In his upcoming book, Missions: How the Local Church Goes Global, Andy Johnson writes, “God intends not only that his mission would go forward, but that it would go forward on his terms. He means to get glory by showing that the mission is his, and that his power sustains it. Any effort on our part to change or broaden the mission, or to substitute our ideas for God’s, runs the risk of trying to rob God of his rightful glory. And trying to rob an all-knowing and all-powerful God of the thing he is most passionate about in the entire universe is breathtakingly stupid and ultimately pointless.”
All God’s people should say, “Amen!” And then, all God’s people should pray. They should pray as Jesus taught His disciples to pray. For the Lord’s Prayer is, like the Great Commission, all about the greater glory of God.
As I have sought to show in our previous studies of this passage, the Lord’s Prayer is inseparable from the Great Commission, and the Great Commission is inseparable from the Lord’s Prayer.
In fact, the Lord’s prayer includes the very elements that Johnson has highlighted: namely, God’s glory (“hallowed be Your name,” “Your kingdom come”). In this first petition, we are taught that, in such praying, we “declare our hearty desire that God’s character, and attributes, and perfections, may be more known, and honoured, and glorified, by all His intelligent creatures. We declare our desire that the usurped power of Satan may speedily be cast down,—that all mankind may acknowledge God as their lawful King, and that the kingdoms of this world may become in fact, as they are in promise, the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.”
But by what means will this will occur? Through the carrying out of the Great Commission.
The Gospel, the Great Commandment and the Great Commission
Of course, undergirding this passion for the Great Commission is a great commitment to the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37–40). If we love God, we will obey God. But now we must address another question: What will motivate love for God? And the answer is another “G”: the gospel of God. The church that will have a great commitment to the Great Commission will do so because they have a great God-centred passion for the gospel.
Since God’s global purpose is achieved through the gospel, it is imperative that the church be thoroughly saturated with learning the gospel, loving the gospel and living out the implications of the gospel. If the church is grounded in the gospel then she will go with the gospel. Healthy churches are products of the gospel of God and healthy churches therefore are increasingly passionate about going global with the gospel.
I believe that BBC is. Let me illustrate.
Many years ago I preached our annual World Outreach Celebration. Ordinarily, we have a guest speaker that week, but I preached it myself three years running. Interestingly, the percentage of members who attended was no different when I was the speaker than when we had outside speakers. Why is this?
I believe that the answer is that missions at BBC is not a matter of hype. Neither is missions a subset of our body life. Rather, it is a natural outgrowth of who we are. It is a natural consequence of our commitment to the gospel and our commitment to being faithful stewards of this gospel (1 Timothy 3:15–16). So, regardless of the speaker, the Great Commission is viewed as being so great that we prioritise hearing about our responsibility. We celebrate the preaching of the gospel rather than the preacher of the gospel. I can fully anticipate that the vast majority of our congregation will do so each year during the Celebration.
Our 2017 Celebration is imminent. And to help us towards this, I want to address for the third and final time the theme of the Lord’s Prayer and the Greatness of the Great Commission. Again, the greatness of the Lord’s Prayer is inseparable from the greatness of the Great Commission.
Consider some parallels.
First, consider the purpose of God as expressed in this prayer and the purpose of the Great Commission. Making disciples of Jesus Christ in all nations is the means for increasing the extent of the glad submission to the rule of God in Christ. It is the primary means of God’s prescribed will being done on earth as it is in heaven. It is therefore the primary means of God’s name being hallowed throughout the earth.
Second, consider the provision promised in the Lord’s Prayer and the provision needed and promised for the Great Commission. We need “bread” to distribute the bread. There is a sense in which Christians are called to both care for the bread as well as to redistribute the bread. In other words, we need to ask God for bread with the intent to pass it on. We need to “pay it forward,” as the contemporary slogan goes.
In this study, we will consider the remaining two petitions, both of which play a central role in the Great Commission: pardon and power.
May our study help us as we send forth the gospel on the wings of prayer.
A Textual Note
Before we begin, let me address a textual issue. If you have an English translation of the Bible other than the KJV or the NKJV, you will notice an omission of several words. Because these phrases are not found in the majority of the older manuscripts, the assumption is that they were added by scribes in order to make it align with the Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew 6:9–13. Are they correct? They may be. However, I would say a few things.
