2 Encouragements to Prayer

"And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, 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? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he asks 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 11:5-13).

This is our Saviour's second teaching about prayer. His first was an actual example of prayer. This is an unfolding of some of the special encouragements to prayer which are afforded by the gracious care of God, our Father and Friend, and also some deeper instructions respecting the nature and spirit of true prayer.

Encouragements to Prayer

God is our Father. This had already been suggested in the opening words of the Lord's Prayer, but it is amplified in this passage by a comparison between the earthly and heavenly Parent: "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?" God is not only a Father, but much more than any earthly father. How much this expresses to many of us! There are few who cannot recall, in the memories of home, the value of a father's or a mother's love and care; or, if they have been wanting, all the more, perhaps, has the orphaned heart felt its deep need and reached out for a father's heart and hand. Who of us has not felt in some great emergency, needing a wisdom and resource beyond our own, "Oh, if my father were only here," or, perhaps, has said to God: "If Thou wert my earthly father now, Thou wouldst sit down by my side and let me tell Thee of all my perplexity, and Thou wouldst tell me just what to do, and then wouldst do for me what I cannot do for myself." And yet His presence is as real as if we saw Him, and we may as freely pour our hearts out with all their fears and griefs and know that He hears and helps as no earthly father is able to do either in love or relief. Perhaps even better than the memory of our childhood is the realization of our own fatherhood or motherhood. Who that has ever felt a parent's love can fail to understand this appeal? It is a love which neither the helplessness nor the worthlessness of its object can affect. It is a love which often has gladly sacrificed every thing, even life itself, for the loved one. But it was from the bosom of God that all that love came at first, and infinitely more is still in reserve. The depth, and length, and height of this "much more" can only be measured by the distance between the infinite and the human. Much more than you love your child does He love you; much more than you would give or sacrifice is He ready to bestow and has He already sacrificed; much more than you can trust or ask a father for, may you dare to bring to Him; much more unerring is His wisdom, illimitable His power, and inexhaustible His love! Shall we, then, with the little alphabet of our human experience, try to spell out all His love and learn the deeper meaning of the prayer, "Our Father, which art in heaven"?

He is our Friend. "Which of you shall have a friend?" This also finds its full significance through the actual experience of each one of us. Who has not had a friend, and more of a friend in some respects than even a father? There are intimacies not born of human blood that are the most intense and lasting bonds of earthly love. Jonathan was more to David than Jesse was, and Timothy was more to Paul than a very son. How much our friends have been to us! One by one let us count them over, recall each act and bond of love, and think of all that we may trust them for and all in which they stood by us; and then, as we concentrate the whole weight of recollection and affection, let us put God in that place of confidence and think He is all that and infinitely more. Our Friend! The One who is personally interested in us; Who has set His heart upon us; Who has made Himself acquainted with us; Who has come near to us in the tender and delicate intimacy of unspeakable fellowship; Who has spoken to us such gracious words; Who has given us such invaluable pledges and promises; Who has done so much for us; Who has made such priceless sacrifices, and Who, we feel, is ready to take any trouble or go to any expense to aid us to Him we are coming in prayer, our Heavenly Friend.

He is a Friend in extremity. The case here supposed is a hard one. The suppliant is in great need, has a case of suffering on his hands and is wholly without means to meet it. It may represent any emergency in our lives. Other friends are for fair weather. This is always God's time.

The friends who in our sunshine live,
When winter comes, have flown,
And he who has but tears to give
Must weep those tears alone.

But this Friend has authorized us to claim His help especially in times of need. "Call upon me," He says, "in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me." "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble." "Thou hast known my soul in adversities," is the testimony of one who proved His faithful friendship under the severest pressure. "God that comforteth those that are cast down," "The Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort" are His chosen names and titles. Let us not fear, therefore, to come to Him when we have nothing to bring to Him but our grief and fear. We shall be welcome. He is able for the hardest occasions, and He is seated on His throne for the very purpose of giving help in time of need. Even if the case seems wholly helpless and the hour is as dark as the dark midnight of this parable, cast thy burden on the Lord, yes, all your care, for "he careth for you," and "the Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit."

He is a Friend, not only in season, but at all seasons, and at the most unseasonable times. This parable is the story of a man coming to his friend when all reasonable ground for expecting a favorable reception was out of the question It was midnight. The door was shut, literally barred, the house closed for the night, and the time for calls long past. Nevertheless that door was opened, that petition heard, that favor granted, and whatever may be the meaning of the reluctance of the earthly friend, certainly we know that the heavenly Friend assures us that none of these. causes will prevent His hearing and helping in the most extreme and desperate straits and seasons. The peculiarity of God's grace is that He helps when man would refuse to help, and its highest trophies are associated with hours when mercy seemed long past and hope forever dead.

