Teach Us to Pray (8): Shamelessly Persistent
March 8, 2015
Intro – (Read Luke 11:5-8). In Lu 11:1-4 Jesus tells the disciples what to pray for. In vv. 5-13 He tells them how to pray – Persistently (vv. 5-9) and Expectantly (9-13). The reluctant neighbor stands for God. The knocking neighbor -- the disciples – and thus us. We’ve seen God is not really reluctant at all. But at times for His greater purposes, He appears reluctant. So, how are we to react. Jesus answers keep praying – persistently and expectantly.
We tend to be like the boy who went to his first day of kindergarten with great expectations. Mom told him, “You’ll love school. You will learn so many things – like how to read and write!” So off he went. When she picked him up she asked, “How did it go?” He responded, “Not so great. I still can’t read or write.” Defeated by disappointment. Like many prayer lives! But Jesus urges – in the face of apparent reluctance, “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.” Pray with impudence or persistence. Don’t give up. That’s the key to this passage. So what does Jesus mean by impudence or persistence? Vv. 5-9 show 2 nuances. To pray persistently = pray tenaciously and shamelessly – all in God’s will.
Look at the reluctant neighbor in v. 7: “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’?” He’s legitimately put out. Most houses were one room – two at most. Everyone, including the kids, are laid out on sleeping mats on the floor. The door is shut and locked with a large wooden or iron bar to secure the entrance. This guy would have to get up, light a candle, tiptoe through the whole family, find bread, take down the noisy bar. The house would be in an uproar! So, “Don’t bother me!” That’s where a lot of us would give up. Not this guy. He’s tenacious! He persists until he gets the bread. And Jesus says, “That’s the way to pray. Pray tenaciously!” Be a bulldog in prayer.
Jesus instructs in v. 9: “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.” These verbs are present tense. Keep on asking; Keep on seeking; Keep on knocking. In the end God will respond. So, is there any difference in those three terms? And the answer is in this context, they mean basically the same thing. Persist. Jesus isn’t saying, “Try asking first, and if that doesn’t work, seek and if that doesn’t work, start knocking.” That’s not the point. Rather the idea is when the answer is not immediate, don’t give up. Increase the energy! Our natural tendency is to say, “I didn’t learn to read or write today, so forget school. It’s a waste.” We play that same game with God in prayer. No answer so forget about it. But Jesus says, “In the face of silence, keep on asking, seeking and knocking.” Persist. Tenaciously. He promises an answer. He doesn’t promise its timing, but He promises an answer, so don’t give up. Keep on asking.
Jas 4 mid v. 2 reminds us, “You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Why do we not have? Because we don’t ask. We got discouraged. The answer was delayed and we decided God was not interested. But is that the problem? No – the problem is we quit asking. We gave up.
Now note it is possible to ask wrongly. To ask only for our own selfish ends. Motives count when it comes to praying. We might ask God to prosper our new business purely so that we could make a lot of money, enjoy an easy life and retire in luxury. That would be asking wrongly. But we might also ask that God prosper our business so that we can provide for our family and give to His work – help others. It’s a question of motive. We need tenacity and purity.
Daniel was tenacious. At age 80 a new regime came into power. Babylon was defeated by the Medes and Persians. Daniel was brought out of retirement to become one of 3 primary rulers under the king. Soon the king determined to make Daniel #2. Word filtered out. Jealousy ensued. Some of Daniel’s colleagues plotted to use His prayer life against him. They got the king to sign a decree that no one should pray to anyone but the king for 30 days on pain of being thrown to the lions. Daniel’s reaction? Dan 6:10 “He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” With his life in the balance, Daniel was tenacious in prayer, just like always. And he gave thanks. Don’t miss that. He gave thanks for whatever was to come. He gave thanks before God stopped the mouths of the lions. He persisted in prayer. He kept on trusting.
