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Persistence in Prayer: Keep PUSHing
In Luke 11, Jesus tells us what to pray and how to pray
Ray Stedman, who for many years served as pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California, tells a story he heard from a retired mariner who navigated his ship through surging, stormy seas over a career of many years. This captain recounted weathering one especially wild storm at a time when survival was by no means assured.
The old mariner said, “The Lord heard the voices of many strangers that night.”
I believe the same is true today as our world spirals out of control. Perhaps, in the midst of the peril and perplexity in today’s world, you’re turning to the Lord more often than ever before. I hope you are. In recent days I think we all sense a need to take a knee in prayer like never before. As we navigate these last days, few things are more important than our prayer lives. As the author and minister S. D. Gordon once wrote, “You can do more than pray after you’ve prayed, but you can’t do more than pray until you’ve prayed.”
Jesus told his followers that their prayer lives must intensify as the days get darker. At the end of his great sermon about the end of days, Jesus said, “Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).
Right after his extensive instruction about the days before his coming in Luke 17, we read in Luke 18:1, “Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up.” Jesus’ follow-up to his teaching about the final days was a story about a desperate widow that highlights the need for persistent prayer. Jesus knew the challenges and cares of the end times must be met with persevering prayer.
We have to P.U.S.H.—Pray Until Something Happens.
Jesus’ disciples never asked him how to walk on water, how to calm a storm, or how to do other miracles, but they did ask Jesus to teach them to pray (see Luke 11:1). We need the same help today. Other than regularly reading and meditating on the Bible, nothing is more essential to your spiritual life—and spiritual survival—than prayer. It’s that simple. We need to learn to pray, and there’s no better place to look than Luke 11:1-13.
These verses provide answers from Jesus to two key questions about prayer: What are we to pray for? And: How should we pray?
What to Pray
In response to the disciples’ question, Jesus tells them what kinds of things to pray for. The prayer Jesus gives, commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer, is shorter in Luke 11 than the version recorded in Matthew 6. They aren’t exact, word-for-word copies, which means you don’t have to pray these exact words. If the Lord wanted us to pray this prayer verbatim, the version in Luke 11 would be the same as the one in Matthew 6. However, while Jesus didn’t give us this prayer to repeat over and over again, there’s nothing wrong with using this prayer—as long as it’s not routine or mechanical. We should memorize it and cite it as we do other parts of Scripture:
Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
2 So He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
3 Give us day by day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.”
Let’s briefly look at the two divisions of this prayer and the six things we’re to pray about.
Pray to the Father about the Father
The three requests in this first half of the prayer cover three areas:
The Father’s Person
The first request is that God’s name be honored, revered, and set apart (that’s what “holy” or “hallowed” means in verse 2). In ancient times, someone’s name represented their person or nature—who they are. So, this is a request that God be revered, set apart from everything else, and treated as holy.
The Father’s Program
Next is “thy kingdom come.” This is a longing for God’s program to be fulfilled—for the weary, war-torn world we live in to be made right. When you think about it, all prayer is ultimately a cry for the Kingdom to come. When we pray about our fears and uncertainty, the nation and our leaders, temptation, family issues, financial concerns, or health problems, the final answer to every one of these issues of life is the arrival of Christ’s Kingdom. The Kingdom is God’s answer to all our cries, sighs, and whys.
And when we ask for the Kingdom to come—for God’s Kingdom to rule on earth—we implicitly pray that our lives will also be subject to him. It’s been well said that when we pray “your kingdom come,” we must pray “my kingdom go.”
The Father’s Priorities
The final request in this first section of the prayer concerns God’s will or priorities—“thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” How is God’s will done in heaven? Completely. Joyfully. Unceasingly. Perfectly. Immediately. This is an appeal for God’s sovereignty to be manifested on earth. Again, what we want for this world must first be true in our lives. We must abandon our will for his will and yield ourselves totally to him. The ultimate issue in our lives is Lordship—who’s in charge?
Pray to the Father about the Family
After we pray to the Father about the Father and his glory, we move to praying to the Father about the family and our good. Again, remember that all the pronouns here are plural. We pray for ourselves and others. In the model prayer, Jesus focuses on three requests that we pray for ourselves and other believers.
The first petition is “give us this day our daily bread.” This is a humble request for provision. We ask God for what is needed for the day: “daily” bread. Each day brings its share of burdens and needs but also its joys and blessings. God is our Father. We can trust him to meet our daily needs.
The second family request is for pardon from our sins. The model prayer Jesus gives us moves from “give” to “forgive,” from food to forgiveness. There’s an old Dennis the Menace cartoon that pictures Dennis kneeling beside his bed at night, with hands clasped, eyes looking heavenward, saying, “Lord, I’m here to turn myself in.”
We have to come to God daily to turn ourselves in. Like the rest of this prayer, forgiveness is part of everyday life for believers.
The final request in the model prayer (“lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”) has probably caused more head-scratching than any other. The first thing to recognize is that this is not two separate requests, but one petition in two parallel parts. “Lead us not into temptation” and “deliver us from evil” are two sides of the same request.
When we pray “lead us not into temptation,” we’re really praying:
“Keep me away from temptation.”
“Don’t let Satan ambush me.”
“Build a hedge around me.”
We need to ask the Lord, “If the opportunity to sin presents itself, please remove my desire. If the desire springs up within me, please don’t allow me to have the opportunity.”
How Do We Pray?
After telling us what to pray, Jesus tells a parable in Luke 11:5-10 that focuses on how we pray. His instruction is pointed: we’re to pray persistently. We’re not to give up. In our prayer life we must P.U.S.H. (Pray Until Something Happens).
Jesus used this story to drive home His teaching.
“And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; 6 for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 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’? 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.
9 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.—Luke 11:5-10
We must be careful to note that God is not being compared to this tired, reluctant neighbor. Rather, he is being contrasted with him. What we have here is a “how much more” argument. Jesus is saying, “If even this unwilling neighbor will respond to persistence, how much more will our Father answer the persistent prayers of his people?”
Our prayers are to be punctuated by commas, not periods.
Persistence in prayer is reinforced by Jesus’ call in verses 9-10 to keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking. There’s increasing intensity and a stacking of the words.
Ask: Prayer is asking for something
Seek: A stronger word than “ask”
Knock: Relates back to the story of the man persistently knocking on the door
I love these words from author Warren W. Wiersbe: “Prayer isn’t bothering God, bargaining with God, borrowing from God, or burdening God. True prayer is blessing the Father because we love him, trust Him, and know that He will meet our needs, so we come and ask.”
In these last days, as the world around us grows more chaotic and confusing, turn your panic into prayers. Don’t be a stranger to God. Let him hear your voice often. Pray regularly. Pray repeatedly. Pray biblically. Don’t give up.
No matter what—keep praying. Keep PUSHing.