Short Sayings of Jesus

Praying as a Servant

Luke 11:5-13

Teaching t14029


We are near the end of a series entitled “Short Sayings of Jesus.”  Jesus was a master teacher who employed many teaching forms.  He also uttered short sayings that are easy to memorize and have wide application.  He used two types of short sayings:

Aphorisms, which are short, pithy sayings that express a general truth.  There are lots of early and rural aphorisms, many of which are still familiar to – if not practiced by - Americans (e.g., “Waste not, want not;” “You git what you git, and you don’t throw a fit”).

Mini-teachings, which briefly develop an important truth – usually in response to a question or specific situation.  Today we will look at another one of Jesus’ mini-teachings.  It is found in Lk. 11, and it is Jesus’ response to His disciples’ request in 11:1 (read).  They saw that Jesus’ prayer life was key to His spiritual vitality and poise and power and fruitfulness.  His response to their request (11:2-13) is therefore profoundly important for us if we want this kind of life.  We will focus on 11:5-13 – but let’s look briefly at 11:2-4 (read) and notice two things.

How ironic that this prayer, which is to many (including myself growing up) an impersonal and formalistic ritual, is actually emphasizing that prayer is personal communication to a loving God!  If you want an effective and satisfying prayer life, you must know God as your Father (not as some abstract, distant Deity; not as a cosmic rule-Giver; not as an abusive or neglectful father, etc.).  You are not born with God as your Father, but He will adopt you as His child if you by simply welcome Jesus into your heart (read Jn. 1:12 and explain “receive” as “welcome”).  This is the prayer that opens the door to real prayer.

Once we become God’s child by receiving Christ, Jesus encourages us to pray for the advancement of our Father’s kingdom (read and explain 11:2), and to freely petition Him for personal needs to this end (read and explain 11:3,4).  How different this is from praying to God as our Genie – trying to get Him to fulfill our personal agendas (EXAMPLES; refer to Jas. 4:3)!

11:5-13 emphasizes kingdom-advancing prayer for spiritual enablement to serve the people He brings into our lives (read Lk. 11:5-8).  In every such situation there are three parties, just as in this parable – the person (or persons) in spiritual need (the “friend” arriving at midnight), the person called upon to meet the spiritual need (“one of you” - the man visited at midnight), and God who alone has the resources to meet the spiritual need through us (the “friend” awakened).

How can we serve others in a way that advances God’s kingdom?  By praying – not in some religious way, but by praying personally to God and with three heart-attitudes – willingness, helplessness, and boldness.

Willingness to serve

Re-read 5:6a.  In the ancient world, there were very few inns, and predictable travel-schedules were non-existent.  This is one reason why hospitality was a solemn duty.  “A visitor was to be welcomed and cared for, regardless of the hour of his arrival.”[1]  This man who was visited at midnight could have put a pillow over his ears, but he acknowledged his responsibility to help, and got out of bed and opened the door.

God is constantly sending us people who need spiritual life.  Some we already anticipate and have scheduled time for (e.g., teaching home church or cell group; discipleship time), but some are unexpected like this man who came at midnight (“interruptions”).  Some are obviously “spiritually important” (e.g., witnessing to a relative in crisis), but some are less obvious though just as important (e.g., feet to wash after home group; being an aroma at an office meeting; coming home after work to our children).   Some come to us and ask for help (e.g., home church friend seeking counsel), but some require our notice and initiative toward them (e.g., home church friend needing admonition). 

God wants to give His spiritual life to them through us, and this is our greatest privilege and responsibility in life.  Will I get out of bed, or will I put a pillow over my ears?  This is the attitude of willingness – to open myself to serve the person in need. 

There are lots of ways to put a pillow over my ears.  I can fundamentally reject serving others as a life-style responsibility (PILLOW DEVICE SLIDE).  I can decide that I will not serve today, that today is a “me” day.  I can decide to serve only those I expect, but not those who “interrupt” me.  I can decide to serve only those who are in my tribe, but not those who are very different from me.  I can decide to serve only those whom I feel competent to serve, not those who are “over my head.”  

So this kind of prayer begins with the choice before God to be willing to serve others, but it doesn’t end there . . .


Re-read 11:6.  When the visited man goes to his neighbor friend, he says “I have nothing to set before him.”  He not only doesn’t have any extra bread; he doesn’t even have the flour to make bread!  He goes to his neighbor because he knows he is helpless to provide what is needed, and he expresses this helplessness to his neighbor friend.

This is our position in every serving situation.  Whether it is sharing our faith with someone at the office, or spending quality time with our children or spouse, or preparing for and/or giving a teaching, or visiting our aged parent, etc. – whatever the ministry situation, we have nothing to set before them (read Jn. 15:4,5; 2 Cor. 2:16; 3:5,6a).  We do not have the love or the wisdom or the power or the patience or the courage or the clarity of speech, etc.  Only God has the spiritual life that they need, so we must acknowledge our utter helplessness to ourselves and express this helplessness to Him.  Sometimes we can stop and do this out loud and/or with a brother or sister.  More often, we express this silently to the Lord.

