Prayer in These “Last Days”
“Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication.”—Luke 21:36.
1. (a) Where does Luke first make mention of prayer or “supplication”? (b) How did Jesus respond to the request: “Lord, teach us how to pray”?
WHILE prayer is mentioned early in Luke’s Gospel with reference to Zechariah’s “supplication” to God (at Lu chapter 1, verse 13), it is at Lu chapter 11 that Jesus discusses this subject at some length. To begin with, Jesus answers the request made by one of his disciples: “Lord, teach us how to pray, just as John also taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1) Jesus replied:
“Whenever you pray, say, ‘Father, let your name be sanctified. Let your kingdom come. Give us our bread for the day according to the day’s requirement. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone that is in debt to us; and do not bring us into temptation.”—Luke 11:2-4.
2. (a) How is God’s name thus honored, and in harmony with what scriptures? (b) What contrasting situation exists in the world, and how will it be remedied?
2 Similar to the scriptures at 1 Kings 8:41-43 and Isaiah 56:6-8, mentioned in the previous article, notice the priority given by Jesus to his Father’s name. Jehovah’s name is certainly not sanctified in the world of today. The spirit of nationalism, of putting self first and of self-indulgence, being content with a “form of godly devotion but proving false to its power,” and other suchlike conditions cause God’s name to be reproached and dishonored or completely ignored. (2 Tim. 3:5) So God must sanctify his own name in answer to this prayer. (Ezek. 36:23) The disgraceful state of affairs will be remedied when God’s kingdom, in the hands of Christ Jesus, goes into action against the nations and their rulers, as described so vividly at Psalm 2.
3. In this connection, what warning and promise does Peter give?
3 These things take place in Jehovah’s day, now so near, as Bible prophecy in course of fulfillment clearly shows. We therefore do well to pay heed to Peter’s inspired admonition and warning:
“Awaiting and keeping close in mind the presence of the day of Jehovah, through which the heavens being on fire will be dissolved and the elements being intensely hot will melt! But there are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell. Hence, beloved ones, since you are awaiting these things, do your utmost to be found finally by him spotless and unblemished and in peace.”—2 Pet. 3:12-14.
4. How are the first two petitions closely linked in the Lord’s Prayer, and how does this help us with reference to the other petitions?
4 When all these things are accomplished, God’s name will be completely vindicated and sanctified. That is why the two petitions at Luke 11:2 are closely linked and come first in the Lord’s Prayer. These are the really big events for our day and the near future. Keeping them close in mind will help in taking a more balanced view of our personal daily needs and problems next mentioned in that prayer. Instead of becoming self-centered, which is so easy, we will first ask ourselves: What attitude and course of action on my part will be in harmony with God’s will, as outlined in his Word, and, hence, will honor his name?
BOLD PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF
5. (a) What is the general rule in Jesus’ illustrations respecting the characters used? Cite an example. (b) At Luke 11:5-8, what characters are seen, and what part do they play?
5 Following the above, Luke next tells of an illustration given by Jesus, containing an unusual feature. Generally, when one or more characters are used in an illustration, each of such closely corresponds with those portrayed by such characters. If, for instance, the heavenly Father is being portrayed, as in the illustration of the prodigal son at Luke 15:11-32, then we have no difficulty in seeing how the father of that son, by what he said and did, fittingly portrayed the heavenly Father. That cannot be said, however, in the case of the following illustration of Jesus:
“Who of you will have a friend and will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, loan me three loaves, because a friend of mine has just come to me on a journey and I have nothing to set before him’? And that one from inside says in reply, ‘Quit making me trouble. The door is already locked, and my young children are with me in bed; I cannot rise up and give you anything.’ I tell you, Although he will not rise up and give him anything because of being his friend, certainly because of his bold persistence he will get up and give him what things he needs.”—Luke 11:5-8.
6. How did a certain character therein stand out in contrast to Jehovah, and what was Jesus thereby stressing?
6 Here we see that the one in a position to supply the supplicant’s needs at first definitely refused to take any action, saying: “Quit making me trouble.” He was most unwilling. Rather than showing himself to be like the heavenly Father, he stands out in sharp contrast. By doing so, the point of the illustration was made just that much more forceful. If that man with his family already tucked in bed with him had been willing to get up and give what was needed, there would have been no need for “bold persistence” on the part of the supplicant. That was what Jesus was stressing.
7, 8. In what way did Jesus’ further words confirm this, and how does this greatly encourage us?
