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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Keep Asking for the Holy Spirit
Text:Luke 11:13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 104:7,8                                                                                          

Ps 139:1,2                                                                                                      

Reading – Luke 11:1-13; Luke 24:46-53

Ps 139:3,4,10,13

Sermon – Luke 11:13

Hy 49:1,2

Hy 47:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in the Lord, we sometimes think about the work of the Holy Spirit as something unpredictable. It’s almost random, the way that He moves. For suddenly the Holy Spirit can change a person’s heart, and they repent of a long-time sin. Or the Spirit gives fresh insight, and just like that, a big decision gets made. These kinds of moments can be unexpected. We might even say it’s bit mysterious, how the Spirit moves.

It’s what we see in Scripture too. Think of how Samson, one of the judges of Israel, would get moved suddenly by the Spirit—the Spirit comes upon him, and immediately Samson goes and beats up the Philistines. Or how the prophets would be filled with the Spirit, and at once begin to speak God’s message. No one knew when it was going to happen.

Think also of Pentecost, that event in Acts when the Lord sends his Spirit onto the church. The believers are sitting in Jerusalem, gathered in one place, when “suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting” (2:2). Then come the tongues of fire, and the disciples find themselves speaking in other languages. They knew, of course, that the Spirit was going to come, for Jesus had promised it. But who knew it was going to happen like this? Who knew it would happen today?

Jesus once said that this is what the Spirit is like: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but you cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Yes, like the wind—unpredictable. We can’t regulate the Spirit. We can’t anticipate who is going to believe, or when they’ll repent.

Yet there’s more to say. Because if the Spirit is only random, then we might as well sit and wait. If He’s totally unpredictable, then that leaves us with nothing to do but hope for the best, to receive faith, wisdom, or strength. But the Lord Jesus says we can ask for the Spirit; He says we can pray for this blessing. And the good news is that we make this request of a generous Father, who delights in giving good gifts to his children. I preach to you God’s Word from Luke 11:13 on this theme,

Your heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask:

  1. God’s gift of the Spirit
  2. our prayer for the Spirit


1. God’s gift of the Spirit: Our text comes from the Gospel of Luke. As you know, this Gospel is one of the four accounts that we have of the life of Jesus our Saviour. And each of the Gospel writers—Luke, John, Mark and Matthew—each has their own perspective on the events that took place. Compare it to four different journalists for four different newspapers covering a big event: each will have their own angle on it, each will ask different questions, and give a particular viewpoint.

So when we read the Gospel of Luke, we notice something about his account. One of the things that he does is mention the Holy Spirit—a lot. The other Gospel writers do too, but Luke does much more. For example, Luke is the only one of the four who records this particular saying of the Lord Jesus, the one in our text: “How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke’s always got an eye for how God’s Spirit is busy.

In that connection, it’s helpful if we give a brief survey of the Holy Spirit in Luke’s Gospel. In Luke, the Spirit is part of God’s saving plan in especially two ways: first, in all the events surrounding the arrival and ministry of Jesus; and second, the Spirit is busy in the service and activity of Christ’s church.

 First, the Spirit in the life of Jesus. Already before Jesus is born, as God makes preparations for him to come, we see the Spirit at work. Think of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist—Luke tells us that she was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Then it’s through the Spirit that Elizabeth pronounces a blessing on Mary, the mother of Jesus. Zechariah her husband is also said to be “filled with the Holy Spirit, and he prophesies” (1:67), singing what we call “The Song of Zechariah.”

Mary herself, of course, was the dwelling-place for God’s Spirit in a miraculous way. As the angel told her in Luke 1, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you” (v 35). And the result of this mysterious working of the Spirit is a child, even the Son of God in flesh!

Then when Jesus is born, Luke sees the Spirit busy in many places. There was the old man Simeon at the temple, who’d been waiting his whole life for the Messiah. About Simeon Luke says, “The Holy Spirit was upon him” (2:25). And one fine day, the Spirit leads Simeon to the temple so he can see the newborn Jesus, and can speak of what this little child will do.

Jesus himself is joined often by the Spirit. At his baptism He receives the Spirit to equip him for his saving work. Then Luke describes in 4:1-2, “Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil.” And when the temptations were over, Luke tells us that “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee” (4:12). In that same power, Jesus opens the Scriptures in the synagogue of Nazareth a bit later; listen to what He announces, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor” (4:18). Luke makes it very clear: the ministry of Jesus advances, through the Spirit, at every stage.

And the gift wasn’t just for Jesus—the Holy Spirit empowers and enables his followers too. As He says in Luke 12, foreshadowing the disciples’ trials in front of the authorities, “Do not worry about how or what you should answer… For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (vv 11-12).

