When his disciples asked Jesus to teach them about prayer, he shared what has come to be known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” The gospels preserve two versions for us, one in Matthew 6 (in the Sermon of the Mount) and the one the follows in Luke, chapter 11. We are tempted to think that after Jesus shared his template for prayer that he was finished answering their question, but the text reveals that he continued to instruct them about prayer.
He continued with seven simple words that forever changed my heart forever toward prayer: “Suppose one of you has a friend . . .” (Luke 11: 5)
After establishing the priorities of worship, the kingdom of God, daily provision and forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus moved the conversation from the content of prayer to the relationship between God and man. The relationship is that of friendship.
He tells the story of two men who knew each other so well that both were unafraid of the other’s response. It’s a thought-provoking account: one guy receives an unexpected visitor late at night and he’s moved by the need to provide hospitality. This man goes to his friend’s house, even though it’s too late for a polite visit and asks for what he needs to give to others. The friend on the inside of the house is so sure of their relationship that he can say, “Don’t bother me.” Both friends are so comfortable with one another that the relationship is never at risk: one guy can show up in the middle of the night, and the other guy can say, “Are you nuts? Go away!” In fact, the relationship is so strong that on the basis of their friendship alone the first guy can say, “I’m not leaving until I get what I need.”
Some friendships stand on stick-legs. They can’t hold much weight. Every conversation has to be measured carefully to avoid damaging the relationship. Jesus, on the other hand, presents the example of a friendship so strong that both men can say exactly what they think without any worry of ruining the bond between them. (A side note: do you have any friendships so strong? If so, you are fortunate indeed!)
Bible scholars will tell you that Jesus paints this picture to illustrate the importance of persistence in prayer, and of course that’s true. But what changed my heart forever was the revelation that Jesus invites us to imagine prayer as an extension of that kind of friendship. If we approach prayer academically we will rush past Jesus' simple introduction, “Suppose.” Jesus asks us to draw on our experience and imagination to think about the best friendship we have, and apply that kind of security and strength to the way we pray.
For me, the point of his illustration is that the friendship itself is the reason we can persist. The reason we can be bold is that we know our rude behavior will not sever the relationship. We can continue to ask, seek, and knock because we know the heart of the one we are “bothering.” He’s our friend. The kind of friend for whom the rules don’t count.
I’d like to suggest at least five thoughts that may change your prayers:
We don’t have to wait for the “proper time” to come and ask. If the situation calls for it, bang on the door in the middle of the night. That’s what real friends can do.
The friendship door swings both ways: he is comfortable in the relationship, too. So comfortable, in fact, that the first answer might be, “Don’t bother me!” Does my picture of God allow for the possibility that I could press through the first answer?
When my friend does answer, he will give me “as much as I need.” (verse 8) Friends don’t keep score, what’s yours is mine, and vice versa. The basis for the generosity is the relationship, not some rules of etiquette.
I can have the boldness to keep on asking when I’m asking on behalf of someone else. Remember how the story starts? There’s a third party in the picture. They are the ones who will eat the bread; they are the ones in need. Jesus is suggesting that when we pray out of our need to bless others, God is more than generous. But how many times have I limited my prayers to my needs?
Finally, Jesus is unafraid to mix metaphors. Just as the power of this imaginary scene is beginning to sink in, Jesus begins to talk about fathers, children, and the Holy Spirit. Can we turn our imagination in still another direction? Perhaps, but that’s another blog for another day.