Look at that wicked king, Manasseh, who for half a century was a brutal butcher of the prophets and saints of God. He had literally fed his brutality on the wreck of all that was sacred and divine. And then the hand of retribution struck him down and left him in his miserable old age a captive in a foreign prison. One would have thought that prayer from such a man was profanity and that all heaven would shut its ears at the very idea of his escaping condign and merciless punishment. But in that late hour Manasseh cried to the Lord in his affliction, and the Lord heard him and had mercy on him, forgave him all his sins, and brought him again .into his kingdom. And then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God. Surely no soul can ever say again that the hour is too late or the door too strongly barred for mercy!

Look at that city Nineveh, the oppressor of the nations, the proud queen of Assyria, the scourge of Israel and Judah, the boastful shrine of every abominable idolatry! At length its iniquities reached to heaven, and the prophet Jonah was sent to proclaim its speedy and certain doom. "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown." That city went upon its knees; its kings, its priests, its princes and its peasantry were prostrated in penitential prayer, and the barred gates were opened, the doors of mercy were unlocked, the terrible decree was revoked, and Nineveh became a monument of the mercy of God; the very children in its streets and the cattle in its stalls being specified as the objects of His tender compassion!

Look at King Hezekiah to whom, in the fullness of his prosperity, the message came, "Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live." Surely that looked like a closing and barring of the gates of the tomb. The sentence fell on his ears like a voice of doom. But in that hour Hezekiah prayed. A poor and trembling prayer it was: "I reckoned till morning, that, as a lion, so will he break all my bones: from day even to night wilt thou make an end of me. Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes fail with looking upward." Though there was little faith in that heartbroken gasp of prayer, it reached the heart of God, and the decree that had seemed imperative and inexorable, the stern word that had set a barrier like adamant to the path of life and opened the cold stone portals of what seemed an inevitable tomb, was changed, and the messenger was sent back with the gracious reprieve, "I will add unto thy days fifteen years."

Such is the Friend to whom we pray, Who stands between us and all the mighty bars and doors of material force, of natural law, of human purpose, and even of divine judgment, and turns aside with His hands of love every bolt and bar which stands between us and the fullest blessing which He can give our trusting and obedient hearts. Shall we ever again think anything too hard, or any hour too late? He loves the hour of extremity. It is His chosen time of Almighty interposition. "God will help her at the turning of the morning," is His voice to Zion.

Summoned to the dying couch of a little girl, the mighty Master had time to tarry by the way until a poor, helpless woman was healed by the touch of His garment. But meanwhile that little life had ebbed away, and human unbelief hastened to turn back the visit which was now too late. "Thy daughter is dead; trouble not the Master." It was then that His strong and mighty love rose to its glorious height of power and victory. "Fear not," was His calm reply; "believe only, and she shall be made whole."

Yes, let us go at midnight, for He that keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. Let us go when all other doors are barred and even the heavens seem brass, for the gates of prayer are open evermore, and it is only when the sun is gone down and our pillow is but the stone of the wilderness that we behold the ladder that reaches unto heaven, with our infinite God above it and the angels of His providence ascending and descending for our help and deliverance. "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint."

He is a Friend that will not deceive us. He will not give us a stone for bread; that is, a barren, worthless, empty answer, but a real and satisfying blessing. He will not give us a serpent when we come for a fish; that is, a harmful gift, or one that contains a hidden snare of temptation or spiritual evil. Many of the things that we ask in our blindness have serpents coiled in their folds, but He loves us too well to give us such an answer, and sometimes, therefore, He must modify or refuse our petition if He would be our true Father in heaven. And we need not fear to trust this to Him or make the boldest requests lest they might do us harm, for He who gives the greatest blessing can give the grace to keep it from being a selfish idol or a spiritual curse. People sometimes say, "If God were to heal me or give me some temporal blessing for which I am praying, I fear it might not be best for me." Can we not trust Him for the grace as well as the gift?

And again, our Father will not give us a scorpion if we ask an egg; that is, something that would leave a bitterness and a sting behind. "The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it." How many earthly roses fade and leave a lasting thorn! How many drops from earthly cups have more dregs of poison than drops of joy! How many a love and friendship but adds to the sorrow of the parting and to the bitterness of the memory. But all that heaven gives us are everlasting joys. Let us trust Him for all we ask, and we shall have eternal cause to sing of His love and faithfulness.

