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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am service, 2003-09-07

Text: Luke 11:5-10

We have been doing a series of messages on the theme 'Promises to Live By' And this morning we come to one of the loveliest promises that can be found in Scripture: The promise of God that is given to those who pray. The subject of this promise is prayer. J.C. Ryle wrote that, 'Prayer is the most important subject in Practical Religion. All other subjects are second to it. Reading the Bible, keeping the Sabbath, hearing sermons, attending public worship, going to the Lord's Table - all these are very weighty matters. But none of them are so important as private prayer.' 

Perhaps I can add to that, that prayer is also the least difficult part of practical religion. The Lord is not difficult to reach at all. He is just a prayer away. We don't need to use elaborate apparatus or special equipment like a handphone or an e-mail service to get in touch with Him. All we need is a heart that is willing to pray. Prayer is therefore not hard for anyone to do. We can pray anywhere we want to, and any time we want to and in the midst of any activity at all - whether it is working, studying, playing, eating, resting or traveling. 

In fact, prayer should become a natural habit for us, something that we do often throughout the day. It should not just be made twice a day or five times a day as the Muslims practice, but many times throughout the day in small little portions, as you go about your daily activities - You can praise God in your heart as you walk to school or to your office and behold the trees and flowers along the path. You can thank God on the spot when things go well for you or when you get through a test or exam or when you close a deal. You can cry to God for help in moments when danger comes your way, or when an urgent need arises.

This is the way to walk with God like Enoch did. This is the way to enjoy the kind of close, intimate fellowship with God that our Lord Jesus Himself enjoyed. Do you know that Jesus talked with God not only when He was alone, but even in His busiest moments when He was ministering to people? According to John 12:27,28 while Jesus was talking to a crowd of people, He suddenly talked to God, and God spoke back to Him in a thundering voice that even the crowd could hear! The apostle Paul also seemed to be in constant touch with God. 

If you read the epistles he wrote like Romans, Corinthians or Thessalonians, you will occasionally find him breaking forth in a written prayer or praise to God even in the middle of giving a theological discourse or giving practical instructions. That readiness to break forth in prayer in our hearts at any time is something that all of us should have, if we want to have a healthy and vibrant prayer life. And only a healthy prayer life can enable us to grow in grace, serve the Lord and accomplish great things for Him. 

Consider some of the great names in church history who were known to have a healthy prayer llife. Martin Luther once said that he could not get on with the work of the Protestant Reformation without spending three hours in prayer each day. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Movement, spent at least two hours each day in prayer. John Knox, the founder of the Presbyterian Church, was also a man of prayer, and his prayer life was so profound, that even the queen of England at that time feared his prayers! George Muller is well known as the godly man who founded the Bristol orphanages that housed thousands of orphans, and it was built and run entirely on prayer! Jonathan Edwards was not described as being a very eloquent or emotional speaker. He is said to have preached often in a soft monotonous voice. But his messages brought great impact and revival in New England. Why? Because he prayed for hours for each message that he preached!

And what about John Sung? I am sure that those of you who have read about China's greatest revivalist would not fail to notice that his ministry was wrought with much prayer. Everywhere he went people would give him prayer requests on little slips of paper with their photographs attached, so that he would pray for them. And these prayer requests filled up one big suitcase. John Sung would wake up at 4 am to spend time with the Lord in prayer. 

What was it that caused men of God like Martin Luther, John Knox, John Wesley, George Muller, Jonathan Edwards, John Sung and many others to take prayer so seriously? I think it probably had a lot to do with the blessed promise given by God about prayer: That promise is found in Luke 11:9,10 '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.' 

I. The Invitation We Receive To Pray

In these verses we find a most welcome invitation from our Lord Himself for us to pray to Him. Let me tell you this: There is no better invitation that you can ever desire to receive in this life than this one. Why? Because the One who extends this invitation is no ordinary person, but the Sovereign Omnipotent God Himself, who has the authority to grant anything at all. 

In the book of Esther, a similar invitation was given by an earthly king - the great King Ahasuerus of the whole Persian Empire. The king said to Esther: 'What wilt thou, queen Esther? and what is thy request? it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom.' (Esther 5:3) This offer was almost like a blank cheque. And Esther used it well for the noble purpose of obtaining the deliverance of her people from destruction. But think for a moment what the king had allowed her to ask for - even up to half of the whole Persian empire (which spanned from Egypt to India)! It must have sounded too good to be true, to Esther.

And this should be our own response to the great invitation we receive from God: 'Ask and it shall be given unto you; everyone that asketh receiveth.' This invitation should fill us with a sense of wonder about why the Almighty Sovereign Ruler who owns all things should allow us this privilege to ask of Him. We wonder why He should give to us, who are merely sinful creatures, this key to unlock the windows of heaven to release all His greatest blessings! Dearly beloved, my point in saying all this, is that we should fully appreciate the great privilege that comes in this invitation to pray. Now, don't despise the privilege by rejecting the Lord's invitation to you. 

