Description: Man's extremity is God's opportunity!
Never Give Up!
Luke 11:5 – 13
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Many of us here have friends or relatives who have long needed some change in their lives. Either
they need to have their health turned around, or they need some change in the way they’re operating
and the way they’re living. And probably you’re like many of the rest of us over the years you’ve
done a lot of talking, and they’ve done a lot of listening, and yet, years later now, they’re just
And if you’ve experienced that, you know the way you feel. You do feel kind of frustrated about it,
because it seems that you’ve talked, and they’ve at times listened, and now they seem to have
stopped listening, or you’ve kept on finding new remedies, or new pieces of advice to give them, and
now you’ve run out of remedies, and you’ve run out of advice. And so you still love them, and you
want them to be changed, and you want the thing to be better for them, but you don’t see where to
It just seems you’ve run out of ideas, and they’ve run out of any ability to follow your advice.
And yet you do feel frustrated, don’t you? You do feel there’s something not right in the feeling
that we should both, they and we, travel on towards certain death, and yet not have this thing
changed, or not have it remedied. And so it’s hard, really, in that situation, to know what to do.
And loved ones, the answer is just as solid as anything for us this morning, you know. I don’t know
if you know the saying, “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” And it is! The problems that you
and I can solve by our advice, or by yet another human remedy that we pass on to our loved one or
our friend, those aren’t the real problems. They aren’t! I mean, we comfort ourselves by solving
some of them, and we think, “Oh, we’ve really achieved something.” But really those aren’t the
important problems. The important problems are these that we’ve just been talking about: The
frozen relationships, the hostility, the deteriorating physical state, the attitudes that will not
change, the old habits that continue year after year to spoil a person’s life, the ways that we have
of dealing with each other, that just prevent a family or a marriage moving into any higher level.
Those are the important problems. Those are the real problems. And those are there, in a ‘fallen
world’ like ours, to do one thing, and that is to drive us to God. That’s why they’re there.
I don’t know if you’ve thought the same as I have at times. But at times I’ve thought, “Why, why
are there problems like that? Shouldn’t this world be happy? Shouldn’t it be happy, and shouldn’t
we be able to live, and tackle things the way all the ‘power of positive thinking’ people tackle
them? We should just ‘have this life by the tail.’ We should have it ordered. And all our
families, and all our relatives, and our friends, they should be happy.” Well loved ones, it was
never meant to be that way after man had ‘rebelled against God’. Ever from that time, this has been
a ‘fallen world’, and God has allowed problems, such as we’re talking about, to develop, in order to
drive us to God.
So maybe the first most important thing is what Churchill said, you remember. “Whatever the
difficulties, however great the enemies, however often you fail, however many disappointments you
have, never, never, never, never give up. ‘Never’ give up.” Just as you sit there today, first of
all settle that, you’re not going to put up with this thing. You’re not going to give up. So step
right back from all that cynicism towards your dad, or your mum, or towards your relative or your
friend; step right back from that and just give it a hearty kick in the right place, and just say,
“I am not going to give up. I am going to do something about this thing.”
Loved ones, that insuperable problem is there to drive you to God, not to drive you to defeat. It’s
there to drive you to God.
Now how do you get God to intervene, because no doubt you’ve tried? Well, let’s look first of all
at the basic verse in scripture, if you would. It’s in Luke 11:9. How do you get God to intervene?
“And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be
opened to you.” And then all of us say, “I have knocked; I have asked; I have sought. And the
person is no better now, 15 years later.”
And that’s really where we show that we don’t believe Jesus’ words here. And we don’t really
believe what he said about our God, because I’d point out to you, we’re always doing what we, in
America of course, specialize in doing. Every time you go to Europe there they are — even the
house our group lives in in London is older than our constitution here. It’s more than 200 years
old. And we went to a church one Sunday to see it, and it was founded in 1,000 A.D. So in Europe
you realize that things are not done in a second. In America, of course we kill ourselves, because,
if it doesn’t happen tomorrow, we have no patience with it.
