I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. (Luke 11:5)
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 before 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 get 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 impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. (Luke 11:5-9)
Clearly this parable is about prayer. So… today… we are going to talk about prayer. How many of you are really excited about that? Some of you are… but I have a feeling that most of you are not. Because when it comes to prayer I think people fall into 2 or 3 different categories. First, there is the prayer warrior. This guy loves prayer, he prays a lot. He has experiences and stories about how prayer has worked in his life, even in miraculous ways, and he is always preaching about how everyone needs to pray more. Secondly, there is the prayer cynic. This guy barely prays at all… and he doesn’t like the prayer warrior types. He rolls his eyes at their stories and their pleas that everyone should pray more. This guy has too many philosophical questions about why we should pray in the first place. He might doubt that God listens. He doubt that God speaks. And he doubts that prayer ever really changes things. He’s cynical. Then, thirdly, there is the guy who isn’t really on either of those 2 extremes. He’s a social or casual pray-er (something like a casual drinker – he doesn’t drink all the time, but does in social gatherings). The casual pray-er prays when things get tough. He prays for people, every once in a while (when he thinks of it) but he really doesn’t have what some might call a prayer life. He just prays, sometimes, when needed, but probably not nearly enough. Now, I want you to know that I may be wrong about these categories. I didn’t get them from some pew pole or even from wikipedia. I just made them up because that is the world as best as I can remember it. That’s just the way I see it.
If your the prayer warrior type – you are probably exited about this parable. If you are the prayer cynic… you are not. In fact, you checked out 3 minutes ago. And if you’re casual pray-er – well… your cool. Your always cool. So lets dig in. Now before we unpack the parable lets discuss.
DISCUSSION: Describe your own prayer journey through out your life. Was there a time when you prayed more than you do now? How would you characterize yourself today? Are you a warrior, cynic, casual, or somewhere in between?
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Jesus tells this parable in response to his disciples. At the beginning of Luke chapter 11 Jesus’s disciples request that he should teach them to pray, like John the Baptist teaches his disciples to pray. Jesus responds with the familiar Lord’s prayer. Although it is a much shorter version that you might be used to. I think it’s appropriate that we begin there.
And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your 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.” Luke 11:2-4
Jesus says, when you pray say Father. Jesus invites, even teaches, his disciples to refer to the Holy, Almighty God as Father. This is important. In fact it might be the most important lesson in regards to prayer.
“Father” – an opening that to me speaks not of someone with whom we will have a relationship after certain pious or ethical exercises but of the One to whom we are already related by sonship. More than that, it suggests that for both the disciples and us, the sonship we have is precisely Jesus’ own – that we stand before the Father in him. We pray, in other words, not out of our own dubious supplicative competencies but in the power of his death and resurrection. Or to put it most correctly, he (and the Spirit as well) prays in us. Prayer is not really our work at all.
That’s an interesting way to think about. I think of it like ministry. If you have ever been in any kind of ministry you will know that it is clearly him working through us. Pray is the same thing. That, however does not lessen our need to prayer anymore than it lessens our need to minister. For god to work through us we must minister. For god to pray thorough us, we must pray. Moving on.
From the opening address of our father, jesus moves quite quickly to the amen. This is a very short prayer. I mean, if this is meant to be the model it isn’t very long or complex. Infant it is quite simple. The disciples wanted religious training. John teaches his disciples how to pray. Jesu, why don’t you teach us. OK, you wanna learn? Pray like this.
“Father, your holy, may your kingdom come. Give us bread. Give us forgiveness as we forgive others and keep us from evil. Amen
That’s it? That is Jesus’ bootcamp in spiritual discipline? Seems kind of short, don’t you think? And, there isn’t anything in this prayer that sounds weird to me. No casting out demons, or slaying spirits. No repetition or pleading in Jesus name. In fact, if you dissect this entire prayer (2 lines) all you really get is a request for daily provisions, forgiveness, and guidance – not to succeed in spiritual progress, just simply to steer clear of temptation. That’s it. It sounds more like the basics, 101, for beginners or even dummies. We could say this is Jesus’ prayer for dummies training, “Bread, forgiveness, and no temptation. Amen.”
