Prayer And Urgency

The key word here is “impudence” in verse 8: “Because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.” Is that how we pray? Does God look down on us and think, “Because of their impudence I will rise and give them whatever they need”? Do we need to repent of praying with too much politeness and not enough impudence, as if God were recreational for our lives rather than essential to our lives?

Jesus is teaching us to pray. That’s the context in verses 1 and following. And he’s teaching us to pray with impudence? Is there a kind of reverent impudence in prayer that God wants to hear from us? Yes. How could it be otherwise? If our passion is that the gospel of Christ will triumph in our city, how can we not pray with a sense of the authority of it? God is on a mission. Here it is, in the words of Jonathan Edwards:

God made the world, so that [purpose clause] he might communicate and we might receive his glory, and that his glory might be received both by the mind and the heart.

Nashville needs the felt glory of God. Too few people believe that God created us because God knows that God is too good not to share. His glory is so good and so full and so exuberant that he created us, to lift us up into intelligent and wholehearted delight in him above all else. He deepens his delight in being God by spreading his delight in being God. That’s why he made us – to show sinners how good he really is. It’s life-and-death. It has never even entered the minds of millions of people that God made them for a dramatic purpose – to love his glory above money, above career, above family, above safety. Our world is crammed so full of idols people don’t even know they’re worshiping. Idols are the landscape of our culture and the wallpaper of our minds. Idols make life feel normal. Only the power of God can bring down those firmly established idolatries. That God’s name would be hallowed in this world – it’s so freeing and happy, how can we pray for it without urgency and boldness and impudence?

The other English versions translate this key word in verse 8 as “importunity” (RSV), “persistence” (NASB), “boldness” (NIV), “shamelessness” (NEB) “brazen insistence” (Berkeley). All those translations are getting at it. Today we might say “sheer nerve.” So let’s see where this word takes us. The passage unfolds in three steps: the parable (verses 5-8), the point (verses 9-10) and the best prayer (verses 11-13).

The Parable

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. —Luke 11:8

Have you seen “What about Bob?” with Billy Murray and Richard Dreyfuss? Remember when Bob finds Dr. Marvin outside the general store there at Lake Winnipesauke? “I need! I need!” Both that silly movie and this holy parable understand something. They both understand how demanding people can be.

We all have a sense of boundaries. We try not to ask too much of each other, because we want to keep our friendships going, and friendship has its limits: “. . . though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend” (verse 8). We all get that. So we all try to maintain some self-awareness and moderate our expectations of each other. But some people don’t get it. We all know what it’s like to be approached by someone and you start the conversation with all the usual ground rules of reasonableness and restraint, but soon you realize this other person isn’t operating with your sensitivities. Their expectations are off the charts, and you’re cornered. So in your mind you shift gears from the ground rules of reasonable give-and-take to some diplomatic quick thinking and side-stepping and polite evasions, to get out of there. And if there’s no way out, you might have to go along with Mr. Clueless and give him something, anything, just to get him off your back. Jesus is saying, “Have you ever thought of prayer like that?”

Here’s a man comfortably asleep in bed. It’s midnight, Jesus says. There’s a knock at the door. Another knock. Then another. “Who on earth – at this hour?” The man rolls over in bed and tries to ignore it and get back to sleep. Knock, knock, knock. The unwanted visitor pushes the button on the intercom: “Hey neighbor, I know you’re in there.” Mr. Neighbor thinks, “The nerve of this guy! I can outlast him.” And he pulls his pillow over his head and tries to tamp down the rising irritation. But Mr. Nervy outside isn’t going away: “Neighbor, some out-of-town guests have just shown up, they’re starving and we have nothing for them and all the stores are closed. I don’t need much. Just be a good neighbor and help me out here.” Knock, knock, knock. Finally Mr. Neighbor gets up and he hits the intercom: “Do you know what time it is? Do you realize how hard it was to get the kids to sleep? And you show up at this ungodly hour and ruin my good night’s sleep with your need and your lack of foresight and your irresponsibility?” Mr. Nervy outside: “I know, I know. And I don’t blame you for being ticked off. But you’ve always been so nice to me. I just had to believe you wouldn’t mind.” Mr. Neighbor thinks, “So now he’s trying the ‘you’ve always been so nice’ tactic. Would physics allow me to reach through the wall and punch him out?” KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK! “Honey, can you believe this guy? He’s right out of a cartoon.” And his wife says, “He’s always been a little off. He’s not going away, and you know it. Just give him what he wants, and we’ll be rid of him.” So Mr. Neighbor gets up, puts on some clothes, goes downstairs, grumbling every step of the way, opens the door and says to Mr. Nervy, “Come on, let’s go to the kitchen, get whatever you need, but just leave us alone.” Jesus says, “Have you ever thought of prayer like that? Have you ever thought of prayer as a clueless impudence with your heavenly Neighbor? He wants you to pray that way.”

