Since God knows our every need before we ask Him, why should we pray? In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his expositional series in Luke’s gospel to consider the privilege we have of coming before our Father in prayer.
This morning we will continue with our study of the Gospel According to Saint Luke. We are in the eleventh chapter, and today I will read Luke 11:5–13:
And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.
“So I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, 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!”
We have been very privileged to hear from Jesus. These are His words, given to us in sacred Scripture through the superintendence and inspiration of God the Holy Spirit for our instruction, reproof, edification, and training in righteousness. Please receive them as such. Let us pray.
Our Father, as we continue to understand more deeply how we ought to pray and to whom it is that we pray, we ask that by Your Spirit You will condescend in this hour to help us in our understanding. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Parable to Illustrate a Principle of Prayer
It is not by accident that this parable in Luke’s gospel is situated immediately following Jesus’ teaching on the Lord’s Prayer. The parable is in this spot to illustrate more fully some of the important elements and dynamics of prayer.
The story Jesus told was the story about a man and two of his friends. Jesus told it by way of asking a question. He said, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him.’”
In the Old Testament, one of the most important principles God enjoined upon His people was hospitality, taking care of sojourners and even strangers in your midst, not just friends. In this case, Jesus told of a man who received an unexpected visit from one of his friends. Because it was unexpected, he was unprepared. He did not have the food needed to provide for his visitor, but he had another friend, perhaps his next-door neighbor. What do we do when we run out of flour or sugar? We go with our hands open to our neighbor and say, “Can you loan me some flour, or loan me some sugar,” or bread, or whatever it is we need. This is part of the reciprocity that we enjoy in any kind of human community.
Jesus put this in the form of a question: “You go next door and say to your friend: ‘I have an unexpected visitor. I don’t have any food. Can you loan me three loaves of bread so I can feed him?’ Can you imagine that your friend next door says: ‘Go away. It’s too late. I’m already in bed with my kids and the door is shut’? What neighbor would do something like that? Even if your friend were reluctant to get up and answer your request, for no other reason even apart from your friendship, by your persistence he will be annoyed enough to put an end to it and get up and give you whatever you need.”
Jesus told this story to illustrate an important principle about prayer. He said, “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Even if you have never read your Bible, you have probably heard these words a few times in your life: “Ask, it will be given; seek, you shall find; knock, it shall be opened to you.”
Ask for Your Benefit
Last week, we looked at the focus of the Lord’s Prayer being the kingdom of God. It was not about our particular needs, where we use prayer simply as a lever to induce God to give us what we desire. Jesus was not saying it is wrong to ask God for things that we need or would like Him to do. He encourages us here by saying, “Ask.” Elsewhere He tells us, “You have not, because you ask not.” We are encouraged by Christ and by the Apostles to bring our requests before God.
While we are encouraged to bring our requests before God, at the same time, the Bible tells us that the Father knows what we need before we ask Him. The purpose of our prayer is not to go through a grocery list of things we need in order to inform God of our situation. He already knows it.
If God already knows our needs and He is inclined to give these things, why bother to ask? The purpose of asking is not for God’s benefit. It is for us.
Jesus was saying: “In your prayers, open your heart. Tell the Father your concerns. He knows them, but He wants to hear from you. He knows that it is good for you that you may come and pour out your heart to Him.” Jesus said: “Ask, and it will be given; seek, and ye shall find.”
Who Seeks after God?
Jesus’ words in this text make up one of the most misunderstood portions of the entire New Testament. This misunderstanding has brought in its wake what has been called a revolution in worship in our day.
Worship has been designed in many churches throughout the land not as a time of offering the sacrifice of praise by believers coming together one day out of seven to offer worship to God. Rather, it has been de-structured as an arena for evangelism to bring people outside of the faith into church on Sunday morning. We tailor the Sunday morning service to accommodate the unbeliever. This is called being “seeker-sensitive” in an effort to be sensitive to unbelievers who are seeking after God but have not yet found Him. The hope is that in this worship service, in this gathering, unbelievers seeking God will come to faith and find the God of their quest.
The problem with the seeker-sensitive strategy is that it is completely and utterly doomed to failure with respect to its primary objective. If we tailor worship for unbelieving seekers, we are tailoring our worship for no one, because there is no such thing as an unbeliever who is seeking after God. Does the New Testament not make that abundantly clear?
Let me read briefly from Paul’s letter to the Romans, quoting the psalmists of the Old Testament. He says in Romans 3:9–11:
“We have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.
As it is written:
‘There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.’”
The natural disposition of unconverted, fallen human beings is not to seek after God. There is not a one of them who seeks after God—no, not one. The natural activity of the unbeliever is not to seek after God, but to flee from God. That is our natural disposition. By nature, we are fugitives. Think of Paul on the road to Damascus. For what was he seeking? He was not seeking Christ. He was seeking Christians that he might destroy them. What were you seeking for when you came to faith?
