Everything to God in Prayer: Prayer and the Character of God

Sunday Message presented on July 30, 2017

Luke 11:11-13

 

We have spent three of the past four Sundays walking through the first thirteen verses of Luke 11 which began with a disciple’s request, “Lord, teach us to pray…” What has followed has been a study of the prayer the Lord gave the disciples to pray.

“When you pray, say…”

Then we looked at the next six verses, 5 through 10 and the need for persistence in praying as illustrated by the persistent neighbor who sought bread from a friend and Jesus’ statement of such persistence…

“I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.”

Today we conclude with the final three verses of this passage:

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?

If you then, 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!”

Now I admit that as I have read through and studied the entire passage, verses 1 through 13, I came to our main text for this morning…scratching my head.

What on earth is Jesus saying to His audience and to us?

Well, one thing I did is that I went back to read the entire passage again and when I read these words at the beginning of the chapter,

“One day, Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

I thought, that if Jesus was praying in a synagogue or even at the Temple in Jerusalem itself, He was not praying alone or just with His disciples. He was praying along with many others.

Then, I thought about the context of the prayer He taught the disciples to pray as it appears in Matthew. He was with His disciples and a whole bunch of others as noted in the opening verse of Matthew 5

(Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them) and then the closing verse of chapter 7

(When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.)

So…

When I come to the opening verse of our text for this morning…

“Which of you fathers…”

I think that it is very reasonable to assume that Jesus was talking, by this point, to a larger group that just the disciples.

I think that we could also assume that some of the disciples were fathers, too and so He could have addressed them as fathers.

I also think that we might assume this was almost like an “oh by the way…” segment. It is as if Jesus looked at His audience one last time and realized that He had the opportunity to make a further point about prayer. Two very important points about prayer in this segment.

What might those points be?

Let me read our passage one more time…

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, 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!”

I suggest this morning the two important points are in the contrast between the fish and the snake and the egg and the scorpion and in Jesus’ response to His rhetorical question “If you then, 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!”

The first point is about the character of the one to whom a request is made. Jesus gets personal here – which of you fathers

Not which of you Pharisees

Nor which of you leaders

No, Jesus gets personal here

”which of you fathers?”

In a few chapters, Jesus gets personal again with the story of the Prodigal or wastefully extravagant Son. I think that parable of Jesus really hit home with His audience.

The issue here is what kind of God are we praying to? Who is He? Is He trustworthy? Is He reliable? Is He kind? Is He giving? Is He loving?

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?

Consider the words of the late JC Ryle regarding the character of God and prayer:

“…when we come to the Bible and consider the nature of numerous prayers that are
recorded there, we find a repeated emphasis that is decidedly God‐centered and
definitive. To begin with, it seems customary that there be no immediate presentation
of human need and predicament to God, even in situations involving great urgency.

Rather, He, the great Jehovah, is first addressed with reverence that is specific and
comprehensive.

It becomes immediately obvious that those in the Bible who pray
know He to whom they pray with both experiential breadth and depth; there are
indications of intimate union and communion that presuppose a profound
appreciation of the character of God.

Even in the Old Testament, while the saints there lived during centuries of promise and shadow preceding New Testament revelation, nevertheless it would be foolish to suggest that this faith relationship was primitive and shallow. It is nothing short of astounding to see how such children of God addressed Him in a manner that would shame many a New Testament Christian.

The reason for this would seem to be due to the fact that while, for them, the coming of the Messiah was prospective, yet a faith alone relationship looked to a glorious God whose perfections were well comprehended, such as was the case with Abraham who, “in hope against hope believed . . . in what God had promised”

The object of this prayerful believing was in no abstract deity, but “God Almighty” the definitively revealed, covenant keeping God of Israel.

Two of Dr Ryle’s statements point to this issue of character…

It becomes immediately obvious that those in the Bible who pray
know He to whom they pray with both experiential breadth and depth; there are
indications of intimate union and communion that presuppose a profound
appreciation of the character of God.

The object of this prayerful believing was in no abstract deity, but “God Almighty” the definitively revealed, covenant keeping God of Israel.

In this matter of prayer, God is the object of our prayer. It is He to whom we pray and trust that what is good and right and just will take place. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Vital then to prayer is the character of God because who we believe God to be shapes and influences our prayers.

To whom do you pray? Who is God to you? A hodge-podge of beliefs? Part Santa and part Easter Bunny? Some nice guy?

Or is He a mean and terrible being who gives snakes and scorpions?

When we sing, with all our heart, “everything to God in prayer” it is to this great and gracious God, whom we cannot fully describe but believe to be who the Bible says He is…we pray.

Now, let us turn to the second point about prayer Jesus makes…

If you then, 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!”

What is Jesus saying here?

Let’s consider the word evil for a moment.

Today, the word evil is used as both an adjective “profoundly immoral and malevolent,” and as a noun “profound immorality, wickedness, and depravity, especially when regarded as a supernatural force.”

But the word translated as evil in our Bibles today also means “full of labours, annoyances, hardships; pressed and harassed by labours; bringing toils, annoyances, perils;”

How does Jesus use it? He uses it as an adjective.

Listen to the translation known as The Message (more of a paraphrase) “Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?”

Here is the Pastor Jim version, “You dads and moms, even though you are harassed and troubled and deal with all sorts of wrong motives and habits, would not dare think to mistreat your kids when they asked for something to eat, would you?” What makes you think that my Father would refuse to give you the gift of the Holy Spirit if you ask Him to?”

The gift of the Holy Spirit…Where did that come from?

Look at your Bibles for moment. Look at Luke 11 starting with verse 1 and reading though to this verse, verse 13. Who says anything about the Holy Spirit?

Does Jesus mean here the Holy Spirit as we think of Him, the third person of the Trinity?

Well, when I did a word study I found that there are two words used here, holy and spirit. Holy means “most holy thing.”

The word Spirit had several definitions for various usages in the Bible. One being “the third person of the triune God, the Holy Spirit, coequal, coeternal with the Father and the Son.”

But it also means in other places “the disposition or influence which fills and governs the soul of any one; the efficient source of any power, affection, emotion, desire, etc.” I call it attitude.

I suggest this morning that when Jesus says the Holy Spirit in this passage He means the person of the Trinity we call the Holy Spirit. But I also think it can mean, given the question Jesus raises about what kind of a father would give a snake or scorpion, about the attitude and the disposition of a God who want to give the gift of His spirit to those who ask.

Could not this question be one about what kind of a God do you want to pray to? And his commentary on this verse, the late Leon Morris says this…

“Luke is interested in the work of the Spirit and here he sees the gift of the Spirit as man’s highest good. There seems no reason for understanding this in terms of the ‘charismatic’ gifts. The reference is rather to the Spirit’s work in the Christian’s life, generally, as in Romans 8.

And this leads me back to part of the text which Pastor Regan read a few moments ago, verse 26

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

What better gift then to have, from a good God who wants to give us good gifts, like the gift of salvation, than the additional good gift of the Spirit who intercedes for us in accordance with God’s will?

A point to consider for today:

When we pray, we pray to a God who is Good and Just and Loving; a God that we can trust; a God who wants to give us the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and with that gift and presence begins to change us from evil to good.

Thanks be to God for prayer and for a good God who responds to our prayers, and helps us become whom He has always meant us to be.

Amen

 

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