Sermon 07-24-2022: “Three Encouragements for Praying Boldly”

Scripture: Luke 11:1-13

In last week’s sermon, I talked, in part, about prayer. I said that Jesus seems to emphasize that prayer—contrary to popular belief—is not supposed to be difficult; it’s supposed to be easy. And if you were here last week, you’ll recall that I said that even so-called “bad” prayers are infinitely better than no prayers at all. 

But in today’s scripture, Jesus shows us what a good prayer looks like: a perfectly good prayer, in fact. The prayer that we call the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus likely taught his disciples this prayer on many occasions. The prayer in Luke is a little shorter than the more familiar version of the prayer that he offers in Matthew’s gospel, in the Sermon on the Mount. But the pattern of the prayer is the same. 

And then Jesus follows this prayer with some very encouraging words—words intended to encourage us disciples to pray… to pray more frequently, to pray more confidently, and to pray more effectively. In fact, these words of Jesus in verses 1 to 13 may be the most encouraging words about prayer in all of scripture!

So above all else, I want this sermon to encourage us. And I hope that it does so in three ways: first, by talking about the main reason that we pray; second, by talking about how we’re supposed to pray—that is, with confidence and boldness. And third, by clearing up some confusion that so often prevents us from praying the way Jesus teaches us to. 

But first, why do we pray in the first place? Or to put it another way… what is the ultimate thing that we’re praying for?

The first thing I want us to notice about the Lord’s Prayer is this: the very first petition of the prayer, in verse 2, is what? “Father, hallowed be your name.” If this is the very first thing Jesus says we ask for in prayer, then it is most important. Indeed, everything else that follows in this prayer is meant to help us accomplish this first thing: “to hallow God’s name.” 

But here we have our first problem. What does it even mean to “hallow” God’s name? “Hallow” isn’t a word we use much anymore. 

For years I took this first part of the Lord’s Prayer to mean something like this: “Father, I praise your name… or we praise your name.” Which is another way of saying, “We praise you, Father, for who you are.” “We praise you because your very nature and character are praiseworthy.” “We glorify you”—as if these were words of worship. But that’s not quite right… This is a petition. A petition is not telling God what we’re already in the process of doing; a petition is asking God to do something. And what we’re asking him to do is this: to bring glory to himself… to make his name great in the world… to cause his image-bearing creatures on earth to see for themselves how great God truly is! Because when we see for ourselves how great God is, we praise him, and that will be glorious!

The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10:31, writes, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”1 Everything we do, we do for God’s glory.

That’s what Jesus means when he says that the first and most important thing we ask for in prayer is that God’s name would be “hallowed.”

We live our lives, in other words, for God’s glory! Therefore, when we pray, we should pray, first and foremost, that God would be glorified.

Most modern people, not to mention more than a few Christians, resist the idea that God created us to bring glory to God; inasmuch as “modern people” believe in God at all, they believe or hope that God put them on earth so that they can be happy… Modern people don’t tend to think that God’s glory is anything special.

And just in case we’re tempted to feel the same way, I want to share the following as a way to motivate us to want God’s glory above all else—to desire God’s glory above all else and to live for God’s glory. And I apologize in advance because I’m about to make a partisan statement: Because I’m talking about my favorite college football team, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

Seven years ago, an event known as the “Miracle on Techwood Drive” happened. And I was there for it! A few of you know what I’m talking about. Google it. It’s glorious! Georgia Tech was facing an undefeated, Top-Ten Florida State team that hadn’t lost a conference game in three years. Six seconds left in the game. Score tied at 16. FSU is lined up to kick the game-winning, 56-yard field goal. It just so happens that Tech had lost the week before to Pittsburgh on a game-winning 56-yard field goal… Meanwhile, FSU had the nation’s number one kicker kicking it. It felt like history was going to repeat itself, or so we thought. 

But no… We block the kick and run it back 80 yards for a touchdown. Game over. We win. Glorious!

And my son Townshend and I were in the upper deck of the stadium in the end zone watching this unfold. We were holding on to one another as our defender was running the ball back for the end zone. “Is this really happening? Is this really happening?” And it was happening! We scanned the field for yellow flags. No penalties. Touchdown. Townshend and I joined thousands of others on the field after the game.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this was among a handful of the most intensely happy moments of my life! It brings tears to my eyes when I watch the replay on YouTube! It was nearly the best thing I’ve ever experienced!

And to be fair, I’m aware that many of you experienced this same kind of glory when another college football team in the state won a national championship early this year. And gosh, there are more than a few of you who are Clemson fans who’ve experienced this kind of glory a couple of times in the past decade.

My point is, regardless of whatever team you support, you know what I’m talking about! You know from experience that glory is the greatest thing!

