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“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. 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. Give us day by day our daily bread. 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. 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; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? 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. 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. 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. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 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?”—Luke 11:1-13.
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In this passage we have our blessed Lord instructing His disciples as to the privilege of prayer. He had been stressing the lesson of how important it is to sit at His feet, and now His disciples came to Him as He was speaking to His Father. They asked Him to teach them to pray as John the Baptist had taught his disciples. The disciples’ plea, “Lord, teach us to pray,” implied not only the need of instruction as to the proper language to use in prayer, but it also suggests the need of compelling power to move us to prayer.
Prayer is the normal expression of divine life, just as breathing is of natural life. Of every newborn soul it can be said, as of Saul of Tarsus, “Behold, he prayeth” (Acts 9:11). But there are certain important spiritual laws in connection with prayer which are learned only in fellowship with our blessed Lord. He was Himself a Man of prayer in the days of His humiliation here on earth, and He is still the great Intercessor at the Father’s right hand.
In response He gave them the outline of what is commonly called “the Lord’s Prayer.” Strictly speaking, of course, it was not the Lord’s prayer, because He did not pray it. Our blessed Lord could not say the prayer as expressing His own needs and desires, because He was the absolutely sinless One. He, therefore, could not pray, “Forgive us our sins.” His disciples were still sinful men as we are, and so they needed to come to the Father for forgiveness. It would rather be designated “the disciples’ prayer.” It was never intended, apparently, to be used in a formal way, for there is no mention of such use anywhere in the Book of Acts, or in any of the epistles which give us Church practice as well as doctrine. But it is a model upon which all our prayers may well be formed. Used in this way, it fulfils the purpose for which it was given. We need to remember that it was part of our Saviour’s instruction to His own disciples. No one else is entitled to come to God in this way. When He is known as Father we are invited to bring our petitions to Him, assured that He delights to answer. If He seems to be indifferent, as in the case of the friend who did not attend immediately to the request of his neighbor, it is only to test our faith and perseverance. Truth is seldom found in extremes. There are some who insist that the so-called “Lord’s Prayer” is intended for use on all occasions as a set form, and that the mere repetition of its beautiful phrases has an almost magical effect. Others are averse to using it at all and consider its petitions unsuited for the present dispensation of grace, and applicable only to the days when Christ was on earth and in the tribulation period yet to come. But surely there is no expression in it that the most enlightened Christian may not use on occasion, and as a whole it is of the greatest value in guiding our thoughts when we approach our Father in prayer.
But in Matthew’s Gospel, we find it as given for private prayer. Here it perhaps has a wider application. The words are not always the same in both Gospels. There are slight variations showing us that we do not have to say the same expressions each time when we come to God in prayer. Someone has said that it is “the prayer that teaches to pray.”
Prayer, with Jesus, was the expression of communion with the Father, from whom, as Man, He drew His strength day by day. His example moved the disciples to cry, “Lord, teach us to pray!” John the Baptist had instructed his followers along prayer lines. They desired Jesus to teach them how to draw nigh unto God. Notice the example given. They were to say, “Our Father which art in heaven.” First of all, Jesus emphasizes the Father’s name, which He came to declare (John 17:26). It is only those who are born of God who have the right thus to address Him. In true prayer we must know the Father and come to Him with adoring hearts, desiring that His will be done. When unsaved sinners use the prayer that Jesus gave as a religious form, they are appropriating what is not theirs. It is only the one who can say in faith that God is his Father, who has the right to use such words. This is a recognition of the blessed relationship between the saved and the God who saved them. God should be approached with reverence. The prayer begins with worship: “Hallowed be Thy name.” It would be well for us if we had His glory and majesty impressed on us. We should bow in adoration before we express a petition of our own. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.” Faith looks forward to that time when the Lord shall come the second time and deliver His own from all the distracting conditions that now prevail. In that day all evil shall be put down and men “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Then indeed the will of God will be done on earth as it is now done in heaven. All real blessing for mankind is bound up in the doing of His will. Some people act as though doing the will of God would take all the joy out of life, but it is just the opposite.
Next we have the matter of our temporal provision. “Give us day by day our daily bread.” We are instructed to come to the Father about our daily needs. He has promised to supply our every need as we walk in obedience to His Word (Matt. 6:33). We are told elsewhere that we are to be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, to make our desires known. Though He knows all about our desires already, He is delighted to have us bring all to Him from day to day.