I think that is very important. You don’t need to be a rockstar in your prayers. You don’t need to be clever or eloquent. In fact you can be quite simple. The bottom line is prayer is not some program that you must use in order to achieve spiritual progress. It seems to me that Jesus does not want to teach his disciples to pray like that.
His disciples want religious training and spiritual formation. But Jesus, apparently convinced by now that no human achievements, either religious or moral, can bring in the kingdom, gives only the barest bones of a prayer. Capon
Jesus then rolls right into the parable of the friend at midnight. It is a footnote to the Lord’s Prayer. The disciples wanted to be taught how to pray, Jesus taught them how to pray in a very short prayer, and now in a very short parable he elaborates on the how. Let’s look at it.
Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight… you and I should hear 3 AM. Midnight back been would be more like 3 AM today. Today, because of electricity and late-night television, lots of people are still awake at midnight. But in the ancient world, where they had no electricity, people went to bed after dark. Midnight would’ve meant that most people would have already been asleep for several hours. This guys would have been deep in sleep.
…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 cultural scene is that in that day and age hospitality was extremely important. People who were traveling, as this and freind seems to have been doing, might need a place to stay. As they passed through it was common to just stay at a friends house. They may even stay at a complete stranger’s house. Either which way the cultural norm would’ve been to invite the weary traveler in and feed him and give him a place to sleep. This guy’s problem is that he wasn’t counting on this friend showing up and he doesn’t have any food in the cupboard. It just so happens that tomorrow is his normal shopping day. Oh and don’t forget, it’s after dark and it’s impossible to just get on the back of your camel and go into town to the local market to pick up some Doritos in a handful of beef jerky. Again, everything shuts down after dark. So now he’s got this guest and shamefully he is no food to offer. So, the only thing he can do is go to one of his neighbors and ask them if they have any food that he can borrow and payback in the morning. And you imagine how embarrassing or shameful that would be? Actually it gets worse. It’s actually more embarrassing than you might think. The next line tells us why.
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 get up and give you anything’? Again, in that day and age most homes were one room homes. They would roll out a mat at the end of the day for the entire family to sleep on. So you have mom and dad and the three kids all rolled up in one mat, snuggling together, keeping each other warm. This guy says, “I can’t get up! My children are asleep! Right next to me in bed. If I get up it will wake up the whole family. I’ll wake up these kids.” If you have kids, especially little kids, you know how much of a pain it would be to wake up your kids. The last thing on earth that you want to happen is for your kids to wake up in the middle of the night, all because you have to get up out of bed climb over them and rustle around in the kitchen looking for a match to light your candle and then find a couple of loaves of bread, And then unlock the door and opening it and allowing whatever air is out there into your nice warm cozy home. Bottom line this neighbor’s request is ridiculous. “Dude, how could you come over and ask me to do this!?”
I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. Even though he’s a friend, that alone would not be a good enough reason to make him get out of bed and wake up his family. However because of his, my Bible says ‘impudence,’ he will rise and give him whatever he needs.
The way I remember the story being told was with the word ‘persistence.’ And so, the reasoning normally follows like this: this guy proceeded to knock on his door and make a bunch of racket until he finally got up. Another words, because this guy is the neighbor’s friend, he probably still won’t get up, but… if this so called friend continues to beat on the door threatening to wake up the whole neighborhood then he will finally get up and give him what he needs. Because he essentially has no choice. And That interpretation I think it’s completely inadequate. Let me explain why.
The First reason is because the word used in the original Greek is not persistence but shamelessness. In fact, most English translations reflect that.
New International Version
..yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up …
English Standard Version
…yet because of his impudence he will rise…
New American Standard Bible
… yet because of his persistence he will get up …
King James Bible
…yet because of his importunity he will rise…
New Living Translation
…because of your shameless persistence.
