says that the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. Moses’ prayer effectively changed the fate of the whole nation!
How about the story of King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20? Hezekiah was one of the good kings in Judah, but in 701 B.C., he became severely ill to the point of death. At that time, prophet Isaiah came and delivered the message from God that Hezekiah would indeed die of this illness. But we see in v.2 that Hezekiah “turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord.” He prayed, “Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” And it says that he broke down and wept bitterly. How did God respond to that? Did he say, “Sorry Hez, I’ve already planned that you die. You’re wasting your time and energy praying?” No, of course not! It says that God responded IMMEDIATELY as Isaiah was leaving the palace. The Lord said through Isaiah, “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and three days from now, you will get out of bed and go to the Temple of the Lord. I will add 15 years to your life.” So, Hezekiah was healed and lived another 15 years ruling the nation. Now, who said praying is useless?
We see these examples of God answering prayer in the Scripture in so many places – Gen. 18, Gen. 32, Dan 10, Amos 7, Acts 4, Acts 10, Acts 12, and so on. They are too numerous to list. And because of God’s history of His answering prayers, we can believe and be assured that, if we confess our sins to him (in humility and repentance), he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness (1 John 1:9).
Church, I hope you are convinced by now that there are good reasons why we should pray. The two biggest reasons is a) because the God we love desires us to pray and b) because our prayer can change the way God acts. Our power is so finite, but God’s power is infinite. Prayer is the way to tap into God’s resources. The reason why we often do not have what we desire might be due to a rather simple reason. As James puts it in James 4:2, “You do not have, because you do not ask.”
Now, you might ask, “Pastor Daniel, what about all my prayers that went unanswered? Why isn’t God responding to my prayers?” Well, I’m so glad that you asked. There can be several reasons why God is not responding to your prayer. Consider the following questions and see how you can change the way you live and pray for your prayers to be more effective.
First, are you praying according to God’s will? Second, are you praying with faith? Third, when you pray, are you living in obedience to God? Fourth, are you repenting and turning away from your sins? Fifth, have you forgiven others who sinned against you? All of these questions should help you gauge whether there is a barrier that hinders your prayer.
Assuming that you are in right relationship with God, one thing that many believers lack in prayer is persistence. Persistence! Many believers think that praying once is enough. But if you remember from the Bible Study just last week, even Jesus prayed the same prayer three times that one night at the garden of Gethsemane before His arrest! How much more should we persist in prayer?
Let’s look at a passage that teaches us the importance of persistence in prayer. In the beginning of Luke 11, we see Jesus’s disciple asking Jesus how to pray. His disciples already knew that they needed to pray. Jesus teaches them the Lord’s prayer, and then He continues on with a story. In v.5, Jesus says,
“Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, 6 ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ 7 And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ 8 But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.
9 “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? 12 Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! 13 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
Do you see how Jesus is teaching His disciples to pray persistently? Let’s look at the passage more closely. From v.5 to v.8, Jesus gives an illustration of a man going over to his friend’s house for some bread. As the story goes, his friend initially would not come out to give the man some bread. However, when the man didn’t give up but shamelessly and persistently banged on the door for bread, his friend eventually came out and gave whatever he needed, not so much because of friendship, but in order to end the annoyance.
We know of a similar story, called the Parable of the Persistent Widow, who asked the judge for justice so persistently that the judge eventually succumbed to granting her justice. These stories are told not to picture God as a reluctant and careless God, but to emphasize that, if even sinful people react this way to persistent requests, a loving Father would all the more grant our requests.
Just last week, our whole family went to Ross at Westgate Mall for shopping. Sara was looking for some stuff as I was, of course, watching the kids roam around the toy section. When shopping was done, we were ready to head out, but Abby was holding on to this cheap-looking pink Disney cash register. She said she wanted it. I said no. I said no because I kinda knew that she was going to play with it for a couple days max. But she kept begging for it. So, to make things easy and painless, I just took the toy and put it in our shopping cart. Abby was so happy that she was getting it, but at the cash register, I quietly told the cashier that we’re not getting it. As we were walking out of the store, Abby noticed that her toy was no longer there, and so she started crying. I initially just ignored her plea, but when she begged so much, I turned around, held her in my arms, looked into her eyes, and said in a loving voice, “Abby, we’re not getting it.” She broke down in tears and wept bitterly – kinda like Hezekiah. I could tell that her world was falling apart. I started feeling sorry for her. Sara also chimed in that maybe we should get it for her. So, although, we were already close to the exit of the mall, I had them wait there, went back to Ross, and got her the toy. Needless to say, she was ecstatic. And, to my surprise, she is not only still playing with it, but she also sometimes sleeps with it. Abby’s persistence paid off. Now, if a sinful father like I yield to my child’s plea, how much more would our all-loving Father give what we ask for? I believe the problem is that, more than often, we just give up asking too quickly. Our prayer needs to be earnest and persistent.
This is why, in v.9, Jesus says, “keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” This is Jesus’s promise that you can hang on to. Your persistent prayer will be answered assuming that your prayer is aligned with God’s will and nature. So, just as it’s written in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”
In v.11-12, we see another familiar analogy. Jesus says, “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not!” The idea to be clear here. If sinful people like us know how to give good gifts to our children, our heavenly Father knows even better how to give better gifts. But that’s not Jesus’s conclusion. His conclusion in v.13 is “So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” What? The Holy Spirit?? Indeed! The implication in Jesus’s conclusion is that the best gift is the Holy Spirit and, therefore, Holy Spirit is what we ought to be asking for above everything else!
This immediately answers the last question of what we should be praying about. Jesus taught His disciples that our Father knows what we need even before we ask. So, our prayer is not so much about informing God of our need. What we really should be asking earnestly and persistently is the filling of the Holy Spirit in us. We have to recognize that the Holy Spirit is the best gift above all else. That’s why Apostle Paul encouraged the church in Ephesus to not get drunk but be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Jesus’s disciples in the book of Acts were able to do amazing things for God’s glory when they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Church, if you’re tired of living a normal, mundane, worldly life, perhaps you weren’t asking the right stuff. We all ought to be asking for more of the Holy Spirit.
Colossians 4:2 reads, in part, “Continue steadfastly in prayer.” Church, I also encourage you to continue steadfastly in prayer. Be persistent in prayer because God desires our earnest prayer and God can change history because of our prayer. And above all else, pray for the Holy Spirit. We can never have enough of Him. As we engage more of our lives in prayer, I hope that more and more testimonies of answered prayers will come out of our church. And through that, may God be glorified more and more.
Pastor Daniel Kim