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EFAC Australia

Thom Bull is the Senior Minister of Ellenbrook Anglican Church, WA

In Luke 11:1-13, Jesus gives his famous teaching on prayer, instructing us in both what we should pray for, and why. The ‘why’ is grounded in the character of God, in vv 5-13. Unlike the friend who will help you out simply to get rid of you, and like a father who knows how to give good gifts to his children (only more so), the heavenly Father is concerned, faithful, generous and kind, and can be relied upon to provide. And because that is who God is, Jesus says: ask, seek, and knock. The Father’s character is such as to guarantee us of our receiving, finding, and having the door opened.
This assurance of the Father’s hearing and answering is, however, closely connected to Jesus’ teaching here on the ‘what’ of prayer. The bold, even extravagant prayer promises of these verses are, it must be remembered, not a blank cheque. Rather, they presuppose and exist in the closest relation to the very specific things for which Jesus has taught his disciples to ask. Of these requests, there are six. The first five come in the Lord’s Prayer, in vv 2-4. Disciples are to ask that the Father’s name would be acknowledged as holy; that his presently contested rule would be fully established on the earth; that their bodily need for food would be met; and that their spiritual need for the forgiveness of past evil and protection from future evil would similarly be provided. The sixth and final request, for the Holy Spirit, is communicated via the promise of v13. These six petitions, then, are those to which the prayer promises attend. Knock on these doors, and God will open them.

Now as a collection of individual petitions, these six requests appear, at first, to be a slightly random, disconnected grab-bag of items—all good things to ask for, to be sure, but not necessarily forming a greater unity. On a second reading, a delightful comprehensiveness may be noticed—these requests marry a centring on God’s glory and fame with the reality of individual need; they stretch from the cosmic, universal and eschatological to the most basic, personal and immediate; they hold together both the physical and the spiritual as spheres of divine concern. And yet, going a third step, an even deeper, unifying relationship is evident amongst these petitions, which can be appreciated by turning to Ezekiel 36:22-32.

Ezekiel 36 comes from the lowest point in the life of Israel. Having persisted in rebellion against the LORD and repeatedly refused his call to repentance, the people have been exiled to Babylon, as the corpse of the kingdom they had once been. But out of the valley of the shadow of death, God promises his people, through his prophet, that a restoration is coming. The New Age, the Age of the Kingdom, dawn, when once again Israel will be the LORD’s people, and he will be their God (v 28). And, as we hear the LORD’s description of what he will do that day, we find that it is extremely suggestive as background to Luke 11. For instance, when the LORD’s rule is re-established, he will summon the grain and make it abundant, and lay no famine on the people (v 29)—they will have their daily bread. He will sprinkle clean water on them, to clean them from their uncleanness and their idolatry (v 25)—their past and present sins will be forgiven. He will take away their stony hearts, give them hearts of flesh, and cause them to walk obediently in his statutes (v 26), transforming them such that they are protected from future temptation and evil. This transformation will be brought about through God’s own Spirit, whom he will put within them (v 27). And the LORD will do all of this, not for Israel’s sake, but for the sake of his own holy name, to vindicate the holiness of his name—that is, to hallow it—before the nations (v 22).

The connections are immediately obvious, and they reveal that the petitions Jesus teaches his disciples to pray in Luke 11 aren’t a set of discrete, disconnected requests. They are, rather, one large unified prayer to God, asking him to do the very thing he has already promised he will do in Ezekiel 36: bring the new age of his Kingdom, with all its blessings, upon a broken, guilty, and hungry world.

And this, in turn, further grounds the assurance Jesus gives of receiving an answer to these requests. It’s not only because God’s character is that of a generous Father; it’s also because to pray Jesus’ prayer is to pray the concrete promises of God, which he will be faithful to fulfil. It is to pray, therefore, beautifully within the divine will; and, for that reason, it can be prayed with certainty of receiving the Father’s ‘Yes’.

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