All You Have to Do Is Ask: Reflections on Luke 11:1-13
In times of testing the Holy Spirit will tell Jesus' followers what to say (Lk. 12:12), a promise born out by Stephen's testimony in Acts 6:10.
And now in Luke 11:13: "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!"
This notification of the availability of the Spirit for the asking comes at the end of Jesus' lesson on prayer we call "The Lord's Prayer." What if we took it to heart and rewound the passage? Rewound our lives? How might it change the way we walk through each day of our lives which, while joyful in many ways, have difficult dimensions?
"Father, Hallowed be your name..."(Lk. 11:2a). This first petition is that the Father's name be keep holy, undefiled by evil. The holiness of God is a central theme in the Hebrew Bible as the prophet Isaiah proclaims "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!" (Is. 6:3). God's name is not to be taken in vain (Ex. 20:7; Dt. 5:11) (Gillman, 113). The Holy Spirit can help us keep God's name holy in our lives. Let's ask God for the Holy Spirit so we can daily hallow God's name.
"Your kingdom come..." (11:2b). This petition is for God's reign to be allowed entry into our world. The Holy Spirit can help us invite that reign and advance that reign, in some small way, today. Let's ask God for the Holy Spirit to energize us to advance God's reign.
"Give us each day our daily bread..." (11:3). This petition, in the present tense, indicates a request to "keep giving us, from day to day, the sustenance we need." As God sustains us each day, let's pray for the Holy Spirit to strengthen our determination to see to it that others with less than us get that sustenance too.
"Forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us..." (11:4). Forgiveness is a central theme of Luke-Acts (1:77, 3:3, 5:20-24, 7:47-49, 12:10, 23:34, 24:47; Acts 2:38, 5:31, 10:43, 13:38, 26:18). The Sermon on the Plain has made the connection between forgiving and being forgiven (6:37-38). Then and now communities and families cannot thrive unless their members both forgive and admit their need to be forgiven. The two are inextricably tied together. Let's pray to God to give us the gift of the Holy Spirit that we might both forgive and accept forgiveness.
"Do not bring us to the time of trial..." (11:4b). Then and now, Christians will endure difficulties and trials. Let's ask God for the Holy Spirit to help us resist temptations and be strengthened for the challenges of the life of discipleship.
Come on over from the coffee shop next door where you're shelling out your hard earned cash for an overpriced breakfast. Look, the breakfast buffet is all lined up before you. Come on over and lift up the silver lid. There, nestled inside, is the delicious truth that if you ask for the Holy Spirit, it will be given to you.
Who knew? Jesus did. Luke did. And now, thanks to Luke 11:13, so do we.
John Gillman, Luke: Stories of Joy and Salvation (New City Press, 2002).
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.