Bold, Expectant, & Confident: Praying to God Our Father
Passage: Luke 11:5–11:13
Bold, Expectant, & Confident: Praying to God Our Father
To grasp the weight of this passage, we need to begin by reminding ourselves about the character of God. What do we believe about the Living God, according to the Scriptures? We believe the Living God is holy and immortal, the One who dwells in unapproachable light. The Living God is righteous and pure, the One in whom there is no darkness at all. The Living God is sovereign and almighty, the One whose purposes can never be thwarted. The Living God is transcendent and exalted, the One who is not bound by any constraints of space or time or weakness. This is the character of God as his Word reveals him to be, and even this brief description causes us to ask, “Who can compare to this Great God?” As the psalmist says, the earth quakes, the seas roar, and the mountains tremble at the voice of the Living God.
And at the same time, this is the God to whom we pray. That’s a staggering connection, isn’t it? The God who upholds the universe is the same God to whom we bring our requests. The God who dwells in unapproachable light is the same God we are commanded to approach. Perhaps you’ve never considered this question, but how, exactly, should we do that – in what manner? We know that the blood of Christ has brought us near to the Living God, and therefore, we have no condemnation to fear. But even still, there is this question. What should our attitude be as we approach this God in prayer? Should we try to keep our requests to a minimum? Should we limit the time we spend expressing our needs, our fears, and our state of mind? Shouldn’t the transcendence of God curb our attitude when we approach him? Shouldn’t there be a buffer on how we freely we express ourselves to God?
Those are the questions that Jesus deals with here in Luke 11. And astonishingly, what Jesus teaches in this text is that the answer is, “No.” We should not try to keep our requests at a minimum when we approach God. We should not see the transcendence of God as a buffer that keeps us at arm’s length. According to Jesus, our attitude in prayer should be entirely the opposite. Instead of fear, we should pray with freedom. Instead of reservation, we should have boldness. And instead of walking on proverbial eggshells, we should have confidence that our voices are welcomed by God, just the same as a child’s voice is welcomed by his earthly father.
That encouragement is really the heart of this passage. You may remember last week that we looked at vv1-4, where Jesus taught us the theology – the Truth – that upholds all believing prayer. As Christians, our prayers rest on God’s love, focus on God’s glory, and depend on God’s provision, and we pray that way together as God’s people. That was the theology of prayer that Jesus taught us last week.
In this week’s passage, however, the focus shifts a bit. Jesus moves from the theology of prayer to the practice of prayer. And his aim is what we were considering a moment ago. Here, Jesus teaches us what our attitude in prayer ought to be. How, exactly, should we approach God when we pray? What should mark our prayers, in practice? That is the Lord Jesus’ aim in these verses and the result is a remarkably encouraging call to pray with boldness, with expectancy, and with confidence before the Living God. Far from being timid in prayer, Jesus calls us to embrace prayer as one of the deepest spiritual blessings we have received in the gospel.
That will be our aim this morning. We want the point of the passage to be the point of the sermon, so we need to learn from Jesus what kind of attitude should mark our prayers. There are three marks in particular – one focused on boldness, one on expectancy, and finally one on confidence. Let’s consider each one together, so that we might pray as we ought.
We start in vv5-8 with the first mark – Christians should pray with an attitude of unashamed boldness. Beginning in v5, Jesus tells a parable, one that draws on expectations of hospitality that were common in his day. The setting of the parable is straightforward, but the details make for a humorous situation. In fact, as readers, we’re meant to appreciate what a crazy encounter this is. Look at vv5-6, where Jesus lays out the setting.
A man receives a guest at his home, but surprisingly, the guest has arrived in the middle of the night. And that means the host is caught off guard, it seems. He has no bread to offer his guest. That may not sound all that bad to us, but in Jesus’ day, this was a serious problem. If somebody shows up, no matter the time, you were expected to feed them. And if you didn’t, you would appear unkind and inhospitable, and you could be sure that everyone else in town would soon hear about it.