First, I would prefer that there at least be a footnote to that effect, as the NKJV, the NASB and the NIV helpfully do. The ESV does not include a footnote, and so it can cause some confusion when someone is preaching from a translation that does include these words.
Second, it is clear that the setting of Matthew 6 and Luke 11 are different and therefore there is no need that Luke 11:1–4 be an exact reproduction of the Lord’s words in His Sermon on the Mount teaching. There is, therefore, every likelihood that Jesus did not here repeat verbatim what He had said there.
Third, the omission of the words from Matthew 6:9–13 in our passage in no way weakens, dilutes or detracts from the essence of the Lord’s Prayer. Rather, in some ways, because it is shorter, it may come across even more pointed.
Some may ask, why not use the template for the Lord’s Prayer as recorded in Matthew 6? The answer is that, in Luke, we have something very important added at the end of the teaching that is of particular relevance to us, especially as it concerns prayer and the Great Commission.
The Petition for Pardon
There are four major petitions in this prayer. We have previously looked at the first two; now, we look at the remaining two.
Verse 4 reads, “And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”
Every disciple of Jesus Christ can appreciate the need for this petition. We are sinners who need the Saviour. And because we understand that we are indebted to God for His pardoning grace, we therefore freely forgive those who have sinned against us.
In keeping with financial terminology (“indebted”), we wipe their record clean because ours has been wiped clean. Since God has loved us, and therefore refuses to keep a record of our wrongs against us (Psalm 103:12; Micah 7:19; Acts 13:39; Romans 3:21–26), we should lovingly refuse to keep a record of those who wrong us (1 Corinthians 13:5, 7).
This matter of forgiveness, both experienced and expressed, is vital to the fulfilment of the Great Commission. It is fundamental to its fulfilment.
This is a very encouraging petition, for it reveals that our Father forgives us. And as we well know, we need this! We miss the mark, a lot, and often. But we are encouraged by Jesus to remember that our Father is for us; He is reconcilable.
To ask for forgiveness requires that we see our need for our forgiveness and the confidence that we will be forgiven.
Honest to God
So, we need to honest—honest to God—about our sinfulness. We need God’s mercies—and thankfully, they are available (see Psalm 51).
It will be hard to share the gospel if our conscience is bound by guilt. How can we declare the good news if we are not experiencing the goodness of that good news? We might do so mechanically, but effectively and consistently we won’t.
Think about Luke 7:36–50, where Mary broke a container of fragrant oil over Jesus’ head and washed His feet with her tears. Simon the Pharisee took great offence, but Jesus rebuked him, pointing out that Mary loved much because she understood that she had been forgiven much. She anointed Him for His burial because she understood forgiveness.
If we are more like the Pharisee than the woman in this account, we will do little, if anything, for the fulfilment of the Great Commission.
We therefore need to pray that our missionaries will continue to be grounded in the gospel; that they will grow in the gospel.
Forgiveness Expressed (and Exported!)
Jesus makes it very clear that those who are forgiven are themselves forgiving. The two are inseparable. Those with a tender heart will be of tender heart towards others. Such individuals make wonderful evangelists; such Christians make wonderful disciple-makers; and such disciple-makers make wonderfully effective missionaries.
In other words, those who rest and rejoice in the good news of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ are dispositionally positioned for Great Commission advancement.
The converse of this is those who are burdened down by guilt and/or bitterness. Bitterness results in an unforgiving spirit. The solution is to reckon upon the debt that you owed to God, which He graciously paid, and then to pay it forward (cf. Matthew 18:21–35).
Once again, we can see that it is our appreciation of the gospel that drives us both to our knees and to the nations. Having experienced God’s forgiveness in Christ, we are passionate that others experience this as well.
Again, we who have been forgiven must forgive others. This has both individual and corporate repercussions.
Imagine a church that is embroiled in bitter infighting. Just how effective do you think that church will be in making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ? Not very. If a church is characterised as bitter, it is highly improbable that it will be very passionate about getting the gospel to those in other nations.
