How to Engage in Prayer

Today we are looking into Luke 11:1-13 and Matthew 6:1-14. Between chapters 10 and 11, there is a time interval which is covered in John 9:1–10:21. 1

Luke 11 can be summarized by generosity: If Jesus, John the Baptist, and the Twelve all needed to pray, how much more do we need to pray! We must put God’s concerns first (Luke 11:2-4) because prayer is based on sonship, not friendship. God is a loving Father, not a grouchy neighbor; He gives us what we need. He neither slumbers nor sleeps; and He doesn’t become irritated when we ask for help (James 1:5). 2


  1. Pattern for Prayer (Luke 11:1-4) a guide, rather than something to recite.
    1. True prayer has responsibilities (Luke 11:2) honoring God’s kingdom and doing God’s will. It is important to read God’s Word and to know God’s Word, we cannot separate prayer from God’s Word (John 15:7).
    2. True prayer asks requests, in proper order (Luke 11:3-4) once we are secure in our relationship with God and his will. He provides our needs, not our greeds.
  2. Persistence in Prayer (Luke 11:5-8)
    1. Prayer is based on sonship, rather than friendship.
    2. Prayer is based on shamelessness, the man was not ashamed to wake up his neighbor.
      1. When people pray, God’s reputation is at stake.
      2. When we are persistent, we do not changed God’s mind, but we get ourselves to the place  where we can trust God for the answer.
  3. Promises for Prayer (Luke 11:9-13)
    1. Verb tenses: keep on asking, knowing, seeking: not just during a midnight emergency.
    2. Various examples:
      1. Jesus called this abiding (John 15:1-11).
      2. Paul called this “prayer without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
    3. Vexing illustrations: we never need be afraid of the answers God gives.


This prayer passage fits in with Luke’s purpose in presenting Christ as the Son of Man, ever dependent upon God His Father. The disciples sensed that prayer was a real and vital force in the life of Jesus. As they heard Him pray, it made them want to pray too. And so one of His disciples asked that He would teach them to pray. He did not say, “Teach us how to pray,” but “Teach us to pray.” However, the request certainly includes both the fact and the method.

This study is designed to develop the character quality of persistence in prayer. Jesus warned that without prayer believers we will become faint-hearted (Luke 18:1). When you don’t persist in prayer you become ignorant of God’s will and stubborn to do your own will. God wants us to be persistent and passionate in seeking His face. Jesus in this passage gives three commands on how to be persistent in our prayers. We are to habitually and continuously keep on asking, seeking, and knocking.

Historical Background:

Throughout Jesus’ ministry starting with His baptism (Luke 3:21) Jesus practiced the presence of God by communing with the Father through prayer.

  • The disciples found Jesus praying early in the morning (Mark 1:35)
  • They watched him slip away often for prayer (Luke 5:16)
  • He taught them of the importance of prayer especially when He (the Bridegroom) would return to the Father (Matthew 9:14-15; Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5:33-35)
  • He spent a night in prayer in preparation for choosing “The Twelve” (Luke 6:12-13)
  • He taught them at their “Ordination Service” (Sermon on the Mount) to pray for their enemies (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28)
  • He taught them to in secret, guarding their motives while practicing this discipline (Matthew 6:5-18)
  • He challenged them with these words in Matthew 7:7, 8 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

These are the same words that Jesus uses when teaching His disciples in Luke 11 one year later. They are now personally interested in learning how to pray.


1. What motivated the disciples to ask Jesus to teach them how to pray? (Luke 11: 1) The disciples were motivated to pray because Jesus had taught them by example. Prayer is better caught than taught. They were not ready to learn how to pray until now. Their readiness to enter the school of prayer was precipitated by the realization that if God the Son was desperate to receive direction from the Father, how much more did they need to seek His face through prayer. Jesus’ prayer life communicated that He believed there is no direction without connection.

  • Matthew 14:23 – After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.
  • Mark 1:35 – In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.
  • Mark 6:46 – After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray.
  • Luke 5:16 – But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.
  • Luke 9:18 – And it happened that while He was praying alone. The disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, “Who do the people say that I am?”

2. If prayer was so important, why is it that Jesus was so relaxed about His disciple’s prayer lives? (Luke 5:33-35) When Jesus’ disciples were talking with him they were talking with the second person of the Godhead. Prayer is really nothing more than a conversation with God. So the disciples were in essence praying every day as they walked and talked with Jesus. But there was coming a day when Jesus would return to the Father and it would be essential that his disciples used the discipline of fasting and prayer to maintain contact with God.

