Have you ever been anxious about prayer? Do I pray the right things, with the right words, and have I prayed it enough for God to know I’m serious? And will that affect how God responds?
I was reading Luke chapter 11, a few months ago and came upon a passage that has always increased my own anxiety about prayer, my prayers. The story goes like this: Luke 11:5–8 ”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 [persistence] he will rise and give him whatever he needs.”
This passage seems to be an example for us in how to pray. The reasoning goes, just like this neighbor was persistent, we have to be persistent with God! And when we are, he will get up and give us what we need, or want. This understanding is the common understanding and it can drive us to pray and pray and pray, hoping that we can wake God, and even if it’s in frustration, He will answer.
But as I read this story in it’s context, I think it actually has the opposite meaning. It is not an example, it is actually a contrast. It is a story that exemplifies the opposite of how God works.
First, let me explain this from the context. Let’s look at the flow of the passage.
v. 1-4 The disciples asked how to pray, and Jesus shared an abbreviated version of the “Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:5-9). Jesus wanted them to know how to pray! He wanted them to know what God cares about.
v.5-8 Jesus told the story of a man who pestered his neighbor into giving him some bread.
v.9-10 Christ encouraged his disciples to pray, seek and knock because God, the Father is a generous giver.
v.11-13 Jesus highlighted the goodness of our Father in wanting to give good gifts.
So, let me ask, If God tells us how to pray, encourages us to ask because He wants to give, and wants to give good gifts, why would we need to persistently pester Him into giving what I need? I think that’s where the story, as an example, breaks down. It doesn’t fit the picture of God we see in the rest of the chapter.
If it’s not a positive example of how we should pray, what could it be? I think it’s a contrast! This story shows how a human neighbor reacts. This is not how God reacts to our prayers. We don’t have a God who is an annoyed neighbor, we have a God who is a loving Father and who is eager to give us what is good. There is a hint in the text that Jesus meant to use this story as a contrast to how God treats our prayer.
In verse 8, Jesus used the word “impudence,” or some versions use “persistence.” This sounds like a positive word. This is why most of us think this what God is asking of us. But this word can have a negative connotation. The word, ἀναίδεια (anaideia) has the idea of “shame” attached to it. What this means is, the man asking is without shame (shameless) in his persistent asking. And by his actions he is showing the neighbor withholding good, to be shameful. The man behind the closed door is shamed because he is withholding what the Law would require, to be hospitable toward the visiting stranger.
Jesus tells us, our Father is not shameful. He is honorable. He is righteous. He is gracious. If this story is a contrast, we don’t have to anxiously ask God to answer our prayer. We can come with calm confidence in His desire to good for us. We can come trusting in Him, instead of trying to convince him to act. This frees us to pray with a calm, confident faith.
We can depend on a couple of truths when we pray (let’s make it 3).
- God doesn’t have to be talked into answering our prayers. It is His heart’s desire.
- We are free to keep asking (seeking and knocking). According to verses 9-12, we can ask because He wants to give us something good.
- When we ask, God promises to give us the best gift ever, Himself! When we ask, even as we await resolution, God shows up. (v.13 “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”)
I hope this reminds you, that prayer is God’s invitation to come to Him, as often as there is a longing in our hearts. We can ask one time, we can ask multiple times. We can come with one need, or we can come with a long list. However we come, we have a Father who will lovingly open the door, join us and share His goodness with us.
Thanks, as always for the comments, likes and shares!