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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:Christ Teaches Us to Ask, Seek and Knock
Text:Luke 11:9-10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 34:1,2                                                                                      

Ps 42:3,5

Reading – Psalm 86; Luke 11:1-13; Hebrews 10:19-25

Ps 86:1,2,4

Sermon – Luke 11:9-10

Hy 42:1,2,3,4,5,6

Ps 25:3,4,5

* 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 Christ, it’s been said that prayer is a lot like breathing. That’s a good comparison, because to live, we have to breathe: our bodies simply cannot survive without the constant intake of oxygen. And in the same way, prayer is absolutely essential to our spiritual life. To keep on going as believers, we have to pray.

That is why the Holy Spirit keeps insisting on it, like in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing,” or in Philippians 4:6, “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The command to continuous prayer reveals how essential it is to our well-being—like breathing.

Yet if only praying was as easy or as natural! Here that good comparison starts to break down. For when we’re in good health, we don’t even think about breathing—inhaling and exhaling happens automatically, without any effort or concentration. But praying is much harder. It certainly doesn’t come to us naturally. If we don’t think about it, we won’t do it.

Nowadays, prayer also seems outdated. Today if you want results, you message someone, send an email, or make a quick call from your phone. Prayer—in the sense of closing our eyes, folding our hands, and addressing God in heaven—can seem slow and unproductive. We wonder: Does prayer even work? And the fact is, we don’t always know how to do it. When we pray, we sometimes do it badly, with mixed-up priorities, wrong motives or a poor attitude.

All this means we should go back to passages like Luke 11. The Lord Jesus was praying, and as the disciples listened to their Master’s words, they must’ve been struck by how sincere and complete his prayer was. For “when He ceased… one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’” (v 1). Show us how it’s done. Instruct us in what God wants to hear. That’s our request, too. As Christians who want to honour the Lord, and who want to keep our spiritual life vibrant and healthy, we need to be instructed and encouraged in the practice of God-pleasing prayer. This is our theme:

Christ teaches us to ask, seek and knock:

  1. the simplicity and splendour of prayer
  2. the command and content of prayer
  3. the persistence and power of prayer


1) the simplicity and splendour of prayer: There’s something very simple about prayer. But you might not always think so. For there can be this idea that a prayer needs to be eloquent, or that it always has to follow a certain pattern—and that if it doesn’t, we’re just wasting God’s time and our own. So prayer can become an intimidating exercise: we just don’t know what to say to God, or how to say it.

And to be sure, there are “requirements” for prayer, if I can put it that way. There is a wrong and a right way. But before we get to that, let’s fix clearly in our minds the beautiful simplicity of God’s gift of prayer. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it doesn’t have to be lengthy. Prayer doesn’t have to structured according to a certain formula or pattern. But it must be real. It’s a real calling upon the Name of the Lord, calling on him with a heart of faith.

That’s how Scripture represents prayer as well. Think of how David puts his prayer in Psalm 86, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul” (v 4). That’s all he’s doing: lifting up his soul to the LORD, and he’s presenting it to him in humility and trust.

This simplicity also comes across in Luke 11. In the first part of this chapter, Jesus gives the disciples a perfect model for prayer, in the Lord’s Prayer. It’s not elaborate, just six basic petitions, covering a wide spectrum—focusing on the glory of God, and then on the daily things we need for life. We won’t spend our time on the Lord’s Prayer, because we study it every year again in the Catechism. But we’ll focus on those lessons that come after, where Jesus makes some key points about the practice of prayer.

Jesus first describes a midnight visitor. A man comes to his friend in the middle of the night, asking him for bread so that he can feed an unexpected guest. Now, we’d probably think little of turning down a request like that; after all, the hour is late, the door is shut, and the kids are asleep. “You’re a good friend and all, but 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). Can you see the lesson for prayer? If you’re in need, and if you want something from the Lord, then you have to ask—you have to pray to God. He’s a friend—even better, He’s a Father: so ask!