And so we tend to say, “I’ve asked; I’ve sought.” Loved ones, you haven’t asked and sought until
you’ve died asking and seeking. You haven’t! And that’s where we let our friends and our relatives
down often. We stop praying, because we say, “Well, I have asked, and I have sought.” And we don’t
really believe God that his nature is to answer us. We tend to say, “We want his nature to answer
us now.” But it’s his nature to answer us in his good time. And we need to believe that God is
And you find that, you remember, in that chapter there that we just looked at. Luke 11:1. “He was
praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciplines said to him, ‘Lord, teach us
to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ And he said to them, ‘When you pray say, “Father, hallowed
be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we
ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.”’ And he said to
them, ‘Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me
three loaves: for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set for him”; and
he will answer from within, “Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in
bed; I cannot give up and give you anything”? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him
anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever
he needs. And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it
will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who
knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will he instead of a
fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 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!’”
You remember in another piece it says, “How much more will your Father give good gifts to those who
ask?” Jesus has told us, “Our Father hears us.” He hears us, so you keep asking. You keep
asking. In other words, Jesus says, “Put your mouth where your heart is. You believe that God
loves you and that he will answer your prayers, then put your mouth right there. You keep on
asking, you keep on ‘keeping on’, year after year, after year, after year; until you die you keep on
asking. But you don’t step back from it, because you’ve been at it 10 years. See, you look at
those situations; look at some of them. You know why they are like they are, because actually
you’ve backed off.
I mean, isn’t that what we do? We all arrange in our lives problems that we can do something about
and ones that we can’t do anything about. And these grow, and grow as the years go by, and we
train ourselves to forget them. And actually what we do is we stop praying for those situations,
and we stop believing God for them. And so they pile up of course, as a growing, hard, frozen
‘block of unbelief’ that makes it more and more difficult to believe, even for the things that are
easy. So loved ones, when you think of your dad or your mum, or the loved one who is an alcoholic,
or the frozen situation in that relationship, or the attitude that will not change, loved ones, I
say it lovingly to you, you ‘know’ why it’s like that. It’s like that, because you gave up after a
year or three months of prayer. And actually what is needed is somebody to hold steady, and to
stand with that, year, after year, after year, because that’s believing God.
See, ‘stopping praying’ is ‘not believing’ God. You know brothers and sisters, you can’t prove to
me from that chapter that you’re right. You know that, because I can always answer you, “But God
will do it. He said he will do it.” All you can answer me is, “He hasn’t done it inside my time
frame.” But do you see the promise is not ‘inside a time frame’. See loved ones, where we’re being
deceived. See, we’re saying, we’ve prayed for five years, or seven years, or 10 years, or 20 years,
or 30 years and then we stop praying. Except that, who of us here has prayed for 10 years, 20
years, 30 years? A few of us maybe, but probably very few. Most of us have given up on the thing
after maybe two or three years of prayer. Some of us who live with these situations in our own home
day after day, maybe we’ve prayed for 20 years. But 20 years is nothing. 20 years is nothing in
God’s time frame. And his promise still stands here.
So there’s no place in which we will be able to go to him at the end of this world and say, “Lord,
we did not respect you, because your promises here were not kept.” He will respond, “How long did
you wait for me to fulfill my promise?” All we can answer is, “Well, I waited three years;” “Well,
I waited five;” “Well, I waited seven;” “Well, I waited 10;” “Well, I waited 20 and then I gave
up.” But loved ones, you see we haven’t ‘a leg to stand on’, because this chapter is very clear, if
an ordinary father will give his children fish, when they ask him fish, and won’t give them a
scorpion, then your Father will much more readily give you good gifts. And if some host who is
called upon by a guest at midnight, will get up just because the guest keeps irritating him by
asking, and asking, and asking, then how much more will your Father give you who loves you?
In other words, Jesus is saying, “Put your mouth where your heart is. Start being faithful in
prayer day, after day, after day. And be importunate. Keep on keeping on.” Now, how far should you
carry this? Loved ones, look at that wild story, you remember, that we’ve looked at before in
Genesis 18. And it will just startle you, and set you back on your heels, because Abraham seemed to
go beyond the point of respect and reverence. You remember, God told him that he was going to
destroy Sodom and Gomorrah; and Abraham had a nephew called Lot, who was there; and he knew Lot was
going to be destroyed along with the others, and so he prayed to God.