7 This is clearly confirmed by Jesus’ next words: “Accordingly I say to you, Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9) Then, still by way of contrast, he concludes: “Therefore, if you, although being wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more so will the Father in heaven give holy spirit to those asking him!”—Luke 11:13.
8 Just picture that man who, “because of his bold persistence,” got what he needed even at midnight! His persistence paid off. What an encouragement to put into practice Jesus’ own application of that illustration: ‘keep on asking—seeking—knocking.’ Do not give up in praying or weaken in faith because of persistent opposition to your work of Kingdom-preaching or disciple-making, or due to living in a divided household, or because of fighting some personal weakness that is more deep-rooted than you imagined.
9 A fine example of such persistence in prayer, backed by appropriate action, is seen in the early days of the Christian congregation. When Peter and John reported the opposition that they had experienced before the Sanhedrin, note the united prayer that was expressed at Acts 4:24-30, especially the words at Ac 4 verse 29: “And now, Jehovah, give attention to their threats, and grant your slaves to keep speaking your word with all boldness.” Not long after, when all the apostles had been flogged following a further session before the Sanhedrin, the record, at Acts 5:41, 42, says: “These, therefore, went their way from before the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of his name. And every day in the temple and from house to house they continued without letup teaching and declaring the good news about the Christ, Jesus.” None of those apostles experienced more persistent opposition than did the apostle Paul, and he went on record as saying: “For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.”—Phil. 4:13.
‘THE NEED ALWAYS TO PRAY AND NOT TO GIVE UP’
10. Preceding another illustration highlighting prayer, what does Luke report Jesus had been saying, pointing to what double fulfillment?
10 When near the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus gave an even more striking example of using a contrast in an illustration in order to emphasize, as Luke notes: “Then he [Jesus] went on to tell them an illustration with regard to the need for them always to pray and not to give up.” (Luke 18:1) First, however, we will consider what led up to the giving of this illustration. (Interestingly, Luke often mentions the reason why certain illustrations were given, as can be noted at Luke 18:9 and Lu 19:11.) Looking back at Luke 17:22-37, we note that Luke was reporting what Jesus had said concerning the conditions that would prevail when he would be “rejected by this generation.” (Luke 17:25) While these words of Jesus, corresponding in part to Matthew chapter 24, had a fulfillment in his day, leading up to the end of that Jewish system of things, they have a greater fulfillment in this our day, the “time of the end” for the present system of things.—Dan. 12:4.
11. (a) How do conditions today parallel the days of both Noah and Lot? (b) What did Jesus particularly note, and does this find a parallel today?
11 And what are the prevailing conditions among the people of this generation today? Yes, daily it is becoming more like the days of Noah when “God saw the earth and, look! it was ruined, because all flesh had ruined its way on the earth” and the earth was “full of violence.” (Gen. 6:12, 13) Yet Jesus made no reference to those things, but, rather, mentioned something else of still greater significance. What was that? The people then were fully occupied and quite content with the daily routine of such things as ‘eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage.’ It was “likewise . . . in the days of Lot” when additional things are listed such as buying, selling, planting and building. (Luke 17:26-29) Instead of being concerned and alarmed over the prevailing wickedness and violence, their attitude was marked by apathy and indifference. As for the great witness given by Noah, both in word and in deed in the building of the ark, “they [the people] took no note.” (Matt. 24:39; 2 Pet. 2:5) Surely the same can be said of the attitude of people in general today, especially as regards the intensive worldwide witness of God’s kingdom, as foretold at Matthew 24:14. The majority are simply not interested; they have too much else to occupy their time and attention. Note, too, the point made by Jesus respecting both the above-mentioned periods, that the execution of final judgment came with unexpected suddenness “and destroyed them all.”—Luke 17:27, 29.
12. Based on Luke 17:31-37, what can we learn and put into practice?
12 We trust that you are among the comparatively few who are concerned about the situation in the world today and are willing to pay attention to what God’s Word has to say about these things. If, as indicated at Luke 17:31-37, you see the need to quit being a part of or a supporter of the present system of things and you no longer seek to ‘keep your soul (life) safe’ just for yourself, then lose no time. Take your stand on the side of Jehovah and his kingdom. Commit your life’s prospects, both present and future, in dedication to Jehovah to do his will. Do not look back longingly on what you have left behind. “Remember the wife of Lot.” (Luke 17:32) Rather, identify yourself with those who, as Jesus said, “are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.”—John 17:14-17.
13. What are the main points in the illustration at Luke 18:2-5?
13 Coming now to the illustration at Luke 18:2-5, there is again a supplicant, this time a widow, and also the man in a position to supply her needs, pictured by a “judge that had no fear of God and had no respect for man.” He finally and begrudgingly saw that she got justice, as he said, only “because of this widow’s continually making me trouble.” There was no doubt about her persistence, illustrating the ‘need for us always to pray and not to give up.’