Bitterness produces spiritual myopia and this makes it almost impossible to see and to care about the need of the nations for the gospel. It certainly blinds us to see our priority—the fame of God’s name among the nations.
So, let us experience and express God’s forgiveness to one another. Let us repent of our sin and experience God’s forgiveness—including for the sin of unforgiveness! When we do, we will be more and more passionate about exporting the means of this forgiveness to those who know nothing about it.
The Petition for Power
The final petition is for spiritual power as highlighted in the Lord’s Prayer. This is vital for the completion of the Great Commission: “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (v. 4).
The final petition is simple and yet vital: “And lead us not into temptation.” What does this mean, and what does it have to do with the Great Commission?
What it Means
It does not mean that God desires to tempt us to sin and we must therefore pray that He does not do so. God does not tempt us to sin (James 1:12–15). But God is sovereign over all, including our trials (James 1:12). And it is in such trials that we may be tempted (by our own sinful desires) to sin.
J. C. Ryle says that, in this petition, “we confess our weakness and readiness to fall. We entreat our Father to preserve us from trials, or else to make a way for us to escape. We ask that our feet may be kept, and that we may not bring discredit on our profession and misery on our souls.” In other words, we are asking for spiritual protection, for spiritual power.
Jesus is instructing His disciples to pray for the ability and power to overcome such temptations. It is a petition for victory over sin. It is a petition for perseverance. And this is vital if we will be effective in making disciples.
Paul sheds light on this truth in Ephesians 6:10ff. Having exhorted the Ephesian believers to walk like God—children of love and light—intentionally making a difference, he acknowledges that this will not be easy. And so he exhorts them to remember that they must stand in the Lord and in the power of His might. Apart from God’s protection and power they will not persevere. They are to therefore put on the whole armour of God (vv. 11–17) and to do so praying (v. 18).
The church is called to make an impact on the world by the proclamation of the gospel and by instructing those who believe the gospel to obediently follow Christ. But as we well know, this is not easy—not by any stretch of the imagination. Enemies composed of the world, the flesh and the devil oppose us on every side. Satan hates the gospel and the darkness seeks to repel the light. Those who are at enmity with God are no friends of grace.
Temptations to sin surround those who are passionate about the gospel and so we need to pray that they—that we—finish well.
We need to pray for missionaries that they do not fall. We need to pray that we as a church do not fall.
Consider the consequences of BBC caving in to temptation to move away from the gospel. Consider the consequences to the mission if we experience serious division as a church. This is serious! The more a church is a threat to Satan’s status quo, the more intense the assaults will be. Let us prayerfully put on the armour of God. Let us petition God for power. We need to pray this for ourselves, for our church and for our missionaries.
The mission, humanly speaking, depends on prayer. In fact, it so depends on it that we dare not be anything less than persistent in praying. This is what our Lord next teaches His disciples.
The Prayer that is Persistent
Verses 5–13 highlight the need for persistence in prayer.
And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.
“So I say to 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 he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
J. C. Ryle notes that “it is far more easy to begin a habit of prayer than to keep it up.” But Jesus teaches His disciples here that, in addition to the pattern (and purpose) of prayer, they need to be persistent in prayer. It is a very enlightening passage.
To begin, we need to understand that the parable is arguing from the lesser to the greater. That is, the sleepy and seemingly careless friend, who only responds because he is pestered, is not to be equated with God our Father. Rather, our Lord’s point is that, if a friend will help in a time of need, albeit reluctantly, how much more assured should we be that our Father will gladly respond to our persistence. This contrast is further strengthened by the words of vv. 11–13.
Second, we need to understand the meaning of the word “persistence” in v. 8. What does Jesus intend to teach us by this word picture?
The story itself is fairly straightforward. A man who had travelled and arrived late at night was in need of food and shelter. This was a fairly common occurrence. Travellers might often travel later in the day in that part of the world to avoid the sweltering heat, and so evening or late night visitors were not out of the ordinary.
Hospitality was customary in those days and the prospect of not caring for the needs of even strangers was unthinkable (see for example Genesis 18:1ff). In fact, to fail to provide the most basic hospitality was to bring shame upon the entire community, not merely upon the individual household.
