Character of God - Prayer-Hearing (Luke 11:1-13, Luke 18:1-8)

Dr Daryl Miller, August 14, 2016
Part of the Knowing the Character of God series, preached at a Sunday Evening service

SUNDAY EVENING, AUGUST 14
Title: Character of God - Prayer-Hearing (The Parables of the Friend at Midnight and of the Importunate Widow)
Text: “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1).
Scripture Reading: Luke 11:1?–?13; 18:1?–?8
Introduction
These parables of the friend at midnight and of the importunate widow probably are based on boyhood experiences of Jesus.
The first is a humorous story. A certain person had an unexpected guest arrive during the middle of the night. He had no food to place before him. His embarrassment was so great that he knocked on his neighbor’s door and called out, “Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him” (Luke 11:5?–?6). Now this man had bedded his family down for the night. As was frequently the custom, the children slept in the same room with the parents. For the man to get up would mean to wake the children. The baby would surely cry again. He was simply not willing to get up. But the embarrassed neighbor kept on knocking?—?persistently, shamelessly. Now thoroughly awake (doubtless the children were awake also), the gruff neighbor loaned him as many loaves as he needed.
The second parable is serious, almost tragic, but is relieved by a touch of humor and a happy ending. Did Mary, Jesus’ widowed mother, have someone try to take advantage of her? There were men in Jesus’ day, even men who professed religion, who would rob widows. Jesus condemned them soundly (see Matt. 23:14). The widow sought the aid of a judge?—?who had no sense of right before God or man?—?to get for her justice from her oppressor. She had no power to compel; she had no money to bribe; she could only beseech. This she did continuously, at home, at his office, on the street; morning, afternoon, and night she pled her case. She pestered him so much that he got justice for her just to get rid of her.
I. God does hear our prayers?
A. What is Jesus telling us about God in these stories? Is he saying that God is like a gruff neighbor who hesitates to get up? Is he an unjust judge who must be begged until in self-interest he attends to the suppliant’s plea? Far otherwise. The point is in the a fortiori logic of which Jesus was so fond. If a gruff neighbor will answer the persistent pleas of an embarrassed friend at midnight, how much more will the heavenly Father hear the pleas of his children? If a venal judge will hear the pleas of a persistent widow, “Shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily” (Luke 18:7?–?8).
B. Jesus enforces the argument beautifully and logically: “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:11?–?13).
If earthly parents, the best of whom are evil as compared to the holy God, would not give a child who asked for a biscuit a stone, nor for a fish a snake, nor for an egg a scorpion, then how much more can we depend on God, who is better than us, to do better than we do? Jesus is affirming that God hears our prayers and will give “good things” (see Matt. 7:11) to those who ask him. God will not be worse than the best of his creation.
II. The fatherly character of God is an encouragement to prayer.
A. According to Luke, Jesus spoke the parable of the importunate widow “to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Doubtless, the parable of the friend at midnight had substantially the same purpose.
B. God will not give us bad things. If a parent would not give a little boy a sharp razor no matter how earnestly he pleaded for it, how much more can we depend on God to deny our foolish petitions? We would be afraid to pray if God granted everything we asked. This would substitute our fallible, limited judgment for God’s infallible judgment. There would be no challenge, no courage, no heroism, no sympathy, no faith. Let us thank God for unanswered prayer.
C. God desires to give us good things (cf. Matt. 7:11; Luke 11:13).
1. Prayer is a means of soul growth.
a. By prayer we mean more than saying prayers. One’s prayer is that which one really desires. We may or may not use words to relate that desire. James Montgomery’s beautiful hymn expresses the meaning accurately:

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Unuttered or expressed;
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.
b. One purpose of prayer is to get the petitioner’s will in harmony with God’s will. Jesus’ primary prayer in Gethsemane was not, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” It was rather, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39). Prayer “in Jesus’ name” is a prayer so in accord with our Lord’s will that he could sign his name to it. If God’s will is best, then believers need to come to the place where their wills conform to God’s will. Prayer helps to do this. God’s delay in answering our prayers may be the means of clarifying our motives and desires.
2. God’s “no” or “wait” or “something else” will prove to be better than our own desires.
Second Corinthians 12:7?–?9 narrates how Paul prayed earnestly that the thorn in his flesh might be removed. He thought this thorn in his flesh hindered his ministry. He believed its removal to be God’s will. God did not take away the thorn in the flesh, but he did give Paul the grace to bear it. Paul lived to see that he was a better minister of Christ because the Lord did not give him what he asked for.
All mature Christians have had similar experiences. We look back and thank God for unanswered petitions but answered prayers.
Some Christian has expressed this thought as follows:
How God Answers
He prayed for strength that he might achieve;
He was made weak that he might obey.
He prayed for wealth that he might do greater things;
He was given infirmity that he might do better things.
He prayed for riches that he might be happy;
He was given poverty that he might be wise.
He prayed for power that he might have the praise of men;
He was given infirmity that he might feel the need of God.
He prayed for all things that he might enjoy life;
He was given life that he might enjoy all things.
He had received nothing that he asked for?—?all that he hoped for;
His prayer was answered?—?he was most blessed.
?—?Author unknown
III. Delayed answer may be necessary to develop earnestness.
God’s blessings will not be bestowed in response to a superficial prayer. Prayer for God’s will to be done on earth implies that the one praying will allow
God’s will to be done in his or her life. Prayer for the salvation of the lost implies one’s willingness to live an exemplary Christian life and a willingness to seek the leadership of the Holy Spirit in witnessing to the unsaved. A prayer for peace implies that one is both peaceable and a peacemaker. One’s prayer for justice and mercy implies that one will be just and merciful.
Conclusion
Is your prayer in Jesus’ name? Are you praying in God’s will? Are you seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness? (See Matt. 7:33.)
Believe that God will work out the situation you are praying about for good. Jesus says that you are not to give up. Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. The heavenly Father may not give what you ask for, but he will give you better than you ask. He will not be deaf to your entreaty.
God promises some things when you ask in sincerity: for example, forgiveness of sins, salvation, eternal life, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and heaven as your eternal home. He has not promised health, freedom from pain, material prosperity, long life, or escape from death. He does promise that whatever the trial, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
The purpose of prayer is not to get God to do our will. Rather, it is to get God’s will done through us.

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