Lifeline: The art of asking

Luke 11:5-13

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. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 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!”


Why do we find it hard to pray? As Christians, we know that we need to pray. There is a cliché statement that if you grew up in church, you hear it all the time. “Prayer is oxygen to our Christian life. We cannot live Christian life without prayer.” Have you heard that statement before? That statement is true. Prayer is as essential as breathing. Just as we can’t live without breathing, we can’t function as Christians without praying. But why do we struggle to pray? I am sure we can think of many reasons. Some might say it is because we don’t have enough self-discipline. What we need is to have more self-will and be more motivated. Some might say it is because we don’t plan well. We can’t wake up early to pray if we go to bed at 1 AM. We need to plan our day better. And maybe that’s true. Most of us could use a little more self-discipline and plan our day better. But I think there is a deeper issue as to why we don’t pray, and that issue is not related to our self-will. If we can be honest, the reason most of us struggle to pray is we do not think that prayer works.

Let me explain. The process usually goes like this. There are times when we prayed, and God answered our prayer. We prayed for Aunt Mary healing, and she is healed from cancer. We prayed for Bob’s salvation and Bob came to know God a few months later. And we are like, “This is awesome. God answers prayers. He hears us. God rocks!” And then there are times we forgot to pray and the things we forgot to pray for happened anyway. We promised Susi that we would pray for God to soften her husband’s heart toward God. And a few weeks later Susi showed up at church with her husband, and she thanked us for praying for her husband. And we were like, “Praise God. He answers our prayers,” while thinking to ourselves, “Hahaha… I forgot to pray for it.” Let’s be honest. How many of you have done that? Look at all these hypocrites. But at least things still happened. But there are other times when we prayed hard, we truly believed God, we asked others to pray with us, and nothing changed. We prayed but our parents still got divorced. We prayed but we still don’t have the child we were praying for. We prayed but our loved one still died because of illness. Because of it, we started to think, “I am not sure if prayer actually works. I am not sure if there is any connection between my prayer and things happening. Sometimes God answered the prayers I didn’t pray, and sometimes God did not answer the prayers I prayed. My prayers don’t change anything. God is sovereign and He does whatever He wants with or without my prayer.” And so, we quit praying. Or maybe we still pray, but our prayer is simply ritualistic and is not filled with faith. We don’t ask God for things. Or we ask but we don’t expect to receive. Does anyone know what I am talking about? And this is what Jesus is addressing in our text today.

Let me give you the context first. This passage comes right after the Lord’s prayer in Luke’s account. So, Jesus’ disciples came to Jesus and asked him to teach them how to pray. Jesus answered by teaching them the Lord’s prayer that we looked at last week. And right after teaching them the Lord’s prayer, Jesus immediately dealt with the question of whether prayer even works at all. Why? Because Jesus understands the doubt that his disciples and we are facing. As long as we doubt if prayer works, we won’t pray. We won’t ask. So, Jesus tells these parables to assure us that prayer works. And if I can sum up this sermon in two sentences, it’s this. God wants to answer our prayers even more than we want to ask Him. He is more willing to bless us than we are to ask Him. And the reason why we struggle to pray is that we forget that God is not simply the Creator of the universe; He is our good Father.


Tonight, we will learn the art of asking. I have three points for my sermon: Ask shamelessly; ask persistently; ask trustfully.


Ask shamelessly


Luke 11:5-7 – 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’?

If you ever need my help in the middle of the night and try to wake me up, I have two words for you: good luck! I always turn my phone on silent before I go to bed. And even if you somehow manage to wake me up, what you will meet is not the kind smiley Pastor Yosi but the unsaved Yosi. If we think about this story in our context, what this person does to his friend is outrageous. But even more so in the first century Israel. Let me explain. In those days, hospitality is extremely important. Being hospitable is a sacred duty. When you have a guest staying over at your house, you must treat that person well. You must provide food and shelter willingly. If a guest shows up and you don’t have food, that’s embarrassing. So, the story goes that one night Ali’s friend comes from afar to stay with him, and Ali does not have any food for his friend. And it is already midnight. And there are no 24-hour KFC, convenience stores, or Uber Eats. This is a real problem. Ali has to serve food for his friend, but he has none. So, what he does is he goes to his friend’s house, Baba. Now, remember that this is electricity-less culture. For some of us, midnight is an hour before we go to bed. For them, midnight is when they are in deep sleep already. They usually go to bed around 8 or 9 PM. So, when Ali goes to Baba’s house, Baba and his family are already halfway through their sleep cycle. Then suddenly Baba hears someone pounding on his door. “Bam, bam, bam…” “Baba, wake up. My friend is staying with me tonight. And I don’t have any food for him. I need you to give me three loaves of bread.” That’s outrageous.