The second reason why that interpretation is inadequate is because it turns prayer into a means to manipulate God to do what you want him to do for you. Which is the definition of religion. Do something in order to get the deity to give you what you want. And religion is the very thing that Jesus is steering clear of both in his teachings on how to pray and in this parable. It turns God into the Candy Man or Santa Claus. The formula is: pound long enough, be persistent enough, then God will give you what you want. Ask enough times and you will get it. I don’t know about you but I have children and that does not work. Not only that but it contradicts what Jesus says somewhere else about prayer. Precisely that we should not use vain repetition.
“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Matthew 6:7
I am aware of the more usual “persistence wins” interpretation… But in fact, persistence doesn’t win anywhere near often enough to be held up as the precondition of God’s answering prayer. And I will not let you hand me the cheap, cruel bromide that when persistence doesn’t win it probably wasn’t real persistence. Tell that to somebody who asked, and sought, and knocked till her knuckles bled for a child who eventually died of leukemia anyway. Capon
I like this quote because it is true. That prayer cannot be used as a manipulation tool in order to get God to give you exactly what you want. Even if what you want is a good thing. Persistence doesn’t always work. In fact I have met lots of people who have either lost their faith or at least lost interest in God because God did not answer some very important prayer. I also like this quote because there are many books and odd formulas floating around out there that say if you just pray to God and ask him 77 times at 7 AM in the morning every morning for seven straight days then God must answer your prayer. But it clearly doesn’t work like that. Prayer is not about manipulating God to get what you want it’s about a relationship with him. But unfortunately for those of us in the room who agree with me, we see all these hokey prayer shenanigans floating through our churches and so what we do is swing the pendulum in the totally opposite direction and we just don’t pray at all. Which is clearly and surely even worse.
Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be persistent in your prayers. I think you would be hard-pressed not to find a mother of a sick child who isn’t very persistent. Persistence is good and we should be persistent. My problem is when persistence is touted like rubbing a lamp. If you rubbed long enough or fast enough then God, who is the genie in the lamp must come out and answer your prayer. God cannot be manipulated. That, in fact, is the very opposite of what it means to be shameless. It is presumptuous.
So that leads me to the real point. This parable is about shamelessness. It is shamelessness that endears us to our father. A quick look in the dictionary clears it up.
Shameless: lacking any sense of shame : immodest; audacious, insensible to disgrace, showing no shame.
Sometimes it helps to see the word used in a sentence. Here’s one:
I’m shameless, shameless as a man can be
You can make a total fool of me
I just wanted you to know
And I’m standing here for all the world to see
There ain’t that much left of me
That has very far to fall
You may recognize those lyrics. They come from a song of the same title “Shameless.” Now you may know the song from some country music singer from the 90s. But I want you to know that the song was originally written and performed by someone who actually did it justice. Billy Joel.
Anyway the lyrics make it clear what shamelessness is. It’s being vulnerable, immodest, at the complete opposite end of dignity. It is being a total fool with not much left of me that has very far to fall. That’s what it means to be shameless. And if you’ve been following along in this series you will know that we have finally landed, once again, on our theme of last, least, little, lost, and dead.
What is this shamelessness but death to self? People who lead reasonable, respectable lives – who are preoccupied first and foremost with the endless struggle to think well of themselves – do not obtrude upon their friends’ privacy at midnight. And why don’t they? Because that would display them as thoughtless beggars and make them look bad. Capon
It is when we have become dead to all of that, when we throw out self regard and become utterly shameless, that God not only hears our prayers but rises in order to give us what we need.
One view of God says that God knows what his disciple needs and is sovereign, so disciples should not bother him, rather just let him do his will. But Jesus’ parable stresses the need to approach God boldly with requests.” Bock
That is important for you prayer cynics. For the cynic being shameless might mean going to God for anything. simply to approach god is a shameless act. Its ok, you can do it. Stop worrying so much about how foolish you look ar feel. God is you father and he wants you to pray to him. So just try. You can do it. There you go, you see that, its not so bad is it? Well, moving on.