This Friend gives full measure. "He will rise and give him as many as he needeth." In our Father's house there is bread enough and to spare. His measure is more abundantly. Three loaves He gave to the hungry wayfarer. Nay, three were asked; He seems to have given far more, at least, was willing to give as many as were needed. These three may be suggestive of our threefold life and God's complete provision for it in every part—spirit, soul and body. Have we claimed the ample measure? Are we satisfied today and running over with superabundant life and love for the hungry wayfarers that come to us? He only asked it as a loan, but he received it as a gift, the only return required being thanks and love. So our Father and our Friend is ready to supply all our need "according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Let us come, exclaiming,

My soul, ask what thou wilt,
Thou canst not be too bold.
Since His own blood for thee He spilt,
What else can He withhold?

Beyond thy utmost wants,
His power and love can bless;
To trusting souls He loves to grant
More than they can express.

Instructions Respecting Prayer

In its simplest form prayer is represented as asking. "Ask, and it shall be given unto you." This expresses the most elementary form of prayer—the presenting of our petitions to God in the simplest terms and manner, and we are undoubtedly taught that even the most ordinary and imperfect request which is sincerely presented at the throne of grace receives the attention and response of our heavenly Father. It is probable that no honest heart ever asks in vain, even where, through ignorance or inexperience, it may but partly understand the principles and conditions of effectual prayer. The infant's helpless cry reaches the mother's heart not more surely than the feeblest gasp of need and supplication from His children's lips.

There is a higher form of prayer, "Seek, and ye shall find." This denotes the prayer that waits upon God until it receives an answer, and that follows up that answer in obedience to His direction until it finds all it seeks, whether of light, or health, or strength from on high.

This is the prayer that inquires of the Lord, hearkens to catch His answer, and hastens to obey it—"watching at his gates; waiting daily at the posts of his doors"; "following on to know the Lord," and finding, as it follows, full light, help and blessing. For prayer is more than asking; it is a receiving, a waiting, a learning of Him, a converse and communion, in which He has much to say and we have much to learn. This is the prayer that has brought us so often His peace, His heavenly baptism of love and power, His blessed working out of the problems of our life; and it is of this He says in such oft-repeated promises, "Let none that wait on thee be ashamed." "I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain." "They that seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing." For prayer is not an asking for things so much as a seeking for Himself and a pressing into that fellowship which is beyond all other gifts and which carries with it every needed blessing.

There is a knocking prayer, to which the promise is given, "Knock, and it shall be opened unto you." This is more than seeking. This is the prayer that surmounts the great obstacles of life, the closed doors of circumstances, the brazen gates and adamantine mountains of hindrance and opposition, and which, in the name of our ascended Lord and in the fellowship of His mediatorial rights and powers, presses through every obstacle and treads down every adversary. It is not so much the prayer that knocks at the gates of heaven and extorts an answer from an unwilling God, as the prayer which, having received the answer and promise, carries it forth against the gates of the enemy and beats them down, as the walls of Jericho fell before the tramp and shout of Israel's believing hosts. It is the prayer which takes its place at the side of our ascended Lord and claims what He has promised to give, and even commands, in His mighty name, that which He has already commanded through His royal Priesthood and all-prevailing intercession. It is faith putting its hand on the omnipotence of God and using it in fellowship with our Omnipotent Head until it sees His name prevail against all that opposes His will, the crooked things made straight, the gates of brass opened, and the fetters of iron broken asunder.

It is Moses standing on the Mount with God while Joshua fights in the plain below, holding up the hands of victorious faith, seeing the hosts of Joshua keep step with his uplifted hands and the battle advance or ebb as those hands went up or down, until they waved on high over a victorious field and proclaimed the memorial name, "Jehovah-Nissi, the Lord is my banner," a name which has become our watchword from generation to generation. It is written, "Because the Lord hath sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation." It is when our hand is upon the throne of the Lord that He wages war with all our enemies, and they fall before His victorious will.

It is Deborah, kneeling in her tent that day when Barak led the host of Israel against the legions of Sisera, feeling in her great heart the surging tides of that glorious warfare, and knowing by the throbs of her faith and prayer when the battle waxed or waned, until she had fought it all over upon the field of vision; and as she claimed the last victorious onset and commanded the last foe to flee in Jehovah's name, her exulting spirit shouted in the victory of faith, though perhaps her eyes had not seen the battlefield at all, "O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength." Her soul had trodden down the foe; her spirit had triumphed in the conscious power of Jehovah; her faith had knocked at the gates of the enemy until the wall of adamant was laid in the dust and the gates of brass were shivered into fragments and scattered as by the whirlwinds of the sky. This is "the effectual prayer" which "availeth much."