Abraham was 75 and childless when God promised descendants as numerous as the stars. Ten years later, nothing! Sarah thought God needed a little help. She gave her maid Hagar to Abe and Ishmael was born. Abraham thought had done it, pleaded with God to accept Ishmael. But God said, “Nothing doing! The promised child is through Sarah.” Fourteen more years went by. Still no child, so when God showed up and said, “Next year,” Sarah laughed. For good reason. Heb 11:11-12 tells us she and Abe were too old. God made them wait until it was too late. Talk about the appearance of reluctance!!
But next year, here came little Isaac, the miracle baby, the fulfillment of the promise. Isaac – means laughter. Guess who had the last laugh? God did. Abe prayed 25 years, and the answer came when it was impossible. Why? So God would get glory. There was no doubt where that blessing came from. And despite trying their own way and laughing at God’s promise, deep inside Abe and Sarah, faith lived! Heb 6:15 “And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.” God counted him patient even though he took a foray on his own half way through – which was painful for everyone involved. God commended Sarah too. Heb 11:11-12, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven.” God rewards tenacity. Are you tenacious? Orel Hersheiser’s whole career changed when manager Tommy Lasorda began calling him Bulldog! Our prayer life will do the same when we become tenacious.
I’ve told of George Mueller who ran orphanages in London in the late 1800’s. More than once food came just in time as he prayed for it. He knew how to persist in prayer. He prayed many to Christ – sometimes after years. The year before his death, he told his biographer of two men he’d been praying for for over sixty years who were still unsaved. Would you be that tenacious? Why not!? The biographer asked if he were not discouraged. Muller replied, “I have not a doubt that I shall meet them both in heaven; for my Heavenly Father would not lay upon my heart a burden of prayer for them for over threescore years, if He had not concerning them purposes of mercy.” Both became believers – after Mueller died. What a heritage. Persistent = tenacious.
To prayer with persistence is to pray tenaciously; it is also to pray shamelessly. With urgency. Note mid v. 8, “yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.” The word “impudence” literally means “without shame.” NIV translates it “shameless audacity.” Jesus is commending this man’s shameless audacity – coming at midnight, refusing to take No. And He is suggesting this is the way we should pray as well. We are invited to open our hearts to our heavenly Father with shameless audacity. We are welcome to express our heart’s desire with a sense of urgency.
Now since “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 9:10) reverence must inform our boldness. As in Matt 15:22 ff. which finds Jesus pursued by a Gentile mother: “22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. (It’s a test, folks – appearance of reluctance). And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” (They wanted nothing to do with Gentiles, and Jesus seems to concur – extending the test). 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (More seeming reluctance) 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” (Persistence. Impudence) 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Most of us would pack up and head home by now, right?) 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (Shameless audacity). 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” She succeeded by combining reverence with shamelessness just as we are invited to do.
Acts 12:5, “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” “Earnest” translates εκτενως (ektenos), “fervently” – literally “stretched-out-edly.” This pictures the long jump competitor, flying through the air with every muscle stretched out to get as much distance as possible before landing. He could care less how he looks. He just wants distance! That’s the intensity in prayer Jesus is commending. Jer 29:13 says it this way: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” God wants to know we care as much as we want Him to care!
Jesus practiced what He preached. Heb 5:7, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” There it is – the perfect combination of boldness and reverence. This is Gethsemane. Lu 22:44, “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly”. Same as Acts 12:5 – “stretched-out-edly.” And that wasn’t just figurative; it was literal. Mark 14:35: “And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed.” “Fell” is impf. “Was falling”. Jesus was in such emotional anguish that he repeatedly fell to the ground while praying. Have you seen that cute little picture of Jesus kneeling by this big rock, hands folded, eyes upward as He prayed in Gethsemane. That’s not the way it happened it all. This was a battle. And note, it was a battle that led to His submission to the Father, not the other way around. This is prayer that means something, Beloved.