So, when the visitor arrived the man was determined to meet his needs. One might even say that he was passionate about it. However, he was out of bread and the local convenience store was closed for the night. What to do? “Ah,” he thought, “I will go to my friend and borrow from him.” So he went next door to request daily bread. But it was late—apparently very late.
The friend had bolted the door for the night and, in the ordinary one-room home, the family was asleep along with perhaps a few animals. The friend heard knocking at the door and perhaps the whispering of his neighbour: “Bob, please open up. I need bread for a hungry visitor who has just arrived.” But Bob knew that to get up and help would mean waking the children and the animals. The prospect of a night without a good sleep was not appealing. So he ignored the call for assistance. But the persistent neighbour would not go away. He had asked nicely, now he was seeking intensely, and soon he would be knocking loudly. He would not give up, nor would he give in. He needed bread and he would not stop until he got it.
The sleepy friend finally realised that the neighbour (and former friend!) would not give up. So he responded and answered the request. The need was met. The result is that, not only was the visitor fed, but neither the host nor the community (including the bothered neighbour) was shamed.
So, what is the point?
First, clearly Jesus was teaching that our Father is more than willing to hear and answer our prayers. After all, God is our “Abba” (v. 2) who meets the needs of His children. He will answer our requests and will only give us the best (not a stone in place of bread, not a snake in place of a fish, and not a scorpion in the place of an egg, vv. 9–12). We will look at this again later.
Second, the word “persistence” (or “impudence”) is significant. The word means “to be shameless” or “to avoid shame.” The question remaining, however, is, to what or to whom does it refer?
There is a bit of an interpretive challenge concerning whom the pronoun “his” (v. 8) refers: to the friend asking, or to the friend being awakened?
It could refer to the one knocking. This seems to make the most sense. The man was shamelessly knocking. But why? Perhaps because he did not want to be ashamed if he failed to provide hospitality. Or, as mentioned earlier, he was concerned that, not only himself, but also his friend and the whole community, would suffer shame at not being hospitable. Their reputation in the wider society was at stake.
But, with this in mind, we must allow for the possibility that the one seeking to avoid shame was in fact the one being bothered—for the very reasons just given. We might conclude that this desire to avoid shame was equally the concern of both the one knocking and the one who eventually opened the door.
As Wessel argues, ‘‘just as the man in bed would respond so as not to incur shame (for having refused the needs of a visitor to his community), so God will always do what is honorable and consistent with his character.” And this understanding drives us right back to the purpose of prayer, and it drive us to be persistent in such praying. That is, we are to persist in prayer for the greater glory of God because, on the one hand, we are concerned that God’s name not be put to shame, and, on the other, because God does not want His name put to shame. That is why we are to be persistent; that is what is meant by shameless praying.
Let me illustrate from a couple of Old Testament texts.
“Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever’” (Exodus 32:12–13). God heard this God-centred prayer and delivered His people (v. 14).a similar scene played out, with the same results, in Numbers 14:11–20 (cf. Deuteronomy 9:23–29). God similarly heard and answered Nehemiah’s prayer:
So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said: “I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’ Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” For I was the king’s cupbearer.
These examples make clear that God answers such God-centred prayers. Those who are zealous for the fame of God’s name will be zealous in their supplications—and God will hear!
As Leon Morris has said, “The lesson is clear. We must not play at prayer, but must show persistence if we do not receive the answer immediately. It is not that God is unwilling and must be pressed into answering. The whole context makes it clear that He is eager to give. But if we do not want what we are asking for enough to be persistent, we do not want it very much. It is not such tepid prayer that is answered.”
Clearly, if we are tepid in our prayers for the extension of the kingdom, it is evident that we are tepid concerning the glory of God. And that is a problem.
We need to be more and more God-centred in our desires, increasingly Great Commission minded and hearted. And to the degree that we are, we will be more passionate in our praying for the fame of God’s name. In fact, the more that we pray this way, the more our passion for God’s purpose will grow.
We can deduce from this that our prayer life reveals the focus of our hearts. If we are not persistent in prayer concerning what the Lord Jesus has told us to pray for, then we need to realign our lives with God’s purpose.
