Monday, September 14, 2009

Luke 11:5-13


There is a fine line between persistence and nagging. While everyone celebrates the quality of perseverance, no one wants to harry. But in most situations, you can read a person's body language to help you navigate that fine line. As the person begins to show signs of annoyance, it serves as gauge to tell you it is time to back down a bit.

But what do we do in prayer? We can't really see God's face to know if we are bugging Him. Are we left to assess our circumstances to determine if He is annoyed? Am I being stubborn or wrong to continue to pray for something which God has not yet granted? Furthermore, does God even find my praying annoying? Obviously, if we care about our relationship with God, we should care about these answers.

After teaching what is often called The Lord's Prayer, Jesus then gives a parable and explanation regarding prayer.


Exhibit A (Luke 11:5-8)

Suppose one of you...This parable has a little extra emphasis, for Jesus places the listener into the lesson. He does not present this tale as "a man was visited by a friend," but keeps His listeners involved in the illustration. Jesus began to teach His disciples about prayer at their prompting and He's continuing now into the attitude behind prayer, and wants to make sure they understand He is still instructing them personally.

Hospitality--The problem for the host would be understandable to the audience. In our age, a person can travel across the country and you can predict their time of arrival within minutes. However, in the Biblical era, you are fortunate to predict a guest's arrival within a day or two. Transportation would be far less dependable as well as options for lodging along the way. And without constant forms of communication, the traveler would have no way to contact their host with an approximate arrival time. And without modern forms of food preservation, the host would not want to prepare for their guest too far in advance.

Therefore, even if the host was anticipating the arrival of a guest, it is understandable that he would not be prepared at midnight. However, his friend has been traveling and is now under his roof. There would be an expectation to take care of this weary traveler. However, to the host's dread, he finds his cupboard bare--a nightmare in a culture that highly value's hospitality. And since there are no 24 hour grocery stores at this moment, apart from the help of his neighboring friend, it is impossible for him to care for his guest.

Clearly, Jesus is associating the host with the person praying. The host heads over to the friend's house because he is in serious need and helpless to change the situation. The host holds in his hands the ability to change the circumstances for the host.

The Outcome--Imagine being the neighbor and getting a call (or the doorbell ringing) at midnight. A typical home at this time was simply a one room house. Since modern forms of heat were not available (and evenings could get cool), the family usually slept closer together to provide warmth. As your "friend" knocks on the door, he could wake all the children up, and if you rise to answer the door and then search around your house for food to share, you nearly insure that the children will wake up!

However, you also know, as it becomes clear that your friend is not going to give up easily, that if your friend continues to knock on the door and call out for you, he will most certainly wake up the entire house. Furthermore, you will not be able to get back to sleep until he is off of your front porch. The goal becomes peace and silence, therefore you respond to your friend's need because it is the quickest (and easiest) way to get him to leave you alone.

Bottom line: Badgering got results that simply asking could not.

Explanation (Luke 11:9-10)

Jesus turns his attention back to his disciples specifically. In light of this parable, Jesus then tells His disciples to ask so that they can receive. You hear an echo of these words later, when James says:

You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.--James 4:2b-3
Jesus encourages his disciples, in the midst of teaching them on prayer, to ask. Should one expect to receive if they do not ask? However, if you ask, shouldn't you expect to receive?

Jesus gives a parable about badgering your neighbor for things, then draws that to direct application ("So I say to you...) in our prayer life. Is He teaching that just as badgering our neighbor can gain results, so can badgering God?

Exhibit B

Less of a hypothetical, Jesus turns the attention to parenting. Dads, which of you do not want what's best for your children? You would not replace a request for a fish with a snake, or an egg for a scorpion, would you? Of course not, because you love your children and want their best. However, every honest parent knows that at times, they do respond to their children according to their own selfish motive and not the child's best. (Discipline being a critical area. Often we are tempted to discipline our children more out of our frustration or embarrassment and less out of a desire for their growth and development.) Why, though we love our children, are we tempted at times to think selfishly rather than selflessly? Jesus says it is because we are evil. We are sinners.

