Power of Prayer

Deliver Us From Evil

The prayer of our Lord contains the profound words, “deliver us from evil.” For these four words contain, in a simple package, implications for prayer and discipleship that could be contemplated at length. The central theme of this statement is that of “deliverance.” Deliverance is a frequent theme in the Old Testament. Depending on the context, deliverance could be a good or a bad thing; either being delivered over to an oppressor or being delivered from an oppressor were very real experiences of the people of Israel during the span of the Old Testament. The Jewish disciples who witnessed Jesus’ model prayer would undoubtedly have had the Roman authorities in mind as an oppressor from which they would like deliverance.

More important than this, though, is the evil Jesus had in mind when he modeled this prayer to his followers. Let’s unpack the timeless evil from which we should petition our Father to deliver us and explore the ways this impacts our discipleship.

The Evil One

Most of the older versions of the Lord’s Prayer worded it “deliver us from the evil one,” to closely follow the Greek text. With this in mind, it is likely that Jesus was referring to the Devil. This petition was not the only time he prayed for his followers to be protected from the evil one (for example, see John 17:15). But who is this mysterious figure?

Several misconceptions float around about who the Devil is and what he is capable of

Speak of the Devil, regardless of the company present, and you’re almost guaranteed to raise eyebrows. Even among Evangelicals, you are likely to induce suspicion and a good deal of miscommunication. Several misconceptions float around about who the Devil is and what he is capable of, and maturing disciples would do well to be aware of them.

On one hand, some all but deny the existence of demons. These aren’t atheists and agnostics who don’t believe in the spiritual realm, but instead, these are Christians who, for varying reasons, function as if the Devil no longer operates in this world. When Jesus pleads with the Father that his followers be delivered from the evil one, we should pause and acknowledge that he wasn’t wasting words. That prowling lion, the Devil, finds an easy meal amongst those Christians who have so minimized his influence that they are no longer aware they need deliverance from it. If we are going to mature as disciples, we must be as wise as the serpent, while not partaking in his evil (Matt 10:16).

On the other hand, some people view the demonic realm as all encompassing. Their error is giving the Devil too much credit. We must be cautious about labeling our own sin as the Devil’s doing. While it is true that Satan is pleased when we sin, that does not absolve us of our own responsibility. The Christian who is stuck in a continual rut of sin who throws up his hands and says, “the Devil made me do it,” has too big a view of Satan and entirely too small a view of God. When we ask our Father to deliver us from this evil one, we must believe God is big enough and powerful enough to succeed in this task. While Jesus’ words sober us into acknowledging the reality of evil forces seeking to do us harm, we must remember that even the Devil cannot operate outside God’s will (Job 1). Satan is a created being and, as such, is not all-present or all-knowing (Eph 3:9), and he is also a liar (John 8:44). Additionally, humanity has made its own contribution to evil and shouldn’t shift their blame to Satan. Which brings me to my next point.

The Evil Ones

The contrast between good and evil is one that the best writers and filmmakers use as a surefire way to sell a work of art. In part, they may be to blame for the erroneous views of the Devil described above. Evil strikes a chord within us all. Most people tend to think of themselves as “good,” and they feel that “evil” is something “out there.” Stripped of the backdrop of Hollywood, the contrast is much less clear-cut. Hitler is an easy face to overlay our idea of evil and make it recognizable. But my gossip about a coworker to my boss? I tell myself, “well that’s just a slight bending of the moral code, not evil.” This sort of proud thinking gets us in trouble. If one facet of being delivered from evil is external, another aspect is internal. Here is how the Westminster Shorter Catechism explains it:

In the sixth petition, which is, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” we pray that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.

The catechism personalizes evil, makes it not something “out there,” but something within us. It acknowledges the truth that all men are fallen and sinful, with a proclivity to commit evil acts. Jesus makes the case well when he uses the word “evil” to describe a father who loves his children:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! – Matthew 7:11

Doing good to those whom we love is no virtue, for even terrorists give their children gifts, and even God’s people commit evil acts. The fundamental bent of humanity is away from God and toward self-serving evil (this idea underlies the claim of the Reformers, that “all of the Christian life is repentance”). Maturing in our discipleship—stumbling toward Christ—is a continual confession that our hearts are evil (Gen 6:5) and a continual pleading with our Father who gives good gifts that he would deliver us from that evil.