3. How have churched unbelievers misused this prayer? (Matthew 6:7, 8) Prayers are not to be merely recited, nor are our words to be repeated thoughtlessly, or as if they were automatic formulas. But this is not a prohibition against persistence in pray. This practice was common in many pagan religions of that day, as it is in many religions today, including some branches of Christianity. The word translated “meaningless repetition” refers to idle, thoughtless chatter, mimicking the sounds of meaningless babble.

John MacArthur writes ”The Jews had picked up the practice from the Gentiles, who believed that the value of prayer was largely a matter of quantity. The longer the better. ‘They suppose they will be heard for their many words’ (Matthew 6:7), Jesus explained. Those who prayed to pagan gods thought their deities first had to be aroused, then cajoled, intimidated, and badgered into listening and answering – just as the prophets of Baal did on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:26-29). In the New Testament we see a similar practice. Aroused against Paul and his companions by Demetrius and other silversmiths of Ephesus, a great crowd began chanting, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ and continued incessantly for two hours (Acts 19:24-34).

Many Buddhists spin wheels containing written prayers, believing that each turn of the wheel sends that prayer to their god. Roman Catholics light prayer candles in the belief that their requests will continue to ascend to God as long as the candle is lit. Rosaries are used to count off repeated prayers of Hail Mary and Our Father, the rosary itself coming to Catholicism from Buddhism by way of the Spanish Muslims during the Middle Ages. Certain charismatic groups in our own day repeat the same words or phrases over and over until the speaking degenerates to unintelligible confusion” (Matthew by: John A. Broadus, Judson, 1886, pg.130).

4. If God knows what we need before we ever pray, why pray? (Matthew 6:8) God does not have to be badgered into submission, our Father knows what we need, before we ask Him. Martin Luther said, “By our praying… we are instructing ourselves more than we are him.” The purpose of prayer is not to inform or persuade God, but to come before God sincerely, purposely, consciously, and devotedly (Christian Counter-Culture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount by: John Stott, lnterVarsity, 1978, pg.145).

Prayer is sharing the needs, burdens, and hunger of our hearts before our heavenly Father, who already knows what we need but also wants us to ask him. He wants to hear us, he wants to commune with us, more than we could ever want to commune with him because his love for us is so much greater than our love for him. Prayer is our giving God the opportunity to manifest His power, majesty, love, and providence (John 14:13).

5. Did Jesus intend for this prayer to be prayed repetitiously by rote memory? (Matthew 6:9) Jesus taught them to pray “in this way” or “in this manner” or “along these lines.” The prayer is a model, not a liturgy. It is notable for its brevity, simplicity, and comprehensiveness. Of the six petitions, three are directed to God (Matthew 6:9-10) and three toward human needs (Matthew 6:11-13).

6. How are we to address God? (Luke 11:2; Matthew 6:9) God is addressed as Father only for those who have been spiritually born into God’s family through faith in Christ’s substitutionary death and resurrection (John 1:12-13; John 3:3, 5-7).

  • Malachi wrote, “Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us?” (Malachi 2:10).
  • Paul said to the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill “As even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring”‘ (Acts 17:28).

But Scripture makes it unmistakably clear that God’s fatherhood of unbelievers is only in the sense of being their Creator. Spiritually, unbelievers have another father. In his severest condemnation of the Jewish leaders who opposed and rejected Him, Jesus said, ”You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44). It is only to those who receive Him that Jesus gives “the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12; cf. Romans 8:14; Galatians 3:26; Hebrews 2:11-14; 2 Peter 1:4). Because believers belong to God the Son, they can come to God the Father as his beloved children. “Our Father,” indicates God’s eagerness to lend his ear, his power, and his eternal blessing to the petitions of his children if it serves them best and further reveals his purpose and glory.