14. (a) In contrast to the “unrighteous” judge, what did Jesus say God will do? (b) What can we learn from this as to the time feature?
14 That judge is similar to the man at Luke 11:7, for here we again see a complete contrast with what God is really like. Notice, too, Jesus’ further comments as to what God will do, contrasting him with that “unrighteous” Judge. God will “cause justice to be done for his chosen ones . . . even though he is long-suffering toward them.” He will do this “speedily.” (Luke 18:6-8) We can learn much from these comments. This is why we must try to view all things from God’s viewpoint, whether in some personal matter or in the outworking of his purpose. As Peter explained: “Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with you [God’s people] because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” And as the prophet reported Jehovah’s words regarding the fulfillment of the vision: “Even if it should delay, keep in expectation of it; for it will without fail come true. It will not be late.”—2 Pet. 3:9; Hab. 2:3; see also Revelation 6:10, 11.
15. How does this apply to personal problems, and what must be avoided?
15 In personal problems, we can be assured that any seeming delay in the answer to our petitions is not due to inability or unwillingness on God’s part. If, like the widow, we are suffering injustice or persecution, how do we manifest faith that justice will be done? We must not only keep on praying, but also maintain a faithful course of action. If we compromise in order to avoid persecution, then, of course, there would be no need to keep on praying. This would not only indicate a lack of faith, but would also result in our losing the evidence of being one of God’s Christian servants.—2 Cor. 11:23-27; 2 Tim. 3:12.
16. How can the question at Luke 18:8 be taken as a personal challenge with profit to ourselves?
16 It might seem strange that Jesus should conclude his comments with the question: “Nevertheless, when the Son of man arrives, will he really find the faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) He left it an open question. While this would seem to imply that the faith would not be plentiful at that time, we cannot conclude that no true faith at all would be found anywhere on earth. Rather, we can take it as a personal challenge. We should not take ourselves individually for granted, however long we have been Jehovah’s dedicated servants. (1 Cor. 10:12, 13) Not only must we heed the admonition at Luke 11:9 to ‘keep on asking—seeking—knocking,’ but also, as Jesus stressed the need for this day, we must “keep looking, keep awake . . . keep on the watch.” This calls for all-around persistence, withstanding the pressures of apathy and opposition from without, also overcoming weaknesses from within.—Mark 13:32-37; 14:38.
17. Above all, along what lines should we pray, following whose example?
17 Keep praying in faith that you may prove faithful and not shrink back. (Heb. 10:39) In severe trial, keep praying, as Jesus did in his hour of greatest need, that above all else God’s will should take place. (Matt. 26:38-44) God is well pleased with such prayers. He allows us as petitioners to demonstrate our depth of concern, intensity of desire and genuineness of motive. He, though long-suffering, will execute justice speedily when the time is ripe.—Ps. 55:16, 17; Rom. 1:9-12.
‘KEEP AWAKE, ALL THE TIME MAKING SUPPLICATION’
18. (a) What pointed warning and exhortation did Jesus give at the conclusion of his prophecy? (b) In what way can we escape all that is “destined to occur”?
18 In line with the foregoing, Luke’s Gospel records how Jesus, concluding his prophecy for both his day and ours, warned of overindulgence and our hearts becoming “weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life, and suddenly that day [of final judgment] be instantly upon [us] as a snare.” He then pointedly said: “Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication [to what end?] that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur, and in standing before the Son of man.” (Luke 21:34-36) This does not mean that we are taken away from the scene of action, but, rather, that we must avoid being ‘caught on the wrong foot,’ as in a snare, or being found in the wrong camp. Instead, we must earnestly pray at all times and endeavor to act in harmony with our prayers that we may be found having a “standing [of approval] before the Son of man.”
19. What questions can we profitably ask ourselves respecting prayer, and how is Nehemiah’s example a help to us?
19 In view of all these many reminders as to persistence and never giving up, how often do you pray? Is it only at stated times as at meals or at meetings? Are your prayers just from the mind and expressed on the lips, or do you keep “making supplication” and earnest entreaty from the heart, sometimes perhaps with “groanings unuttered”? (Rom. 8:26) Whatever the need, you can do as Nehemiah did unobserved when before the king: “At once I prayed to the God of the heavens.” (Neh. 2:4) His prayer of faith was answered. Remember, too, that though you can be helped by the prayers of others, no one can really substitute for you in prayer.