How do we reject the invitation? Whenever we neglect prayer! This happens especially when we get ourselves too busy with our work and with facing the new challenges that each day brings into our lives. I must confess with regret that I have done this many times too. There have been occasions when I got myself so involved in the busyness of life, that I forgot to set aside enough time for prayer. I get so carried away running around, with activity after activity in serving the Lord, and I forget to pray. Perhaps you are experiencing this too. Perhaps you always find yourself forgetting to pray, because it just does not occur to you to do so at the moment. How often did you find yourself facing a problem, and instead of praying and seeking God's help first, you tried some other means to solve it and failed? And praying is used only as your last resort? 

So please don't neglect prayer, for by doing so you despise the wonderful privilege that God has given to you - the privilege of prayer; the privilege to ask from Him who sits on the Throne of Grace, and to receive what you ask of Him

Now it is needful for me to mention that when such a privilege to unlock the windows of heaven is granted to us, we must be careful not to abuse that privilege. When King Herod was so pleased with the daughter of Herodias, he promised her, 'Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee' Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom,' (Mark 6:22-23) the damsel made the most awful request the king could ever expect. She asked him for the head of John the Baptist! The king immediately regretted making the offer to her (v.26) and he had no choice but to have John the Baptist beheaded for her.

When our Lord invites us to ask of Him, we should not abuse our privilege by asking for things that are sinful, worldly and selfish. And unlike King Herod who granted the damsel her gruesome request, the Lord will not grant any requests of this sort. James says, 'Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.' (James 4:3) Prayer is not to be regarded as a means by which you can make use of God to fulfill your own selfish whims and fancies. Prayer involves submitting yourself to God's will, finding out what His will for you is, and then asking him for things that are according to His will. 

This is the attitude of the heart we must have whenever we come to God in prayer. The attitude of seeking only those things that God Himself would want us to have - things that are good and edifying, and things that bring glory to Him. And when we ask for these things, there is another attitude we should have:

II. The Importunity We Need, To Pray

This is found in the three verbs of v.9: Ask, Seek and Knock. When our hearts are burdened with a great need, we should ask God for it, and not only ask, but seek after it, and not only seek but press on to keep knocking, until the door is opened. This is essentially the same thing as what James says: That the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16). Importunity in prayer is what fervent praying is all about. One reason why many do not experience much by way of answered prayer, is that they are not fervent at all: they are not really serious in their praying. They don't mean business in asking for the things that are in God's will for them to ask. Such half-hearted, non-serious praying is typical of those who pray without any definite objects. They merely ramble in their prayers after this or after that, and get nothing - because they are not serious about desiring anything in particular.

I think many of us here may have to admit that we have been doing that in most of our praying: We chatter about many subjects, but the soul does not concentrate itself upon any one object. We pray without thinking beforehand what we mean to ask God for. We utter our requests as a matter of habit, but without any inward burden or motion of the heart. 

For instance, if you are a Sunday School teacher don't simply ask God that your class may be blessed, but bring each student by name before the Most High. Tell Him what you desire for each student and how earnestly you desire it. This is done, not to impose our wills upon Him, but to be dead serious about what we ask of Him. 

Now importunate praying does not mean that our prayers need to be very lengthy and repetitious. Jesus already said that we should not use 'vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.' (Matthew 6:7) The publican's prayer, 'God be merciful to me a sinner' (Luke 18:13) had greater fervency than many other prayers. Importunate praying does not mean that we have to voice our prayers out loudly to God, for Hannah poured out her soul to God even though she made no sound at all (1 Samuel 1:12-15). Importunate Praying is the work of the soul, and not merely of the mind or mouth. And we must be prepared to get involved in much soul-work, as this is the kind of praying that yields the greatest results in bringing God's supply to meet human needs.

To illustrate the effectual results of importunate or fervent praying, Jesus related a parable in Luke 11:5-8. When we look at this parable carefully we will discover that there are actually three people mentioned here: the person making the request, the person to whom the request is made, and the person for whom the request was being made. In the friend for whom the request is made, we see Human need being portrayed. In the One to whom the request is made we see God's supply being portrayed, and in the one making the request we see ourselves, the ones who pray, serving as the link between human need and God's supply.

A. Human need

Who is the one for whom the request is made, the one portraying human need? We do not know much about him except for the reference in v.6 which says, 'For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me.' But from this we can imagine what this person's circumstances must have been like. He had made a long tiring journey, and probably due to some unexpected delay along the way, he arrived at his destination only at midnight. It was all dark and in those days they probably had no street lamps like we do today. All the shops were closed, all houses were securely locked up for the night. Everyone was asleep, and this man was not only tired but hungry as well. But where could he find rest? Where could he find food at this late hour? What a miserable situation he was in, until he finally found the house of his friend.

Isn't this a perfect picture of human need? Doesn't he portray well the poor lost sinner, walking in darkness, looking for rest from all his labours and for spiritual food to fill the spiritual void that is inside him? Doesn't this remind you of people you know, your friends who are still outside Christ, your loved ones who are still wandering around aimlessly in life? Who will help them find their way? How can the needs of their souls be met?