We hear it often in the Christian world: “My friend is not a believer, but he is searching.” We look at people who seem to be searching after Christ and we say: “Let’s help them in their quest. Let’s tailor our worship to facilitate their search.” Yet the Bible says that they are not searching. Who is telling the truth? You and your perception and judgment, or God in His infinite wisdom who says, “No one seeks after God”?
This question was once raised to Thomas Aquinas. The question was asked this way: “Doctor Aquinas, why is it that all around us we seem to find people searching after God, yet the Bible says that no one seeks after God? How can that be?” Aquinas, in his peculiar wisdom, answered the question this way: “You see your friends and neighbors searching for happiness. They’re searching for meaning in their lives. They’re searching for healing from their afflictions. They’re searching for relief from the paralysis of their guilt. What you see are people searching for those things that you know only God can give them. Then you rush to the conclusion that, since they are searching for the gifts of God, they must be searching for God. The problem with fallen humanity is that, in our fallen nature, we want the gifts of God without God.”
We delude ourselves when we think that unbelievers seek after God. On the other hand, as paradoxical as this might sound, I am strongly in favor of seeker-sensitive worship. I want the worship at Saint Andrew’s to be seeker-sensitive. However, I know that only believers are seekers, so I am hoping that we can structure our worship for believers.
The Business of the Believer
I used to see this sign on everybody’s bumper around the city: “I found it.” No, you did not find anything, it found you. Jesus said the seeking of the kingdom of God is to be our top priority when He said: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and everything else will be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). You do not begin to seek God until you are converted. Once you are converted, that is not the end of the search. Beloved, it is the beginning of the search.
Edwards said that seeking after God is the main and central business of the Christian life. The day we met Christ was the day we started a lifelong pursuit to know Him more deeply and more fully. Let us understand that seeking is the business of the believer.
Jesus said to those who are believers and are seeking that if you seek, you will find. Jesus gave this in the context of prayer for believing people. Search Him with all your heart and you will find Him more deeply every day.
Jesus Knocks . . .
Finally, Jesus said, “Knock, and it will be opened unto you.” Let me take you to the last book in the New Testament, the book of Revelation, where we read in the third chapter Jesus’ statements to the churches of Asia Minor. He gave rebuke and compliments to various aspects of the churches.
Jesus said to the lukewarm church: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:19–20).
How many times have you heard this text used in the context of evangelism? The gospel is preached and then the preacher says: “Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart. If you will open the door and ask Jesus into your heart, He will come in and abide with you forever.” There are two things I want to say about this text.
At the Door of the Church
First, the context in which Revelation 3:19–20 was initially given was not an evangelistic context. Jesus was not knocking on the hearts of unbelievers, but at the door of the church. That may seem strange, because we like to think that our church is open for anybody to come in.
Certainly, our doors are always open for Jesus to come in. The Lord Jesus Christ, whose church it is, should not have to knock to come into His church. However, there are tens of thousands of churches in this world that forbid Christ from their entranceways. The last person invited into those churches is Christ Himself.
Not at the Door of Dead Hearts
Secondly, I have a theological concern for this text that was addressed initially to the church and not to the unbeliever. We say to the unbeliever: “Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart, and if you open your heart, He will come in. Please ask Jesus to come into your heart.”
Jesus does not knock on the door of people’s hearts. You do not become converted because Jesus asks you to let Him into your life, and you, in your unregenerate state, stir yourself from your spiritual death and open the door to your heart so that He can come in. That is not how it works.
When Jesus enters the heart of the unbeliever, He does not bother to knock. He comes in and opens the door for you. It is Christ who lets Himself into our hearts to abide with us forever through His grace. If Jesus knocked on the heart of the unregenerate man and asked him to open and let Him in, Jesus would be knocking forever, and no one would open the door.
Dead people do not open doors. We are by nature spiritually dead. But Jesus does knock on the door of His people’s hearts. He comes to us in the weakness of our faith, in the feebleness of our devotion, and invites us to go into a deeper personal relationship with Him.
The Father Will Feed Us
Our Lord has already come in the door. When we come to His table He feeds us and blesses us with His presence. As the end of the parable suggests, what He will give you is what you need. He will nourish and strengthen you, this day and forevermore.
Jesus said, “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone?” When a son asks, “Daddy, please, could I have a piece of bread,” what kind of father would say, “Sure, here’s a rock, chew on that”?
Jesus said, “If he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?” What kind of father would say: “You want a fish? Here’s a rattlesnake, chew on that”?
Jesus continued: “Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?” What kind of father would say: “Do you want it over easy, sunny side up? While you’re waiting, play with this scorpion”? Jesus used the absurd to indicate how far this is removed from reality.
The final point of the parable follows the strategy that Jesus regularly used with parables. Jesus does not say: “If an earthly father who is a sinner will give good things to his son, so God who is perfectly holy and righteous will give good things to His people.” No, He makes this comparison: “If you then, being evil, 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!”
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.