Except in this case, I’m “only” talking here about earthly glory. But if even earthly glory is the greatest thing we can experience as human beings, imagine how great God’s glory is!

Don’t you want that? Of course you do! God created us for his glory, not for our own happiness… But as I’ve argued, one of the happiest moments in my life happened while I was experiencing glory. 

Please notice the order: first comes the glory, then comes the happiness. God created us for his glory, and experiencing his glory for ourselves leads to the deepest and best kind of happiness!

As an example, the apostle Paul wanted God’s glory more than he wanted literally anything else. If you have your Bibles—and you should—turn to Philippians chapter 1. Philippians, you may recall, is Paul’s most joy-filled letter. His command, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice,” is found there—in chapter 4, verse 4. But the tone of the letter is one of surpassing joy… which is a little ironic, because Paul is suffering greatly in this prison. Early in chapter 1 Paul tells his readers that he thinks—he’s not sure, but he thinks—that he might die soon… that he’s going to be executed while he’s in this particular prison. We don’t when he wrote this, so we don’t know whether he was or not. Paul was in prison a lot! 

And yes, while facing death, Paul was praying… but he wasn’t praying mostly for his own safety or welfare or freedom; he wasn’t even praying mostly for the easing of his own immense suffering. Instead, he was praying first and foremost that God would be glorified

Look at chapter 1, verse 20: He’s rejoicing, he says, because “it is my eager expectation and hope… that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” That Christ will be honored. “Honored” is another word for glorified. Same thing. Paul’s main prayer is that whether he lives or dies, he will make Christ look as glorious. After all, if people see Paul walk to his place of execution with courage and praise on his lips, that will be to God’s glory! And this prospect of glorifying Christ brings Paul joy!

A few verses later, in verse 26, Paul thinks some more about whether he’ll live or die more, and he says he believes God will spare his life this time. Look at verses 25 and 26. He writes,

Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Did you hear that? If God lets Paul continue to live, it will be for one main reason: that his brothers and sisters “may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus.” In other words, if God spares Paul’s life, it won’t be simply to rescue Paul from a frightening death. It won’t even be so Paul can continue his ministry in the world. Although both of those reasons may be perfectly good.

No, Paul says, the overarching reason that God will spare Paul’s life is for God’s glory alone!

If God lets Paul continue to live in this world, God will do so in order that God’s name will be hallowed. 

So getting back to the Lord’s Prayer, my question is this: do we pray like God’s glory is our greatest treasure? Do we pray as if “glorifying God” or “glorifying Christ”—same difference—is the main reason we exist. Do we pray as if our top priority is that God’s glory would become manifest in our world—and in us?

In other words, do we pray as if “hallowing God’s name” is the most important thing we can do?

So before we move on, let give you a few examples of what it might sound like to pray in this way.

If you scan our church’s prayer list—or the prayer list of any church—you’ll see that the main thing we ask the church to pray for is what? For good health. For healing.Absolutely nothing wrong with this! But if we follow the Lord’s Prayer as our model, how does praying for good health, and praying for physical healing, relate to “hallowing God’s name”? 

Maybe like this: “God, I pray that you would heal this person of this illness, and as you do so, let the doctors and nurses in the hospital, let this person’s family, and let this person’s church family see your mighty hand at work in this healing. And that will be to your glory. Or “I pray that the person who is healed will see your hand at work this healing and experience your glory.” Or “I pray that through this illness, this person will have a deeper, closer walk with you—will learn to trust more deeply in you—and that deeper faith will lead to deeper praise of you and rejoicing in you. And that will be to your glory!”

Does that make sense?

Or suppose we’re praying that God would heal a broken marriage: “Father, heal this marriage; enable these spouses to forgive one another and become reconciled to one another, that they might bear witness to the forgiveness and reconciliation that’s available through your Son Jesus. And that by doing so, they will make you and your Son and his gospel look great in the eyes of others! And that will be to your glory!”

Or suppose we’re praying for God to enable us to overcome some financial trouble we’re dealing with. We might pray something like this: “Father, through this experience let us learn to place our entire trust in you—you who promises to supply our every need and from whom every good and perfect gift comes. Let us show the world, even through this financial trial we’re enduring, that our faith is not in money, or our bank accounts, or our careers, or our job security; our faith is in you, and you will provide. And as you do provide for us, let your name be hallowed.” 

That will also be to God’s glory”

My point is, if we’re going pray in the spirit of the Lord’s Prayer, placing a priority on “hallowing God’s name,” it’s not that we’re praying for different things so much as praying for a different purpose. And this is Point Number One: this is the main reason we pray!