Elsewhere, Jesus tells us that God alone is good (Matt 10:18), which, by contrast, levels the playing field among humans: we are all evil. While becoming a disciple of Christ is certainly more than confessing that we are evil and that God alone is good, it certainly is not less. Our refrain should be: deliver us from evil. We have cause for rejoicing in the good news that Jesus came to complete this exact mission.

The Deliverer

John tells us that, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). What a mission! Where our first parents failed in a garden, the Son of God succeeded in a desert. The one who teaches us to pray, “deliver us from evil,” himself serves as our Deliverer. While on earth, the God-man maintained a vibrant conversation with his Father via prayer and exhibited a reliance on the Holy Spirit, by which he never succumbed to the temptation to sin. For those of us seeking to follow Christ, we must use the same means in order to be delivered from evil. Christ serves as both the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2) and our example (Rom 15:3). While we suffer externally from the evil of others and internally from our own proclivity to sin, our solution to this problem of evil is found in the eternal God-man who became evil so that we might inherit his righteousness (2 Cor 5:21).

When a disciple of Christ is made, a change occurs. The disciple is delivered “from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of [Christ]” (Col 1:13). In him we are forgiven of our evil deeds. We are delivered from the penalty of our own evil at the moment we place our faith in Christ, our Deliverer. We then begin the maturing process of sanctification. For this reason, we are given the command to continually petition our Father to “deliver us from evil.” While Christ has already paid for our evil deeds on the cross, our desire should be to avoid situations in which we will be tempted to sin. Our deliverer, Jesus, allowed the Father to lead him into temptation (Matt 4:1) and was then victorious over it. Based on his victory, he instructs his disciples to be diligent to plead God have mercy to lead them away from it. Our ability to cry out to God, “please don’t let me find myself in a situation where I might lust or gossip,” is a great mercy. He gives good gifts; so why not ask for them?

Those of us on the journey of discipleship aren’t called to do it alone. When we ask God to deliver us from evil, an aspect of that deliverance is corporate as well. We are personally delivered from the penalty of evil upon faith, and delivered from situational evil upon petition and dependence on the Holy Spirit. From there, we are called to bring that deliverance to others as we serve as conduits of God’s grace. We multiply disciples when we share the good news that Jesus came not to condemn evil people, but to save them (John 3:17).

Externally, an evil one seeks to destroy us. Our Deliverer, came to set us free from his tyranny. Internally, we wage a war with our flesh and its evil desires. We’ve been given the Holy Spirit by whom we can put these deeds to death. Our eternal, good Father hears our prayers and is faithful. May he get all the glory for this for, “he delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him, we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Cor 1:10).

Lord, deliver us from evil.

Sean Nolan (B.S. and M.A., Summit University) is the Family Life Pastor at Christ Fellowship Church in Fallston, MD. Prior to that he served at a church plant in Troy, NY for seven years and taught Hermeneutics to ninth and tenth graders. He is married to Hannah and is father to Knox and Hazel. He blogs at Hardcore Grace and the recently started Family Life Pastor.

Thy Will Be Done

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You don’t have to read the papers, watch the news, or scroll through social media to know this pervasive truth: the world is not as it should be. Society is not right. Culture is corrupt. Institutions are failing. The market is not moral. Humans, in our sin, are destroying the earth as fast as we can, only to be outdone by the destroying of one-another. We abuse; we steal; we kill; we neglect. Earth does not look like heaven. While Jesus prayed, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we point to the grand disparity of earth and the notion of heaven and dispute the existence of God. We often wonder: “If there is a God, when will he do something?”

This doubt transforms into one of the best prayers: “God make our world whole.”