Considering the circumstances, then, the host does something rather bold. Desperate times call for desperate measure, so the host knocks on his neighbor’s door, in the middle of the night, and he asks for a few loaves of bread. That’s extreme, but the host is desperate, so much so that he’s willing to wake up his neighbor in the middle of the night.
But then Jesus takes the parable a step further. Notice v7 – the neighbor is initially unwilling to help! It’s the middle of the night, and he’s not getting up to give his friend some bread. You can hear the neighbor’s reasoning there in the verse. “It’s too much trouble,” he says. In Jesus’ day, most families slept in the same room, which is why the neighbor mentions his children. If you’ve got little kids, you can appreciate this. If the neighbor gets up, he’ll probably wake up the kids, and then his wife will wake up, and they’ll have to go through the whole bedtime routine again, and nobody wants to do that, so I can’t help you! That’s the point in v7 – the neighbor is unwilling to help.
It appears the host is stuck, but then Jesus provides the payoff. All the craziness of the situation comes to a head in v8. Notice what Jesus says, and since the pronouns are little confusing in translation, I’m going to supply the names for the characters. Jesus’ payoff, v8 – “I tell you, though [the neighbor] will not get up and give [the host] anything because he is his friend, yet because of [the host’s] impudence, [the neighbor] will rise and give [the host] whatever he needs.” This crazy midnight scene is resolved. The host gets the bread he needs.
But what does this teach us about prayer? Remember, Jesus is teaching on prayer at this point, so what’s the takeaway? As you can probably tell, the key to v8 is that word impudence. The word is hard to translate, and it is used only here in the NT. Many translations render it as persistence, and while that’s not entirely wrong, it’s not the best sense for the parable. The idea is something more like shamelessness, or we might say boldness that pays no regard to appearances or social conventions. It’s boldness that says, “I know this puts you in a bind, but I’m going to ask anyway.” One commentator says it is similar to our saying that a person has a lot of nerve, and I think that is the best interpretation here. The host in the parable had a lot of nerve to knock on his neighbor’s door in the middle of the night and ask for bread.
But that’s the key to the parable. Because the host is so unashamedly bold, he gets what he needs. Again, you’ve got to appreciate the culture of Jesus’ day. Once the host knocks on his neighbor’s door, it’s now the neighbor who is obliged to help. He doesn’t want to appear stingy, and he doesn’t want a big scene there on the front yard. That’s the effect of the host’s unashamed boldness. Because he had the nerve to ask, the neighbor responds. By his unashamed boldness, the host gets what he needs.
I hope that explanation makes sense. It’s a difficult parable to interpret, but perhaps the greater difficulty is recognizing the application that Jesus intends to make. You may have already made the connection in your mind. Jesus is saying that Christians ought to pray with the same kind of unashamed boldness before God. Or, to use the language of our day, we ought to show some nerve in prayer. And here’s why, brothers and sisters. This is easy to miss, so follow Jesus’ logic. If even unwilling neighbors respond to boldness, how much more will a good and kind heavenly Father respond to his children when they pray?
Do you see the logic? It’s an argument from the lesser to the greater. The point is not that God is an unwilling neighbor. No, Jesus’ point is the opposite. God is of an entirely different character than the unwilling neighbor. If bold requests work with cranky neighbors, then we ought to be even more bold before God.
That’s the payoff. That’s the application. “Pray with nerve,” Jesus says. “Pray with unashamed boldness.” Yes, God is transcendent, holy, and awesome. But he’s also your Father in Christ, so pray. Even if it’s the middle of the night and you need bread, knock on the Father’s door, and ask for what you need.
Brothers and sisters, I know that we want to be reverent in prayer, and reverence is always a right motive in the Christian life. But let’s remember that boldness is not the same as irreverence. Having a godly sense nerve is not the same as demanding God serve us. You can honor the Lord in heart while also making very bold requests.