Then at the end of Luke’s Gospel, just before Jesus ascends into heaven, the Lord reminds them of what’s coming, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city of Jerusalem until you have been clothed with power from on high” (24:49). That’s the promise that links together Luke’s Gospel and the book of Acts, volume 1 and volume 2. In Acts, Luke keeps on telling the story of Jesus—but this time it’s what Jesus is doing through his church, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So we see it in Acts too—the mighty presence of the Spirit. It’s not just tongues of fire and speaking in different languages, but it’s boldness when facing persecution. It’s the love that the Spirit instills, so that the community gives generously to all who have need. It’s the bond of fellowship among the believers, the insight that He gives into Scripture, it’s the hearts of Jews and Gentiles that He opens to the gospel, and it’s the joy that He inspires during hardship. The results of the Spirit’s work are unmistakable, says Luke: “The [believers] enjoyed favour with all the people. And God added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

That’s the context of Luke 11:13. He’s told us about a wonder-working Spirit, a miracle-producing Spirit, a Spirit who makes people stand up and be bold in face of opposition, and causes people to sing of God’s mighty works. It’s this mighty Spirit whom the Father promises to give to all who ask. This great gift is yours, if you will pray.

Indeed, it’s important to notice that this promise comes at the end of Jesus’ words about prayer. His disciples had said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (v 1). And Jesus replied with the universally-known Lord’s prayer. In this prayer Jesus teaches us to ask God for the standard equipment of life. What are the core things that we should be doing with our time here? And what are the essential things that we need for doing these things?

In our life we have to pray for God’s name to be hallowed, for his kingdom to come, and for his will to be done. That’s our core task—our purpose. Then we also have to pray for our daily bread, for the forgiveness of our sins, and for protection against the evil one—our core needs. The Lord’s prayer shows how a child of God can have a total reliance on the Father and his care. Everything that we do should be oriented around him. And everything that we require comes from him.

Isn’t it so striking then, how the Spirit is a part of that? The Holy Spirit is one of God’s essential gifts, a gift that we can access by prayer. This means that we can’t presume on the Spirit, or take His presence with us for granted. Because we can’t live without him, we must not forget to ask the Father often for the Spirit!

Just before our text, Jesus compares the heavenly Father with an earthly parent. “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Of if asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?” (v 11). Of course not. Parents are deeply committed to their children—they would do pretty well anything for their well-being. So imagine that a child asks her dad for a glass of water. Would he give a cup of bleach? “There you go—bottoms up!” No, fathers will give what’s good and what’s needed!

That’s how Jesus continues, “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!” (v 13). Of course the Father will give you what is good. Of course He’ll give you what is right. And He will even give you his Holy Spirit.

And why is that gift so needed? Because when a person has the Spirit, they are led to see the glory of Christ the Saviour, to trust in him, and to worship him. When a person has the Spirit, they are ready to speak to their neighbours about the hope that is in them. When a person has the Spirit, he hates sin and he chases after holiness. The Spirit gives us courage. The Spirit works love in the church, and unity. No wonder Jesus says we need this good gift, just as much as we need our daily bread. Because the Spirit brings life—life in Christ!

It’s true that we’ve all got a life that others can see. We might even be known for having a certain character, where people expect us to behave in a certain way. But what lies beneath? The Bible says it comes down to just two alternatives: Either a person is filled with the Holy Spirit, or he’s not. Either a person knows Christ, or He doesn’t.

And if you don’t have the Spirit, what do you have? What fills us? In Galatians 5, it’s a sharp contrast: “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (v 16). Holy Spirit, or sinful nature: it’s either the one that’ll direct the course of our life, or it’s the other. It’s either ourselves whom we serve, or it’s Christ. So we need this gift. And we praise God, for He’s promised this gift.


2. our prayer for the Spirit: If you want the Holy Spirit, all that you have to do is ask. That sounds too easy, doesn’t it? And we might hesitate to be so bold. Will God really give the Spirit to us so readily, so willingly? Just pray? But Jesus underlines the need for this boldness in prayer: “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” (v 9).

That same confidence in asking for the Spirit is seen in the story about the friend at midnight. He comes to the door of his friend, and he asks him for some loaves of bread. Pretty demanding! After all, the hour is late, the door is shut, and the kids are asleep. “Why is this suddenly my problem?” we imagine the man inside asking. Yet, says Christ, “because of his friend’s persistence he will rise and give him [what] he needs” (v 8).

The lesson for prayer in general is simple: If you’re in need, you have to ask God—you have to pray. That man at midnight received, because he asked. The door was opened, because he knocked. It’s that simple: when his children call, God will answer. Also when we ask him for the Spirit, God will richly supply. Count on it! Luke shows how true this is. As we said, Jesus left this earth reminding his disciples, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised.” And He did. He did it at Pentecost, and He continues to do it every day.

Because that’s what God is like. Even sinful parents give “good gifts,” while God gives the best gift, the Holy Spirit. For He always desires what is best for his children. If you need to trust God more, and you ask, He’ll help you. If you need wisdom from God, and you ask for it, He’ll provide wisdom. If you need strength from God for fighting the devil’s temptation, and you seek that strength from God, He’ll give it. If you need help with loving someone difficult, He’ll make it possible. How do we know? Because we’re not wrenching gifts away from an unwilling God—we’re going to a loving Father. We’re asking one who knows our need better than we know it ourselves. “Ask, and it will be given.”