Jesus Is God’s Will on Earth from Heaven

Jesus taught his disciples to pray these words amidst cultural chaos, on land that looked nothing like heaven. Jesus had come proclaiming and demonstrating a world of peace, without sickness, evil, or death. Fresh from petitioning God’s kingdom to come into our lives, into our communities, and into our world, Jesus emphasized this kingdom—God’s will on this earth.

In other words, the kingdom is all about God getting his way. It means God ruling with peace, justice, mercy, grace, and love. God’s will is lasting peace and abundant joy.

Jesus calls us to invoke, in our prayers, an imagination of our world looking exactly how God intended. Our minds, hearts, and vocal chords are to call on God to do and be all that he intended: “God be with us. God take charge.”

The poignancy of this line in the prayer is found in the person praying it: Jesus prays as God’s will on earth from heaven. Jesus, himself, is God’s will on earth. He is with them. He is in charge, commanding the earth, weather, and all material. Jesus is God’s will from heaven.

Paul poetically describes Christ’s laying down of all his divine attributes to take the form of man and enter humanity (Phil 2). Jesus’ birth is the advent of this prayers’ answer: God’s will has come to earth! Heaven has dipped into humanity. God is his own answer to this prayer. In Christ, God’s will is advancing on earth.

What is God’s will? Jesus came into the world to make God’s will plane. God’s will is to reconcile humanity to God. The symptoms of this will are the healing of the sick, the mending of the broken, and expelling of evil.

God’s will is to pour his love generously into the world through Jesus. His will is to defeat sin, death, and evil and make all things new by his own death and resurrection.

When We Pray, It’s a Call for Incarnation

“Prayer is a moment of incarnation—God with us.” — Paul Miller

The act of prayer, any prayer, is one that beckons the will of God on earth. This kind of petitioning is what prayer is. It’s a statement of belief, a realization of God’s presence in earth, a cry to the one who can change earth. Furthermore, prayer itself is an act of submission. Our prayers are always a petition for God to be with us. All prayer is about God and his will being made visible in our world.

Our current American prayer crisis comes, in part, from godless prayer. We don’t seek the presence of God in our lives and world. We seek God’s activity—a to-do list. We are more like the people crowding around Jesus in Mark 3:7–12 than we’d like to admit. They pressed to be close to him to use his power for their healing. Jesus flees from these people into a boat for fear of being crushed.

The people wanted healing, not a healer. They were content to use Jesus like a charm, not welcome him as Christ. In teaching us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” Jesus instructs us to welcome God with us. He teaches us to pray centered on his mission.

When we Pray, It is for Home

The gospel message of Christ’s death and resurrection is one that unifies heaven and earth. While the incarnation Christ on earth is God’s will dipping into earth, Jesus’ death and resurrection is the advancement of that will. God creates a new reality of heaven and earth in his resurrection.

“When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning, he rose as the beginning of the new world that Israel’s God had always intended to make. That is the first and perhaps the most important thing to know about the meaning of Easter…the stories of the risen Jesus have a different quality altogether. They seem to be about a person who is equally at home “on earth” and “in heaven.” And that is, in fact, exactly what they are.” — N.T. Wright, Simply Christian

When we pray, “on earth as it is in heaven,” we are praying for home. We are praying as refugees without a native land we can return to. We are praying for the completeness of resurrection life into our life today, tomorrow, and forevermore. We are praying for resurrection hope.

Prayer orients us toward our rest, the risen Christ whose will is on earth as it is in heaven.

When we pray, It’s for His Will

We pray as people between two worlds. We pray on behalf of the world. Our prayers are invitations to God: bring your will into our city, culture, government, and marketplace. This prayer is certainly one of trust and confidence in his sovereignty. This prayer is also one of compassion, empathy, and desperation in a lost and dying world.

We pray for his resurrection hope in every moment of death. We pray for his great reconciliation in the face of every sin. We pray for his advancement and victory over every kind of evil.

Brad Watson (@bradawatson) serves as a pastor of Bread&Wine Communities where he develops and teaches leaders how to form communities that love God and serve the city. Brad is the author of Raised?Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities, and Sent Together: How the Gospel Sends Leaders to Start Missional Communities. He lives in southeast Portland with his wife and their two daughters. You can read more from Brad at www.bradawatson.com.