Burk Parsons writes, “The greatest joy in this life is to know that our greatest joy is not in this life.” Our problem is misplaced joy because of misplaced priorities. Our prayer lives reveal much about us. No wonder M’Cheyne could say, “What a man is on his knees before God, that he is, and nothing more.”
Shamelessly Begging for Bread
The petition in this parable is contextually fitting. Again, the Lord had just taught them to pray for, among other things, their daily bread. Applying this to the Great Commission, if we don’t have bread to meet the spiritual need of our neighbour, then we need to ask for it. Just think what God might give to us! We need to shamelessly ask knowing that God will not allow His name to suffer shame. All of His have been given to Christ, and all of those will be brought in (John 6:37–40; John 17:1–3; see John 18:8–9; etc.).
Clearly in the scenario that Jesus painted for us, He was indicating that this man was willing to be misunderstood and willing to be criticised in his pursuit of showing care to his guest. He was, as it were, perturbed by what others might think. All he knew was that he had a neighbourly duty, and he was heaven-bent on fulfilling that duty. So it is to be with us. Let us shamelessly and purposefully pray to the Lord of the harvest. He will give us all the bread of money and manpower that we need to gather His harvest in. He will not be ashamed! As Ryken reminds us, “Prayer is not a way of getting God to do what we want, or of persuading him to do something that he does not want to do. But prayer is an audaciously bold request for God to do what he has promised to do.”
Of course, there is one very big disconnect in this story. It is true that a fellow sinner might turn us down, but our Father will never do so (v. 2). The ESV and other translations emphasise this well: Verse 2 simply begins, “When you pray, say, ‘Father.’” I love that! As Wiersbe notes, “When God’s people pray, God’s reputation is at stake. The way He takes care of His children is a witness to the world that He can be trusted.” Or as Ryken comments, “like the friend who came at midnight, we should pray as if he could not refuse,” for “in the dialogue of prayer, we are pressing God for something that he is longing to give.” For the glory of His name (v. 2).
Again, remember to whim you are speaking. Jesus wants us to remember “Father” and so He adds another vignette from vv. 11–13. In comparing a sinful and limited earthly father to our sinless and sovereign heavenly Father, Jesus was encouraging us to shamelessly because confidently pray. We are to continuously ask, seek and knock until our Father opens, supplies the bread and glorifies Himself on earth as He is glorified in heaven. We are to shamelessly pray until the world is ashamed of dishonouring the fame of His name.
What does this look like?
It looks like believing God and therefore asking God for the otherwise impossible. It looks like praying with the church and being careless about what you think others are thinking. It means asking over and over again even if you feel a bit foolish. It looks like, in the light of the above statement, you have faith in the goodness and in the willingness of your Father. It looks like believing that your Father is a much better Father than any earthly father. It looks like being inconvenienced and it looks like a willingness to inconvenience others. That is, it looks like including others in this prayer request.
What will this require? It will require that God’s kingdom be our priority and that the gospel be our passion.
No doubt this is the missing element in so much of Christendom. We need churches that are passionate about the gospel and who have the spiritual insight to see the greatness of the Great Commission.
Michael Bentley has noted, “We should never pray only when we feel ‘in the mood.” So, let us get ourselves in the mood by purposefully praying!
Oh that churches would prioritise the gospel! Oh that Christians would gather for the gospel having been gathered by the gospel! Oh that churches that gather would be grounded more and more in the gospel that they, and we, would more and more glory in the gospel! Oh that, as we gather for the gospel, we would more and more be equipped to go for the gospel and to groan in prayer for the gospel!
May God grant us the grace to be shamelessly fanatical about the gospel. As this becomes more and more true of us then certainly our prayer meetings will grow accordingly.
The context of this shameless petitioning is the giving of the Holy Spirit (v. 13).
What does this mean? Does it mean that, if they did not pray, the Holy Spirit, which Jesus promised He would send, would not come (see John 14–16)? Perhaps.
That may sound unorthodox, but how else can you interpret these words? I want to suggest that this is what Jesus was saying. Let me explain.
Luke, more than any other Gospel writer, focused on Jesus’ march to Jerusalem, where He would be crucified. In fact, many have noted that Luke 9:31 sets the trajectory for the book: “Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:28–31).