I understand that this text can raise questions. People will say, “I asked God for the Holy Spirit, just like Jesus said, but obviously I didn’t get him. Because I’m still terribly anxious. I still gave in to that sin. Every day I still struggle with doubt and hatred. Where’s the evidence of the Spirit?” Or a person will say, “What about those who don’t believe, or who haven’t repented? Why don’t they just pray, ‘Father, grant me your Spirit’?  Won’t He come, like Jesus said?”

Here we need to think about the Spirit’s work in the right way. We said that He can come very suddenly, like when a person reaches the startling conclusion: “I’m sinning against God. I need to change and receive forgiveness in Christ.” Or a person can be in the middle of great distress and tension, and suddenly they have an amazing peace and confidence in God’s promises. These are certainly works of the Spirit.

But it’s not always like that, is it? It’s not always so sudden. Receiving the Holy Spirit is not always like turning on the electricity, like when you switch the breaker and all the lights and appliances come back on at once. No, the Spirit’s work can take time. 

Which also means that our prayers for the Spirit take time. It takes perseverance. That man knocking on the door of his friend was very bold. But he was something else, too: he was persistent! We picture him standing there, banging on the door a few times, waiting thirty seconds, then doing it again, and again, until his friend wakes up and comes to the door. Listen to how Jesus commends him: “Because of his persistence,” he received what he needed. So don’t stop asking for the Spirit.

Just like we pray every day for our food and drink, and like we pray every day for the forgiveness of sins, we ought to pray every day for the Holy Spirit—He’s an essential need. And sometimes we can think of specific things that He should help us with. We need encouragement to see the purpose in our daily work. We need boldness to face the trouble in our family. We need faithfulness for staying holy. We need motivation to get up and do what God calls us to. Then ask for these things, and ask persistently. Not just once, not just twice, but every day. God the Spirit can help you!

Other times we might not be able to put our finger on a specific thing for which we need the Spirit’s help—looks like just a regular day, in our ordinary life. But also then we ought to pray persistently for the Spirit. For every day we need to live by faith in Jesus Christ. Every day we’re facing the attacks of our three-fold enemy. Every day we have a holy calling, as kings and queens, as living sacrifices, as disciples and prophets of the Lord. Realize that it’s the Spirit alone who can clothe us with power.

And along with these prayers for the Spirit, it’s important to go where the Spirit is: in his Word, and in the church. There’s a responsibility that we have in this, a calling to seek out the Spirit, to open up to the Spirit. Compare it again to praying for your daily bread. You ask God to provide for your physical needs—that’s good. But just because you’ve prayed doesn’t mean you do nothing, and you wait for the groceries to come to your doorstep. No, you have to go to the shops, or you have to go online and pick them out. That’s how you get your daily bread!

If we’re going to ask for the Holy Spirit, we have to go where He’s found. We have to go where He resides. And where is that? We have to be in the Scriptures. It’s through the promises and the commands of Scripture that we find out what God gives, and what He requires. If we will receive the Spirit, then we also have to be in church. It’s through hearing the preaching, through worshiping the Lord in song and prayer, and receiving the sacraments, that the Spirit works faith and strengthens faith.

This is what Paul says in Ephesians 5, “Be filled with the Spirit.” Be filled—the problem is we usually think of being filled as a passive activity. Filling is what you need to do to or for something else. If you’re out of gas/petrol, you don’t just pull into the station and tell your car, “Be filled”—you don’t, for you won’t make it much farther down the road. Yet this is exactly what God tells us: “Be filled with my Spirit.” He’s implying that we have a duty here. To ask for the Spirit. And then to seek the Spirit.

So every day we should check our levels. Is the Spirit filling us? Are we making use of the Spirit’s fuel? Or are we running on empty? Maybe we’re neglecting Scripture, and forgetting to pray. Maybe we’re filling ourselves with things that have no value, by what we’re watching and listening to. Are we giving the Spirit ingredients to use? If we’re praying for the Spirit, but we’re acting like we don’t really want him to dwell in us, then He’ll probably find it hard to work. Remember that the Spirit can be quenched—his work can be stifled, his flame smothered with the wet newspapers of sin.

But beloved, if you are asking for the Holy Spirit, and if you are walking in the Spirit, the Father will answer your prayer. That’s his promise, “You will find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Be assured of it: a careful seeking after God, a communion with him in the Word and prayer, gets rewarded. The Spirit will come near and bless. He will take from what is Christ’s and make it known to you.

Remember, we have a generous Father who delights to give good gifts to his children. In fact, why wouldn’t He give the Spirit? For God rejoices when people trust him more. God cherishes those who walk in holiness. The Lord is honoured when we love one another, and when we have the courage to speak about the gospel. He is praised when the church is strong in faith, and when we are unified in service. He wants to give this gift!

So pray for the Spirit. Pray boldly. Pray persistently. Pray with his Word open. Pray to know Christ better, and to trust the Father more truly, and to keep his law more faithfully. And when you pray for the Spirit, be confident. Be confident, because of Jesus’ words: “How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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