Point Number Two… Why we should pray with confidence, with boldness… indeed, with shamelessness.

I am talking to some people right now—I know—who are afraid to pray, who are afraid to approach God with boldness, who are afraid to ask God to do bold things for them—heck, who are afraid to ask God to do much of anything for them—because you don’t feel worthy to do so. You think, “Why should God do anything for me?I know my heart. I know I’m a terrible sinner. I know I’m saved because of what Jesus did for me on the cross, but beyond that… why should I expect God to do more than that—by showing me his favor and answer my prayer?”

If this describes you, I need you to notice two things. First, the very first word of the Lord’s Prayer, in verse 2, is, Father

Pastor Steve Brown is a Presbyterian pastor down in Florida who’s famous for saying outrageous things about God’s grace and God’s unconditional love—outrageous things that also happen to be true! He said one time, “When I was growing up, I just knew that my mother loved me so much that if she found out I was serial killer, she would say, ‘Well, they probably deserved it.’” 

Isn’t that terrible? Yes it is… but I’m sure it was true of his mother’s love! That’s the way our mothers love us—or at least that’s how they’re supposed to! There’s nothing we can do to make our mothers stop loving us… That’s unconditional love, and that’s a good thing.

Pastor Steve went on to say that he knew his dad’s love was no different: his dad loved him unconditionally too. 

And Jesus is telling sinners like us, who have been adopted into his family through faith in Christ, that our Father loves us like this… except, unlike human fathers—and mothers—he loves us perfectly with a love we can scarcely comprehend. This is the kind of unconditional love Jesus describes in verse 13: “If you, then, who are evil”—he’s speaking to disciples only here, not unbelievers; people like most of us… “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.” Elsewhere Jesus says, “How much more will you Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”2

Jesus is not contradicting himself, by the way, because if the Father will give us the greatest gift of all—the gift of himself, the Holy Spirit—then of course he’ll give us all lesser gifts we need, too.

So Jesus just comes right out and says it: we disciples are—every single one of us—“evil,” yet in spite of this we can be confident that our Father will still give us the greatest gifts when we ask for them!

And notice something else: We begin the Lord’s Prayer calling God our “Father.” That comes first. And then Jesus teaches us to ask God for whatever we think we need. And only after that do we ask God to forgive us for whatever sins we committed since the last time we prayed. Do you see that?

That order is important: we are not earning our Father’s love and acceptance on the basis of whether or to what extent we have behaved well since last time we prayed. We’re not groveling before God, or buttering him up, or asking him to forgive our sins, first, so that only then will he possibly grant us what we pray for! By no means! The very order of the Lord’s Prayer implies that nothing we’ve done, no sin we’ve committed since last time we prayed, has changed the fundamental relationship we enjoy with God: he is our Father!

In other words, this prayer assumes that we disciples are already a mess! That’s why we ask for forgiveness each time. Jesus doesn’t assume we’ll come to God without having sinned since last time we prayed and received forgiveness! 

We’re a mess, but… Jesus says, our messiness, our sin, doesn’t change our relationship with our Father. Our messiness shouldn’t prevent us from praying boldly and confidently with the expectation that God will answer and give us what we need—in spite of our sins!

My point is, we don’t need to make ourselves worthy before we pray. We already come to our Father as worthy—not because of who we are and what we’ve done, but who Christ is and what he’s done for us!

As if to make this point crystal clear, look at this crazy parable Jesus tells in verses 5 though 8. What this man asks of his neighbor—to get out of bed in the middle of the night and fetch him some bread for an unexpected guest—is completely inappropriate. He’s asking too much of his friend! It’s midnight, after all. It’s a small house; families slept in close quarters back then. And if the man gets up to get bread for his friend, he’ll wake the whole family—and what if you wake up a sleeping baby? But maybe it doesn’t matter because this man’s knocking and shouting is going to end up waking everybody up anyway! Besides, why is the man’s pantry empty in the first place? If feeding an unexpected guest were so important that you would wake up your friend in the middle of the night to feed him, then it ought to be important enough for you to make sure your pantry is well-stocked with bread in the first place… you know, in case of emergency.

So this man was wrong for doing what he did. Our ESV says he’s “impudent.” Some translations say he’s shameless—which means he ought to be ashamed of himself, he ought to feel embarrassed to do what he does—but he does it anyway.

Yet somehow Jesus says, “Be like him! Pray like that! Be as shameless as this man when it comes to prayer.” Of course, apart from grace,you’re unworthy to pray. Of course, apart from grace, you don’t deserve to ask God for anything. Of course, apart from grace, you have no right to expect God to give you anything. But if you’re a child of God through faith in Christ, guess what? 

You have God’s grace! 

