What Do I Pray For? A Closer Examination of Luke 11. 1-13
Don Roberts, Cardiff
So what do I pray for? Can I be guilty of praying for the wrong things? Am I in line with the will of God? Have I got my priorities right? A closer look at these verses will not only answer these questions, but will answer questions that we have not thought of asking. I know that I have often thought that my prayers change the mind of God, whereas in the final analysis they change my mind and bring me into line with the will of God.
Verse 1.First of all, what is prayer? In the words of verse 9 of this chapter, we immediately think that prayer is asking, seeking and knocking, that it is an exercise to engage in when we are in need and in trouble. But here in verse 1 the Lord was praying! The point is, why did the Lord Himself need to pray? We know that in John 17 He was interceding on our behalf, but He was never in need in the sense that we are. Prayer, in the context of the Lord praying, was enjoying communion with God, practising His presence, engaging in holy conversation. We should not only pray when we are in need, but we should pray on account of the pleasure of talking to God and being in His presence. "Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples". That was the request that the disciples made to the Lord; but in His reply He did not teach them how to pray, but what to pray for. In other words, their recorded words were a prayer, and a very beautiful prayer at that!
Verse 2. The word "when" suggests that our prayers should be frequent and regular, and not just when need arises. Notice the plural words "our" and "us" ; these emphasize that our prayers should not be selfish, but should embrace others. This means fellowship in prayer. Addressing Him as "Father" implies that we are children, loving and respecting Him, honouring and obeying Him, and that we are utterly dependent upon Him. The word "art", being in the present tense, suggests that He is very much alive, constant and unchanging with time. The special name by which God announced Himself to Moses was "I am that I am". Now in the Hebrew language the tenses of the verb are very much simpler than in Greek. The action that the verb dictates is either complete or incomplete. Here the tense of the verb "I am" is incomplete, telling us that God is a God of continuing action: this is the God to whom we pray.
Moreover, if this is not sufficient to strengthen our faith, verse 2 states that God is in heaven, implying that He is in full control, that He is on the throne, and that the God to whom we pray is the God that brought the Jews across the Red Sea. Look what the Lord has taught us so far-and the prayer has not yet begun!
Notice in verse 2 that God comes first in our priorities. Our concern must be that His name shall be honoured, set apart, extolled, defended, rendered holy by our behaviour and conversation. We must pray for His kingdom, seeking help to promote it, and praying that His will should be done on earth and in particular in our lives. His will is already done in heaven by the angels, willingly, immediately, completely and thoroughly. How do we measure up to this standard?
Verse 3.The first three requests concern the interests of God, and the next four concern our own interests. Of these, three concern our spiritual needs, and the remaining one our temporal needs. This clearly lays the emphasis on our spiritual needs, rather than on our temporal needs and teaches us the priority of seeking first the kingdom of God. The temporal request in verse 3 is a daily exercise, and teaches us to be constantly dependent upon God. It also teaches us to pray for the necessities of life and not for its luxuries; this is a very important point in the light of the pressures of this world and the growing temptation to keep up with the proverbial Jones.
Verse 4.This request is a sobering one, and shows that we arc but human and prone to wander; at the same time it encourages us to understand others and to make allowances. God docs not tempt, but He does test us, and here we are to pray that we may ride the storms of life, to accept them as part of our training, to learn from them and to prove God through them.
Verse 5. Itwould take a very bold person to knock up his neighbour in the dead of night to ask for some food from his pantry! Yet, in effect, this is how the Hebrew Epistle exhorts us to come to God! "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need", Heb. 4. 16.
Verse 8.The conclusion of the matter is that persistence in prayer wins the day. The emergency demanded importunity, and importunity resulted in opportunity.
Verse 9.This verse is so well known-but should we not use it more and believe it? The word "ask" implies audible prayers, but the words "seek" and "knock" imply inaudible prayers, suggesting exercise. Asking implies dependence, seeking implies an aim, and knocking implies direction and opportunity. The problem that now remains is, "Am I asking for the right things, am I seeking the right things, and am I knocking on the right doors?". We are now thrown back on the subject of this article, and we ask again: What do I pray for?
Verse 10.This gives us the assurance that if we have learnt to ask, seek and knock in line with the will of God, our prayers will be answered. Our experience should have taught us by now that God always answers our prayers. The answer is not always what we expect, but when God opens the door, we know which way to go.
Verses11 and 12. These two verses arc bringing us to the heart of the matter. If an earthly son asks an earthly father for bread, a stone is not given in its place. In other words, the son has asked for the right thing, the necessity of life, and does not receive a useless stone in its place. If an earthly son asks an earthly father for a fish, he does not expect a serpent in return, or if the son asks for an egg, the father does not respond by giving him a scorpion. In other words, the son has asked for the right things again, and has not received harmful things in their place. Likewise our heavenly Father only gives things that are useful and things which will not harm us. But notice carefully that here the son is asking for the right things. How do I know when I am praying for the right things? The answer is to be found in verse 13.
Verse 13."How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?". Here lies the secret, and the answer to the question that forms the title of this article: asking for the Holy Spirit. The stress here is not on the Person of the Holy Spirit, but on the operation of the Spirit. We have the Person of the Spirit since our conversion, but how much of the influence of the Spirit is seen in our lives and actions, and of course in our prayer life? Ii is the Spirit that guides us and controls us, and who will show us the things to pray for. Let our ambition be not only to do God's will when directed, but to do His will without being told; in other words, to know what His will is through the influence of the Spirit of God in our lives.