We are also instructed to come in the spirit of boldness and importunity. "Because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth." This is a very difficult passage and one that has been variously interpreted. Dr. Walker, the thoughtful author of The Philosophy of the Plan of Salvation, has endeavored to show in his work on the Holy Spirit that this word here means "extremity," and that the idea conveyed is not that the man is heard because of his continued prayer, but because of his extreme distress and the difficult emergency which is facing him. We cannot find, however, sufficient authority for this view. The Greek word literally means "without shamefacedness." It is the negative form of the word "shamefacedness" which occurs in First Timothy 2:9, and it properly means boldness and audacity. There is nothing whatever unscriptural in this truth, which, indeed, is constantly reiterated in the New Testament, that we are to come boldly to the throne of grace, and, without timidity, for Jesus' sake, claim our redemption rights in all their fullness. "We have boldness and access," we are told, "by the faith of him." "Having therefore . . . boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, . . . Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith." "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace."

There is no doubt that if Esther had hesitated to enter into the presence of the king at the crisis of her country's fate, she would have 'both lost her blessing and risked the fortunes of her nation. There is no doubt that if modest Ruth had feared to claim her lawful rights at the feet of Boaz under the law of the kinsman, she probably would never have been his bride nor the mother of the long and honored line of kings, commencing with David and ending with the Son of man. And there is no doubt that our unbelieving fear and shrinking timorousness have lost us many a redemption right, and that a bold and victorious confidence which claims its inheritance in the name of our risen and ascended Lord is pleasing to God. And we believe this is the meaning and teaching of this beautiful parable—that we are to come boldly to our Father and our Friend, no matter what doors would seem to be closed or what discouragements may frown across our way. Someone has said that the secret of success in human affairs has often been audacity. There is, at least, a holy audacity in Christian life and faith which is not inconsistent with the profoundest humility and in which lies the secret of the victorious achievements of a Moses, a Joshua, an Elijah, and a Daniel in the Old Testament, and of the Syro-Phoenician woman and the glorious apostle of faith in the New, as well as the Luther's and the Careys who have been pioneers of gospel truth and missionary triumph in the Christian dispensation.

Perhaps the highest ministry of prayer is prayer for others. This petition was not for the suppliant himself but for a friend of his, who, in his journey, had come to him and found the larder empty and nothing to set before him. Literally it means a friend "who had lost his way."

How tenderly it suggests the need of those for whom we have constantly to come to our heavenly Friend. It is of this that the Apostle James says in referring to prayer, "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." And then with special reference to this very case he adds, "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall . . . hide a multitude of sins." Thank God that we can bring to Him these cases that have lost their way—our unsaved friends, our wandering sons and daughters, our brethren who have gone back from their first love and the blessedness they knew when first they saw the Lord—and He will not refuse to hear their cry nor fail to give them the living Bread.

Often our boldest prayer will be the prayer for others. For ourselves we may fear perhaps a selfish motive, but for them we know it is the prayer of love; and if it be the prayer that seeks His glory, we can claim for it His mighty and prevailing will and intercession. Oh, you who have often felt your way closed for service, this is a ministry that all can exercise, and is the mightiest ministry of life! Let us be encouraged henceforth to use it in fellowship with Him who has spent the centuries that have passed since His ascension in praying for others and representing us as our great High Priest before the throne.

The last lesson that this passage teaches us about prayer is that the Holy Ghost is the source and substance of all that prayer can ask, and a gift that carries with it the pledge of all other gifts and blessings.

"How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?"

This is spoken as if there were really nothing else to ask. It is still more remarkable that in the parallel passage in Matthew the language used is, "How much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" So then "the Holy Spirit" and "good things" are synonymous. He that has the Holy Spirit shall have all good things. Was not that the symbolical meaning of the widow's oil in the ancient miracle? Her pot of oil, poured out into all the empty vessels, became sufficient to pay all her debts and furnish an income for all her future life. All she needed was the pot of oil; it was currency for every blessing. So is the Holy Spirit. He that has this heavenly gift is in touch with the throne of infinite grace and the God of infinite fullness, and there is nothing that he cannot claim. Oh, when shall we learn to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and know that all these things shall be added unto us!

Dean Alford calls attention to a beautiful Greek construction in this closing verse in the reference to our heavenly Father. The verse, "your heavenly Father," in the original is, literally, "your Father out of heaven." In the Lord's Prayer a few verses previously it is, "Our Father which art in heaven," but here the preposition is changed and it is "your Father out of heaven." Why is this blessed and stupendous change? Our Father has already begun to move toward us and to enter our hearts by the Holy Ghost whom He has just sent to make a heaven below for every praying heart. So while we begin our prayer with our eyes directed upward, we end it with our inmost being filled with the presence and fullness of God and the throne of His abiding grace and power.

Blessed and heavenly altar of incense, standing by the rent veil, and breathing forth its incense into the outer and inner chambers! oh, let us be found forever there!

Where heaven comes down our souls to greet; And glory crowns the Mercy Seat.

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