It would seem that, at this point, Jesus may not yet have given His discourse concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit upon His death, resurrection and ascension. But even if He had, this teaching in Luke 11 is apropos. You see, though God gives wonderful promises, He also uses means. And it seems that, here, one means of the coming of the Holy Spirit would be through their shameless exercise of prayer.
In the past, I have been critical of a fairly traditional teaching among conservative evangelicals that the early disciples were gathered in prayer before Pentecost in order to beseech the Lord for the coming of the Spirit. Upon reflection, perhaps my criticism has been unfounded.
Reflecting on this passage, it does seem that the Lord was clearly saying that the Holy Spirit would come in response to their shameless praying. He knew that they would pray like this, they did pray like this, and God wonderfully meshed His sovereign working with their fulfilling of their responsibility—just as He does in salvation, and just as He does in the fulfilling of the Great Commission.
R. Kent Hughes helpfully comments, “To some this may seem a slight disappointment, but in fact it is the climax of the whole passage: the Son promising that the Father will give us the Spirit. Of all the gifts that God could possibly give us, none is greater than the gift of God himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. If we do not believe this, it is only because we do not know the greatness of the Spirit’s person or the scope of the Spirit’s work. To demonstrate the unique blessing of having the Spirit, one need only consider the extraordinary ministry of the apostles once they received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: they had the power to perform miraculous wonders and to preach a gospel that changed the world.”
Here is the point Jesus is making: As they came to the appreciation of their need for the power, for the person and work of the Holy Spirit, they would pray for His presence (Acts 1:4–8).
As His disciples felt the burden for the provision and for the pardon and for the power to fulfil God’s purpose, they would pray for God’s supernatural help. They would pray for God to send the Holy Spirit for this otherwise impossible task. And these prayers would be emboldened by Jesus’ promise that He would send Him! Jesus was promising His church that He would send to them the one that they needed in order to feed their hungry neighbours—both near and far. But God would do so in answer to their shameless praying. Do we pray like this? Do we even pray for this? Do we pray for the Holy Spirit to regenerate, to revive, to reform? We should. We must!
What will lead to such shameless, persistent praying? Like the disciples, the realisation of our need, the soul-conviction of our dependence upon God for such a task. The coming of God’s kingdom will not come by natural means; it requires the power of God. It requires the power of the Holy Spirit!
In Acts 2, we read that God answered this prayer. He did so again in Acts 8, 10, and 19 (and perhaps in chapter 11—see v. 23). We see in these texts the confirmation that the Holy Spirit had been given to all who believe on Christ. In fact, the proof that they had the Spirit was that they believed. They asked for heavenly provision and power and God gave it. By the indwelling Holy Spirit, these believers rejoiced and rested in forgiveness of sins, and they were empowered to live as witness of the risen Lord.
But this raises an important question for us: Do we still need to pray as Jesus instructed here? After all, if the Holy Spirit has come (and He has!), then what do we do with this prayer? I believe that the essence of the prayer request remains relevant and therefore applicable for us.
We too need to remember our great need for supernatural help (see vv. 14–23!). We therefore need to remember our absolute need for the person and work of the Holy Spirit—the all too neglected third person of the Godhead. We need the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in pointing us to Christ and His gospel. We need His ongoing work of giving us the sense of belonging. We need His ongoing work of convicting the lost that they might be converted. We need to rely upon Him for His work of regeneration. We need His ongoing work to provide us with power to overcome temptation and the evil one. In summary, we need to shamelessly pray for this His presence and power in our lives. Thank God that He has come, but just as Jesus came and was ignored, it is easy for us to ignore the present Spirit. Don’t!
We can conclude by noting that this prayer request is a huge one. The only way that God’s kingdom will be extended is by His provision, pardon, and power. He has chosen, of course, to use us. But it is by His person that this will be accomplished, and it is to Him that all the glory will go. So, let’s pray like we believe that. Let us shamelessly petition heaven until God’s greater glory is famous in all the nations. Let us not neglect prayer in our commitment to the Great Commission. In fact, the greatness of the Great Commission demands it.