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. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Luke 11:9-10
Ask, seek, knock.
Jesus wraps up his parable by saying, “For I tell you…” Jesus is now if you ask and seek and knock you will receive and find and the door will be opened. Let’s for a moment just take this first completely out of context. What do you think it means?
What do you think this means? How should we apply to our lives?
If this verse means anything it is a clear invitation. Jesus is saying I’m telling you man if you ask it will be given if you seek he will find and if you knock the door will be open to you for everyone who asks six and knocks or find what they’re looking for. That’s a pretty compelling invitation to enter into a conversation with God.
The point is not that one gets exactly and always what one asks for, but that God supplies graciously in terms of the request. God is ready to give, so ask.” Bock
THE FATHER OF FATHERS
Jesus ends this scene on prayer right where he began, pointing us back to God as Father. And just to drive the point fully home, in case we are reeaallllyy slow, he compares God, our heavenly Father with us human fathers.
What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will 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!” Luke 11:11-13
Jesus seems relentless about this. He wants us to see god like a kids sees a Father. It’s like he saying, “If you want to know how to pray, don’t look at religious people. Look at children.” Again, its not about religious forms, its about communication.
Think about this scene for a minute – what kind of man would give his son snakes and serpents. “Hey dad… can I have a fish? Well I understand you want a fish but how about this, snakes! Uh, no? Dad? Why are you being weird? Do we have any eggs? No! But how about I throw scorpions all over you?
Jesus is giving us a really clear illustration. There is not a father on this planet who would treat his son that way. And so if you and I, as human, imperfect, and evil fathers know how ridiculous that would be, then how much more will God, who is perfect and good, not give us bad things but good things when we ask. You see it’s almost as if Jesus knows that you don’t trust God. And he has to remind you that God is good — even better than you. And if you can give good gifts then you should know that God wants to give good gifts.
Some us are not convinced he’s good. Sometimes, admit, we actually think that we are going to ask god for an egg but we just know he is going to trick us and throw scorpions at us. Am i right? For instance, you might be i love with someone , so you want to marry them. Well, you should probably pray about that before you go off and commit to life to someone. But you’re afraid to pray about it because you’re scared that God wants you to marry a scorpion. So instead, you don’t pray at all. Have you ever done that? Jesus knows we do that. That why he’s telling us this.
Again, the point that Jesus is driving home is to not be a afraid of prayer. ITs not voodoo, its a conversation with Dad. To wrap up this entire scene, Jesus begins and ends by saying, “So, you want to learn how to pray. well here is the most important part, pray God as to a father. But i would be remiss to highlight one last point.
“…how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:13
I image you and I probably respond to that sentence in just about the same way his first disciples did. “If you ask for the Holy Spirit God will give him to you.” What? The holy who? Where did that come from? I thought we were talking about asking for stuff we want. Why did he say Holy Spirit.
“The passage is not simply a blank-check request, but a blank-check request for the necessities of the spiritual life, such as those mentioned in the Lords prayer.” Bock
Remember, the Lords prayer was simple. Ask for the bare bones necessities. Bread, forgiveness, keep us from temptation. And now jesus adds something for are basic spiritual necessity. The Holy Spirit. What does the Holy Spirit do?
The Holy Spirit is God’s presence with in us. He convicts us of temptations, he guides us, and gives us ultimate intimacy with God. I want to share this line once again.
Jesus and the Spirit prays in us. Prayer is not really our work at all. ~Capon
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. John 16:7
The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26
I know that there are lot of people who struggle in regard to prayer. I hope that’s parable will encourage you. Jesus says, “Look its not rocket science. God love you. He is your Father and he wants to provide for you. All you have to do is know. Swallow your pride. Stop thinking so much. Be shameless and ask, seek, knock. He will answer you. In fact, he even gives the Holy Spirit who prays for you when you can’t. So, there is not need to hesitate. Jesus has made it about easy as it can get. So, what ever has been stopping you, i hope you have less excuses after this parable. I know I do.