And what makes matters worse is that Baba is sleeping on the same bed as the rest of his family. In those days most people lived in a one-room house with one large bed area for the whole family. So, when Ali pounds on the door, it is not only Baba that hears it; the whole family hear it. And if you are a parent, you understand how frustrating it is. It is one thing to wake you up in the middle of the night, it is another to wake all the kids up in the middle of the night. Because getting the kids to sleep again will take another several hours. Ali and Baba might be friends before that night, but how many of you know that their friendship is severely tested after that night? Especially because what Ali requested is not a matter of emergency. He is not saying, “Please help. My wife got into an accident, and she is hurt.” This is not a matter of life and death at all. All Ali needs is three loaves of bread. It is just a simple request. So, Baba says to Ali, “Go away. This is very late already. Everyone is already sleeping. I cannot get up and give you anything.” Note, it’s not that Baba cannot but Baba would not. But look at what Jesus says next.

Luke 11:8 – 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. Baba eventually gives Ali what he asked for. But he does not give Ali what he asked because Ali is his friend. Baba does not get up out of friendship. But Baba does get up. Do you know why? Jesus says Baba gets up and gives Ali whatever he needs because of Ali’s impudence. The word impudence is very interesting. It comes from the Greek word “anaideia”, which means asking rudely, even acting rudely, to get a result at any cost without shame. It is what we think about our moms when she is haggling for the price of an item at a marketplace. “How much is this?” “$20.” “$20? I give you $2 for it.” And we are like, “I don’t know this person. I am not with her.” The good translation of the word is shameless. Ali is shameless. He does what he needs to get what he wants without regard for others. He just doesn’t know which social lines to cross and which not to cross. I am sure all of us have someone like Ali in our lives. If you don’t, you might be Ali. So, the reason Baba gives Ali what he asked is less about the desire to help him than to end his bothersome request. It is not out of love or friendship but out of wanting to be left alone.


And do you know what’s shocking about this story? The point of this story is not that we should be shameless in asking things from our friends. If we do what Ali did to our friends, I guarantee you that sooner or later we will have no friends. But Jesus is saying, “The way Ali bothers Baba shamelessly with his request is the way you should pray to God.” Boom. Jesus drops the mic. But Jesus is not saying that God is like Baba. God is not an unwilling friend who is bothered by his friend’s request at midnight. What Jesus does is he is making a contrast. Jesus is saying, “I want you to come to God like Ali comes to Baba. I want you to bring your request to God shamelessly.” The point is this. If an unwilling friend can give his friend’s request because he asks shamelessly, how much more will God respond to our shameless request? In other words, God wants us to bother him shamelessly. Unlike Baba, God is willing to be bothered. He is not offended by shameless requests. Do you know why? Because He is our Father, and we are His children.

Dad, think about it. Do you know who has the audacity to wake you up and ask you for a cup of water at 3 AM and you actually do it? Let me tell you, it’s not your wife. If your wife wakes you up at 3 AM and asks you for a cup of water, you either pretend you do not hear her, or you say, “Why don’t you get it yourself? Why do you think God gives you hands and feet?” Am I right? But if your child is the one asking, you actually get up and get that cup of water. Or you might say, “Mom is on the other side of the bed. Why don’t you ask her?” Either way, your child will get that cup of water. Let me give you another example. Think of a president of a country. What does it take to meet with a president in his office? We have to be important. We have to have accomplishments. We have to have power. We have to have a connection. Or we will never meet him in his office. We cannot go in and out of his office as we wish. There are appointments we must make and strings to pull. Unless we are his child. His child has the freedom to enter a presidential office and run to him, saying, “Daddy, give me candy.” Is the president no longer a president because he is a father? No, he is still the president of his country. But to his child, he is also his dad. But if we try to run toward the president and ask him for candy, well, we might see Jesus face to face. Children are shameless.


So, here is a question I want us to ponder. Are we too polite in our prayers? Because if we are not careful, sometimes we can use what we know about God to stop us from doing what God wants us to do. We know that God is sovereign. We know that God can do anything and nothing is outside of His control. Every little thing that happens in the Himalayan jungle that no one knows about, happens within God’s sovereignty. Nothing happens outside of His permission. We know that. And because of that knowledge, we often say things like, “Prayer does not change my situation. Prayer changes me.” And that’s great. Prayer does change us. But who says prayer doesn’t change our situations? Prayer also changes our situations. The reason Baba gives what Ali asked is that Ali dares to ask shamelessly. So, listen. Do we dare to ask God shamelessly? Or do we use God’s sovereignty as a reason for us not to ask? When we refuse to ask God shamelessly, we are downplaying God’s generosity toward us.