But obviously, God isn’t asleep, God isn’t grumpy and reluctant, God isn’t like Mr. Neighbor in the parable. What then is the message here? Jesus tips us off when he begins verse 5 with the words, “Which of you . . .?” He does the same thing in verse 11: “What father among you . . . ?” He draws a comparison between our horizontal relationships with one another and our vertical relationship with God. We know about friendship and neighborliness here at our level. We know that friendship is worth a lot.

We also know friendship has limits. We also know about a father’s love for his children. That kind of love goes beyond friendship. That kind of love has no limits. Earthly fathers enjoy giving to their children. So look at the middle of verse 13: “. . . how much more.” If impudence gets results when friendship is stretched beyond its limits, if fatherly love gives without limit, how much more than both human friends and human fathers does our heavenly Father give, how much more does prayer get results with God, who is a generous Neighbor, and not asleep in bed but sitting up waiting for us to drop by. And before our knuckles can rap on his front door he opens it and says, “Where you been?” Jesus wants us to get over our reluctant prayers. Jesus wants us to know that God is not put off by boldness and nerve. He loves to give to those who ask, and whose asking becomes so urgent it crosses the line from politeness to impudence.

Jesus is drilling down into this question: Do we really believe that prayer to God our Neighbor and Father gets us anywhere? Or is prayer, for us, a polite nothingness? I saw a cartoon in The New Yorker. It shows a man sitting at a desk in his office, talking on the phone, holding in his other hand a piece of paper, he’s looking at someone’s account, and he’s saying to the customer on the phone, “And you can rest assured that your problem is being ignored at the very highest levels.” We all pray. It’s too obvious in the Bible not to pray. But isn’t it true that we can treat prayer as perfunctory? And isn’t it true that sometimes we pray safe prayers for predictable outcomes that we ourselves can manage anyway? We’re smart people. We can fix problems. And isn’t it true that sometimes we go to prayer with desires and requests less than God-sized in magnitude? We’re all tempted. And that’s what it is – temptation. Temptation to treat God as less than God, temptation to trivialize God. In his book God in the Wasteland David Wells writes of “the weightlessness of God” in our thoughts and feelings. It’s the opposite of his felt glory, the opposite of his name being hallowed, the opposite of his kingdom coming down upon us. So, even as we pray, we can look for alternatives to God, usually in our own abilities. That’s why it is so good to find ourselves out beyond the range of what we can do. We need what only God can do. We are not building God’s kingdom; God is building his kingdom, and we are asking him for the privilege of being involved. In her book L’Abri, Edith Schaeffer tells the story of how they met God at their point of need again and again, so that people could see his glory, so that they could see it was God who was with them, that God was their Immanuel: “This is what we felt we were being led to do: to ask God that our work and our lives be a demonstration that he does exist.” That’s what our very religious city needs so urgently – a new, visible demonstration that God is real and near and wonderful to sinners because of the cross of Christ. That is our city’s only hope, only future. It’s why we’re here. It’s why Jesus taught us this parable – that we would do business with God and that through answered prayer he would make himself weighty again in our time.

The Lord Jesus Christ is saying very personally to every one of us, “It’s the midnight of your life. What is your need? Admit it. Say it. Let your own ears hear the humiliation of what you really need. Let God hear it too. Has your sin found you out? Have you done things you never dreamed you would? Is your sheer mediocrity eroding your hopes? Are you facing demands beyond all your capacity? Is your heart breaking? You look at the way you’ve lived, the way you’ve spent your life, and it kills you to admit the truth out loud even privately behind a closed door? Bring it all to God in prayer. Yes, you should have come at an earlier hour. But never mind that. Never mind how late it is. Think only of God, and start praying. Pray hard. Knock on that door. Knock as if to get out of hell. And don’t stop, until he opens that door and gives you a blessing, because God loves to help desperate people who humble themselves and take their need to him.”

Jacob wrestled with God: “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). God liked that. Isaiah tells us, “Give God no rest” (Isaiah 62:7). I wouldn’t dare to say that, but it’s in the Bible. Jesus told us to pray and not faint (Luke 18:1). The Bible tells us that the cross of Christ opens the way to God so that we can approach him with confidence in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16; 10:22; Ephesians 3:12).