That sounds too easy, of course. We hesitate to be so bold. We say, “Prayer doesn’t work like that, or hardly ever. If I ask for this or that, God’s not going to give it to me, so I won’t even ask.” Or we say, “What I want to ask God is too difficult, it’s actually impossible, so I probably shouldn’t bother.” We can think of many reasons it’s not worth it to pray.

But instead of accepting our excuses, Jesus underlines the need for boldness in his next lesson: “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 man received, because he asked. That man found bread, because he looked. The door was opened at the midnight hour, because he knocked. It’s that simple. When we call, God answers. When we ask him according to his will, God supplies. We don’t always know how the answer will come or when, but it begins with the prayer of faith. Remember, that’s what David put up front, “O my God, I trust in you.”

That’s in fact the ingredient that is missing from many prayers—a lack that prevents many prayers from even being offered. Beloved, do we believe in this God? Do we trust that He can do what He says? James says, “Ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, and not doubt” (1:5-6). Scripture says often that we must put aside our hesitation and ask in faith. Ask him in the humble assurance of who God is, and what He is able to do.

Here we start to see the splendour of prayer. For just think of the possibilities we have through this simple yet powerful gift. We have the privilege of coming into the presence of the living and holy God. We can seek and find help in the name of the LORD, the one who created the heavens and the earth. At the Father’s door we’re allowed to knock and see it opened!

And it’s in the blood of Jesus that we can. We read from Hebrews 10, a powerful statement of what makes prayer possible. Up to this point in Hebrews, the author has said much about the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus. His was a perfect offering, sufficient to atone for every sin. The work of Christ means that God isn’t angry with us anymore, and that God now promises to love and care for us. In short, the cross means we can pray!

As the Spirit says, “Having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way… and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb 10:19-22). As sinners who’ve been redeemed, we can now approach God’s throne with confidence. Through the work of Jesus, we have a restored relationship with the LORD, for He’s become our God and our Father.

Prayer is such a beautiful picture of our repaired connection with God. Think of two people who weren’t on speaking terms anymore, perhaps a husband and wife on the brink of divorce. For whatever reason, even something as simple as communication between them has come to a grinding halt. Instead there’s only a lot of anger and shouting matches, followed by days of stony silence. But then there’s reconciliation, forgiveness, and a new-found peace. And the first thing that they do is talk. After months—maybe years—of silence, they open up, they share, and the relationship begins to thrive again.

That’s a faint picture of our relationship with God. Where there used to be animosity and a looming condemnation, by his grace in Jesus there’s now peace between us and God. Now we can ask, seek and knock—and in answer the Father opens himself to us! The heart of prayer isn’t about what we get, it’s about who we get. We get God, the warmth of his love and fellowship and grace in Jesus Christ.

This privilege of knowing God means we should strive to keep a focus on him in our prayers. Putting ourselves first comes naturally, but we should always marvel at the greatness of the Triune God. In prayer, remember to praise who He is in his glory and grace.

A focus on God comes out when we cultivate a spirit of gratitude in prayer. Take a moment sometimes before your family prayers, or personal prayers, to reflect on all the things we can be grateful for. We give thanks to God for our daily bread, for our work, our schooling; for our family, and friends, and the communion of saints; and for the Scriptures, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the covenant, and so much more. You might find that once gratitude starts flowing, it’s hard to stop! We have a generous Father who gives liberally to all who ask.

It’s also good to reflect sometimes on how God answered your prayers in the past. “Remember when I prayed for this gift, and the way God heard me? Remember how we were so worried, and how the LORD took care of us? Remember asking for his grace in that trial, and the strength we received?”

At the time you might’ve felt like that friend at midnight, desperate in the dark, near hopeless, banging on the door with a heavy heart. But God answered. You didn’t necessarily receive things, but you received the Lord. Recalling God’s faithfulness strengthens our prayers, for we see that our God has never let us down, never ignored our cries.

