The Spirit of Prayer
In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus gives us the pattern for our prayer life. In our text, the Lord shows us the Spirit in which we are to pray. To do this, Jesus uses 2 stories that are introduced with Greek phrases that express something is over the top, beyond the pale. The Spirit of prayer is no ordinary spirit.
The Spirit of prayer is shameless. Jesus begins the story of the midnight "friend" with a Greek expression meaning, "Can anyone imagine that he would go to his friend at midnight for food for a friend who just came into town?" Who would ever do such a thing as that? And having made the initial request, having sought help from his friend inside, who will keep on knocking even though his friend has said no? He tells us he can't come to the door right now. The baby is asleep. He doesn't want to wake the wife. Who's going to keep on asking, seeking, and even knocking? Wouldn't you be embarrassed to do this? I mean it would be one thing if this was an emergency, but who would ever be so shameless for 3 loaves of bread for a friend? In mere hours it would be dawn and you could easily find food.
The Spirit of prayer is shameless. The word the insert translates as "boldness" really means shamelessness or impudence. It's the negative quality of one who offends social standards. It's the neighbor who asks to borrow your Christmas tree. It's the child who is willing to pitch a fit in the grocery store because you won't let her have candy. It's someone who doesn't stop at asking but escalates to seeking and then to pounding on the door till you answer.
Isn't that strange? The spirit that would be negative in social settings is precisely the Spirit the Lord Jesus wants us to have in prayer. From the story of the impudent friend at midnight, Jesus goes right into commanding us to keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. That's because the spirit of shamelessness that is a negative quality in society isn't always so in the Gospels. The Spirit that was so shameless it tore apart a roof to get a friend to Jesus for healing was commended by Jesus. The Spirit that was so shameless it moved a ceremonially unclean woman to secretly touch Jesus was commended by Him, and so was the Spirit that made a shameless spectacle out of the Canaanite woman. Even when Jesus called her a dog, she went on praying on behalf of her demonized daughter.
Jesus commends to us a shameless Spirit in prayer because in prayer we come not to a friend as a friend but to a Father as a child. Jesus teaches us to call God "Our Father" when we pray. But we don't just come in prayer to our Father as a child but as the Son. Jesus tells us to pray in His name not our own. You should be ashamed to ask anything of the heavenly Father. You have not believed, loved, or trusted in Him as He commands. You have misused His good creation time and again. He has given you love and you've made lust; He has given you money and you've made greed; He has given you family and you've made an idol.
Yes, you should blush to ask the Father for anything, but Jesus? Well that's another matter. He is a perfect Child. He never misused any gift of God, not His name, not His kingdom, not His will. There's not a time or situation where it would be inappropriate for Jesus to enter the throne room of heaven to ask anything at all. There's nothing that the perfect Jesus is ashamed to ask His Father. It's true; in your case there are things you should be ashamed to ask, but you don't ask in your name but Jesus'.
But even when you pray in Jesus' name, sometimes your sins form a lump in your throat threatening to choke off your prayers. When this happens, think of the posture of prayer that Christians have used from the 3rd century. Pagans always prayed with their elbows touching their side and the forearms stretched out (Evangelism in the Early Church, 216). Christians extended both the upper and lower arms. Why? To represent Christ on the cross (Church Vestments, 45). There's an image for you; when you come before the Father in prayer, you don't come covered in your sins but in the blood, sweat, and tears of Jesus that cover up your sins.
The Spirit of prayer is shameless and it is certain. Again Jesus introduces His illustration with words that indicate it's over the top. He says in effect, "You just can't imagine a father who would do such a thing!" Can you imagine a child asking for a tuna fish sandwich and his father giving him even a garter snake? How about a father giving his son a scorpion instead of a hardboiled egg? Can't imagine it? Not going to happen, is it? Not among us and not among the disciples in our text. That's why when Jesus lowers the boom it explodes. This is how He does it in Matthew 7: "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!"
