The Bible says in Luke 11:1: “He was praying in a certain place, and when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.’ And He said to them, ‘When you pray, say … ‘”
And then Jesus gives an abbreviated version of what we call the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven … “
And then beginning with verse 5, Jesus makes a practical application. He said to His disciples, “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.”
This is the situation. Here’s Man A, and Friend B has come to visit him, but Man A has no bread, and this is in the Middle Eastern culture, where hospitality is huge. So Man A says to himself, I know what I’ll do. I’ll go to my next-door neighbor, and I will ask him for some bread. So he rushes over to his neighbor’s house, and he knocks on the door and says, “Lend me three loaves of bread,” and he explains his predicament. But his neighbor says, “I can’t do it. I’m already in bed. Don’t bother me.” Jesus continues in verse 8: “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.”
When the neighbor said, “Don’t bother me. I’m already in bed with my children,” the man who needed the bread didn’t just hang his head and go home. He kept knocking. Hey, I need something. He argued with the man: “A friend of mine has come on a journey. I’m in a dire predicament.”
Now, why did Man A keep knocking? The answer is given to us in verse 6. “I have nothing.” Persistence in prayer comes when we realize that we have nothing. One of our problems with prayer is this: since we’re not sure that God’s going to grant our petitions, our prayers consist mainly of us just asking and hoping. We always have in the back of our mind a Plan B. For example, sometimes the staff here at The Navigators office has a picnic on the Fourth of July out on the lawn for all our families. We get up on the day of the picnic and we pray, “Lord, we pray for good weather today because we’re going to have a picnic out on the lawn. But meanwhile, would you keep our dining hall available, just in case it does rain?” That’s Plan B.
You see, the man in Luke 11 had no Plan B. When we come to the place where we have no Plan B, no other alternative, where we have nothing, where we are destitute, then and only then are we persistent in prayer. But so often we pray and our attitude deep down within our heart is, Well, if God doesn’t answer this prayer, somehow we’ll muddle through. Somehow we’ll get by.
John Knox, one of the great preachers of Scotland, did not have this attitude. John Knox prayed: “God, give me Scotland, or I’ll die.” There was no Plan B for John Knox. And God answered his prayer. He gave John Knox Scotland. Knox’s sermons turned that country upside down, and you and I and many others today are reaping the heritage of John Knox’s prayer, because a lot of what has come down to us in our Christian experience in this nation came to us from that little country of Scotland. That was sort of the cradle of the Reformation, Martin Luther notwithstanding.
Are we persistent in our prayers? Are we destitute? Have we reached the place where we say, “God, You must answer this prayer, because I have nothing? You must step in. You must intervene. There is no Plan B.” Jesus said to the disciples, “Without Me, you can do nothing.” And we say, “But Lord, I can do lots of things. I can teach a Sunday school class. I can even get up and speak at a conference. I can have a Bible study with men on Wednesday morning. Lord, I can do lots of things.” But the problem is, without Him, we accomplish nothing—and it’s when we realize this that we begin to be persistent in our prayer life.
I think it was O. Hallesby, one of Norway’s great Christian leaders, who said that prayer is the utterance of the helpless. And until we are helpless, our prayers will not get beyond the roof.
But when we pray according to the four principles of prayer that we have discussed since January: asking in the name of Jesus Christ, asking according to His will, praying in faith and praying persistently—our prayers will reach the throne of Heaven and God will move on our behalf. ©2013 Jerry Bridges
Jerry Bridges has been a staff member with The Navigators for more than 50 years.
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
In Part 5, the final article in this series on prayer, Bridges will discuss various aspects of effective prayer. Look for the article in next month’s Decision.