I’ve been looking at my phone more than ever lately. Times of upheaval and change call for desperate measures. Like reading news stories, compulsively searching job ads, grasping at deals on local used items, and researching government programs.
I’m kidding, of course. But those are precisely the things I’ve found myself doing. I feel a course adjustment in the works but I don’t know which direction to take, or where it will lead us. And I’m afraid.
And the words ring through my mind: “ask, seek, knock.” Ask…Google? Seek…the guidance of website, after website, after website. Knock on the screen of my phone. Tink, tink, tink.
But nobody’s listening. There’s no one there. There are no answers, no solutions. (I guess Google just doesn’t get me.)
“For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Luke 11:10 NIV
In Luke 11:5-13, Jesus is teaching about prayer. He describes two vignettes. One is of a person knocking on his friend’s door late at night, asking for food to help feed an unexpected house guest. His friend, at first, declines to help. But because the person keeps knocking, he gives in and helps the poor guy out.
The second example is of a father with his child. Jesus explains that even earthly fathers will normally feed their children when they are hungry. A good father will not give his child something damaging, like a snake, or pointless, like a rock, when what the child needs is good, wholesome food.
In the past when I have read the first scenario, the message seemed to be: if you’re really annoying and keep begging God for what you want, eventually, He’ll give in. At least, that is the impression given by the New International Version:
“Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.”
Luke 11:5-8 NIV
I do believe that persistent prayer is of value for the purposes of developing and nurturing a relationship with God, and allowing Him to shape me and my requests. Maybe sometimes, there are even forces at play in the spiritual realm, that I need to persist in praying through. But…really? Does He give in out of annoyance? Is He waiting for me to impress Him? To beg, or show off, or ask a certain number of times? There must be more to the picture than that.
So let’s imagine Jesus with us. Let’s put ourselves in that little circle of disciples, hungry for His guidance on prayer. And let us listen to how He begins His sentence. First, the King James version:
“And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him?”
Luke 11:5-6 KJV
And then, the English Standard Version:
“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’?”
Luke 11:5-7 ESV
Do you see the question mark at the end of the passage, that was removed in the NIV version? Notice, that Jesus is phrasing the scenario as a question. He says, “Which of you?” Or in other words, who has this ever happened to? Who has a friend like this, who wouldn’t even get out of bed to help? If even he will finally help if you keep asking, imagine how your Father in Heaven will respond! Will He give you snakes and stones to eat? No, no…He’s better than all of that.
This is where I had a little help from an online commentary on the passage. Elisabeth Johnson of workingpreacher.org writes:
“Hearers today might empathize with the woken-up friend and think that the midnight caller is pushing the limits of friendship. But in the culture of the biblical world, it is the woken-up friend who is behaving badly. The ability of his friend to provide hospitality, and thus his honor, is at stake.”
She goes on to say:
“Jesus’ parable implies that if it is so among friends with their mixed motives and self-interest, how much more so with God who wants to give us what is good and life-giving, and who is invested in keeping God’s name holy.”
How much more so. How much more so! With God, than with human friends, who may be unreliable. Or even than with a human father, who may disappoint, ignore, or hurt his children. How much more so, will our loving God hear, and answer, and fill our prayers. The first time. The second time. The third, the fourth, the fifth, AND the sixth.
Every. Single. Time. He’s not waiting until we get to 100 repetitions in order to listen.
“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 11:13 ESV
I don’t know about you. But I can’t spend hours praying about each item on my list. (Sometimes, I do.) But other times, it’s just a quick sentence under my breath. Or even, a thought. What my pastor calls “dart prayers”: “Lord, I give this to you.” “I put this in your hands.” “Lord, please bring resolution.” “Oh God…HELP!”
“Dart prayers” such as these may not cultivate a rich, fulfilling prayer life. But I don’t think that God listens to them any less.
In summation, I believe that the thrust of Jesus’ teaching in this passage from Luke is:
When you hear no answers, rest assured. You are heard. The Lord is better than a sleepy friend or an imperfect parent. If you ask, seek, and knock…you will receive, find, and walk through. Maybe it will take longer than you like. Maybe what you’re asking for is no better for you than a rock or a snake, and one day you’ll be glad the answer was no. Maybe, there’s an angle to your story that He sees, that you cannot. Maybe, He’s helping you get down to the heart of your needs, and it’s different than what you are aware of on the surface. But whatever the case, you can trust Him.
And maybe, I’ll still ask Google. But I know who can really help me. In fact, He’s the only One who can.
What are your thoughts on this passage from Luke? How do you understand it? As always, I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below!