“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11: 1-13)
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he gave them – and us – the Lord’s prayer. We tend to think – or at least I always have – that the Lord’s prayer is His answer to their request. But the teaching doesn’t end there. In Luke 11, the first four verses are the prayer itself, the next four are the illustration of the value of persistence in prayer, and the next five are the illustration of the Father’s generosity towards all who “ask seek and knock.” We have 13 verses of teaching, not just four: what to pray, how to pray, and how we can expect the Father to answer.
It’s been said before, but what strikes me about the illustration of the persistent friend is that he isn’t asking for bread for himself, but for the traveller who has come to his house. Jesus isn’t teaching us about how to pray for ourselves, but how to pray for others. Actually what He does teach us about praying for ourselves is quite short: basically He says our Father has got what we need before we even ask Him! (Matt 6:8) If we walk in daily relationship with our Father Jesus says that He will feed and clothe us without the need for our shopping list. It’s when we have nothing in our larder for those who come to out “house” that prayer is a requirement.
The model that the apostle Peter gives us for evangelism is to always be ready with an answer for those who ask us about our faith (1 Peter 3:15. I wrote about it last week). I think we can read the reference to our “house” as being more than the bricks and mortar that we live in (if we are fortunate enough), but our whole area of influence and the network of our relationships. In a sense, whoever we are with is in our “house,” and the Lord wants us to feed them with His bread. We don’t feed them with our bread; we feed them with His bread. We have nothing in our personal larders they can feed anybody else’s spirit: we have to go to the Lord for His provision. And it seems that sometimes we have to pester Him before He provides. Why? I wouldn’t like to say that I know, but it might be that He wants us to show a bit more love for and commitment to the needy person then one quick request. It may be our persistence is a hallmark of our love and also, maybe, a measure of our faith. But whatever the reason, Jesus teaches us to ask until we have received what we are asking for.
And this leads on to the final section of the teaching. Having shown that we need to be persistent when we “ask, seek, and knock” (the Greek tense means “ask and keep on asking), the Lord’s teaching goes on to tell us how faithful the Father is to answer. The persistent friend kept on asking for bread to give to his visitor. Jesus said that if we, as “evil” mortals, know how to give “good gifts” to our children, our good Father can surely be counted on to give “good gifts” to us, His children. In the next verse, the idea of the Father giving the Holy Spirit to those who ask (v 13) seems to come out slightly of left field in the context of the passage, but if we think of asking the Father to give us “bread” for others it follows on very clearly.
“Bread” is an accepted image for Words of Life. Our “daily bread” is the spiritual sustenance we receive through God’s word as well as the sustenance we need for our bodies. When we need Words of Life to give to someone, there is only one person we can turn to, because only Jesus has them (John 6:68). The only way we can receive those words of life are by the Spirit. It is not unintentional that the writer of the Book of Acts quotes Jesus as making a connection between the Father giving the Holy Spirit and earthly fathers giving “good gifts” to their children. If an “evil” earthly father can give “good gifts” to his children, how much more will our Heavenly Father give “good gifts” when He gives the Spirit to those who ask (persistently)? And those good gifts, I would say, are precisely what the context suggests they are: they are the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We get “bread” for our friends by asking our Father for gifts of the Holy Spirit.
If Jesus’ passion is to build His church, and our commission is to get the job done in His name, especially by having an answer for everyone who asks us about our faith, we have in Luke 11 1-13 a classic three-point sermon on how to go about it:
1: We walk in God’s ways. If we live out of the Lord’s prayer from our hearts we will be doing that, and our light will be seen by others. (vs. 1-4)
2: They will come to our “house” out of the darkness because they will see that light and they will need to be fed. (vs. 5-8)
3: We can’t feed them ourselves, but we know someone who can give us the best bread of all – the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (vs. 9-13) To adapt Zechariah 4:6, it’s not by might, nor by power, nor by any human “bread” that we can share the gospel, but by my Spirit, says the Lord. All we have to do, whenever someone sees our light and comes to our “house,” is to ask. Persistently.