Thy Kingdom Come

For much of my Christian life, I failed to connect the dots. I couldn’t bridge the gap between what I knew God had done in my heart and how that truth applies to the world around me. Is following Jesus just a small, subjective feeling? Did the Spirit’s work in changing my heart mean that his work was only for my heart? These questions perplexed me for quite some time. I never received peace until I dug into the scriptures to explore the kingdom of God.

Jesus teaches us to start our prayers by remembering we belong to God’s family—the family that God has rescued and is gathering together from all nations.

Central to the gospel announcement are the words of Jesus himself: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel” (Mk 1:15). Our Lord saw his vocation as Israel’s Messiah as genuinely good news—and it had everything to do with God’s Kingdom coming to bear on this earth.

The Kingdom of God

The Kingdom announcement was about God’s rule being established in time and on earth. The prophets of old had warned of this great day (e.g., Dan 7:13–14), and Jesus declared without hesitation that the day was “now.” “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt 12:28).

The ministry of Jesus consisted of both demonstration and proclamation. He showed and taught the ways of the Kingdom. He healed both external wounds and internal injuries. The Kingdom of God was an all-encompassing reality—a new world order underneath the lordship of Christ Jesus.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray for this fact to “come.” Incidentally, it was coming. Had Christ died for sinners? Not yet. Was the tomb empty? Not quite. But the Kingdom was breaking in, and the disciples were to ask God to increase the temperature.

Notwithstanding the disciples’ current struggle with unbelief, Jesus assured them that their prayers would not go unheard. If they prayed like this, then the Father would hear their cry.

“Prayer doesn’t change things; God changes things in answer to prayer.” – John Calvin

Praying for the Kingdom

What does it mean for us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come? To start, we must keep in mind that prayer is God’s means. It is no accident that Jesus here taught his disciples to pray and not how to organize a three-point sermon. The preaching would come later when the Spirit would descend and give them authority and power.

What they needed now was to learn in Christ’s school of prayer. They needed communion with God. As Jesus would later pray in Gethsemane, that they also may be in us

Praying to “our Father” that the Kingdom would “come” is simply another way of communing with God underneath his sovereign authority and plan. Even though the disciples would have to walk through countless trials—including the death of their teacher—they were to stick closely to God in prayer, believing that, in doing so, the world would be changed.

This second petition covers everything from eschatology to missiology and ecclesiology to piety. I want to focus in on just three aspects of this second petition.

Three Key Elements of the Lord’s Prayer 

1. We pray that sin would be eradicated.

Because “all mankind” is “under the dominion of sin and Satan,” we pray for the Kingdom of God to come and deal with the big problem of sin. Because the Kingdom was inaugurated, we must not forget how it was done.

Christ’s substitutionary death was an end to sin. The Lamb of God came to take away the sins of the world, and he intends to do just that. Praying for the Kingdom to come is to pray that Christ’s sovereign rule would wipe out our lustful thoughts and irritable attitudes.

We don’t want God’s moral law to be trampled; we want it to be honored! We want sin to be eradicated, and we look forward to the day when it will be.

2. We pray that Satan would be snuffed out.

“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). The Bible makes several things clear about Satan and his demise.

  • He has been disarmed, defeated, and triumphed over (Col 2:15; Rev 12:7ff; Mk 3:27).
  • He is “fallen” (Lk 10:18) and was “thrown” down out of heaven (Rev 12:9).
  • For the early Christians, he was crushed under their feet (Rom 16:20).
  • He has no authority over Christians (Col 1:13).
  • Jesus tied him up, binding him so that the nations could no longer be deceived (Matt 12:29; Mk 3:27; Lk 11:20; Rev 20).
  • Satan has been “judged” (Jn 16:11) and cast out (Jn 12:31).
  • He can’t touch a Christian (1 Jn 5:18).
  • All his works have been destroyed (1 Jn 3:8).
  • Satan has nothing (Jn 14:30), and he flees when resisted (Jas 4:7).
  • He is alive in the world, but he is a defeated enemy moping around in his bitterness.