We need to understand that Jesus took all of our sins—past, present, and future—suffered the penalty for our sins, suffered hell on the cross for our sins. And in exchange, when we believe in him, he gives us the gift of his own righteousness. This is a doctrine called imputation. So when our Father looks at us, he doesn’t see the messiness of our sin… No, he sees the very righteousness of Christ!

So pray with boldness! 

Okay, Point Number Three… Let me clear up some confusion about prayer. 

About a month ago, a beloved former parishioner asked me the following questions on Facebook:

Brent, as a pastor and considering prayer, what does scripture tell us about the power of prayer and whether it influences things… or if prayer is [only] for us—the one praying—to be able to find healing and give our cares to God? 

And here’s the kicker. She wrote,

I tend to believe that prayer doesn’t change anything except that it allows us to show surrender to God and allows us to release negative emotions.

In other words, she writes, “Prayer doesn’t change anything out there… in the world… Instead, it changes us. God’s not going to do anything in response to our prayers. He’s just going to change us on the inside. He’s going to make us more spiritual.” Prayer, she said, mostly helps us “accept” what’s going to happen anyway—whether we pray or not.

What a harmful idea!

Yet my friend is hardly the only Christian who believes it!

To say the least, if you buy in to this idea, you will not pray very much… and you will not pray with power. And you will not pray expecting your Father to do anything. You just can’t fake yourself out enough to pray if that’s what you believe. If you don’t think that God is going to do anything other than change you, you simply can’t suspend your disbelief long enough to obey Jesus in today’s scripture and pray with confidence, with boldness, and with shamelessness!

Because make no mistake: Jesus is telling us that God will gladly intervene to do things for us when we prayeven supernatural things, miraculous things if necessary—that God would not otherwise do if we don’t pray! There are blessings that you and I are missing out on right now because we are failing to ask for them! “You do not have,” the apostle James says, “because you do not ask.”3 You do not have because you do not ask. Do we have the faith to take God at his word? Do we take God’s Son Jesus at his word? Is Jesus telling the truth here? Do we believe him?

See, I worry that my friend believes that God doesn’t change anything in the world because she’s asked him to change things in the past, and God didn’t give her what she asked for. So now, to keep herself from disappointment, she no longer expects God to change things for her. She believes that God will just “change her” instead…

So let me say two encouraging words about the challenge and the difficulty of unanswered prayer. First, let’s look at verses 11 and 12: 

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?

Among other things these verses assure us that what our Father gives us, he gives us because it’s good for us. He won’t give us a serpent or a scorpion if we ask for things that are good for us, like a fish or an egg.

But here’s what Jesus’ words also mean: If we, in our ignorance, ask our Father for a scorpion or a serpent—not knowing that that’s what we’re asking for—he’s not going to give us those things!

We must trust, in other words, that if our Father doesn’t give us what we ask for in prayer, it may be because we are asking for something that would prove harmful to us! It’s just that we don’t know that it would be harmful—because we don’t know nearly as much as God knows! Or we’re asking for something, which, if God gave it to us, may harm others! Or we’re asking for something that is less than the best thing that God wants to give us!

God loves his children too much to give us less than his best!

Secondly, the very fact that Jesus encourages us to “ask, seek, and knock,” the very fact that Jesus teaches us, in the Parable of the Friend at Midnight, to be persistent in prayer, means this: Waiting for our prayers to be answered is an important part of what it means to pray.

Let me repeat that: Waiting for our prayers to be answered is often an important part of what it means to pray.

And if our Father makes us wait for our prayers to be answered, and our Father always gives us a fish instead of a scorpion and an egg instead of a serpent, then guess what? Waiting is not a scorpion; waiting is not a serpent. 

Waiting is the fish or the egg, even when it doesn’t seem like it. 

Even the waiting is good for us!

So in the meantime, as we wait, will we trust our Father that he has good reasons for making us wait?

  1. 1 Corinthians 10:31 NLT
  2. Matthew 7:11 ESV
  3. James 4:2 ESV

One thought on “Sermon 07-24-2022: “Three Encouragements for Praying Boldly””

  1. Brent, a lot of good points here. However, it still seems to me that scripture does sometimes peg our prayers to our righteousness. “Husbands, treat your wives well, so that your prayers won’t be hindered.” “You ask, but you don’t receive, because you will “consume it on your lusts,” I believe is how James puts it in the KJV. “The persistent prayer of a righteous man avails much,” James also says. Also, I think there are plenty of places in the OT where God indicates he is not answering prayers because of Israel’s sins. So, certainly God is always giving us better than we deserve and we should come to him regardless of what, but I do think that our expectations of answers does somewhat relate to our “personal holiness.”

Leave a Reply