Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Approaching God in Prayer - Part 2
Do you like getting gifts? I remember as a child really looking forward to the coming of the Sears Wish Book. Do any of you remember that? In those days before the Internet, children would tear into that catalog near the holidays and dream and drool over all the toys they wanted. I’d fashion my wish list to Santa and then wait with anticipation to wake up to my new G. I. Joe space capsule or whatever.
I think sometimes we approach God a little like that. He’s like a great big Santa Claus in the sky. We look around and see things we want—perhaps physical things like a new car or a bigger house or a nice fat raise. Or maybe it’s something like taking away a problem we’ve had like compromised health, or a troubled relationship or a life situation that’s caused us concern. We pour through the catalog of the Bible and we see God cure sick people, move mountains, dry up seas, provide riches in the form of never-ending oil, and do all sorts of miraculous things. Then we make up our wish list and wait with anticipation for God to answer.
Then He doesn’t. Or the answer we get isn’t at all like what we thought it should be. This leads to frustration and I think a huge misunderstanding of who God is and what kind of a resource He is to us. (Spoiler alert – He can do much more than we could ask or think to ask!).
Last time we looked at Part 1 of what talking to God in prayer is like. In what is called “The Lord’s Prayer” we saw that:
- God is Father – and you have to first have a relationship with Him in order for Him to hear and answer your prayers. That relationship can only be opened up through the agency of the death of the Messiah on your behalf to forgive the sins that separate you from God.
- Recognition that the goal is for us and this earth to honor God and His value system, not to overlay our value system or the value system of this age onto Him. To that end we need to constantly ask Him to return and set up His kingdom, in His timing – and transform us into loving, giving, forgiving people.
- Next we need to rely on Him for what we need—not on ourselves or the ways this age has created for us to to feel secure, experience intimacy and have purpose.
- Finally, we need help to keep this age from corroding us by giving us strength to stand up to the temptations to return to our former state.
So now Jesus moves on from giving us the elements of a prayer life, to recognizing the character of the person we are praying to, and what to expect in return.
5 – 8
A couple of things will help in your understanding of this parable. Food was not readily available to families living in that age. Families baked bread each day to meet their daily needs. Hospitality was a duty, so a visitor was to be welcomed and cared for no matter the time. Add to that the fact that most homes were one room—and you see the dilemma the man in the parable faces. The friend doesn’t respond because everyone is already in bed. But the man is persistent. The Greek word means boldness and shamelessness. It is this quality, not the friendship, that causes the friend to give him whatever bread he has leftover.
Jesus then explains what this means in the next few verses.
9 – 10
Jesus is talking about prayer—about petitioning the Father. He tells His disciples to have the same boldness and shamelessness as the neighbor. To come to God and ask, search, and knock until you get answers. This has led some people to suggest that if you don’t get what you want, you aren’t asking boldly enough. I think it’s important to keep the requests in context with the Lord’s Prayer in the previous section: what we’re asking for should honor the Lord’s name, further His kingdom, provide for us so we can serve Him, and keep us from doing things that are against His values.
Jesus said “whatever you ask in My name I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13).
This idea of seeking is important. We need answers but God doesn’t always make it easy.
Heb. 11:6 “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (KJV)
That word “diligently” means to investigate, seek, search out—even to crave or beg. How much do you care for the answer you are seeking? Don’t treat God and your relationship with Him lightly. Press in. Keep asking. Don’t take no for an answer.
Now having said that—the more we seek and get answers from God the more we realize what He is giving—and that is Himself.
11 – 13
First we must know that the character of our Father in Heaven is so much better than an earthly father. No father on earth would give something harmful in response to a child’s request. Even more so, when we seek God for answers to our prayers we should expect good things—beneficial things. Notice something interesting in verse 13—Jesus just throws this line out “you, who are evil”. There is no doubt in Jesus’ mind that all of humanity is evil and in need of His saving grace. But notice that even evil humans know to give good gifts to their kids—how much more will God give good to His children.
But notice what He’s giving—the Holy Spirit.
John 17:33 “This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent—Jesus Christ.”
Of all the things you could ask for and receive—all the riches, power, treasures, security, opportunities, joy, security, and intimacy—all those things pale in comparison to, and are actually fulfilled in knowing God and having Him in you.
Our goal is not to see how many of our prayers get answered, like we’re keeping score and many prayers answered means God likes us more. Instead our goal should be to be transformed and used. The byproduct is as the Apostle Paul noted: contentment.
Philippians 4:11 … for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need.
So what does that mean to us? Contentment comes knowing you have God’s Spirit in you. So let’s talk about the various roles the Spirit can play in our lives and when God talks about giving to us in answer to our prayers, He talks about giving the Holy Spirit.
- 1.The Spirit is God’s mind
When God’s mind speaks, things happen (“And God said ‘let there be light’…). The most important thing for us who are in relationship to God is to think like Him.
Romans 12:1 “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
Reacting in every situation as God would react is the central goal of the Christian. So often we think that God needs to move mountains, but in reality He moves us into mirroring His character—and that makes all the difference.
- 2.The Spirit is the enabling One
In Acts 1:8 Jesus said: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The word “power” is the word dynamic. It’s an enabling word. The Spirit’s presence in a life means that you can have or do anything you need to at that moment in order to bring glory to God’s name through your life and help His kingdom to expand.
- 3.He is your most important ally (in at least 4 ways)
- He prays for & translates our prayers for us: Rom. 8:26 “In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.”
- He stands by us: John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. 17 He is the Spirit of truth.” “Counselor” is the Greek word paracletos which means “called to one’s side”.
- He teaches us about God: John 14:25 “I have spoken these things to you while I remain with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit—the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.”
- He speaks through us: Luke 12:11 “Whenever they bring you before synagogues and rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how you should defend yourselves or what you should say. 12 For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what must be said.”
So why is it advantageous for us to continually seek God if all He’s going to give us is the Holy Spirit? Well, think about it. You are getting God’s mind, God’s values, and God’s enabling ability.
The external stuff of our prayers is important—Jesus said in Matthew 6:31: “So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”
But He goes on to say:
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. 34 Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
“His righteousness” is having His mind and His values.
Everyone has needs. Our basic needs are for security, intimacy, and purpose. I’m arguing that the gift of the Holy Spirit in your life answers those needs regardless of your physical situation.
Paul put it very well as he compared our old nature with the new:
Gal. 5:19 “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance—as I told you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
If you look at the list, verses 19 – 21 are what we do as humans to get security, intimacy, and purpose—but outside the righteousness of God. Verses 22 and 23, however, provide those things. When you get the Holy Spirit you get the qualities of life that allow you to move forward to help spread the kingdom of God without having the physical things of this life derail you. You still pray for them, but their need doesn’t hold you hostage.
- Be persistent in seeking God
- Know that whatever answers you get from Him are good
- Look more to the quality of your character than the quality of your environment