Peter Kendrick, professor of theology and culture
New Orleans Seminary, North GA HUB
Before reading any further, take a minute to read Luke 11:1-13 and fill in the blank: Prayer is ______.
How did you answer?
In the Westminster Catechism is question #98: “What is prayer?” The answer is simple and to the point: “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.”
In our text, Jesus teaches the disciples the Model Prayer (Lk. 11:2-4) and gives them a comparative illustration (Lk. 11:5-8) as well as a promise of His providence (Lk. 11:9-13). We need to read it carefully. Otherwise, we will misunderstand the context and hence, the message.
It is less about persistent “asking,” “seeking,” and “knocking” until God fulfills our requests and demands than it is about the nature of the God to whom we pray, “Our Father” (Lk 11:2) and His desires for us. Our God is not just a friend, He is our Father; with God, there is no inconvenient time – we can approach Him anytime, all the time; we are not a stranger to Him – we are His children; and He gives out of His goodness not for our greed or even need but for His kingdom’s sake – He gives to us the gift of theHoly Spirit.
In her book Go home and tell, Bertha Smith recalls lying down to sleep and finding “China’s Millions,” lice were crawling “all over me, biting as they crawled. What could I do … For a moment I was tempted to be upset; then I prayed, ’Lord, I am not here on a pleasure trip; I am here to tell these people about you. I cannot see them tomorrow unless I rest. Down in Egypt you sent the very small animals scampering at your rebuke. Now just turn the heads of these lice in another direction and let me sleep.’ In a moment, I was fast asleep and never saw another one in my bedding.”
Sometimes, God says, “Yes.”
Michelle was a vibrant witness for Christ. At the age of 14 she had served in Puerto Rico and at 15 years of age spent a year in Chile as Rotary Exchange Student. She had received a scholarship to study in Germany. Instead of going to Germany, our daughter was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at the age of 16. Countless church members across Steel Valley Baptist Association prayed for a healing. Her cancer was not removed. Instead, Michelle had a complete thyroidectomy followed by chemical and radiation treatments for a year and a half.
Sometimes, God says, “No” even to little girls who love Him.
So what do we do when God answers, “No?” We never give in to disappointment and we never give up on God’s promise to provide for us.
Luke is writing to believers with an encouragement to prayer, to let nothing deter us from praying because there is indeed providence in prayer. So what do we do when God answers, “No?”
We keep on praying, keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking. Paul writes that it is the will of God that we “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). God loves His children to talk with Him. These texts are not a promise that persistent pestering will eventually wear down God to give into your demands (Matt. 6:7-8). Rather, these texts are an invitation and encouragement to pray.
We often misunderstand prayer. Prayer is not the ceremony of closing the eyes but the devotion of the heart; not a once and done 150 character vocal tweet short, sweet, and to the point but a lifelong conversation between Abba and His child; not a grocery list of demands that needs to be filled but an intimate conversation in which we share all aspects of our life: our sin, pain, joy, disappoints, fears, and thanks. Prayer is the pursuit of God’s will and His kingdom.
We need men and women to stop praying for those things that pass away and pray with such abandonment for the will of God that our places of prayer are shaken and each and every person is filled with the Holy Spirit so that we can speak God’s message with boldness (Acts 4:31).
When He says “No,” we trust God to answer out of His goodness and we respond with praise, thanksgiving, and intercession because even if our desires and dreams are not answered, God’s purposes never die. When He says “No,” we should not keep begging Him or demanding He give us a “Yes.”
Sometimes, as much as it pains us, the best answer to our prayer is, “No!” and we need to obediently submit to His will. Mary and Martha wanted Jesus to heal Lazarus, but He had resurrection in mind. Paul wanted to go Rome, but God wanted him to address the multitudes in Jerusalem, to witness to the Sanhedrin, to testify before the Roman rulers Felix and Festus, and then proclaim the Good news even to King Herod Agrippa II before finally arriving in Rome in chains.
Did you know that my salvation and yours is the result of God saying, “No”? In the Garden of Gethsemane, with the cross looming before Him, Jesus prayed with such fervency that He sweat drops of blood asking God the Father to let the cup of suffering to pass from Him. He asked three times. Three times God said “No”. Aren’t you glad that God said “No” and gave to us eternal life and the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit?
David wanted to build the temple for God, but God said “No”. David’s response is one we need to imitate. He prayed, praising God for His greatness, thanking God for His blessings, and then David interceded for the people of Israel and his son Solomon. Perhaps, that is why he is called a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).
Sometimes God says, “Yes,” and sometimes He says “No.” But at any and all times, He calls us to come and sit for a spell and talk as only a Father and child can.