One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." ~ Luke 11: 1
Have you ever asked someone a question and then stopped listening too soon? The disciples asked Jesus for a lesson on prayer, but many of us quit listening after the first few verses. His answer stretches all the way to verse 13.
After Jesus provided a sample prayer he continued with seven simple words that can forever change our idea of prayer: “Suppose one of you has a friend . . .” (Luke 11: 5) Jesus moved the conversation from the content of prayer to the relationship between God and man. He calls the relationship friendship.
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 their bond.
The story is of two men who knew each other so well they could be completely honest. One guy receives an unexpected visitor late at night and needs to provide hospitality. He goes to his friend’s house--even though it’s too late at night to drop by--and asks for extra food. His friend says, “Are you nuts? It’s way too late, come back tomorrow.” Yet the relationship is so strong that the first guy can say, “I’m not leaving until I get what I need.”
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 there’s something more: Jesus invites us to imagine prayer as an extension of honest, real friendship. If we approach prayer academically we will rush past Jesus' simple introduction, “Suppose you have a friend.” He asks us to draw on our experience and imagine the best friendship we have, then apply that kind of security and strength to the way we talk to God.
The point of his illustration is that friendship itself is the reason we can persist. The reason we can be so bold to knock on the door at midnight 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 are for.
The friendship door swings both ways: the second friend is comfortable in the relationship, too. So comfortable, in fact, that the first answer might be, “Don’t bother me!” Does our picture of God allow for the possibility that I could press through the first answer? Would you ever ask God to change his mind?
When my friend does answer, he will give me “as much as I need.” Friends don’t keep score: what’s yours is mine, and vice versa. The basis for his generosity is the relationship, not the 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 (verses 11-13). Can we turn our imagination in still more directions?
Perhaps, but that’s another blog for another day.