Praying for the Kingdom to come means that evil and Satan her leader must go.

3. We pray that Christ’s glory would cover the earth.

Because the Kingdom has come and it intends to grow in history (Dan 2; Matt 13; Isa 9:7), we pray for its expansion in every neighborhood and every home. “For the earth will be filled with knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14).

The glory of God is the supremacy of his personhood; we want desperately for his holiness, love, grace, wrath, and mercy to be acknowledged by all men, women, and children everywhere. The impetus for the missional church is this glory.

Multiplying Disciples

When we consider the task of making, maturing, and multiplying disciples, sometimes we fail to see (like I did!) how the Kingdom connects to real life. At a basic level, we know that disciples are made and brought into the Kingdom because the Spirit changes a person’s heart through our preaching of the gospel message (Rom. 10:14–17).

We usually understand this regarding evangelism and discipleship—both are necessary correlated. When we consider maturing disciples, we understand that the power to make and grow disciples rests in the power of the gospel.

We make a disciple by the power of the gospel, and we grow a disciple by the same thing. The trouble comes in on this last part: How do we multiply disciples, and how does it connect to this second petition?

When we consider the reality of the Kingdom that has come and pray for its effects to grow, we need to keep in mind that a significant part of that growing comes from the Church. In other words, the Church of Jesus is a colony of heaven; our citizenship is held in the heavenly file room while our practical passports are held at the local assemblies.

Baptized disciples who partake of the Lord’s Supper under the leadership of qualified elders and listen to the preaching of the Word of God each Lord’s day are ambassadors of this Kingdom. The signposts of heaven are people.

Pieces of the Kingdom

If we intend to plant churches, grow missional communities, and send out missionaries around the globe, we’re going to need to keep in mind that God has ordained these means to achieve his Kingdom ends. All those late-night counseling meetings, all those coffee conversations, those men’s groups, ladies’ book studies, missional community gatherings, fight clubs, and church planting efforts are all pieces of the great Kingdom puzzle.

To connect the dots between what God has given you and what God intends to do through you, we must realize that the dots are already connected.

Everything we do is motivated and fueled by God’s Kingdom work. Usually, we divorce our multiplication efforts from the Kingdom—and sometimes for good reason. It often just doesn’t look like the Kingdom. But perhaps we aren’t looking at it with the right glasses? Perhaps the invitation of the Kingdom is an invitation into the small stuff that doesn’t look like much.

When we catechize our children, go to work and do a good job, interact on social media in an honorable way, or even change a diaper, all of it falls under the lordship of Christ.Since the entire world belongs to him

Since the entire world belongs to him in principle and is commissioned to multiply disciples who think, speak, act, and toil like Jesus, we are now free to find all our work, all our missional community efforts—all of life—as honorable work for the Kingdom.Since we are sent into the world that belongs to King Jesus, even the small stuff matters.

Since we are sent into the world that belongs to King Jesus, even the small stuff matters.

Reflections

  • How does praying for God's kingdom to come bridge the gap between his work in your heart and the world around you?
  • What does it mean for us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come?
  • In what ways can you pray for sin to be eradicated in your community and city?
  • What is the impetus behind the mission of the church?
  • How does the kingdom of God bring significance to even the small tasks in this life?

Rev. Jason M. Garwood (M.Div., Th.D.) serves as Lead Pastor of Colwood Church in Caro, MI, and author of Be Holy and The Fight for Joy. Jason and his wife Mary have three children, Elijah, Avery and Nathan. He blogs at www.jasongarwood.com. Connect with him on Twitter: @jasongarwood.

How Do You Get Prayer to "Work?"

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I say unto you, “Ask, and it shall be given. Seek and you shall find. Knock, and the door shall be opened unto you. For whoever asks, receives; and whoever seeks, finds; and to whoever knocks, the door is opened.” – Matthew 7:7–8

What a promise! Do you need anything? Just ask, and you’ll get it. Do you have problems that seem to have no solution? Just seek, and you’ll find! Do you only see closed doors in front of you? Just knock, and they’ll swing open! Getting from God’s hand everything I lack, everything I desire, and everything I want is what prayer is all about, right?

