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This Might be the Most Misunderstood Verse in the Bible

It's actually about long term prayer.

Luke 11:1-13 (ESV)

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, 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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Jesus answers the question two ways. First, He gives a model prayer. While similar to the Lord’s Prayer given in the Sermon on the Mount, this is a different situation and seems to be separate. Then Jesus gives a lesson on persistence in prayer that provides essential context for the famous memory verse that’s right in the middle. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Take this verse out of context and it sounds like our requests are always granted in a jiffy. But the context gives it almost the opposite meaning. We need to pray a long time. The verbs, “ask,” “seek,” and “knock,” are in the present imperative and imply durative action. The parable about the friend asking for loaves of bread is all about persistence.

This might be one of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible. In our culture of instant gratification, we want quick answers to prayer. We’d love it if this verse said that.

But it doesn’t.

There are two types of long term prayer. One is a long prayer session. After a half hour or so, prayers change. The Holy Spirit gets a foothold in our hearts and we connect. This often changes the topic.

The other type is a long term request that God has yet to grant. This can be painful, if our desire (and our disappointment) is great, but the result is similar. When God holds out, we grow.

Both types lead to a better connection with the Holy Spirit. Time causes us to let go of the usual wish-list prayer format and start inquiring of the Lord. A strong desire for something is a good start, but it’s not the only thing. Prayer isn’t just about getting what we want.

It’s about changing our hearts.

The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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