For example, our church could really use a long-term facility of our own. The Elders have been praying, “Father, for your glory, please give us a building of our own. Please do the unthinkable and provide a facility. On paper, we can’t afford what we would need, but you own the cattle on a thousand hills. We’re asking you to provide. For your glory, please give us a facility.” Notice we’re not demanding. We’re not questioning God. We’re not presuming that we know better than him. But at the same time, we’re going to ask, and we’re going to be bold in doing so.
What about you, brothers and sisters? What’s the need in your life where you ought to pray with some nerve? Maybe it’s an issue of the heart, and you need to unashamedly pray with boldness that God would cause you to grow. Maybe it’s an unbelieving friend or family member who has rejected the gospel time and time again. Knock on the door of God’s will, and ask the Father to save that person. Maybe it’s a financial or physical need. With boldness, ask God to provide. The point here is not the specific request that you make. It’s the attitude with which you pray. Timid prayers run the risk of implying that God is unwilling or stingy. But brothers and sisters, God is our Father in Christ Jesus, so let’s pray with boldness.
In fact, that is perhaps the main takeaway from Jesus’ parable. The way we honor God’s character is by praying boldly in Jesus’ name. The way we glorify God’s power, his holiness, and his transcendence is by praying for what God alone can do. Timid prayers imply we serve an unwilling God. Bold prayers reveal that the Almighty God is our Father in Christ, and so therefore, we pray with unashamed boldness.
Now, you may be thinking that this idea of unashamed boldness still sounds a bit vague. How exactly do we pray like that? That’s a good question, and Jesus, anticipating our question, gives us the answer in vv9-10. This is the second mark for our praying – Christians ought to pray with an attitude of expectant faith. In the flow of the passage, v9 is the application of Jesus’ parable. Notice again Jesus’ takeaway, v9 – “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Jesus uses three verbs here to describe our approach to prayer. You can see it in the text – ask, seek, and knock. Now, the point is not so much that there are different kinds of praying – sometimes asking, sometimes seeking, and then other times knocking. No, the three verbs should be taken together to communicate one thing. Jesus wants his followers to pray and keep praying. Ask, seek, knock – you pick the verb, Jesus says, but whatever you settle on, keep doing it.
I want to pause here and focus on this for just a moment. When it comes to faithful prayer, perhaps the most vital characteristic is persistence. Pray, and keep praying. Pursue persistence. This is important because many Christians make the mistake of prioritizing moments of power over seasons of faithfulness. We mistakenly think that meaningful prayer results in some kind of unique experience, some other worldly moment of spiritual power. But then when those moments don’t happen, we assume that we’re the problem, or that our prayers are just too weak to make a difference. Have you ever thought something like that? I know I have.
But that kind of thinking is a mistaken mindset. Effectiveness in prayer is not manifested primarily in moments of power. It comes through seasons of faithfulness. It comes through learning to labor in prayer. It’s the Christian who prays and keeps praying. That’s what Jesus is talking about here in v9. It’s not the powerful in prayer who would should emulate. It’s the persistent.
Brothers and sisters, if there is one practical takeaway for your Christian life this morning, it’s this – aim for persistence in prayer. Don’t try to conjure up more experiences of power. Don’t think that you’ve got to spend hours piling up the words. No, prioritize seasons of faithfulness. Day by day, ask, seek, and knock. That is Jesus’ call. Persist in prayer.
At the same time, there is another aspect to this persistent praying that we need to see. We should be careful to not confuse persistence with perfunctory. There is a kind of prayer that goes through the motions, but without much hope. In v10, Jesus offers a clarification that teaches us to pursue persistence, but to do so with an expectant heart. Notice again, v10 – “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Now, in the flow of the text, v10 is the foundation for v9. Why should we persist in prayer? Because, v10, persistence leads to answers. When we ask, God responds. When we seek, we find God’s provision. And when knock, God opens the door.
