Warren Buffett is one of the greatest investors in our day, and he is also the second richest man in the world, with an estimated worth of $44 billion. In June 2005, Buffett decided to help raise money for his charitable foundation by offering an online auction for someone to have lunch with him. The winning bid was $351,100—the price of access.
We have access to the creator of the universe and it costs nothing. How often do we avail ourselves of God’s willingness to hear our prayers?
Prayer is not a slot machine. I ask, he gives, end of story. Prayer is about relationship: ("Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?) It is also a mystery, we don’t always have the big picture. What looks like bread to us might actually be a stone. So we bow to God’s great wisdom. However in this story, Jesus encourages us to pray with precision, passion, and perseverance.
Precision in Prayer
(Read Luke 11:5-6)
The man is quite specific. He doesn’t say, “I’m hungry can you help?” Or “Gimme some bread” But 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread.”
Elsewhere Jesus encourages precision. In Matthew 20:31-34, when the blind man says, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!" We read that Jesus stopped and called them. "What do you want me to do for you?" "Lord," they answered, "we want our sight." Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.
To the onlooker it may have seemed obvious what they wanted. But Jesus asks them to be specific.
In 1540 Luther's good friend and assistant, Friedrich Myconius, became sick and was expected to die within a short time. From his bed he wrote a tender farewell letter to Luther. When Luther received the message, he immediately sent back a reply: “I command thee in the name of God to live because I still have need of thee in the work of reforming the church -- the Lord will never let me hear that thou art dead, but will permit thee to survive me. For this I am praying, this is my will, and may my will be done, because I seek only to glorify the name of God."
Those words seem harsh and insensitive to modern ears, but God apparently honoured the prayer. Although Myconius had already lost the ability to speak when Luther's reply came, he soon recovered. He lived six more years and died two months after Luther.
Luther didn’t beat about the bush. He was quite specific in asking God for an answer.
Passion in Prayer
(Read Luke 11:7-8)
In the East no one would knock on a shut door unless the need was imperative. In the morning the door was opened and remained open all day, for there was little privacy; but if the door was shut, that was a definite sign that the householder did not wish to be disturbed.
But the seeking householder was not deterred. He knocked, and kept on knocking.
In ancient times most homes had only one room. On one end was a raised platform where everybody slept together—husband, wife, and all the children. Not only did the entire family sleep in this one room, so did all the livestock. They’d bring the chickens and goats inside too.
The man knocking on the door was very bold. His friend would have to get up, possibly wake up his wife and kids, stir up the animals, light a lamp, go unlock and open the door, and give the man some bread.
We need to recognize that sometimes God says “no.” When James and John asked to sit next to Jesus in glory, his response was “to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared" (Mark 10:35-40).
Sir Walter Raleigh once made a request of the Queen, and she petulantly answered, "Raleigh, when will you leave off begging?" Walter replied, "When your Majesty leaves off giving." Like Raleigh coming to an earthly ruler, we need to be bold and passionate as we come to the heavenly King.
Perseverance in Prayer
(Read Luke 11:9)
Ask, seek, knock. The tense in this verse means “Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.” Jesus is encouraging us to persevere.
I said at the start that God doesn’t always give us what we want. What looks like bread to us might be a stone. What looks like a fish might be a scorpion. Ruth Graham once said, “God has not always answered my prayers. If he had, I would have married the wrong man—several times!”
The Apostle Paul experienced this. He had a physical ailment. He prayed that God would heal him: “To keep me from becoming … there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.”
Though persistent in prayer God’s answer was not what he had hoped for: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:7-9).
The command to “keep on seeking” might suggest that we are sometimes the answer to our own prayers. Seeking is active. It means we do not just passively sit and wait for God to act. God will not do what he has already commanded us to do.
A.W. Tozer once said, “Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late - and how little revival has resulted? I believe the problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying, and it simply will not work. … Prayer will become effective when we stop using it as a substitute for obedience."
At the age of 16 in the year 371, Augustine sneaked away from his mother in Carthage. During the night he sailed away to Rome, leaving her alone to her tears and her prayers.
How were these prayers answered? Not the way Augustine's mother hoped at the time. Only later could she see that praying is the deepest path to joy.
Augustine himself wrote, "And what did she beg of you, my God, with all those tears, if not that you would prevent me from sailing? But you did not do as she asked you. Instead, in the depth of your wisdom, you granted the wish that was closest to her heart.
"For she saw that you had granted her far more than she used to ask in her tearful prayers. You converted me to yourself, so that I no longer placed any hope in this world, but stood firmly upon the rule of faith. And you turned her sadness into rejoicing, into joy far fuller than her dearest wish, far sweeter and more chaste than any she had hoped to find."
To understand the parable we need to know that it is a parable of contrast. Jesus is not saying that God is like the reluctant householder. He is saying “If this man eventually got up and gave his friend bread, HOW MUCH MORE will God answer the prayers of his children?
William Barclay put it like this:
We are not wringing gifts from an unwilling God, but going to one who knows our needs better than we know them ourselves and whose heart towards us is the heart of generous love. If we do not receive what we pray for, it is not because God grudgingly refuses to give it but because he has some better thing for us. There is no such thing as unanswered prayer. The answer given may not be the answer we desired or expected; but even when it is a refusal it is the answer of the love and the wisdom of God.
Andy Scarcliffe is a retired Baptist minister from Scotland.