“I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need” (Luke 11:8, NIV).
In Luke 11:1-13 Jesus taught His disciples a lesson on how to pray. Verses 2-4 are the Luke version of The Lord’s Prayer.
The lesson begins when Jesus returned from praying and one of His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray. Jesus responded to the disciple’s request not with a set of instructions on how to pray or guidelines for showing proper devotion or gratitude to God.
Instead, Jesus replied with a curious story about approaching a neighbor in the middle of the night to ask for some food to feed an unexpected house guest.
Jesus certainly didn’t ignore devotion and gratitude as a function of prayer. In fact, He said you start prayer by acknowledging God the Father is the Provider of all that we ask and recognizing He is the Forgiver of all our sins (vs. 2-4).
But, the key ingredient of prayer in Jesus’ story is found in the the enigmatic behavior of the person making the plea for food to serve to the visitor.
Jesus told the disciples to suppose they had a visitor come to their house in the middle of the night. In Judaism “neighborliness” was an obligation and so it was imperative to feed a friend arriving at your home from a journey.
In the situation Jesus posed to the disciples, a visitor arrives at your house in the middle of the night from a journey and you don’t have enough food in the house to feed your guest. So, you go and rouse your friend and ask to borrow some food to feed your visitor. Because it’s late and your friend’s house is locked up and all his family is asleep, the friend refuses to get up and give you the food.
Finally, the friend agrees to your request not because he’s your good friend but because of your shameless audacity–your brazen pleading for food to feed your house guest.
In other words, he gives you the food to shut you up!
Not exactly what I was expecting to be the key to prayer….
This key ingredient to prayer is identified by several different words and phrases in the English Bible translations. While the NIV uses the phrase “shameless audacity,” the NLT uses the phrase “shameless persistence.” The NASB uses the word “shamelessness”; the CEB “brashness”; the HCSB “persistence”; and the ESV uses the word “impudence” (my personal favorite).
While I like the idea that impudence is an essential characteristic of effective prayer (probably because it’s one of my personality defects), is Jesus really telling us to be impertinent in our supplications to God?
To understand this teaching of Jesus on prayer, we have to peel back some of the layers of Jesus’ story and ascertain why the person pleading for some loaves of bread to feed his house guest is behaving with shameless audacity.
It’s desperation! The shameless audacity of the one asking his friend for food is motivated by desperation.
He aspires to be a good neighbor to his house guest but doesn’t have the means to fulfill this obligation. Out of desperation he pleads with his friend to give him bread to share with the late-night visitor.
So, it seems to me that Jesus was teaching the disciples that God will answer the prayers of desperate people.
And, not that we should only pray when we’re confronted by hopeless situations. But, we should always pray as desperate people in need of God’s help.
Because we are. Desperate people.
And, when we pray from our desperation, from our need for God’s help, then when we ask it will be given; when we seek we will find; and when we knock the door will be opened (vs. 9).
Though God may not always answer our prayers the way we want, He will always give us His empowering Spirit to enable us through our desperation: “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (vs. 13).
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16, NIV)