Jesus wants to us remember that God does, in fact, answer prayer. He is not far off. He is not distant. He’s not too busy to hear our requests, and he’s not so exalted that our prayers fail to reach his heavenly throne. No, God answers prayer. That’s the reason we ought to be persistent – because on the basis of Jesus’ word, we should be expectant that God will answer.
Perhaps you need to hear that this morning, brothers and sisters. Maybe your prayer life has grown cold because deep in your heart, you’ve concluded that God isn’t listening. Sure, you might not say it that bluntly, but if you were honest, that’s what you think. You’re struggling to pray because you’re struggling to believe that God will answer. If that’s you today, friend, I would encourage you to listen to the words of Jesus Christ. There is no greater authority on the nature of God than Jesus, and Jesus says God answers prayer. That’s not my view. That’s Jesus’ view, and remember, you can take Jesus at his Word. He lived his life in obedience to God’s Word. He laid down his life to fulfill God’s Word. He is God’s Word, made Flesh, for us and for our salvation. There is no greater authority than Jesus, so believe him. Believe him when he says that the Father answers.
“But how do I believe him,” you ask. “How do I trust him?” Simple – You pray. Prayer is an act of God-centered faith, remember? That’s how you demonstrate your trust in Jesus. You pray, persistently and expectant that God will answer.
Now, before we move on to the final mark, there is a pastoral question we need to answer from vv9-10. It’s the question that some of you may be asking, if not today, then you’ve probably asked it before. The question is this – “What about those times when God doesn’t answer my prayer?” That’s a very good question. There are times when we pray persistently and expectantly, and yet, God does not seem to answer us. Some of you probably have things you’ve prayed about for a number of years, and still, it seems all you’ve received is the silence of God. That’s hard, and I want you to hear me say that. Those are difficult moments in the Christian life, so whatever else I say here, please know that I say it from a heart that is with you in those hard moments.
What do we do when it seems that God doesn’t answer? First of all, we ought to remember that v10 is not a guarantee that God will answer in the way we want. Prayer does not make God our servant. Jesus’ point is not that God will always answer in the exact way we ask. Now, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask! Remember, we pray with unashamed boldness. But even still, v10 is not a guarantee that God will answer according to my will.
Second thing we ought to remember – God’s timing is not our timing. Sometimes, what appears to us to be slowness is actually God preparing us to appreciate fully the sweetness of his answer. In other words, God might “delay,” to use our perspective, but it’s because he has a deeper purpose in our lives.
Think of Hannah in 1 Samuel. For years, she prayed for a child, and for years, God waited. Was that waiting pointless? No, not in the least. It was through the waiting that God prepared Hannah’s heart to see the depth of his kindness, which then resulted in her worshipful response of giving her son, Samuel, back to the Lord. Do you see it? God’s timing is not our timing, so we should be very slow to judge the Lord’s providence by our timetable. Even in “delays,” the Father is carrying out his purpose for our good.
Final thing we ought to remember – God often answers our prayers better than we have prayed them. What I mean by that is we may believe our request is what we most need, but God knows better. He gives us what is best, what is good even when that doesn’t match with what we asked for. Brothers and sisters, that’s not God holding out on us. That’s mercy. God often answers our prayers better than we have prayed them, and therefore, even when it seems like a “no” to us, we can have confidence that we are receiving the kindness of God.
In fact, God’s kindness is what closes this passages. Look at vv11-13, where we see the final mark of prayer. Jesus tells us Christians ought to pray with an attitude of gospel confidence. Think back to v2 from last week. Where does Jesus teach us to start in prayer? With God as our Father. That address – Father – is a summation of all the gospel truth we confess as the church – that God has predestined us for salvation through Jesus Christ, that he has redeemed us through the blood of Christ, and that he has adopted as his sons and daughters to be heirs with Christ Jesus our Lord. That’s where start in prayer – with God as our Father.
