Last week we began studying “The Parables of Jesus” that deal specifically with prayer. We talked about the importance of approaching God with a humble attitude. We learned that the LORD will not justify those who speak to Him with a prideful and self-righteous heart, while those who have a contrite and reverent spirit will be both heard and justified. Staying on the same issue, this morning we will examine 2 additional parables that teach us another important aspect of an effective prayer life.
In his first letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul advises his fellow believers to “pray without ceasing”. Obviously, a person cannot literally pray all the time and never stop. Thus, this verse must have another meaning. The Greek word used in this phrase actually translates incessantly. Someone who is incessant never gives up. They are unrelenting in their pursuit of the goal. Though they may fail time and time again, they continue striving until they get whatever it is that they want. Therefore, perhaps a more understandable interpretation of Paul’s instruction is to “pray persistently”. This is the theme of today’s message.
“The Parable of the Friend at Night” and “The Parable of the Unjust Judge” are both found exclusively in Luke’s gospel. These stories are told on separate occasions, in both instances as part of a broader teaching on the topic of prayer. Over the years these parables have been depicted in various drawings, etchings, and paintings. These 2 stories share a common message, and therefore we will consider them together.
I. LEND ME BREAD - Luke 11:5-8
Jesus tells of a friend who comes to your house at midnight and begins pounding on your door asking to borrow 3 loaves of bread. Your friend explains that one of his friends, who was travelling by night, has arrived unexpectedly at his house and needs something to eat. Unfortunately, your friend has nothing to give him. Already having laid down to sleep with your family, you tell your friend to go home and leave you alone. However, your friend continues to knock until finally you get up and give him all that he needs.
Jesus says this parable to His disciples after He finishes praying at a certain place. Apparently, they were listening and wanted to learn how to pray like Jesus did. Immediately before He tells the parable, Jesus teaches them “The Lord’s Prayer”. As He had done on a few other occasions, Jesus tells this parable from the second-person perspective. This allows the Lord to actually include His listeners as characters in the story. Perhaps the disciples were picturing one of their own friends knocking at their door late at night as they listened to Jesus speak.
After telling “The Parable of the Friend at Night”, Jesus instructs His disciples to ask, seek, and knock. Remember, He is teaching them to pray. But more than that, He is explaining that they must keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking. They must be persistent in prayer - not giving up immediately if they don’t receive an answer. One of the ways that God tests the Christian’s faith is by delaying His actions and/or answers. In this manner, the LORD can determine if who believes enough to persist and who doesn’t.
II. GIVE ME PROTECTION - Luke 18:1-8
Jesus describes a widow who approaches a judge in her city hoping to secure legal protection from her opponent. However, this particular judge is corrupt, fearing neither God or man, and initially refuses to help her. Though she continues to come before him and plead her case, he still remains unwilling. The widow doggedly refuses to give up, until finally the unjust judge consents to her request simply because of her constant bothering and pestering.
Jesus tells “The Parable of the Unjust Judge” in order to demonstrate to His listeners that they mustn't lose heart when they pray. While it is unclear who all Jesus is speaking this parable to, clearly the disciples are chief among the audience. The widow in this illustration simply wouldn’t quit badgering the judge, until finally he gave in. In like fashion, they are commanded to persistently pray knowing that the LORD will bring justice to them quickly.
This parable, like most of the others, is told from the third-person point of view. It is followed by “The Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican”, the focus of last week’s message. At the end of this story, Jesus asks whether or not He will find faith on the earth when He comes again. When this question is considered in the context of this parable, it seems that the Lord is referring to the type of faith that would be needed to persist in prayer. In other words, by the time Jesus returns will people still being praying adamantly or will they have already lost hope?
III. FRIENDLY AND JUST
The primary meaning of both parables is that the followers of Jesus should persist in prayer. However, there is a secondary observation that is important to point out. It involves the character of God. Notice that in both parables, the person to whom the petition is being made is originally uninclined to help. The sleeping friend is hesitant to get up, fearing that he might wake his family, and the unjust judge isn’t sympathetic enough to assist the widow. Neither one of them are noble or gracious enough to help without some arm-twisting...
But Jesus is not an unwilling friend. On the contrary, He is the Christian’s dearest friend. He is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Jesus told His disciples that they were no longer to be called slaves, but rather to be called friends. Also, Jesus is not an unjust judge. On the contrary, He is a righteous judge who can be trusted to render judgments fairly and without bias. In other words, the Lord is a better friend and a more just judge than the characters mentioned in these parables. He is a good God. He doesn’t need to be awakened or bugged to death.
This leads to a final thought… if the drowsy friend and the corrupt judge both eventually decided to help - albeit somewhat begrudgingly, how much more so will a Best Friend and a Righteous Judge be willing to help? The LORD eagerly waits to hear His people pray and takes great delight in answering them. He wants to give them the desires of their hearts. That said, when the disciple prays he can take comfort in the character of God knowing that He is both willing and able to respond.
Sometimes it might seem that God is not listening to our prayers. We pray with the right attitude, we pray in accordance to His will, we pray with expectant faith… and yet the answers don’t seem to come. The problems don’t go away, the sickness doesn’t subside, and the cupboards remain bare. Still we must persist in prayer and never lose heart. We must realize that the LORD does hear us. Perhaps we are just one prayer away from receiving His answer.
That said, even if God never gives us what we ask of Him still our persistence reveals the true depth of our faith. Our prayer life says more about us than it does about God. Will we continue to trust in Him and cry out to Him even when He is silent? True faith doesn’t stop believing… ever, no matter what. So keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking. Persist in prayer!