Genesis 18:23, “Then Abraham drew near,” to God, “And said, ‘Wilt thou indeed destroy the righteous
with the wicked?’” And do you see that some of us are a bit reluctant to do it that way, we would
say, “That’s irreverent, ‘Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked?’ I mean, that’s insulting
God. It’s trying God; it’s tempting him.” But you see, Abraham was saying, “You said the sinful
soul will die and the righteous soul will live. Now Lord, that is your nature as I understand. Now
I’m taking you at your word, now I’m calling to you on behalf of your own nature. Are you in this
case going to contradict your nature? Are you in this case going to destroy the righteous with the
So God wants us to take his nature seriously. See, too many of us are doing it as a compliment to
God. We’re asking, because you’re supposed to pray. So it’s a childish game. Do you see loved
ones, we’re not being fair to the Father? It’s a childish little game. Okay, we say our prayers,
“Our Father who art in heaven…, Gentle Jesus meek and mild…, and then I did, ‘God bless my dad,
God bless my mum.’” And we still ‘say our prayers’. We say our prayers to God; it’s like the
prayer wheel turning; we turn our prayer wheel, and then we go to sleep and we say, “Now Lord, you
should answer us.” Whereas God is saying, “Get to grips with me. I have said, ‘I am such and
such’. Do you believe me to be such and such? If I’m not proving such and such to you, you have a
right to charge me with that. Come, let us interact with each other; let us put our arms around
each other. You deal with me as a living, real, live God who is your Father, and stop playing games
with me.” See, that’s what he wants.
So what to us seems ‘impertinence’, is something God desires us to do, to come to him in terms of
his own nature. And Abraham says — you see in 23, “Wilt thou indeed destroy the righteous with the
wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt thou then destroy the place and not
spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from thee to do such a thing, (it’s not
your nature,) “to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far
be it from thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Lord, this is your nature will
you not abide by your nature?)”
“And the LORD said, ‘If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place
for their sake.’ Abraham answered, ‘Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am
but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Wilt thou destroy the whole
city for lack of five?’ And he said, ‘I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.’ Again he
spoke to him, and said, ‘Suppose forty are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of forty I will
not do it.’” I think Abraham was working down to Lot’s family. That’s what he was after, trying to
get down to that number.
“Then he said, ‘Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.’
He answered, ‘I will not do it, if I find thirty there.’ He said, ‘Behold, I have taken upon myself
to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of twenty I will
not destroy it.’ Then he said, ‘Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once.
Suppose ten are found there.’ He answered, ‘For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.’ And the
Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place.”
That’s it loved ones; that’s praying. God wants us to plead with him importunately, repeatedly,
continuously for these impossible problems that we face.
Now if you say to me, “Why on earth and why in heaven does God do that? Why does he not answer us
immediately? Why does he require us to keep on asking?” Well there are all kinds of reasons.
Usually, it is because there’s something in your attitude that God is trying to remove, before he is
able to change that other person’s life. Usually it’s that. Usually it’s something in our
attitude. Sometimes it’s for other reasons; it’s to bring us more into his own nature. For
instance, the host did everything he could. I mean, he went and thought, “Now, the stores are
closed I can’t get any food from there. There’s no other way I can do this; the only way is to go
to this neighbor of mine.” In other words, he tried everything else, and there was nothing else he
could do but go to this neighbor. Often God is trying to bring us to that place.
Often we’re praying, “Lord will you heal this person? Father, will you make their marriage better?
Lord, will you smooth over this bad relationship?” And what God is trying to do is get us away from
all those other alternatives, and get us to pray that this person will be confronted by God, firmly
and strongly, and will see that the only thing is to give their whole life to God. And so the
Father often holds back an answer, because we’re praying the wrong prayer, and he is trying to get
us to the place where we will leave off all the other solutions, and we will pray that this person
will come into contact with God himself: this host that tried everything else, and then came to God.
Sometimes it’s for another reason. If you look at the story in Luke 11 there, you’ll see what the
host did when the guest came. Luke 11:5, “And he said to them, ‘Which of you has a friend will go
to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived
on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.”’” The friend got up out of his bed, went out
into the cold and did whatever was needed to get the bread for his guest. Sometimes the Lord knows
that we lack love for our friends and our relatives. Sometimes he knows fine well that we’re just
flipping a prayer up there, because it’s an easy way out of a difficult problem; and the Father is
trying to beget in us that willing love that is willing to die, and willing to put itself out for
the sake of the other person. And that is what real ‘willing love’ is willing to do, it’s willing
to die and to be lost to itself for the sake of the other person coming to God. Often God holds
back from answering our prayers to beget in us that kind of love.