And now, notice where Jesus closes this section on prayer – with the same truth. He closes with the goodness of God our Father. Don’t miss this, brothers and sisters. When it comes to prayer, the truth that bookends our approach is the grace of God our Father. And that gospel truth should produce a sense of confidence as we pray. Notice the argument Jesus makes here in vv11-13. Once again, it’s an argument from the lesser to the greater. Jesus highlights how earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their children. V11, when your son asks you for a fish or an egg, you don’t give him a snake or a scorpion. Fish and eggs were staples of the first century diet, so the child here is asking for nourishment. He’s asking his father for food that sustains life.
And Jesus’ point is that even earthly fathers won’t give their children harmful things in return. In fact, if a man were to give his children such harmful things, he would rightly forfeit the title of father. Why? Because by nature we know what fatherhood entails. It requires the giving of yourself for the good of your children. And that’s the reality Jesus plays on here in vv11-12. Even earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their children.
But then comes the greater point, v13. Listen again to Jesus, and hear the confidence that should infuse our prayer – “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” The answer is much more, isn’t it? God is greater than any earthly father. His goodness is inexhaustible, and his commitment to his children cannot be broken. What’s more, since God is perfect, he never has to fight against his own weakness in order to do good to his children. As much as I love my sons, there are times when my sinful nature gets in the way of my care for them, and I fail to do them good. I fail because I am a fallen sinner.
But that’s not the case with God the Father. This is so important, especially in a world where the brokenness of failed fatherhood is all around us. God has no imperfections. He never has to fight his own fallen nature. He is perfect, pure, and unstained by sin. And that means his fatherhood is always right. His fatherhood is always good. He never fails, he never forgets to call, he never skips town, he never lashes out, and he never walks out. In every situation, no matter the need, God the Father acts for his children. When we ask for a fish, he doesn’t give us a snake because such a thing would never even cross his mind. God has no category of fatherhood failure. This is staggering. God never even has to resist the urge to flake out or fly off the handle. His fatherhood is perfect because he is perfect.
And therefore, brothers and sisters, we ought to have confidence before him in prayer. When you ask for a fish, he doesn’t give you a snake. When you plead for comfort, he doesn’t leave you in heartache. When you cry out for provision, he doesn’t withdraw his hand. When all you can do is groan in prayer, he doesn’t say, “Try harder next time.” He gives what is good because he is good to his core. Believe him, brothers and sisters, and pray with the kind of confidence that can only come from the perfect love of a perfect father.
This is how Jesus wants us to pray. Notice he says that the Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. That’s incredible. The Father doesn’t merely give us good things. He gives us himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the summation of all that God is for us in Christ Jesus. The Spirit is the seal of our redemption, Ephesians 1.13. The Spirit is the Spirit of our adoption as sons, Romans 8.15. The Spirit is the gift of full assurance, 1 Thessalonians 1.5. And most astounding of all, the Spirit is the witness to us that we belong to the New Covenant in Christ, Hebrews 10.15.
Do you see the grace here, brothers and sisters? When we ask for a fish, not only does God not give us a snake, he gives us something better. He gives us the Holy Spirit, the One who sums up for us and to us all that God has done for his children in Christ. There can be no greater confidence than this – to know that God the Father gives of himself by giving us his Spirit in and through the Son.
And therefore, brothers and sisters, we pray. That’s the impulse of this entire passage. Because of our gospel confidence through Christ, we can pray with unashamed boldness, making our requests known in full to God. And we can pray with expectant faith, knowing that God answers according to his will. And it all flows from the confidence of the gospel – that through Christ, God has made us his own. Prayer is a God-centered act of faith, but it’s one that flows not from our work to reach God. No, this God-centered act of faith flows from what God has done to redeem us in Christ.
Let’s pray, brothers and sisters, with hearts that are full, expectant, and confident as children of a good heavenly Father. Amen.