So, if we still desire to lavish gifts and care upon our children, even though we struggle against sin, how much more will God's love be shown in His benevolence since He does not battle selfish sin? We are encouraged to ask of God just as we would ask of our earthly fathers, believing they desire what's best for us. However, we can ask of God with even more confidence, since He is our Perfect, Sinless Father.


At first glance, this text can appear contradictory. Jesus offers one example which says we should badger God just like the neighbor did his friend, for eventually He will give in just to get us off His back. Then then follows it with the exhortation to ask.

The second example follows the exhortation to ask, and tells us our motivation should be a trust in God that He will treat us better than our earthly father.

Some will argue, "Who cares?" Either way, you're called to ask. Does it really matter what your motivation will be? I believe it does matter, for the reason you ask will effect the way which you ask. Your theology will greatly effect your actions.

However, I do not think the "exhibits" are contradictory. Let's consider the what Jesus says about the neighboring friend:

He is able to help, but unwilling. (12:7)
He claims that helping would be far to inconvenient. (12:7)
He claims he cannot get up, though he obviously can. (12:7)
Out of no regard for relationship--but rather do to nagging--he will eventually respond. (12:8)

To understand Jesus' parable is to understand He is not calling us to contrast the two "exhibits" but to contrast the first exhibit with the Biblical revelation of our Heavenly Father. Not only is our Heavenly Father capable of helping, but He is also willing. Our Heavenly Father made the Greatest Sacrifice ever in sending His Son, so He obviously is not one who values His convenience over others' well-being. If everything about the "friend" is inconsistent with the Biblical picture of our Heavenly Father, then shouldn't we contrast their motivation for acting as well?

In reality, Jesus is teaching that God will respond to our requests, not because we wear Him down with nagging and He eventually wants to be rid of us, but because of His great love for us. The point is that God is nothing like the neighboring "friend," but is exactly the opposite. His motivation is His great love for us and therefore we should ask of Him, just like we would our earthly father.


Believing that your nagging God will gain you results will end in damaging theology.

Suppose you get what you ask for: You will be tempted to see your sovereignty above God's. He responded to you because you "out-willed" Him. In this way, you can believe you can ensure results and get God to do what you want. Many people pray to God as if He is their marionette. You will believe you got results, not by His grace, but by your effort. Any time you have this type of perspective, you diminish the glory of God, and by doing so, it will have damaging effects upon you.

Suppose you do not get what you asked for: You will assume the blame upon yourself. You did not pray enough times, or long enough or hard enough. You'll be left wondering how close you got God to exasperation before you quit. You will wonder if a lack of response is your failure. Since the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective, you will wonder if a lack of your desired answer must be a reflection of a lack of character. While pride can become evident in self-righteousness when we get what we ask for, it can also show its presence when we think we are the reason for a different result.

Yes, the Bible says much on prayer, and this short section of Scripture does not cover it all. The Bible clearly shows that our prayers somehow have an effect on a Sovereign God who already knows the beginning from the end. They are not a futile exercise, but do have an effect. However, the Word also teaches that God may not give us what we ask for at times because His grace calls for Him to give us something else. This text, however, speaks to us specifically about our motivation.

We should ask God of that which we desire. We should ask, not demand. We should ask, trusting that He will respond to us according our relationship with Him, not according to our performance. Therefore, we must also trust that if we do not receive our desired outcome, it is because our gracious loving God wants something even better for us. We may not always see this, or understand how our current circumstances are an evidence of His grace, but we can rest that it is.

Ultimately we should ask of God, and ask away! Knowing that our Loving Heavenly Father will give us what we need, not simply what we want. We cannot nag Him or wear Him down, but instead we share our heart, rejoicing that above all else, He has given us His Son and the Holy Spirit! He is always our True and Perfect Friend, when we are in or out of need!

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