Prayer Makes Room for the Holy Spirit
Jul 24, 2022
7th Sunday of Pentecost
Text: Luke 11:1-13
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Our journey this Pentecost Season continues as we focus on being more devoted and less distracted disciples. It is appropriate, then, that today’s topic is prayer, an essential component in being devoted disciples, as the first followers of Jesus realized.
Perhaps they heard Jesus tell Martha - who in last week’s Gospel lesson was perturbed that her sister Mary was focused on hearing Jesus rather than helping prepare a meal - that Mary “has chose the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” The disciples wanted to know how to pursue “the better part”. Having observed Jesus praying often, they decided that communicating with God was high on the list for gaining the “better part”. So, they asked Jesus to teach them to pray.
It was not that they did not know how; they probably said prayers out loud daily. But they wanted a prayer that would identify them as Jesus’ followers and move them closer to acquiring the relationship with God that Jesus had. So, Jesus taught them what we call “The Lord’s Prayer”. There are two versions of this prayer in the Bible, Luke’s is shorter than Matthew’s, and neither one is exactly what we pray every Sunday.
Essentially, this is what Jesus taught them: to view God as a loving parent and to proclaim God’s holiness. They are to pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, now and in the future, that their needs will be met each day and that forgiveness will happen in an on-going way between them and God and others. Finally, they should pray to be kept from every variety of trial.
It’s interesting to think of each of these petitions as a topic about which we pray, with multiple requests listed for each one. There are five of topics; imagine writing them across the top of a page: God’s holiness; the coming of God’s kingdom; daily needs; forgiveness and being kept from trial. Then, list some prayer needs under each one. For example:
God’s holiness: offer a prayer of thanksgiving for an act or characteristic of God.
The coming of God’s kingdom: list what needs changing so that our world is closer to what God intended.
Daily needs: ask for guidance in how to help those who are in need.
Forgiveness: list those things for which you need forgiving, by God, by others and by yourself.
Kept from trial: name those in the world, and in your personal orbit, who need saving and from what.
Those lists could be made each day; the more specific the better and prayed about with confidence that our prayers are heard.
That’s what the parable and “sayings” that follow the prayer teach us. Let’s begin with the parable about the man with unexpected guests who petitions his friend for help in the middle of the night. The message is not, as sometimes is conveyed, that if we harass God enough our prayers will be answered. Instead, many scholars say that the point of the “friend in bed” story is not about persistent prayer, but about the nature and character of God to whom we pray who is always listening, always giving the good that we need, always providing the Holy Spirit.
Here’s what commentator Ken Baily says, “The parable said to the original listener/reader, ‘When you go to this kind of a neighbor everything is against you. It is night. He is asleep in bed. The door is locked. His children are asleep. He does not like you and yet you will receive even more than you ask. This is because your neighbor is a man of integrity (remember, hospitality was a moral obligation in first century Palestine) and he will not violate that quality’. The God to whom you pray also has an integrity he will not violate, and beyond this (unlike the neighbor), God loves you.” (1)
That also is the point of the final saying about snakes and scorpions not being given as substitutes for fish and an egg. If human parents respond lovingly to their children’s requests, so how much more will God do so for God’s children? God will provide what is best for us.
Really? To be honest, we often wonder about that, especially when it seems as if our prayers have been ignored and challenges prevail. It is important, then, for us to note the final, vital sentence of this text: “…how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” A number of years ago I came to believe that this means that our prayers are always answered, and that answer is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the good that God gives when God wants what is best for us, just as an earthly parent wants what’s best for his or her child.
The phrase “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” refers to all prayer requests, not just requests for the Holy Spirit. It’s the answer to prayers for forgiveness, for healing, for understanding, for financial relief. In every case, the answer is the Holy Spirit. Whenever we ask, seek, knock what we will receive, whether we realize it or not, is the Holy Spirit. This is what we might call God’s deeper response; the Holy Spirit is at work in a multitude of ways, but perhaps not the one we had in mind.
Which brings me to the story with which I want to close. It’s from a sermon by Pastor JoAnn Taylor in which she quotes the book Unbinding Your Heart by Martha Grace Reese. The story is of a new Evangelism Committee that was fired up to do great things for God. They brought Ms. Reese in as a consultant to get some direction about what to do first. A calling campaign? A bring-a-friend Sunday? Maybe direct amil marketing? No, the consultant said, not that and not yet.
She told them to pray for three months before they did anything. That’s not what they had in mind; they were looking for something to do. Not knowing how to proceed, the Committee decided to pray together for an hour every week. When it was their turn to report to the church council, they would say, “We’re still praying. She’s making us do it. We’re just praying.” The other Council members chuckled.
Then, knowing they were getting together to pray, people started giving them prayer requests. Well, the Evangelism Committee became known, and more people started to take an interest in evangelism. By the end of the year, 65 people were helping with evangelism. That resulted in a lot of visitors, more adult baptisms than usual and twice as many babies. The point is, that prayer expresses our willingness to do what Jesus wants us to do. (2)
Prayer helps make room for the Holy Spirit in our lives, which is a good thing, since the answer to every prayer is, the Holy Spirit. AMEN
“Luke 11:1-13 Commentary” by Chelsey Harmon, July 24, 2022, www.cepreaching.org
“The Disciples’ Prayer – Sermon on Luke 11:1-11” by Pastor JoAnne Taylor, March 6, 2022, www.pastorsings.com