There is a wonderful story about Alexander the Great that illustrates this point. One day, one of Alexander’s generals comes up to him and says, “I have to marry off my daughter and I need money for the wedding. Can you help me?” Alexander replies, “Well, of course. You are one of my generals and I would love to help you. How much do you need?” And the general asks for a large sum of money. Let’s say it’s about $10 million. Everyone in the room is shocked. Total silent. Everyone is staring at Alexander to see how he will respond. And to everyone’s surprise, Alexander laughs. He says, “For sure. Go ahead. You can ask my treasurer for the money. Tell him that you have my approval. I am looking forward to having a good time at the wedding.” And the general walks away. As soon as he leaves the room, all of Alexander’s advisors come up to him and say, “Why did you give him so much money? And why are you so happy about it?” Listen to Alexander’s answer. He says, “That man has done me a great honour. By asking for such a large amount, he shows that he believes that I am that wealthy and generous. He knows what it means to be my general.” Church, do we know what it means to be God’s children? Most of our failures to ask shamelessly are because we forget who our heavenly Father is.


Ask persistently


Luke 11:9-10 – 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. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Just in case we are missing the point of the parable, Jesus makes it clear for us. Since God will rise and give us what we need, we must bring our requests to Him. Jesus says, “I want you to ask, I want you to seek, and I want you to knock. Because if you ask, you will receive. If you seek, you will find. And if you knock, it will be opened.” And notice the progression. It begins with ask. It means we bring our requests to God shamelessly. There is no need for us to go round and round and gives a two-minute introduction as to why God should give us what we ask. We can cut to the chase and ask Him. We can tell God exactly what we want from Him. Then, seek. Seek is an action to pursue what is asked. It means we do not remain idle. We do something about what we want. It involves effort. And lastly, knock. It is about intensity. So, it is asking plus seeking plus knocking. And we can’t see it in English, but in Greek, the tense of these verbs is in the present tense. It means continuous action. So, Jesus is not only saying, “I want you to ask, seek, and knock,” he is saying, “I want you to keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking. I want you to do it persistently. Because God is not indifferent to you. He hears you and He will act on your behalf.”

So, this is an invitation from Jesus. Will we persistently pound on heaven’s door until God gives us what we ask? Will we continue to ask persistently until He answers? And the good news is God is different from most parents. Parents, what do you do when your child continues to ask you for the same thing? You would say, “If you ask me one more time, see where it will lead.” But God says, “Why don’t you ask me one more time and see where it will lead.” This is God’s invitation for us to bother Him persistently. The question is, are we praying like this? If we can be honest, most of the time we don’t. We might ask God once or twice. But then we stop asking. Do you know why? Because we are not desperate. Only desperate people will continue to knock until the door is opened. Listen. If we are not praying persistently, it shows that we are not desperate for God’s help. We are quietly confident that we have what it takes to do what we need to do. We have the time, money, and skills. We don’t think we need God. We fail to realize how desperately we need God’s help. We don’t really believe Jesus when he says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” That’s why we don’t ask persistently.


But this does beg the question, why does God want us to ask persistently? Why doesn’t He just give us what we ask the first time we ask? It would be much easier that way. Why make us keep coming back to Him for the same thing again and again? I think there could be many reasons for it but let me just highlight three. One, if we are not persistent, maybe we don’t really want it that much in the first place. We will only keep asking if what we ask is very important to us. Two, our persistent asking brings glory to God. Why? Because persistent asking is an indication of our confidence in God. The only reason we keep asking is that we are confident in God’s goodness to answer our prayers. And we are showing God that He is our only hope. We are saying to God, “God, You are my only hope. You are the only one who can help me. And I am not going anywhere else because there is nowhere else. You are it.” Asking once or twice does not demonstrate that. Asking persistently does and it glorifies God.

And three, it reveals whether we understand the gospel or not. Only those who understand the gospel engage in shameless persistent prayer. Let me explain. There are two ways to approach God: Religion and Gospel. Religion says, “God is my big boss. I must be good to make him happy. And if I am good enough, then God will hear my prayer. But if I am not good enough, He won’t give me what I ask. Everything is hinged on my performance. I must work hard to get what I want from God.” But the Gospel says, “God is my Father. I can never be good enough on my own to make God happy. But Jesus is good enough. And Jesus has lived the life that I could not. He has done it for me. And because of Jesus, now I am adopted as a son. I am God’s child because of Jesus’ perfect performance. And now God listens to me not because I worked for it but because Jesus has worked for it. I can freely come to Him and ask Him for what I need.” Can you see the difference? The way we ask God reveals whether God is our Boss or God is our Father. An employee knows he must earn it before he can get something from his boss. A child just knows his father loves him and has the guts to ask him persistently.