I’m not sure why, but sometimes I have problems swallowing that.

Jesus teaches us to start our prayers by remembering we belong to God’s family—the family that God has rescued and is gathering together from all nations.

I knew a precious lady—a friend I used to go to church with—whose name was Phyllis. Phyllis was an attractive, active, pleasant woman, full of zest for life and still quite young. She had a great husband named Fred who loved her, two married children, and her first grandchild on the way. Phyllis and Fred loved the Lord and were faithful in church. They were always in their place every Sunday.

One day, Phyllis was taking her customary jog when she noticed a nagging pain in her side. At first, she thought she’d pulled a muscle, but the pain persisted for several days, getting even worse. Finally, she went to the doctor. After a battery of tests, she learned that she had liver cancer. Immediately, she began the most aggressive treatment available. She went through all the misery and suffering that goes with chemotherapy and radiation, but her condition continued to worsen.

Finally, the doctors told her that the only hope of a cure was to have a liver transplant; however, to qualify, she must be clear of cancer in every other part of her body. Another even more intense battery of tests followed.

One by one, her vital organs were cleared until the very last—her lungs. I was in the room with Phyllis and her family when the doctor came in to tell her that there was a spot on one of her lungs, and that, because of this, there was nothing more they could do for her. She would be sent home and made as comfortable as possible until she died.

Immediately, we prayed, placing her in God’s hands, asking him to do what the doctors couldn’t do. During the weeks and months that followed, Phyllis and her family prayed fervently. A group of friends from church went to her house and had a special prayer meeting, asking God for healing.

About the same time, another faithful member of the same church, a friend named Nate, who was about Phyllis’ same age, was diagnosed with a serious and life-threatening skin cancer. We also prayed for Nate. The same group of friends went to his house and had a special prayer meeting. The same people. The same request. The result? Nate got well and is still in good health today. Phyllis, after months of excruciating suffering, died.

What are we to do with this? Here were two people who loved God, who were committed to him and ready to serve him. Both of them trusted in the Lord for healing. One was healed. The other was not. How do you explain it?

How do you get prayer to work?

Some might say it’s a question of morality: God listens to the prayers of good people and ignores the prayers of bad ones. But I’ve seen so much suffering by so many dedicated, moral people (and also the apparent blessing of a few people I didn’t think deserved it) that I’m just not buying that explanation.

Others might say it’s a matter of faith: you have to believe … hard. Maybe Phyllis just had that hint of doubt, and consequently, she wasn’t healed. But I remember a particular father who cried out to Jesus and said, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Faith has to be something more than just believing hard.

Prayer, after all, is not getting what we want from God. It’s receiving from God all that he wants to give

Still others might say that it’s a matter of asking according to the will of God. My problem here is that I have so much difficulty sometimes understanding just what God’s will is in a given situation. Do I have to wait until I’m certain of God’s will before I can pray? I just can’t see God expecting us to live in this constant guessing game about what’s going on in his mind.

All of this leads me to the question that Jesus’ disciples asked him at the beginning of this passage: “Lord, how should we pray? John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray. Why don’t you teach us?”

Jesus responds with a sample prayer that is only 45 words long, a promise, and two parables to give them an idea of just what prayer is. Maybe these stories can help.

Story #1: The Friend Nobody Wants

The first is a story about the kind of friend nobody wants. He shows up, knocking at his friend’s door at midnight, knowing that all the lights are out, and the family is most certainly asleep in bed. It’s an awful time—convenient for no one but himself. And the worst of it is, he has a ridiculous request: “I have a visitor in my house—another friend who came to see me—and I have nothing to feed him. Couldn’t you get out of bed, wake up your kids, bother your family, lose some sleep and wreck your work day tomorrow—just for the sake of going to your kitchen and getting me some bread to feed my houseguest?”