The beauty of being in covenant with God is that we can even hold God to what He’s said. Think of how the Psalmists so often do this, like in Psalm 119, when he prays, “Let your mercies come to me, O LORD—your salvation according to your Word” (v 41). In prayer, we’re allowed to remind God of what He has promised. We can say to him boldly, “Father, help me, save me, guide me, provide for me, according to your Word!”


2) the command and content of prayer: We’ve been speaking about prayer as a natural expression of our faith. We’ve described it as an open conversation, where we can speak freely with the Lord. But prayer is more than just a privilege, something nice that we’re allowed to do. No, prayer is also commanded by God!

There are many places where the LORD commands his people to pray. Jeremiah 33:3 is one example, where God says, “Call to me, and I will answer you.” He wants to hear from his people. And in that sense, prayer isn’t like the conversation we might share with a friend, which we have when the time is right, or when we’re in the mood. No, it’s a pressing obligation.

Before we say that this makes prayer a chore, let’s reflect on why God commands it. In the first place, because God is worthy of prayer! He’s the God so great that He cannot be ignored, but He must be praised for his wondrous works and trusted with our lives. He’s most worthy to be approached.

Compare it to being in the same room as the prime minister, and being free to walk right over to him and chat. But imagine that we said not a word to him—not a word of thanks for good decisions, no appeal for help with this or attention to that—we just ignored him, not because we were intimidated but because we just didn’t care, couldn’t be bothered. A snub like that wouldn’t be right, since the prime minister is worthy of respect, and he is worthy to be approached with expectations of help.

Even more so with God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and our Father in Jesus Christ! In daily prayer we must acknowledge him, we must adore him, and must address him in faith: “Call to me,” He says, “Ask, seek, and knock!”

God also commands prayer because He knows that we need it. We’re just fading flowers and dust in the wind. We’re too weak to resist sin, too ignorant to find God’s truth, too frail to persevere. We need prayer, just like our lungs need oxygen. We depend on all those blessings that flow from daily communion with the LORD.

We’re commanded to pray. But as we said, praying can be a real struggle. So what are obstacles to prayer? What are things that hinder a life of prayer? One person finds it hard to pray because she’s angry with God, feels that He can’t be trusted. Another feels that God is very distant right now, which just might be because of some unconfessed sin. Still others have gotten into the habit of not praying, or they’re just not sure how to do it: what do you say? And for many others, there’s not enough time to pray. When you’re busy with so much, when do you really have ten minutes or even half an hour to spend on prayer?

Beloved, if there’s an obstacle to your life of prayer, please try to find out what it is so that you can try to clear it away. Talk about it, maybe with a good friend, a fellow believer, or the elders. Understand that there’s no permanent obstacle to prayer, only a lack of true faith. If you’re a believer, and a child of the Father, God wants you to pray, today and tomorrow and the day after. For He promises to hear us in Christ, and He promises to answer! There is no weak excuse, or bad habit, or lingering sin, or busy schedule, that can survive in the presence of that promise. So we must continue to learn how to pray.

What does the LORD teach us to pray for? We can hardly give a complete list, but a few examples will do. God teaches us to pray for wisdom, so we can live faithfully in this wicked world. God teaches us to pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit, so we might increase in good fruits. God desires that we pray our unbelieving neighbours, for their repentance and faith. We should also pray for the increase of the church through the activities of mission. Or think again of the Lord’s prayer, where Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread, for daily forgiveness, and daily strength to fight temptation. The list goes on.

There can be so many petitions we bring to God—so many needs in our life, causes in the kingdom, troubles in the world. It can overwhelm us sometimes, to think about all the matters that need our attention in prayer. But this should motivate us to improve in the practice of prayer.

Some suggest thinking of prayer in terms of ever-widening circles. After praying for ourselves and our needs, we then “move out” to remember those in our immediate vicinity: our friends, siblings, spouse, children. Then consider our congregation, praying for those mentioned in the congregational news each week, or looking at the list of members in our church and praying for those you know are facing hard circumstances.