“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.” It is not the sinner who is in view, but the failing believer. If we will not forgive, we cannot be forgiven (Mark 11:26). This is an unalterable principle in God’s government of His family. When a believer has sinned and seeks restoration, he is forgiven as he forgives. This is not the same thing as the justification of a sinner, which is by faith alone. But having been ourselves forgiven, we are to forgive those who offend us, “even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us” (Eph. 4:32). We are told, “Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Col. 3:13). If we do not obey His Word, we will knock in vain at the door of restoration when we ourselves have failed. When we confess our sins, we dare not harbor ill-will even to those who have wronged us most. The poor sinner finds forgiveness when he trusts the Lord Jesus as his own Saviour. “Through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.” But what we have here is the Father’s forgiveness when His own children fail, and if we forgive not our brethren then the Father will not grant us restorative forgiveness.
Next we have the acknowledgment of recognized weakness: “And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.” As if to say, “My Father, I am so weak myself, grant that I might not be put in a place of temptation which I could not stand and overcome.” That is, recognizing our weakness, we pray not to be exposed to a test too great for us.
Following this, our Lord gave His disciples a parable in order that they might be encouraged in importunate prayer. Sometimes we come to God in the attitude of prayer, but there is no real exercise of soul, and so He waits until there is greater concern before He answers. Our Lord illustrates it like this: “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.” The friend here pictures God who is the Friend of all, and would have us repair to Him in every trying circumstance and in every hour of need. He speaks of intercession on behalf of another. He pictures a man who has lost his way, coming to a friend of his and seeking refreshment and shelter. But the other finds himself out of needed provision, so he says, “I am sorry, but I do not have enough to help you. I have a friend who will, I am sure, be able to supply the need.” So off to his friend he goes at midnight, and rouses him up and pleads for bread to meet the need of his visitor. He says, “Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey (or, literally, out of his way) is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.” It is intercession concerning the needs of another. In full confidence the householder seeks the help of his friend, assured that he will not be denied.
But the householder is not willing to disturb his whole family at that hour of the night. He pleads to be left alone, for he has retired, and his children also are all in bed. Such might well be the answer even of the most faithful friend disturbed at the midnight hour. This is used only as an illustration of what, to our poor finite minds, might seem to be the attitude of God when we do not receive immediately the answer to our prayer. No request of ours can ever be a trouble to Him. His delays are not denials, but are meant to test our faith.
In this story the suppliant continues to knock. He refuses to be denied. He will not take “no” for an answer. Finally one can imagine his friend saying to his wife, “We shall have no sleep tonight unless I attend to his plea.” So he goes to the pantry and gets the bread, and gives it to his persistent neighbor. We are taught to continue instant in prayer (Rom. 12:12) until the answer comes. We are not to be discouraged because God does not respond to our call at the first moment when we go to Him in regard to some particular matter.
Jesus applies the story by stressing three words in regard to prayer — “Ask… Seek… Knock.” It is for our own soul’s good that we become earnest in our supplications, pouring out our hearts in unremitting intercession, literally storming the gate of the storehouse of blessing until the answer comes. God will never deny the prayer of faith. “Ask,” “Seek,” “Knock,” are degrees of importunity. As we continue to besiege the throne of grace we shall be moved to heart-searching and to self-judgment, that thus we may pray according to the will of God.
“Every one that asketh receiveth.” The promise is very broad. It does not ignore instruction given elsewhere in regard to prayer, but it speaks of that which is normal: the believing soul going to God in unselfish intercession, counting on Him to meet every need. He can be depended upon to honor His Word and to give according to His infinite wisdom. Prayer is not trying to make God willing to bless. It is taking that place before Him where He can bless consistently with His own holy nature.
“If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?” Just as no loving, earthly parent would disappoint his child by giving what is worthless or harmful instead of the good sought, neither will God (though He reserves the right to give according to His wisdom rather than according to our asking) ever give what will, in the long run, be a disappointment to us. If He substitutes something else for what we ask, we can be sure it will be better than that for which we have pleaded. The egg would sustain life; the scorpion would destroy it. No loving parent would thus deceive his child.
“How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” This is the supreme gift for those who have trusted the Son. The Holy Spirit is the abiding Guest in the heart of all believers. His power will be made manifest in their lives as they are yielded to God, who is the Source of all blessing.
Prayer is the expression of dependence and confidence. Because we are weak in ourselves we turn for help to One who is almighty. Knowing His love as our heavenly Father, we trust Him, and so come into His presence with holy boldness to make known our requests. In answer to prayer He has chosen to give certain blessings which we will never receive if we do not pray, in order that He might draw our hearts out into communion with Himself and give us positive proof that we have to do with a living God. Our very needs furnish Him with the opportunity to display His tender love and compassion for us, and to manifest Himself as a personal God who delights to hear our cries and rejoices in coming to our relief.
It is a very blessed privilege to know God in such intimacy that we can go to Him on behalf of others. “This honor have all His saints” (Ps. 149:9). We do not pray aright if we are not subject to the will of God.
Only as we are walking in the Spirit can we pray in the Holy Spirit. This is characteristic of prevailing prayer in the new dispensation.