I like to think I don’t have any friends who would abuse me that way. But, in fact, I have had friends just like that. They only appear when they want something. One friend of mine customarily says (joking, of course!) “What are friends for if you can’t use them?” The truth is, I don’t consider people like that to be my best friends. They appear in front of me at the most inconvenient moments with some silly demand—and they won’t let me go until they get what they want. They’re not friends; they are people who see me as a means to their ends. They’re users. But at the end of the day, according to what Jesus says in verse 8, it’s not because the caller was his friend that the guy got up to take care of him—it was because of his boldness, his persistence, his stubbornness, and his unmitigated gall! Giving away the food was his only way to be free of the man, so he got up and gave him what he wanted. This story provides some interesting implications for prayer, don’t you think?

When I was a kid, my parents were missionaries in Mexico, and they worked with another missionary by the name of JT. He was legendary for his persistence. The story of how JT got his permanent residence papers is well known. Usually, it took months or even years to get papers, but he wanted to do it during the summer break of the school where he taught. The first day, he went to the immigration office with his paperwork and placed it on the counter in front of the appropriate official. The person said the words that all immigrations officials say, the world over, “Come back in 2 weeks.” (This doesn’t mean that the papers will be ready in 2 weeks, it just means you can come back in two weeks.) JT said, “That’s OK, I’ll wait.” And he sat down with a very thick book next to the person’s desk and waited. Ever so often, he would go up to the counter and say, “So where are my documents now? Are they ready?” Before the end of the day, this official expedited his documents, stamping, and signing them and sending them on to the next bureaucrat, just to get rid of JT. JT followed his documents to the next office and did the same thing. At the end of the day, he went home to rest, but the next morning he was right there when the office opened up again, book in hand, ready to irritate, annoy, and put people on edge until he had his visa in hand. Result: JT accomplished in two weeks what it sometimes took two years and thousands of dollars to do—he got his visa, and it didn’t cost a dime!

Is this what prayer is? Is it cutting through the red tape of heaven by our pure stubbornness and obstinacy? Is it making a pest of yourself, bugging God until He gives you what you want? After all, prayer is a matter of getting what we want from God, right?

Story #2: The Boldness of Claiming

Maybe the second parable will shed some more light. It’s an entirely different story. The person in the first parable gets what he wants not because of his relationship, but because of his boldness. The person in the second parable gets what he wants because of the relationship. It’s the story, or at least the image, of a father and son. If the child asks for a piece of bread, Jesus says, the Father isn’t going to give him a stone. And if it’s an egg he wants, the father isn’t going to give him a scorpion. Of course not! The boy is his son! He has rights! Fathers give the best to their children, not the worst. Let’s take advantage of the fact that we’re children of God. Demand from God what you want. He’s obligated to give it to you. It’s your birthright.

There are quite a few people who proclaim a message just like that these days. “God is a father who loves us. Like any father, he wants us all to be healthy and wealthy. If we don’t have everything we want, it’s  because we are not claiming our rights as his children.”

I used to work in a small church that was down the road from a massive “prosperity” church. The pastor of that church was famous because he was on TV every day, inviting people to a life of riches and well-being. All you had to do, according to him, was to send your money to his ministry and, in so doing, claim your birthright as a child of God. It was a huge church—a cathedral. Thousands of people went there, and thousands more sent the man millions and millions of dollars. Occasionally, some of these people would show up in our church. I called them the “refugees of prosperity.” They had given everything to this man and had ended up disappointed, disillusioned, and defeated.

Is this what prayer is? Claiming our birthright? Storming the gates of heaven and demanding what we want from our heavenly father because he’s obligated to give it to us? After all, prayer is all about getting what we want from God, right?

I don’t know. I still struggle with this.

It seems that, if this is true, the result will be spoiled children. And if it’s not, the result will be disillusioned children. There must be something more that we’re missing. And I think it might be in the very last verse of the passage.