Isn’t that how family works? Husbands, if your wife asks you, “Hey babe, do you love me?” You don’t say to her, “I told you in 1990 when I married you that I loved you. Why are you asking me that again in 2023?” You don’t say that. Why? Because your wife is not a hard drive. Your wife is a person. Telling her once is not enough. You need to continuously remind her that you love her. And newsflash, God is not a hard drive; He is a person. He is our Father, and we are His children. God works in relationships, and He loves having His children come to Him and depend on Him. The point is, God wants us to keep asking, seeking, and knocking. So, don’t give up too soon. Perhaps the reason our prayer does not work is because we give up too soon. I love the way John Piper puts it. “Persistent in prayer will prevail with God where giving up won’t.” In other words, God will only give us some things in response to our shameless persistent prayer. So, what needs do you have today? Maybe you have been praying for your parents’ salvation for years. Maybe you have been praying for a spouse. Maybe you have been praying for Permanent Resident. Maybe you have been praying for your health, your wayward children, your job, etc. Whatever it is, don’t give up too soon. Bother God. He loves it when we bother Him with our prayers. And He loves to answer shameless persistent prayers. So, the question that some of you have right now is, “Is that mean I will get everything I ask? Is that mean as long as I am persistent enough to bother God, He will give me whatever I want? Can I manipulate God to do my bidding? Yos, doesn’t that sound like a prosperity gospel?” And to answer that, let’s move to the next point.


Ask trustfully


Luke 11:11-13 – 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 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!”

To answer that question, Jesus tells another story. He asks all the fathers, “Dads, are there any of you when your son asks you for Filet-O-Fish from Mcdonald, you give him Filet-O-Snake instead? Or if your son asks for a Bacon and Egg McMuffin, you give him a Scorpion McMuffin?” This is a rhetorical question. The answer is of course no. No father would do that. And this reminds me of my dad. When I was young, whenever we went out to eat at a restaurant, and there was only a bit of food left on the table, my dad would not eat it. He would always let me have it. Why? Because he loved me. He rather starved than see me starved. Dads, you understand this, right? I know many of you work extra hard and long hours to give good gifts to your children and provide for their future. And also to pay for your family trip to Japan and burn those cash in the most ripped-off place on earth, Disneyland. Why do you do that? Because you love your children.

And then Jesus compares the love of earthly fathers with the love of the heavenly Father. He is making less to greater arguments. He says to all the dads, “If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more the heavenly Father?” Why did Jesus use the word evil to describe earthly fathers? I don’t think Jesus is trying to teach us the doctrine of total depravity. Jesus is trying to make a point. This is his point. The best love of earthly fathers cannot be compared to the love of the heavenly Father. In comparison to the love of the heavenly Father, the best love of earthly fathers looks like evil. And if earthly fathers know how to give what is good to their children, then surely our heavenly Father will give us what we need whenever we come to Him. God is a far better Father than any earthly father. If evil earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, we can trust our perfect heavenly Father to give us what is good for us.

But let me reverse the question. What if the children ask for snakes and scorpions? Dads, what if your children ask you if they can play on the street? What would you do? You would not let them. Plain and simple. A good father will not give what is harmful to his children. Can you see where I am going with this? Listen. Many times, we do not receive what we ask not because God does not love us but because He loves us. God will not give us anything that will hurt us, doesn’t matter how persistent we ask Him for it. Let me put it this way. Imagine if you give Aladdin’s lamp to a 5-years old. “Honey, this lamp can fulfil any three wishes you have. It doesn’t matter what they are, whether good or bad, whether smart or dumb, whatever three wishes you have, you will have them.” Do you know what you would do? You would get into a rocket ship and hide in space. Why? Because you know a big disaster is coming. Kim recently wrote an article that if that 5-years old is her, she would use the first wish to ask for an extra 100 wishes. That’s smart. You can tell that she’s Chinese. But then she would still use the other 102 wishes to destroy the world. You know that a 5-years old will ask for ridiculous things. Same thing with prayer. Prayer is powerful. Prayer gives us access to the God of the universe. But most of the time, we do not know what we are asking. We might think we are asking for a fish and an egg while in fact, we are asking for a snake and a scorpion. So, if we are Christians and we have been asking God persistently and God has not given it to us, it might be because we are asking for a scorpion. And it does not matter how much we beg God for it, He won’t relent. God will not give us what is harmful to us. God is committed to only giving what is good for His children because He is the perfect Father. I love the way Timothy Keller puts it. “God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.”