7. What does “hallowed be Thy Name” tell us about God’s person? (Luke 11:2; Matthew 6:9) Hallowed is an archaic English word used to translate a form of the Greek word that means to make holy. Words from the same root are translated “holy, saint, sanctify, sanctification,” etc. God’s people are commanded to be holy (1 Peter 1:16), but God is acknowledged as “being” holy. That is the meaning of praying hallowed “be” Thy name: to attribute to God the holiness that already is his, (it always has been, supremely and uniquely His). To hallow God’s name is to revere, honor, glorify, and obey him as singularly perfect. As John Calvin observed, that God’s name should be hallowed was nothing other than to say that God should have his own honor, of which he was so worthy, that men should never think or speak of Him without the greatest veneration (A Harmony of the Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Baker, 1979, pg. 318).

8. What is involved in praying for God’s program? (Luke 11:2; Matthew 6:10) All prayer, first of all, willingly submits to God’s purposes, plans, and glory. Our greatest desire should be to see the Lord reigning as King in his kingdom, to have the honor and authority that have always been his but that he has not yet come to claim.

The word kingdom does not refer primarily to a geographical territory but to sovereignty and dominion. Therefore when we pray “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying for God’s rule through Christ’s enthronement to come, his glorious reign on earth to begin. The verb “come” is an aorist active imperative, which denotes a sudden, instantaneous coming (Matthew 24:27). It is the coming kingdom of God, not an effort to create a more godly society on earth through the progressive, human-oriented work of Christians.

To pray ”Thy kingdom come” is to pray for God’s kingdom, the kingdom over which he, and he alone, is Lord and King. It will be a kingdom on earth (Matthew 6:10a), but it will not be a kingdom of this world, like the present world system. Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). We do not advance God’s kingdom to improve human society, no matter how worth y the cause. Supporting those causes neither build the earthly kingdom of Jesus Christ nor bring it closer.

Practically as we pray for God’s kingdom to come we need to ask ourselves if we have surrendered to the reign of Christ in our lives. Our ministries’ focus ought to bring everything within our sphere of influence under Christ’s reign.

9. How often should we pray for God’s provision? (Luke 11:3; Matthew 6:11) God wants us to have a daily dependence upon Him (see Rev.3:17). The word translated “daily” was difficult to translate for centuries, since this is the only place the word occurs inside or outside the Bible. Then a few years ago, an archeologist dug up a papyrus fragment that contained a housewife’s shopping list. Next to several items the woman had scribbled this word for daily: It probably meant, “Enough for the coming day” The phrase should be translated, “give us today bread enough for tomorrow” When prayed in the morning, it is a prayer for the needs in the hours ahead. Prayed in the evening, it is a request for the needs of the next day. The implication is that God will supply what we need to honor Him and do His will.

In our culture, with freezers and refrigerators, we seldom purchase food for a single day. We store up food in such abundance that we mutter only thoughtless words of thanks as we eat. We hardly acknowledge that the meal we eat and clothes we wear have come from the Father’s hand. We must re-establish a daily dependence upon the Lord.

10. What happens when we pray for God’s pardon but have been unwilling to forgive others? (Luke 11:4: Matthew 6:12, 14-15) God doesn’t forgive us. In Luke’s account, Jesus says to tell God you’re forgiving everybody, so please do the same for us, but in Matthew 6:12, Jesus made it more conditional, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Jesus instructed them to ask the Father to forgive them only to the degree that they forgive other people. Jesus provides a brief commentary on this aspect of the prayer in Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you… but if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

The kind of forgiveness that the disciples are seeking in the Lord’s Prayer is “parental forgiveness.” They are already members in the family of God; this is why they are instructed to address God as their “Father.” These verses are not suggesting that God will withdraw justification (Judicial Forgiveness) from those who have already received the free pardon he extends to all believers. Judicial forgiveness is a permanent and complete acquittal from the guilt and ultimate penalty of sin, and belongs to all who are in Christ (John 5:24; Romans 8:1; Ephesians 1:7). Yet, Scripture also teaches that God chastens His children who disobey (Heb. 12:5-7). Believers are to confess their sins in order to obtain a day-to-day cleansing (1 John 1:9). This sort of forgiveness (parental forgiveness) is a simple washing from the worldly defilements of sin; not a repeat of the wholesale cleansing from sin’s corruption that comes with justification. It is like a washing of the feet rather than a bath (see John 13:10). Forgiveness in this sense is what God threatens to withhold from Christians who refuse to forgive others (Matthew 18:23-35).

