The Saviour used parables related to familiar daily events in order to instruct His disciples, and thereby us. In Luke 11 Jesus uses such a story to teach us about prayer. His disciples asked him how to pray. He not only gave them the perfect prayer but followed it up with a parable encouraging them to persevere with prayer:
There was a traveller who, as was the habit in hot climates, probably waited till the cool of the evening to travel. So it was that it was late at night by the time he reached a village part way through his journey. There were no hotels, but that did not matter because he had a friend in this village and people in ancient times were, overall, very welcoming. And so the traveller was heartily welcomed when he came to his friend.
However, his friend found himself in a very embarrassing position because he had no bread left and it was unthinkable to let a guest, weary from travelling, go to bed without providing him with some food. Unlike today there were no 24-hour shops and, since it was already midnight, everyone was in bed.
Although it would seem impudent, the desperate host plucked up the courage to visit his neighbour, knock on the door and say, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him.”
What will happen now? Will the neighbour deny the request? As Jesus put it: “Will he say: Don’t disturb me; the door is locked, and my children and I are in bed; I’m clearly not able to heed your request?”
Such a response could be considered reasonable because in those days simple village houses consisted of one room which during the day was a kitchen-living room and at night became a bedroom on which the family placed their sleeping mats. Moreover, lifting the wooden beam that served as a lock meant that opening the door was a noisy business that could awaken the family. So there were quite reasonable objections one might use to opening the door.
Shall the neighbour object and let the next-door fellow, who is in an embarrassing predicament, return home empty-handed? No way! That would not be neighbourly. Neighbours help one another when there’s a difficulty, even if they should happen not to be on such good terms with one another. Literally the Lord says: “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.”
The Saviour is saying that if someone has the temerity to go to his neighbour in the middle of the night to wake up the family and ask for bread, the neighbour won’t dare to refuse him because he will understand how serious and embarrassing the situation must be for the host to show such audacity in making the request.
The Lord says: if people are prepared to show that sort of willingness to help a neighbour in need, how much the more won’t the Father in heaven help those who pray to Him for what they need. If we have needs, if we find ourselves in difficulties, if we are faced with challenges, we are to turn to the Lord in prayer. We have a Father in heaven who sees us in our needs and provides.
To drive this message home Jesus adds: “ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you”. If that’s what the embarrassed host in the parable did, and got what he wanted, we may and must ask in the comforting assurance that our heavenly Father will give us what we need. We may and must ask in the happy assurance that if we seek God’s face, He will allow Himself to be found. We may and must knock on heaven’s door and know for certain that He will open and provide abundantly.
As Rev R Bredenhof says in a sermon on this text: It sounds too easy.
“We hesitate to be so bold. We say, ‘Prayer doesn’t work like that, or hardly ever. If I ask for this or that, God’s not going to give it to me, so I won’t even ask.’ Or we say, ‘What I want to ask God is too difficult, it’s actually impossible, so I probably shouldn’t bother.’ We can think of many reasons it’s not worth it to pray.
But instead of accepting our excuses, Jesus underlines the need for boldness in his next lesson: “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (v 9). That man received, because he asked. That man found bread, because he looked. The door was opened at the midnight hour, because he knocked. It’s that simple. When we call, God answers. When we ask him according to his will, God supplies. We don’t always know how the answer will come or when, but it begins with the prayer of faith. Remember, that’s what David put up front, ‘O my God, I trust in you.’
That’s in fact the ingredient that is missing from many prayers—a lack that prevents many prayers from even being offered. Beloved, do we believe in this God? Do we trust that He can do what He says? James says, ‘Ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, and not doubt’ (1:5-6). Scripture says often that we must put aside our hesitation and ask in faith. Ask him in the humble assurance of who God is, and what He is able to do.”
Everyone – in the true faith
And if one of the disciples were to say: that’s for others; it doesn’t apply to me, then the Lord dismisses that mistaken view by saying: “everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened”.
To be sure, that word ‘everyone’ needs to be understood well, otherwise we might think that anyone who prays will receive. That’s not the case. The Pharisee in the parable of Luke 18 was a proud and confident prayer, but he went home without being justified.
The word ‘everyone’ refers to every person who calls in faith on the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not a matter of how great and how many my sins are. It’s not a matter of whether I am rich or poor, black or white, slave or free, have done much in His service or very little. Everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and who seeks God’s face in Christ’s name will find. We must call on Him with a heart of faith. To quote Rev R Bredenhof: it’s in the blood of Jesus that we can come to the Father in prayer.
“As the Spirit says, ‘Having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way… and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith’ (Heb. 10:19-22). As sinners who’ve been redeemed, we can now approach God’s throne with confidence. Through the work of Jesus, we have a restored relationship with the LORD, for He’s become our God and our Father. Prayer is such a beautiful picture of our repaired connection with God.”
For our needs
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we can come with a selfish wish-list. The man in the parable came with a request for something he needed. And Jesus said that the neighbour will give him as many loaves as he needs. We must know our real needs so that we humble ourselves before God and call upon the LORD for all he has promised in His Word and all He commanded us to ask.
If all we do is to be to God’s glory, we must learn to see that our needs are always governed by His will. If I am sick and God wants to be glorified by my sickness, then it is my need to be sick. Then I may pray for healing in order to serve Him. But if I remain sick, I cannot say: I prayed to God for healing, but He did not hear my prayer. God always hears the prayers of His children who call on Him in faith.
The Lord’s Prayer
The Lord Jesus gave us the perfect prayer and therein showed us what to ask for. Everything we seek should be seen in the light of the first three petitions: the glory (hallowing) of God’s name, the establishing (coming) of His kingdom (which, says the catechism, is promoted in the preservation of His church), and submissiveness to His will. These petitions reflect the whole purpose of our lives. Indeed, the whole world is to honour and thank and serve Him. And for us to live in accordance with what we petition God, we follow it up with more petitions: we need the forgiveness of our sins, we need the Spirit so as to live holy lives (withstand temptations) and we need our daily food. Therefore these, and all that relates to the Scripturally directed service of God, may be asked of almighty God, who is able to provide because in His hands are the kingdom and the power and the glory.
We need to consider whether perhaps our prayers reflect our aspirations, our wishes, rather than reflect His inspiration, His inspired Word. Not what human nature desires but what God commands in His Word is to govern our prayers. Hence we need to know God, to study His Word, to understand His commandments, to know our purpose in His service so that we may pray rightly, so that, like our Lord Jesus, we pray that not our will but Your will be done. Lord, make our will conform to Your will in everything.
Moreover, prayer is, as we confess, the chief part of our thankfulness. There is reason to thank God for His beautiful creation, which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein everything points to the greatness of our God. And there is even more reason for thankfulness because our Saviour Jesus Christ has bridged the vast gulf that lay between God and us on account of our sin. Christ’s payment for our sins has restored us to the Father and given us faith and renewal through the Holy Spirit. Rev Bredenhof says: “we should always marvel at the greatness of the Triune God. In prayer, remember to praise who He is in his glory and grace. A focus on God comes out when we cultivate a spirit of gratitude in prayer”.
Let us thank and praise our great and wonderful God in all we do and give expression to it in our prayer. And let us heed the teaching of our Lord to ask, seek, knock for all we truly need in accordance with His Word. Let us do so to His honour, for the sake of His kingdom and according to His revealed will in the knowledge that He wants to hear the prayers of His children whom He loves in Christ and in the assurance that He will most certainly hear our prayer, as He has promised.