I don’t know about you, but it seems we talk a lot about love, and yet so few of us really love.
Isn’t that true? I don’t know how all of you are who are married, or who live with friends, or who
live with family, but are you not startled repeatedly at how little love you have for your friends,
and for your relatives, and for your husband, or for your wife? I mean, we’re all big talkers; we
talk love, love, love, “I love you; I love you; I love you.” But we’re not ready to put ourselves
in the other person’s shoes, and suffer what they suffer. We’re not ready to put ourselves ‘out’
for them. We’re not ready to put them first and us second. We’re not ready to sacrifice and to
lose ourselves, so that they will gain. And God often holds back answering our prayers until we
come into that kind of love.
Here is that kind of love; I mean it almost – it just boggles the mind when you look at it. But
you’ll find it in Exodus 32:31. And it’s Moses praying after, I believe, the Israelites made the
golden calf, you remember, and God threatened to destroy them all. Exodus 32:31, “So Moses returned
to the LORD and said, ‘Alas, this people have sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods
of gold. But now, if thou wilt forgive their sin—and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book
which thou hast written.’” So we’re big talkers and big prayers, but that’s what prayer is: where
you so put yourself in the other person’s shoes that you’d rather die for them. And that’s the
prayer that God answers.
God often holds back our answers, because he knows that we don’t really love. And he knows that if
we go into heaven with the shallow superficial love that we call ‘love’, it’s going to be hell for
us. And we’re going to eventually end up in hell, which is the only place we’ll be at home, with
all the other selfish people who are just talking love and not loving. So for that reason the
Father will often hold back an answer to our prayers to get us to come into this place where we ask
ourselves, “Why is God not answering my prayer in regard to my mum, or in regard to my wife, or in
regard to my son, or in regard to my colleague? Why is he not answering my prayer? What am I
lacking? Holy Spirit, what am I lacking?” And often the Holy Spirit is trying to get through to us
and say, “You wouldn’t die in their place. That’s what you’re lacking. You wouldn’t die in their
place. You wouldn’t go to hell so that they could go to heaven. That’s what’s lacking. God can
only answer your prayer when you begin to love the way he loves.”
But doesn’t it dawn on you as it dawns on me — because one of the great privileges of preaching is
that the Father preaches to you as you preach. So doesn’t it dawn on you as it dawns on me, we have
no excuse for stopping praying? I mean, we haven’t. I mean, which of us here says, “Well, brother,
I am willing to die for that person;” or, “I have spent such hours in prayer that God must know I
am.” Loved ones, I think we all have to stand before God, poverty stricken this morning, and say,
“Lord, what we call prayer, isn’t prayer at all. We’ve offered up to you little petitions during
prayer in church, or we’ve offered up a little wish to you as we’ve been sitting at the stop lights
in the car, or we’ve done things; we’ve talked a lot to our friends and our relatives, but we
haven’t prayed this way. We haven’t prayed with the kind of willing love that is ready to sacrifice
itself for them. No, no I’m not that anxious for them to be saved.” And you see it comes to our
hearts, that we are not praying, loved ones. We are not praying.
Yet do you see the tragic situation we put ourselves in? We put ourselves with those people who
generally take a shallow superficial attitude to prayer, and who say, “Well, yeah, God answers
prayer on the whole, except for the 45 he hasn’t answered in my life.” We put ourselves in that
position. So do you see — and I say it lovingly to you because I know it’s a hard thing to bear;
but do you see that in a sense we are God’s enemies, because we’re not praying with the kind of
prayer that he is able to answer? And yet we tend to be saying to other people, “Yes we have
prayed! But God, you know, doesn’t just operate the way he used to years ago.” And so we, in a
way, end up being God’s enemies, primarily because we’re saying, “It’s not ‘my’ fault. Whatever the
problem is with this unanswered prayer is not ‘my’ fault. It’s not ‘my’ fault. I have done…”
Well see, that ‘self righteousness’ has to freeze our tongues in our mouths. We have to stop
saying, “It’s not my fault I’ve done all I could.” That’s terrible. We bow before the Lord God and
say, “You are right Lord. All the time you are right. You are always right. This is your nature;
this is what your Son says is your nature. You’re right. Show me what I have to do, so that you
will be able to answer my prayer.” But don’t stop praying. You don’t stop praying.