11. Why do we need to pray for God’s protection? (Luke 11:4; Matthew 6:13) God does not tempt men toward sin (James 1:13), but he will subject them to trials that may expose them to spiritual assaults from the enemy, as in the case of Job and Peter (Luke 22:31, 32). This petition reflects the believing one’s desire to avoid the dangers of sin altogether. God knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8), and he promises that no one will be subjected to testing beyond what can be endured. He also promises a way of escape, often through endurance (1 Corinthians 10:13).

12. What two aspects of prayer are being stressed in the story found in Luke 11:5-8? Jesus tells the story of a one-room house with a common sleeping area shared by the whole family, which was common in Palestine at that time. If one person arose and lit a lamp to get bread, all would be awakened. The man in the story finally responds to the request because of his neighbor’s persistence. The word “persistence” can be translated ”without shame, without embarrassment, without modesty.” Vines suggest “shamelessness.”

Jesus’ point is if shameless persistence can obtain bread from a neighbor who doesn’t want to be bothered, then certainly earnest prayer will receive our Father’s answer.

The second aspect of prayer that is being stressed here is interceding on behalf of others. The reason this man was so immodest about his asking was he wasn’t asking for himself. This is the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus didn’t say to pray “My Father, give me this day my daily bread, do not lead me into temptation, but deliver me from the Evil One.” Jesus taught them to pray “our” and “us.” The strength of our prayer life is not determined by how much time you spend on your knees pleading for your own needs, but for the needs of others.

13. What are we commanded to do in Luke 11:9? Jesus commanded His disciples to keep on “asking, and it will be given to you; seeking, and you will find; knocking, and it will be opened to you” (all present imperatives).

14. What bizarre examples does Jesus give to point out that God will respond to our petitions only in kindness? (Luke 11:11-12; Matthew 7:9-11) Asking for a fish (get a snake), ask for an egg (get a scorpion).

15. Why does God only respond to us in kindness? (Luke 11:13) God’s gifts reflect His character or his nature. God is good all the time, in contrast with man who is “evil” (James 1:17).

16. What have we already been given at salvation that the disciples had to ask for? (Luke 11:13) We were given the Holy Spirit at Salvation. Romans 8:9 says, “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit was ”with” them but when He came at Pentecost the Spirit would be “in” them (John 14:16). Since Pentecost the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the life of every believer at the moment of salvation (Romans 5:5; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and baptizes them into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). At Pentecost, the apostles prayed (Acts 1:12-14) and the Holy Spirit came in great power.

Commentary: 1

Luke 11:2 – The model prayer which the Lord Jesus gave to them at this time is somewhat different from the so-called Lord’s Prayer in Matthew’s gospel. These differences all have a purpose and meaning. None of them is without significance.

First of all, the Lord taught the disciples to address God as Our Father. This intimate family relationship was unknown to believers in the OT. It simply means that believers are now to speak to God as to a loving heavenly Father. Next, we are taught to pray that God’s name should be hallowed. This expresses the longing of the believer’s heart that He should be reverenced, magnified, and adored. In the petition, “Your kingdom come,” we have a prayer that the day will soon arrive when God will put down the forces of evil and, in the Person of Christ, reign supreme over the earth, where His will shall be done as it is in heaven.

Luke 11:3 – Having thus sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, the petitioner is taught to make known his personal needs and desires. The ever-recurring need for food, both physical and spiritual, is introduced. We are to live in daily dependence upon Him, acknowledging Him as the source of every good.

Luke 11:4 Next there is the prayer for the forgiveness of sins, based on the fact that we have shown a forgiving spirit to others. Obviously this does not refer to forgiveness from the penalty of sin. That forgiveness is based upon the finished work of Christ on Calvary, and is received through faith alone. But here we are dealing with parental or governmental forgiveness. After we are saved, God deals with us as with children. If he finds a hard and unforgiving spirit in our hearts, he will chastise us until we are broken and brought back into fellowship with himself. This forgiveness has to do with fellowship with God, rather than with relationship.

The plea “And do not lead us into temptation” presents difficulties to some. We know that God never tempts anyone to sin. But He does allow us to experience trials and testings in life, and these are designed for our good. Here the thought seems to be that we should constantly be aware of our own proneness to wander and fall into sin. We should ask the Lord to keep us from falling into sin, even if we ourselves might want to do it. We should pray that the opportunity to sin and the desire to do so should never coincide. The prayer expresses a healthy distrust of our own ability to resist temptation. The prayer ends with a plea for deliverance from the evil one.