There's different words for evil in the Bible. There's evil in the sense of base, worthless, or bad, and then there's this word which means "actively wicked." Follow Jesus argument to the Spirit of certainty. Even though we are actively wicked, the thought of giving a child something harmful when they asked for something good repulses us. We can't imagine anyone but a sick person doing that. If the one thing any child of ours can count on is that we're only wishing, wanting, willing to give them good things, how much more so for children of the heavenly Father? If we expect our children to trust us actively wicked people on earth, how much more are we to trust our holy, heavenly Father?
So if there is no how, no way your child asking for tuna or bread should think, "Daddy's going to give me a snake;" or, "Mommy will give me a scorpion," what should the Spirit of our prayers be? However my heavenly Father answers my prayer it can't be with the intent to harm me. It would break your actively wicked heart and mine too to think our child would ask us for something and stand there cringing in fear of what we were going to put into their little hands. No, we want the spirit of their requests of us to be one of certainty that we will only give them what is good for them.
The Spirit of prayer is shameless and it is certain that a good heavenly Father can only give His children good things. By now you know that the Spirit of prayer I speak of can only be the Holy Spirit, and you should know that no one has the Holy Spirit unless He is given to them. Thanks be to God then that this is the gift Jesus promises at the end. He says, "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
Earlier I quoted this verse from Matthew 7 where Jesus says that the Father in heaven will give "good gifts to those who ask Him!" Note neither in our text nor in Matthew does Jesus say we are to pray for the Holy Spirit or good gifts. No, He simply says the answer to our prayers is good gifts and the Holy Spirit. Putting Matthew 7 and our text together we have this promise: Whatever His children are praying for, they are to be sure God the Father always answers with His good gifts and Spirit.
The Spirit needed for prayer that is shameless and certain must be given to us. Our spirit, the one we're born with is fallen. It sees God at best as a reluctant friend who we have to pester till He finally opens the door. Our spirit thinks prayer is overcoming God's reluctance to help. Our spirit thinks it knows better than God what we need when. So our spirit constantly thinks God is letting us down. Actually our spirit thinks God is worse than us. We ask for tuna and we think He might give us a rattlesnake. We ask for daily bread and we think He might slip a scorpion into our hand. The spirit of prayer we're born with doesn't and can't expect anything good from God, and so offers no true prayers.
So where does the true Spirit of prayer come from that calls shamelessly and confidently to the heavenly Father from sick rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms, and break rooms? It comes from Christ crucified. A crucifix I saw depicts this truth. Jesus is on the cross but one hand isn't nailed. It's stretched out, holding a dove He's about to release. That's good theology. The Man Jesus was given the Holy Spirit, and since He never sinned Jesus never had to pray as we do every Sunday "take not Thy Holy Spirit from me." Yet, He was driven to the cross to pay for all our sins. With His holy life and His innocent death Jesus paid for us sinners to have the Holy Spirit. His holy living and dying in our place made it possible for the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of prayer, to land on sinners like us.
Where does the Holy Spirit land on sinners? Peter says, "Be baptized and you will receive the Holy Spirit." Communion is the Body and Blood of Jesus, the Jesus whom Scripture says "received the Spirit without measure," so when we eat and drink Jesus we're eating and drinking the Spirit. As often as we hear Jesus' Word, Words which Jesus says are Spirit and Life, the Spirit enters into our ears and brings true prayer out of our hearts. We see this miracle every Sunday when we pray the Lord's Prayer. Can you believe we sinners are so shameless as to ask the Father to hallow His name, bring His kingdom, give us bread, and forgive our sins? Can you believe we are so confident He will do all these things that we use imperatives? Father you must hallow Your name, must bring Your kingdom, must give us bread, and must forgive our sins.
So the Spirit of prayer lands on our bodies in Baptism, is in our bodies by Communion, and into our ears through Jesus' words. But there's more. Jesus promises that regardless of what the Spirit moves us to pray for shamelessly and confidently the Father always answers by giving us the Holy Spirit. So regardless of how the Father answers we're always lead back to Baptism, back to Communion, back to the Word. Talk about over the top! It's like perpetual prayer machine. No one wonder Paul can say with little comment, "Pray without ceasing." Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (20100801); Luke 11: 5-13