However, there is a surprising twist at the very end of this passage. Luke 11:13 – 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! “Wait. The Holy Spirit? What does the Holy Spirit have anything to do with all of this? This is not what I have in mind when I asked God. I am asking God to give me what I want, not the Holy Spirit. Why did Jesus bring up the Holy Spirit? That’s a disappointment.” If we think that way, we cannot be more wrong. Because this is the climax of the whole passage. If we don’t understand that, we don’t understand who the Holy Spirit is. The Holy Spirit is not some magical power that gives us the ability to push people on their heads and make them fall. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He is not less than God the Father or Jesus. He is equal with God the Father and Jesus. So, when Jesus says that God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him, Jesus is promising that God Himself will live within them. And this is the greatest gift God can ever give anyone – Himself. In other words, Jesus is saying, “If you know what you really need, if you know what the most important thing is, you will ask for the Holy Spirit.”

Let me tell you why. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to awaken us to our relationship with God. In Romans 8, Paul calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry, “Abba! Father.” That means the only reason we can have God and love God as our Father is because God has given us the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that makes the love of God real inside of us. It is one thing to know that God loves us, it is another to feel that God loves us. So, we don’t just say, “Yes, I believe that God loves me” but we sense Him, we are excited, and we are melted by His love. And this is what we need above all else. We need to regain our instincts as children. Here is what I mean. If we watch little children, we’ll see they instinctively do everything we talk about. Instinctively they come to their parents shamelessly and persistently. Instinctively they trust their parents and expect their parents to love them and accept them. They instinctively know that. No one needs to teach them. They might have had a temper tantrum an hour ago, but they have complete trust that they are accepted, and they won’t be kicked out of the family. They know their parents love them and they can come to them without worrying whether they deserve it or not. They just come. These are instinctive for children. But as they grow up, they lose this instinct. They unlearn it. They began to think that they have to earn their parents’ affection through their performances. And what the Holy Spirit does is restores that instinct. Listen. What does it mean to grow as a Christian? It means to regain our instincts as children and recover childlike responses toward our heavenly Father. And this is our greatest need. Why do you think we struggle to pray? Why are we angry at God for that unanswered prayer? Why are we bitter at God for not doing things the way we want? Why are we anxious about our future? Do you know why? Because we forget that God is our Father. We don’t pray the way we ought to pray because we forget God is our Father. That’s the bottom line. And that’s why the Holy Spirit is the best gift our heavenly Father can give us. The Holy Spirit restores our childlike instinct. And Jesus promises that God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. So, ask Him.


And let me close with this. Do you know what it cost God to give us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of adoption? Do you know why we can sing to God from our hearts, “Abba! Father”? Do you know why we can be part of God’s family? Because the Son of God was thrown out of the family. If we look at Jesus’ life, every time Jesus prayed to God, He always called God, “Father.” Always. Whether he was praying alone, or praying in front of people, he kept saying, “Holy Father” or “Abba Father.” Always. Except once. There was one time when Jesus cried out to God not as a child. He didn’t say, “My Father.” He didn’t say, “Holy Father.” He said, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” It happened at the cross. Why? Because at the cross, Jesus took the punishment of our sins, and his name was crossed out from the family card. Jesus was getting what we know deep in our hearts we deserved, which is rejection from God. We rebelled against God, and we deserved total rejection. But Jesus got what we deserved. Jesus’ name was crossed out from the family card so that when we believe in Jesus, our names are forever written on God’s family card. Now we can know that our heavenly Father loves us unconditionally and He is committed to our good because Jesus already took the punishment we deserved. So, all that is left for us is mercy and kindness. That’s why we can confidently say together with Paul in Romans 8:32 – He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? The cross of Jesus Christ assures us that God always listens to us and will never turn us away. God may not always give us what we ask for, but if we are His children, He will always give us what is good for us. So, don’t stop asking. Keep coming to Him. Ask Him shamelessly, persistently, and trustfully. Our heavenly Father will not fail to give what is good for His children. Let’s pray.


Discussion questions:


  1. What struck you the most from this sermon?
  2. Why do you find it hard to ask God shamelessly? Share it with others.
  3. Look at the three reasons why God wants us to ask persistently. Which one resonates the most with you and why?
  4. What does it mean to ask God trustfully? Give daily life examples.
  5. How does the gospel empower you to ask God?
  6. Spend time to pray together and ask God to meet your needs.
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