And doesn't this person also portray to us the Christian who has needs, who began his Christian life well but began to face trials and difficulties along the way and needs help now to bear his burdens? Doesn't it remind us even of our own selves, who may have grown cold and weak in our devotion to the Lord and become tired and weary of well doing and we now need to be spiritually fed, refreshed and rejuvenated? The question we ask then is: How can all these human needs be met when we are unable to meet them?

B. Divine Help

The only help which is able to meet all those needs is God's help. God alone is able to provide for all of these needs. And here in this parable, God's supply is aptly portrayed in the friend to whom the request was made in the middle of the night. He is the one mentioned in v.5 of our text, who is asked to lend three loaves of bread. The difference of course, is that God is never reluctant to meet our requests, as the friend in this passage was at first.

This friend was sleeping soundly in the comfort of his own home. All of a sudden his sleep was rudely disturbed by the noise of someone knocking urgently on his door. He heard someone calling out his name. He recognized it to be the voice of someone that he knew. What was the matter? He needed to borrow three loaves of bread. Now, I do not think any one of us here would be very happy to be woken up in the middle of the night just for a trivial request like a loaf of bread or a bowl of rice.

I think that if someone wakes you up at say 2-3 a.m. you would expect it to be for a very important reason like an emergency. Maybe - a fire next door, or someone is dying. But how would you feel if you were woken up by someone only to find that all he wanted to ask you for is some sugar to make a cup of coffee? I think you can understand now why this friend was quite reluctant at first to open the door and give what he was asked for.

But what is significant is that he did get up to provide what was requested. In v.8 we notice that he gave his friend as many loaves as he needed. This seems to suggest that he had a good supply of bread, and probably could have given more bread than just 3 loaves, if needed. He did not have to say, 'I am sorry but I can only spare you 1 or 2 loaves.' Perhaps he was a baker.

But what does this teach us? I think it is a wonderful picture of how abundant God's supply is. God is able to meet every need, and every request. No matter how great a need may be God's supply will never be short or insufficient. According to Philippians 4:19, Paul was able to say, 'My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.' This is something important for us to remember whenever we pray. We are making our requests not to One who has only limited supplies, but to the Almighty God whose supply far surpasses every need.

One mistake that people often make is their prayers is to focus their attention not so much on God's greatness, but on the magnitude of their own problems. They get discouraged when they see how impossible their problems are. This only results in prayers that are really complaints of self-pity. We should let our eyes be fixed upon God rather than upon our problems when we pray!. Only then can we pray effectively, for only then is faith in God being exercised. In comparison to the inexhaustible supply of God, all this world's needs combined are merely a drop in the ocean!

The Old Testament provides an example of this kind of prayer. If we turn our Bibles to 2 Chronicles 20:5-12 we will see this. This was the prayer made by King Jehoshaphat of Judah when his nation faced the prospects of being wiped out by the tremendous combined forces of the enemy that were arrayed against him (read v.5, 10-12). The most important words in this prayer are the very last words: 'But our eyes are upon Thee.' So please remember: No matter how great the need is, God is always greater than the need. 

Have you been troubled lately because of certain problems that you cannot solve at your workplace? Are you facing a tremendous crisis at home and do not know what to do? Is your workload of study and CCA at school overwhelming you and you cannot cope no matter how hard you try? Seek the Lord in prayer then, and let your eyes be fixed upon Him and on His ability to provide.

And now we come to the most crucial part of the whole parable: And that is the role of

C. Importunate Praying as the needful link between Human Need and God's Supply

This is the real point behind the whole parable Jesus told. It is portrayed in the person who makes the request. The poor hungry and weary friend had come to him and this wonderful person feels a burden to help him and do something for him. But he realizes his own inadequacy and helplessness. In v.6 he says, 'I have nothing to set before him.' - I am not able to meet this need. I have no bread to feed him with. 

But then he remembers with a sudden confidence, 'Oh yes, I may not have bread, but I do know a Friend who does, and I know that He can meet this great need. Surely he will meet this need if I asked him because he's my good Friend.' But to his dismay, when he goes to the house of the friend, knocks on the door, and makes his request known, the friend inside does not even want to get out of bed to open the door. Perhaps he had a tiring day of work. He only replies, 'Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee.' (Luke 11:7) 

But the friend who is outside does not give up. He keeps on asking, seeking, knocking and calling to the one inside to lend him the three loaves of bread. He refuses to go away. Finally his importunity pays off, and the friend inside opens the door and gives him what he asked for. And so through his importunity, the friend outside is now able to feed his tired and hungry guest at home.

This parable reinforces the thrust of the verse that follows after it 'Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.' (Luke 11:9) In other words, importunate, fervent, and serious praying, is the kind of praying that brings God's supply to meet the needs of others and ourselves. George Muller set out to pray for five unsaved friends of his. He did not give up praying for them. After 2 years of praying he had the joy of seeing one of them saved. At the end of 4 years another 3 were saved, and after the 52nd year the last one was led into Christ's kingdom. 

May we be just as fervent and importunate in our praying, fully believing the wonderful promise that God will hear us when we pray 'For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.' (v.10).

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25