Jesus is saying, “You know how relationships work. You know how to get something from a neighbor, if you’re not too embarrassed and proud. And you’re glad to provide for your own kids. But God is not like that neighbor in bed. He is like that father. Will you believe that, and will you pray that way? That takes us to the point, in verses 9-10.

The Point

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. —Luke 11:9

Jesus makes the point clear: “And I tell you . . . .” In other words, “You liked my parable. It got your attention. Good. But it’s no exaggeration. It’s the truth. I give you my word on it. I [emphatic word] say to you . . . .” What then is Jesus telling us to do?

“Ask . . . seek . . . knock” – with increasing intensity. They are all present imperatives, implying, “Go on asking, go on seeking, go on knocking, and don’t quit.” God doesn’t answer perfunctory prayers. He’s not a perfunctory person. He will not be drawn into something so far below his glory that it simply can’t connect with what he’s really like. But God gives and God is found and God opens doors to people who want him, and will not to take no for an answer.

Here in verse 10 is a promise from Someone who never lied to us: “Everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” There is no such thing as wasted prayer, if we’re asking and seeking and knocking for more of God’s glory. Matthew Henry writes:

Not that God can be worked over by our impudence; we cannot change his intentions. We prevail with men by impudence because they are displeased with it, but with God because he is pleased with it.

So as we go before the Lord together in prayer – I’m giving myself imaginative liberties here – the conversation starts off like this. God says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! So many times I’ve waited for you, and you have stood me up. And other times I’ve had to put up with your boring prayers. You think prayer is boring? Look at it from my point of view. Think what I have to listen to! Now you people think you can waltz back into my holy presence and start asking me for the most precious treasures in the universe and I’m supposed to give and be found and open doors? You think you can show up before me just because of the finished work of Christ on the cross for sinners?” And we look at each other and gulp and say back to God, “Yes. We think the finished work of Christ on the cross is enough – even for us. So, we’re back. We’re asking, seeking, knocking. And we’re not going away without a blessing. Deal with it.” That’s impudence! It’s when God smiles and says, “Well all right! Now we’re getting somewhere!”

It’s possible to pray with an irreverent impudence. In verse 2 the Lord summed up every appropriate prayer this way: “Hallowed be your name.” So we never want to pray with the kind of impudence that says, “Hey, where’s my Porsche?” And there is some of that irreverence in every one of our hearts. Let’s admit it and humble ourselves. But let’s never stop praying for more of the Holy Spirit with the reverent impudence that says, “I cannot live without you, and I won’t! So, what do you want from me? What’s it going to take to open this door? I mean business with you. I’ll do anything to go deeper with you. I’ll do anything to advance your cause through my church. So, Father, how can we get going here?” That’s when God starts opening doors – doors of hope and doors of comfort and doors of forgiveness and doors of provision. How badly do you want God’s blessing? Enough to ask, seek, knock? George Smeaton, in his work on the Holy Spirit, made it clear: “It is commonly the man filled with the greatest desire for fruit who most plentifully reaps it.” In chapter 1 of John’s gospel, the first thing Jesus says is a question: “What do you want?” (John 1:38, NIV).

The Best Prayer

How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. Luke 11:13

God loves it when we ask him for more of the Holy Spirit, the way hungry kids ask their dad for food. It’s okay to pray for little things too, like a parking place. But look what Jesus is saying here. He’s saying that our Father in heaven is willing to give his best gift, his very lifeblood as it were, the Holy Spirit, to those who ask him. How dignifying. Our lives are no longer limited to bodily health and comfort (Matthew 6:25). If all we pray about is health problems, we’ll be shallow all our lives. God dignifies us by arousing in our hearts hunger for the Holy Spirit. The best prayer to God is prayer for God. The Bible gets us refocused on him: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land, where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25).

Now there’s an agenda for prayer. Think of the many ministries of the Holy Spirit revealed in the Bible. Here’s one – his ministry of illumination. The Bible tells us what happens when we come together under the ministry of the gospel: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). You know what it’s like when we’re together and the gospel is showing us Jesus and something comes over our hearts, a sense of awe, a wonderful weight of glory, and a quietness comes over us. What’s happening at that moment? We’re worshiping, and that’s when we’re changing from glory to glory. It’s when a worship service becomes a meeting with Jesus. That comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. That’s what we should be praying for, and that’s just one ministry of the Spirit. We should be praying for more of God all over us. That’s our best prayer. Jesus is saying, “The heavenly Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him – not to those who deserve him, nor to those who just believe in him, but to those who ask him.” He’s yours for the asking, because our Father loves to give his best to his hungry children.

A. W. Tozer said, “I have found God to be cordial and generous and in every way easy to live with.” What are we waiting for?