Monday, June 29, 2009

Jesus’ teachings on prayers (Luke 11:1-13) [[Part II]]

In Luke 11:1, the disciples of Jesus asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. In the next 12 verses, Jesus taught about:

1. Praying for oneself (Luke 11:2-4) - the Lord's Prayer
2. Praying for another (Luke 11:5-10)
3. Praying for the Holy Spirit to be given (Luke 11:11-13) [covered in Part III]

[For this 2nd part of a 3-part article on this portion of the Scripture, I going to write on the 2nd item covered by Jesus – praying for another (Luke 11:5-10).]. [You can read Part I here.]

Praying for another (Luke 11:5-10)

Then he[Jesus] said to them,
"Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.'
"Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. 

"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

It is best we look at these verses in its context when we want to claim them as promises in our lives, so that when situations are within context, we can confidently speak the verses into our lives. Claiming Bible promises out of context can result in disappointments and diminish our faith. The context is as follows:

1. One man, Mr. A asking a friend, Mr. B for something for another friend, Mr. C.

2. Mr. A was just one of us, that was what it said, “Suppose one of you….”

3. Mr. A approached Mr. B at midnight. What could we liken midnight to be? An inconvenient time, a dark time.

4. Who was Mr. C? A friend of Mr. A, and Mr. C was on a journey and had come to Mr. A. It should be correct to say that Mr. C had needs, (a) need for a shelter and (b) need for food. It is also correct that Mr. A could provide the shelter need but not the food.

5. Mr. A went over to the house of his friend, Mr. B and knocked on the door and asked for some bread for Mr. C to eat. Mr. A knocked and pleaded repeatedly because Mr. B was initially reluctant to make an effort to help.

6. After persistent knocking and pleading, Mr. B conceded to go into action – got up, took some bread and gave them to Mr. A so that Mr. C could have his need for food met.

7. Then in verses 9-10, Jesus seemed to imply that we are to ask God and when we ask God in this manner, we will receive an answer. Verses 9-10 must be read as following from the preceding verses because it starts with the word “So”.

What we should understand:

1. The context is NOT asking for something for oneself. It is asking something for another
For e.g. you want to own a big bungalow but you are not wealthy enough to have one, and you claim these verses and ask God repeatedly for a big bungalow. Even if you somehow get to own a big bungalow, it is not because these verses came through for you, but because God has some other reason(s) for letting you have the bungalow; and the reason can be simply He chose to bless you out of His grace and wisdom. When it is out of his grace and wisdom, it is entirely up to God. It is different from a promise in its proper context, in which God will honour it because He cannot lie.

Even if in the above case, the thing you asked is not a big bungalow but some bread, and you get your bread, it is not because the above verses come through for you; some other promise has come through for you because these verses are not about asking for yourself.

Who is a friend? I do not think it includes oneself. I think it can be anybody other than oneself. It is interesting that Mr. C was quoted here as one who was on a journey. Narrowly speaking, “one of you” could be taken to mean “a Christian” (note here that Jesus was teaching his disciples), “a friend on a journey” could be taken as a fellow traveler on the Way (Highway) of Holiness, i.e. the friend is another Christian but this is not necessarily the only interpretation (For more on the Way of Holiness, click here).

Broadly speaking, everyone living on this earth is on a journey. We are all on a journey to either Kingdom of Heaven or Hell. You will no longer be journeying when you get into the Kingdom of Heaven (because you do not want to go anywhere else) or Hell (because you cannot go anywhere else).  [The way I used Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven is that, as believers, we are in the Kingdom of God (the earthly phase), but we are yet to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (the Heaven phase of the Kingdom of God)]

2. The context is NOT asking for luxury. It is asking for a need.
So if you are asking God for a big bungalow for a friend, sorry you cannot claim these verses, unless a big bungalow is a need for your friend. It is difficult for me to imagine a big bungalow being a need (I do not want to go into speculation that bread could mean something else, or that three loaves of bread can have some other meaning. It is sufficient to understand that it is a need that is being asked for).

3. The context is NOT some deceptive way of getting something. It is simple and straightforward – knock (at the door), open your mouth and ask.
You cannot arm-twist, fool or sweet-talk God into granting you the request. Just “knock on God’s door” and ask God, persistently. You can “present your case” but you really cannot arm-twist God. It is really not complicated and we should not make it complicated. 

Does God allow Himself to be moved by men in certain circumstances?  Yes, but it is still you cannot arm-twist God; it is that God does allow Himself be moved, at times.

4. It is about persistence.
A great many of us, are really not being persistent, and this is the key teaching of Jesus, here. Interestingly, in this teaching, Jesus implies that God will answer based on persistence even though your friendship with God does not warrant it. I strongly advise against reading these verses to mean friendship with God is not important for answering of prayers. Rather it should be taken to mean that even if we are not “very close to God”, God still answers if we are persistent. This should be an encouragement for many of us to intercede still, for others, consistently and persistently.

5. God is NOT bothered by your persistent petitioning.
Do not think that your prayers will be a bother to God, and it is that you can pray to Him anytime. The Word of God says that God doesn’t sleep (Ps 121:3-4). God may be busy but He is never too busy to answer your prayers. When He is bothered, He will let you know [an e.g. is in Moses’ life – separate article to come].

To recap: The context of Luke 11:5-10 is praying for another (for a need), not for oneself. It exhorts us to be persistent in prayer for others.

Anthony Chia, high.expressions - Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Phil 4:6)

PS1: Luke 11:9&10 were more or less repeated in Mat 7:7&8 without context specification (The Lord's Prayer appeared separately in Matt 6). I prefer the Luke's account with context specified because Luke (author for Gospel of Luke) being a physician would have tended to be more meticulous and detailed in his recording. So, I still insist that the correct context for these verses is that of praying for another.

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