The Answer to Prayer

Jesus says, “If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

Who said anything about the Holy Spirit? I thought we were talking about loaves of bread, fishes, and eggs. Sure it’s figurative language, but it makes sense that when we translate it into our contemporary lives, we’d be talking about houses, healings, and automobiles, right? No one asks for the Holy Spirit—and why would you? The Holy Spirit doesn’t make your life any easier. He convicts you of sin. He calls you to confess and to repent—change things around in your life. He reveals truth—truth that you’d often prefer to stay hidden! He demands commitment. He comforts us when things go badly, but I’d personally prefer that things just didn’t go badly so that I wouldn’t need any comfort. The Holy Spirit gives gifts to God’s children, obligating them to use them in serving him. The Holy Spirit produces fruit, binding us to live with the character of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is not necessarily at the top of most of our lists of things to ask God for; however, Jesus gives this one particular application in his teaching about prayer.

Maybe we should take a closer look at what Jesus is teaching in this passage. He responds to his disciples’ question, first with a model prayer that is made up of six brief requests—only one of which has anything to do with material things. And this request is just for the necessities of life. All the others ask for priorities that are not of this world—“Hallowed be your name . . . Your kingdom come . . . Forgive us . . . Lead us not into temptation . . . Deliver us from evil.”

Next, he tells two parables and makes a promise. One parable calls us to be bold in prayer—persistent—entering with confidence in the presence of the Lord to make our requests. The other parable speaks of God’s desire, as our Father, to always give us the best. But it doesn’t say that the Father will always give the piece of bread, or the fish, or the egg that the child asks for. It may be that what the Father gives is a nice warm vegetable soup. The promise says that whoever asks, receives. But it doesn’t say that he always receive exactly what he asked for. It says that whoever seeks, finds, but it doesn’t say that what she finds will be what she expected. It says that whoever knocks will find that the open door, but the scene on the other side of the door may or may not be what you imagined.

I’m starting to get the feeling that prayer, after all, is not getting everything we want from God. But if it’s not that, what is it? 

Prayer is About What He Wants to Accomplish

Maybe Jesus is telling his disciples—and, by extension, telling us—that prayer is more about what he has come to accomplish than it is about giving us what we want. He didn’t come to make us happy, or comfortable, or prosperous. Jesus didn’t come to fill our lives with houses, healings, or automobiles. He came to make us holy, to make us new, and to make us fruitful. We expect prayer to change things, and we are right to do so. But the first thing that prayer changes is not our circumstances or our health or our financial status. The first thing prayer changes is us!

Prayer is not about getting what we want from God. Prayer is about receiving from God’s hand what he wants to give. It is about opening our lives and our hearts to be changed, transformed, and prepared for his kingdom.

Conclusion

Remember my friend Phyllis? Let me tell you the rest of her story. From that day in the hospital and on, she and her family and friends began to pray fervently that God would cure her. As the weeks and months passed, she continued to grow weaker and weaker in her body. But an amazing thing happened. Even as her body weakened, her spirit grew stronger and stronger. At a certain point, she called her children to her and said, “I am confident that God is going to heal me. He may heal me by working a miracle in my body so that I can continue to live a while longer on this earth. Or he may heal me by taking me on to be with him in heaven now. I want you to know that either way, I’ll consider it God’s cure, and I’ll be happy.”

During those last months, her suffering was unimaginable. She lost so much weight that sometimes, from one week to the next, I couldn’t even recognize her. But at the same time, her face grew more radiant with each passing day. And her life during those days was an unforgettable blessing to everyone who knew her. Her family experienced a spiritual growth and depth of relationship with God they had never encountered in the best of times. Her Christian friends were encouraged and challenged every time they were around her; it was as if we could see eternity in her eyes. And her friends who were not believers saw in her such a compelling picture of God’s grace that some of them came to Christ as a result. No one who knew Phyllis during those days escaped the hand of God reaching out to us through her. And when the day of her death came, it was like a gift—a liberation. And her funeral was a celebration of God’s grace and provision.

Prayer, after all, is not getting what we want from God. It’s receiving from God all that he wants to give.

Ask, seek, and knock. Be bold in your prayers. Be persistent. And be trusting. Be prepared for God's presence to change you. Come to your Father with a passion for receiving from him what is best!

Dr. Glenn Watson teaches preaching at the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary. He is passionate about preaching that is Bible-based, gospel-driven, and story-shaped. He blogs at Preaching Prof.