“If a son asks for bread from a father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asked for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:11-13).
This passage teaches that God cares about us. He is not cruel. He does not give us what is harmful to us. We can pray to Him. He gives us what we need.
What is meant by the Father’s giving of the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him? (1) Some believe that the Holy Spirit is directly given to man (even today) in answer to prayer. However, only once in scripture do we read of anyone praying for the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17). The context is miraculous, not non-miraculous. Miracles have ceased (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10).
(2) It is likely that this is in anticipation of the coming miraculous age in which the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh. Stephen Wiggins has commented, “This passage on praying for the Spirit must be understood in the light of Joel’s prophecy where the prophet foretold that God would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2:28-32). Peter later quoted this prophecy on Pentecost showing the initial fulfillment of the giving of the Spirit (Acts 2:16-21). When Jesus instructed His disciples to pray for the Spirit, Joel’s prophecy was in the background, whereas the day of Pentecost and the initial pouring out of the Spirit was in the foreground. In fact, all the passages where Jesus discussed the Holy Spirit had as their background the prophecy of Joel that foretold the time in which God would give the Spirit to mankind. And, always in the foreground is Pentecost and subsequent outpourings of the Spirit in the book of Acts which was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. A failure to recognize this results in confusion of the rankest sort when trying to interpret passages on the Holy Spirit that Jesus uttered” (Wiggins, Praying for the Spirit, Hammer & Tongs, November – December, 1992). Consider this: Jesus once taught His disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come” (Luke 11:2). It was still in the future for them. However, the Kingdom, for us, has come (Colossians 1:13; Revelation 1:9). It would be improper for us to still be praying for such to come. Stephen Wiggins has written, “Once the Kingdom had been established and the Spirit had accomplished its work of miraculous activity through spiritual gifts, it became inappropriate to continue to pray for that which God no longer promised. The early disciples did indeed pray for the coming of the kingdom and for God to give them the Holy Spirit. And God answered these requests in harmony with His will by setting up the Kingdom on Pentecost in Acts 2, and also by sending the Spirit in conjunction with the establishment of the kingdom beginning at Pentecost, and then on subsequent occasions throughout the first century. But it is no more scriptural to pray for a reception of the Holy Spirit today than to pray for the kingdom to come. Prayers uttered by first century disciples concerning the coming kingdom and the giving of the Spirit have been answered in harmony with their Old Testament predictions and New Testament fulfillment. It is no more scriptural to pray for a reception of the Holy Spirit today than it is for a Pentecostal to pray for a miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The only difference between some of my brethren praying for a non-miraculous reception of the Spirit and the Pentecostals praying for a miraculous outpouring of the Spirit is that the Pentecostals are more consistent with the proper meaning of Luke 11:13. Both of these positions, however, are false as they can be” (Wiggins, ibid).
(3) There is another possibility. This could be figurative language (a metonymy), whereby the cause (the Holy Spirit) is put for the effect (good gifts). The parallel record reads, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will you Father who is in heave give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11). Wayne Jackson commented, “A comparison of these passages (Luke 11:13 cf. Matthew 7:11 – B.H.) reveals that Matthew’s emphasis is upon the blessings received, while Luke is stressing the divine source of Heaven’s benevolence” (Jackson, Notes From The Margin of My Bible, Vol. 2, p. 26). It is possible that the Holy Spirit is a means by which God providentially answers prayers.