Luke 11 has a lot to say about prayer. It begins with the Lord’s Prayer. It continues with the story of a man making a persistent request of someone in no mood to grant it. Its final teaching on prayer uses the analogy of a human parent granting a child’s request to help us understand God’s desire to answer ours.
And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs. Luke 11:5-8
I can easily relate to this image, especially since my firstborn arrived on the scene. Persistence is not something she needs to learn. If there is something she wants from me, she’ll keep asking until I either give in or I manage to convince her that my mind is set and it would no longer be wise to keep pressing the matter. (I’m embarrassed to admit how often I’ve gone with the former, reinforcing her instincts.) Therefore, I can certainly picture the truth expressed here with a man who reaches the point where he will give a neighbor anything asked of him just to make him go away!
The thing I don’t like about this picture is that it leaves the obvious impression of God answering our requests simply so we’ll stop bothering Him. I know God is bothered by some of the things I do and say and think, but I don’t like to think He’s ever bothered by me.
If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” Luke 11:11-13
I’ve heard more than one sermon on verses 5 through 8 before, though I hope I never again hear it discussed in isolation from verses 11 through 13 as I have in the past. Here, the image of God trying to get us to leave Him alone is destroyed. He is far more than a tired friend annoyed with our requests; He is a loving Father who delights in providing for our needs and any desire that fits into His plan. He delights in giving His children gifts, and the Holy Spirit is His best gift of all. If persistence will make a friend grant a request, how much more will persistence make a father listen? If an evil father desires to give good gifts to his children, how much more might we expect from our Good Heavenly Father?
I might take exception to the fact that this passage calls me an evil father, but I ironically proved Jesus’ point with my earlier admission that I sometimes treat my children’s’ requests like the man in verse 8. Thank God that He, however, is Good.