God’s timing is not ours. For another thing, God promises to answer our prayers by at least giving us “Spiritual good things” in response. And if God answers our prayers, then we no longer have any reason to give up praying on account of unanswered prayer, because there is basically no such reality for Christians. God works every time Christians pray!
Not long ago, a man came up to me after a sermon I preached on prayer to tell me that he was no longer interested in praying. His wife had died a few years earlier, and, in the months leading up to her death, he had prayed earnestly for the Lord to spare her life. But God had not answered, and his wife died. His question to me on that Sunday morning was, “Why should Christians pray if God doesn’t answer our prayers?”
This question is one that should be very familiar to us all. We have no doubt all had experiences just like the one this bereaved young man had. We may not have lost a spouse, like he did, but we have certainly prayed and had those prayers seemingly go unanswered. This young man’s question is one that all of us have wrestled with, at least to some degree: “Why should we pray if God doesn’t answer prayer?”
I want to suggest that Luke 11—among other places in the Bible—teaches us that God does, in fact, answer prayer. Isn’t that the obvious take away from Jesus’s words in verses 9 and 10? In verse 9, for instance, Jesus says: “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.” It is interesting to me that Jesus doesn’t say “might” here but “will.” The one who asks willreceive; the one who seeks will find; and the one who knocks will have the door opened. And then—as if that wasn’t clear enough—Jesus follows with verse 10 to drive the point home even further: “everyone who asks receives,” everyone “who seeks finds,” and to everyone “who knocks it will be opened.”
But how can Jesus actually be saying this? Doesn’t He realize that God doesn’t always answer everyone who asks, seeks, and knocks? What about the person who asks for $1 million? Surely Jesus doesn’t mean to suggest that this person will always “receive” $1 million. As the only perfect theologian ever to walk the face of the earth, Jesus no doubt knows what James would later tell us explicitly, namely, that we can’t “ask wrongly, to spend it on our passions,” and expect that we will always receive what we ask for (James 4:3). Jesus no doubt knows that; and, yet, I find it fascinating that He doesn’t feel the need to say everything He knows here in Luke 11. He has no trouble leaving His statements about prayer unqualified and giving the impression, at least in these verses, that God always answers every prayer we make by giving us exactly what we ask for. Why would Jesus do this?
I think Jesus is responding to our question, “Why should we pray if God doesn’t answer prayer?” He is responding to it by saying, “God does answer prayer.” He answers every prayer we make—because everyone who asks receives; everyone who seeks finds; and to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. But Jesus is quick to explain that while God answers every prayer we make, He doesn’t necessarily do so on our timetable or by giving us exactly what we ask for. This is what Jesus spends the rest of His time unpacking in Luke 11, as we will see.
The first thing Jesus wants us to understand in what remains of Luke 11 is that God doesn’t always answer prayer on our timetable.