R. A. Torrey tells of being at a Bible conference hearing a sermon on “The Rest of Faith.” The distinguished Bible teacher said, “I challenge anyone to show me a single passage in the Bible where we are told to wrestle in prayer.” Torrey goes on, “Now one speaker does not like to contradict another, but here was a challenge and there I was sitting on the platform. I was obliged to take it up. So I said in a low voice, ‘Romans 15:30, brother.’ He was a good enough Greek scholar to know that I had him. He was honest to own it upon the spot.” “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.” Agonize with, wrestle with me in your prayers to God.
When Jacob really came to the end of himself as he returned to Canaan after 20 years absence, scared to death what his brother Esau might do next day, what followed? An all-night wrestling match with God that ended this way: Gen 32:26, “Then he (God) said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” (appearance of reluctance). But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Shameless stretch-out-edness that ended in his blessing. Been in any wrestling matches with God lately? Do we care enough to go there?
Remember Heb 4:15-16? It perfectly blends reverence and shamlessness. “ For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Boldness with God is not a tribute to anything good in us; it is a gift granted because of the presence of the high priest who precedes us – Jesus Christ. The very One who invites us to come shamelessly also accompanies us as our mediator, representative and intercessor.
Conc – Wm Lane Craig is one of the foremost apologists of our day – a leader in establishing a credible academic position for Christian philosophers. He accepted Christ on Sept 11, 1965 and began praying for his parents. He says, “Every day in my devotional time, five days a week, for over thirty years I prayed for their salvation—to no avail. It wasn’t that they were hostile to Christ; they just didn’t seem to feel any need of Him in their lives.” He and his wife, Jan, shared the gospel many times and tried to live exemplary lives, but there was no movement – apparent reluctance on God’s part to answer. And then – it got worse. Craig’s dad developed Parkinson’s and moved to Sedona, AZ. Jan suggested as time had to be growing short he should go talk to his dad one more time. Craig describes the conversation: “’You know, Dad, we really can’t be sure how much longer you’ve got. You really need to be thinking about what happens when you go into eternity.’ His response floored me. ‘I don’t really think there’s any evidence for life beyond death,’ he said. I was flabbergasted! Here was a man who was about to die of a debilitating disease. You’d think he would be grasping at straws, any hope of immortality, no matter how implausible! Instead he was talking about evidence! I felt angry because he had never bothered to look at the evidence when he able to do so, and now he was so diminished in his capacities that he couldn’t possibly investigate the evidence! I said, ‘Dad, I’m one of the world’s leading experts on the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. I’ve been studying it for years, and you know the books I’ve written on the subject. I’m telling you, as an expert, that the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is very good. Unfortunately, you’re too sick now to look at that evidence for yourself. So for you to come to Christ you’re going to have to make two steps of faith. First of all, you going to have to trust Christ. Secondly, you’re going to have to trust me.’ He said he would think about it, and we left it at that. It was the same old brush-off, I thought.” Increased unresponsiveness! But he continued to pray.
A few weeks later Craig’s mom called. “Your father’s been thinking about what you told him,” she said, “and he’s ready to make that decision.” Craig says, “You could have knocked me over with a feather! I couldn’t believe my ears. All those years of praying for precisely this, and could it now really be?” Over the phone he shared how they could pray and invite Christ to be their personal Lord and Savior. Next day Mom called again. “We prayed the prayer together like you said. It took a long time because of your father’s Parkinson’s. But we did it twice. I just want to be sure we’re both going to the same place!” Is that good or what?
Craig summarizes: “I realized that there had grown up in my heart an unknown root of bitterness toward God because of His seeming unresponsiveness to my prayers for my parents. All those years He seemed to be doing nothing. But now I came to appreciate what I, as a philosopher, had known intellectually for some time: that God may be at work providentially to accomplish His purposes in ways that we cannot even detect. He knew all along how to best answer my prayers, and I had only to be patient. Don’t give up too soon in your prayer for something. Show God that you mean business.” That’s what Jesus is urging from us in the face of seeming unresponsiveness. Prayer that is tenacious, bold, persistent, shameless. Don’t give up. Keep it up.