Then broaden the circle of prayer, to include those in our federation of churches and sister churches: pray for missionaries, teachers, professors, and leaders. Again widen your view, to pray for our country and its leaders, its soldiers and police and judges, its poor and sick and imprisoned. And moving out once more, pray for those in the world, like refugees and those without the gospel. And pray for the catholic church of Christ: the persecuted, the needy, the wandering.

Remember, it’s not lengthiness that God is seeking. It’s not that we have to be complete, each and every time. Rather, we must learn to commit all things to him in prayer, doing so because we realize our own inability, and because we believe his promise.

Now, when we pray—even when we have many things to pray about—it can happen that we run out of words. In prayer, it’s hard for us not to fall into clichés and repetition. So when we pray, it’s good to be shaped by Scripture. Use the words of God to praise God, to confess your sins, even to intercede for others. It can also be helpful to write a list of prayer points, or to keep a prayer journal. We should be keen to do what we can to make our prayers more meaningful.  


3) the persistence and power of prayer: It’s my hope that many of us are already in the habit of prayer. Perhaps most of us pray at our mealtimes, many at our bedtimes, and probably all when we’re faced with some sudden trouble. And regular times for prayer are healthy; it’s fitting that prayer is our response to trials.

But there’s more to say. Consider again 1 Thessalonians 5:17, where Paul gives that well-known command, “Pray without ceasing.” Of all the modifiers he could’ve added, this is surely the most demanding. “Pray without ceasing.” That’s hard, and that’s humbling. For far from praying continually, we often forget to pray. Other times, we might think there’s no need. After all, things seem to carry on well enough, without us asking for God’s blessing.

Yet the Lord, knowing our constant need, gives that command: “Pray without ceasing.” Let’s understand what this means. Obviously, we can’t be praying all the time; we’ve got to work, we’ve got to sleep, we’ve got to eat. But God is saying that we need to saturate our lives with prayer. Prayer should be an essential building block for each day, where we live every hour in dependence on God.  

Compare it again to our human relationships. A marriage or a friendship needs good and regular communication if it’s going to thrive—and in the same way, our relationship with the Lord needs this. Instead of having God far from our thoughts for most of the day, “praying continually” is always being ready to “ask, to seek, to knock” in the presence of the Lord. Perhaps with a few short words of intercession for someone who crosses your path; with a brief thanksgiving for God’s gifts; with an exclamation of praise for the amazing work that God is doing; with a call for the Lord’s guidance and encouragement. We ought to pray at any time.

Remember again the simplicity of prayer: If there’s something on your heart, bring it in faith to God. Writes Paul, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6). May our life of prayer be the constant acknowledgement that God has everything to do with all we do! Let prayer be the acknowledgment that in God we live and move and have our being.

There are times when we must wait long for God’s answer. We also understand that we don’t always receive what we’ve asked for—indeed, it’s rare when a prayer is answered just how we expected. We might ask again: “What does prayer do, anyway? I pray and pray, but it’s like God’s not even there.”

Go back to Luke 11. The man knocking on the door of his friend was very bold. But he was something else, too: he was persistent! Picture him standing there, banging on the door a few times, waiting thirty seconds, then doing it again, and then again, and again, until his friend woke up and came to the door. Remember how Jesus praises that man: “Because of his persistence” (Luke 11:10), he received what he needed. As Jesus teaches elsewhere: “You ought to pray, and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). So be persistent. Don’t give up on prayer. Don’t give up on God.

Our prayers are weak words and stained with sin, yet they have an effect. Our prayers have power—they have power in Christ. Because for his sake, the Father accepts and hears us! He knows what we truly need and He delights to give us heavenly gifts. For his children, there will always be abundant grace and peace, wisdom and guidance, endurance and strength. He’s a Father who wants to hear the voice of his children. When you pray, He will surely answer you for the sake of Christ, just as He promised.  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 2019, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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