John T. Willis

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Importance of the Persistence of Prayer--Luke 11:5-13

After Luke records the story in which Jesus taught his disciples to pray, which many people call "The Lord's Prayer," when actually this is "The Disciples' Prayer," found in Luke 11:1-4, Luke now attaches two additional stories about the importance of prayer, recorded in Luke 11:5-13. In this blog, we will call attention to some important theological ideas in this text, which falls into two parts. I. The Parable of the Friend who receives a Friend who comes at Midnight in need of help. Luke 11:5-8. a. After Jesus tells his disciples how to pray as related in Luke 11:1-4, Luke immediately voluntarily tells a parable about the importance of the persistence of prayer. In essence, the parable is this: A friend goes to his friend at midnight to ask him to lend him three loaves of bread because an unexpected traveler came to this friend's house about midnight and this man had no food to share with the traveler. During the night, there were no shops to buy bread, and many families would all the bread and wait until the next morning to bake the next batch of bread. At first, the friend cries out and says that he and his family are already in bed and thus cannot give his friend anything. But his friend outside is persistent and knocks again and again until the man inside the house comes out and give him the three loaves of bread. b. In the ancient world, it was very common for people to travel during the night because during the day the heat was so devastating that it was dangerous to travel until the sun went down. c. For safety, it was quite normal for a man and his whole family to bolt the door and all sleep in the same bed or mat on the floor. Thus, it was very inconvenient for anyone in the family to get up until the dawn of the next day. They did not have electrical lights or flashlights, but depended on the moon. d. The central figure in this parable is the friend aroused from sleep. God, therefore, is the one who hears the cry of the needy and comes to their help. e. The type of prayer which Jesus is highlighting in this parable is petition. The friend outside ASKS FOR something of his friend. All of us have needs, and when this happens, we must turn to God in prayer by petition. f. At the same time, God is very different from the friend aroused from sleep. The friend in bed is not anxious to get up and welcome the intervening friend at midnight. By way of contrast, God is always ready and anxious to respond to our petitions. We do not need to cajole or beg him to receive his blessings. Yes, indeed, we are by nature beggars, but God does not think of or treat us as beggars. Isaiah 65:24 emphasizes this point: "Before they call I [Yahweh] will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear." II. Jesus further emphasizes the efficacy of prayer. Luke 11:9-13. a. The third paragraph in Luke 11:1-13 relates an additional teaching of Jesus about the need of persistence in prayer and even more. This is essentially a parallel to Matthew 7:7-11, but with significant variants. b. Jesus emphasizes three verbs for petition and three verbs for God's response. 1. The three verbs for petition are: ask, search, and knock. These are clearly not physical actions, but spiritual actions concerning the heart. For example, one may knock on the heart of a person. 2. The three verbs for God's response are: it will be given you; find; and will be opened. It is very interesting and insightful that the verbs "will be given" and "will be opened" are theological passives. They actually mean: "God will give" and "God will open." 3. Jesus uses the metaphor of God as "Father" and the petitioners as God's "children." Father and child are very intimate terms. God already loves and cares for all people before they ever realize they exist and before they ever ask God to do anything. 4. An earthly father will not deliberately do anything to harm his child. So if a child asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake. In the Lake of Gennesaret, fishermen have often caught snakes. Snakes fed on small fish used as bait. Again, if a child asks for an egg, his father will not give him a scorpion. A scorpion with claws and tail rolld up resembles an egg. 5. The point is that God is good, while all human fathers are evil. So God will do much better than a human father may treat his child. When we ask for something, God will bless us in the best way possible. And more--"God gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him." What a tremendous additional gift of God!!! Prayer is one of the most important features of Christian living. Spend much time in prayer. These three paragraphs in Luke 11:1-13 are insightful and uplifting. Share YOUR anticipations and searches and setbacks and dreams with others. Let me hear from YOU. John Willis


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