Any other reasons? Sometimes to get us to stop our silly games; sometimes to get us to see our own
impotence, our own inability to solve this problem. Sometimes God holds back from answering our
prayers for that reason, to get us to stop thinking, “Another set of tapes will do it;” another set
of tapes; or a new spiritual wave; or, with due respect, get them to “Basic Youth Conflicts”, or get
them to Campus Church, or give them another book. Just stop that! That’s not what they need! They
need somebody to pray for them with a whole heart, and a self-sacrificing love. And often God
refuses to answer your prayers to bring you to the end of all those human devices, which answer only
the problems that can be solved by ‘human power’. So often the Father holds back from answering our
prayers, to bring us into the kind of love and the kind of prayer that his Son prays.
Loved ones, there’s far more to say, but could I ask you to just stop for a moment now, and identify
again those things that you have prayed for in the past, and that you’ve now given up praying for.
Or, would you just identify again those chronic problems in your family, or in your home, or in your
marriage, or in your job; just identify those now. Now, put them down in your diary again today,
and start praying for them. That’s it. Start praying for them.
Now, there’s another reason for this. If you don’t do that, that whole defeated area that you know
about, acts as a cancer in your relationship with God. It does; it acts as a cancer. And you keep
on allowing that to grow, and grow, and grow until it eats up all your faith. Because the truth is,
our place is to pray. It is the Lord’s place to answer. Our place is to pray. Our place is not to
say, “He has not healed Susan yet,” or, “He has not healed my marriage yet,” or, “He has not put
things right yet in my family.” Our place is to pray; and after the answer has come that we did not
ask for, our place is to bow down to the Father, as David did when his son died and to say, “The
Lord’s will be done.”
Our place is not to judge God. Our place is to believe what his Son said, that our Father is more
anxious to give us good gifts than we are to ask for them. And we have a holy privilege and
opportunity to pray for our friends, unfailingly, until the day when our tongue stops for the last
time. Only then can we stop praying. Only then can we say, “God has not answered our prayer.” So
brothers and sisters will you deal with God on those things? And let’s take back some ground from
Satan here this morning. Let us pray.
Dear Father, we would first of all ask forgiveness Lord, for the things we have given up on; for the
mums and dads, or the brothers or sisters, or the sons and daughters, or the husbands and wives, or
the colleagues, or the roommates that we have given up on. Father we know that hopelessness and
despair dwell only in hell, and nowhere where you are present, because you are the God who raises
the sun every morning. So Father, we repent of having given up. And Lord, we repent of having
become cynical about prayer.
Lord, we see some of the things you are after in us. We see Lord, that you love us first and
foremost; that above everything else you want to make us like your Son Jesus, so that we’ll be at
home with both of you in heaven. So Father, we do thank you for delaying answering our prayers,
when we see how shallow and superficial our love for our dear friends have been. And Lord, we
commit ourselves now to praying for them with a whole heart and with full faith, depending on you
only, and believing that you are the God who answered Abraham as he pleaded for Lot’s life.
Lord, we thank you. We thank you for your faithfulness. We thank you Lord Jesus, for your plain
words to us, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened
to you.” And we thank you Lord Jesus, that you didn’t tell us how often we had to knock; you didn’t
tell us how many years we’d have to ask; you simply told us that if we ask we will receive. Father,
we thank you for that.
We now Lord, build our faith again on the basis of your dear Word, and we take up the weapons of
prayer on behalf of our friends. And we now Lord, ask you to mightily intervene in these
situations, and to change these dear hearts, and to drive back this physical sickness. And we ask
you now Father, in full confidence, to set forth your own nature among us and among our friends by
acting mightily to apply the victory of Calvary to these people’s lives. And Father, we thank you
that you are a prayer answering God, and that we have not yet proven otherwise. Father, thank you.
Now the grace of our Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with
each one of us now and ever more. Amen.