Luke 11:5–8 – Continuing with the subject of prayer, the Lord gave an illustration designed to show God’s willingness to hear and answer the petitions of his children. In applying this illustration we must be careful to avoid certain conclusions. It doesn’t mean that God is annoyed by our persistent requests. And it doesn’t suggest that the only way to get our prayers answered is to be persistent.

It does teach that if a man is willing to help a friend because of his persistence, God is much more willing to hear the cries of His children.

Luke 11:9 teaches that we should not grow weary or discouraged in our prayer life. “Keep on asking … keep on seeking … keep on knocking …” Sometimes God answers our prayers the first time we ask. But in other cases he answers only after prolonged asking.

Luke 11:10 teaches that everyone who asks receives, everyone who seeks finds, and everyone who knocks has it opened to him. This is a promise that when we pray, God always gives us what we ask or he gives us something better.

Luke 11:11-12 teaches that God will never deceive us.

Luke 11:13 – A human father would not give bad gifts; even though he has a sinful nature, he knows how to give good gifts to his children. How much more is our heavenly Father willing to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. J. G. Bellet says, “It is significant that the gift he selects as the one we most need, and the one He most desires to give, is the Holy Spirit.” When Jesus spoke these words, the Holy Spirit had not yet been given (John 7:39). We should not pray today for the Holy Spirit to be given to us because he comes to indwell us at the time of our conversion (Romans 8:9; Ephesians 1:13-14).

But it is certainly proper and necessary for us to pray for the Holy Spirit in other ways. We should pray that we will be teachable by the Holy Spirit, that we will be guided by the Spirit, and that his power will be poured out on us in all our service for Christ.

It is quite possible that when Jesus taught the disciples to ask for the Holy Spirit, He was referring to the power of the Spirit enabling them to live the other-worldly type of discipleship which He had been teaching in the preceding chapters. By this time, they were probably feeling how utterly impossible it was for them to meet the tests of discipleship in their own strength. This is, of course, true. The Holy Spirit is the power that enables one to live the Christian life. So Jesus pictured God as anxious to give this power to those who ask.

In the original Greek, Luke 11:13 does not say that God will give the Holy Spirit, but rather He will “give Holy Spirit” (without the article). Professor H. B. Swete pointed out that when the article is present, it refers to the Person himself, but when the article is absent, it refers to his gifts or operations on our behalf. So in this passage, it is not so much a prayer for the Person of the Holy Spirit, but rather for his ministries in our lives. This is further borne out by the parallel passage in Matthew 7:11 which reads, “… how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

1 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1411). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). With the Word Bible Commentary (Luke 11:1). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[Questions and responses by Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]

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Being a Man of Persistence

I recently read a story about a TV preacher who said that you should never ask God for something more than once. To pray for something even twice, he said, was proof of a lack of faith and meant that God wouldn’t respond positively to the request. When we ask God for something and he doesn’t answer right away, we tend to ask him again. So, is this okay? Or is this wrong?

“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9)

In this passage, Jesus uses a story to encourage us to pray and keep on praying. In his parable, he asks you to suppose that a friend visits you late at light. Since you have nothing to eat, you go next door and ask for food. This neighbor at first does not want to be bothered, but, Jesus says, if you keep on knocking, eventually you’ll get the food you need, thanks to your “shameless persistence.”

Jesus is not saying the Father is like the selfish friend who won’t get out of bed, but rather, he’s pointing out that even someone who is slow to respond will eventually give in if you are persistent.

The next verse provides a punch line for the parable: “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9). Rather than the traditional “ask, seek, knock,” the New Living Translation has a better grasp of the verbs.

Greek verbs have different imperative forms. The present imperative form, used in Luke 11:9, was used for repetitive or continual action. So, in fact, “Keep on asking… Keep on seeking… Keep on knocking” reflects the original words more precisely. Following this story of the shamelessly persistent friend, Jesus makes the application to our prayers crystal clear.

So, it is okay to persist in prayer. In fact, it’s not only acceptable, but it is exactly what Jesus commands. There are times when God will answer our prayers immediately, but there are other times when we will need to ask and seek and knock, and then ask and seek and knock, and then ask and seek and knock….

We may not be able to fully fathom the theological reasons for this, but Jesus couldn’t be clearer about the need for persistence in prayer. I personally believe that the persistence is for our benefit, it does something for us and in us, rather than changing God (who is immutable).

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