Some of us pray rarely or never in these situations because we don’t believe we are helpless.  Jack Miller says: “Increasingly I saw myself as a desperately needy person, like the man who goes to his friend at midnight and says, ‘I have nothing.’  Before this, my problem in praying was that I had something – namely, reliance on myself, my training, my study, and my work.  But the man at midnight has no bread for himself or for others.”[2]

Some of us know we have nothing, but let our inadequacy paralyze us from going to God.  “Do not become (discouraged) because of your helplessness.  Above all, don’t let it prevent you from praying.  Helplessness is the real secret and impelling power of prayer . . . For it is only when we are helpless that we open our hearts to Jesus and let Him help us . . . according to His grace and mercy.”[3]

So let us turn to God in every ministry situation and both affirm our willingness to serve and admit our helplessness.  But don’t stop here . . .

Shameless audacity

Re-read 11:8b.  Why did the neighbor agree to get up and give the man as much as he needed for his guest?  Jesus uses the word anaideia – the only time this word is used in the New Testament.  The NASB wrongly translates it “persistence;” the NIV is closer with “shameless audacity.”  Anaideia means” “shamelessness,” (NASB margin), “impudence” (ESV); “without regard for etiquette.”  Anaideia is what John-John Kennedy expressed in this famous photo (explain SLIDE).  Anaideia is what these two children express (  Similarly, this man won’t take “No” for an answer.  He insists: “This guest has come to my door, and I don’t have anything to give to him.  You have what he needs, so it doesn’t matter what time it is.  You must give it to me so I can give it to him!”

Jesus says we should pray like this in every ministry situation (read 11:9,10 – “So . . . ask, and it will be given to you.”).

On what basis can we ask in this way?  Not because we’ve been spiritual lately, or because we are important people, or because we feel confident, or even because the need is urgent.  We can ask with shameless audacity because God is our Father.  God is not a reluctant helper (like the neighbor); He is our Father who is gracious and generous, who has promised to give His children everything we need to serve others, and who is delighted when we ask on this basis.  This contrast between the reluctant neighbor and God as our Father is emphasized in 11:11-13 (read).

And what will our Father give us when we ask with willingness and helplessness and boldness?  Re-read 11:13.  The Greek text is: “how much more will He give Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.”  That is, He will give whatever provision of the Holy Spirit is needed to enable us to serve in this situation.[4]  It may be courage, or wisdom, or discernment, or patience, or compassion, etc.  We don’t even have to know exactly what we need; we just need to ask and He will give us what He knows we need.

And so, after asking Him, we can plunge into the situation and count on Him to come through.  We shouldn’t wait until we feel He has answered; we should step out knowing that He will give what He has promised.  As Andrew Murray says: “As we pray to be filled with the Spirit, let us not seek for the answer in our feelings . . . (Rather) let me believe, the Father gives the Holy Spirit’s (help) to His praying child . . . (In this way) the blessing, which has already been given us, and which we hold in faith, may break through and fill our whole being.”[5]


Repeat the initial prayer and these three attitudes.  This is what Paul calls “presenting ourselves to God” (Rom. 6:13) – approaching God in Christ and placing ourselves in God’s hands for Him to wield as His surgical instruments of healing for people whom He loves.  Ask God to help you view each day as a series of service opportunities.  Ask Him to remind you to present yourself to Him in each situation with willingness, helplessness, and boldness.  And then thank Him by faith as you move into the situation.  This kind of prayer will enable us to embrace a lifestyle of ministry that glorifies God and gives us true joy!



[1] Darrell L. Bock, The NIV Application Commentary: Luke (Zondervan, 1996), p. 310.

[2] Jack Miller, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church (Zondervan, 1986), p. 96.

[3] O. Hallesby, Prayer (Augsburg, 1975), p. 21.

[4] “If every Christian already has the Spirit, what would be the point in asking for what one already has? Viewed from this angle, Luke 11:13 seems to be redundant. And yet one does not expect the words of Christ to be redundant.  There is a satisfying explanation that uncovers a rich vein of truth. In the English New Testament, the phrase ‘the Holy Spirit’ occurs 88 times, and always with the definite article. In the Greek New Testament, however, the definite article occurs in only 54 cases, while in 34 instances it is just ‘Holy Spirit,’ with no definite article.  Luke 11:13 is one of the latter instances.  What is the significance of the different usage?  Dr. H. B. Swete has pointed out that in the Greek, where the definite article is used (‘the Holy Spirit’) – the reference is to the Holy Spirit as a Person.  But where there is no definite article (just ‘Holy Spirit’), the reference is not to Him as a Person, but to His operations and manifestations . . . Here is a most exhilarating and encouraging truth, which opens up great possibilities to the believer. What the passage seems to mean can be expressed this way: "If you then who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give that operation of the Holy Spirit that is needed to enable a godly life and an effective ministry to those who ask Him." The verse, far from being redundant, conveys an open promise that just awaits our appropriation.” Oswald Sanders, In Pursuit of Maturity (Lamplighter), pp. 211-213.

[5] Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer, chapter 7.