By Reverend Dr. Fontella Irons
Bible Text: Gospel of Luke 11:1-13
What happens when we pray? I can recall a time when someone who no longer believed in Jesus Christ as Savior called and told me about the time when he first began to no longer have faith in God. He said that he had been raised to have faith, but then one night something happened. He said that one night, he got down on his knees to pray just before going to bed, and he said that he came to this conclusion: “There is nothing on the other side of my prayers.” At that point, although he was a child, he said that he began to pray less and to believe less. Eventually, he rejected the faith of his childhood, totally. The biblical passage before us today highlights the tragic error of turning away from God. Jesus, in so many words, tells his followers to remain constant in prayer. Even, perhaps especially, when it seems as though all hope is gone.
When Jesus’ followers asked him to teach them how to pray, he did not remain silent. He gave them instruction and that instruction began with praise to God. God is recognized as holy. God is recognized as “Abba,” “Father.” Then, Jesus teaches them about the constancy of God. God is present and with us, always. God provides for us on a daily basis. Jesus
addresses or implies the ongoing conflict with spiritual powers and human adversaries. Still, he tells his followers to remain constant in prayer. The spiritual discipline must never be forsaken. Then, in this same passage, Jesus tells a story about two neighbors (in verses 5-8) to highlight the importance of asking God for what we need, searching to find the will of God, and knocking on the doors of the heart of God.
In New Testament scholarship, we refer to the passage at Luke 11:5-8 as “special material.” That is because the texts do not appear anywhere else in the canonical New Testament. The writer of the Gospel of Luke has several special passages; in fact, most of the special material in Luke is focused on prayer. This is the case as we consider Luke 1:5-25 and Luke 2:21-38. The promise of the birth of John the Baptist at 1:11 tells us that Zechariah was in the temple as “the people were praying outside.” Then at 1:13 the angel Gabriel tells Zechariah “your prayer has been heard.” In the next chapter, we find that prayer is mentioned in connection with Anna, a widow and prophet. At v.37, we are told that Anna “did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” The opening scene in the temple with Zechariah and the next temple scene with Anna help to establish the Lukan writer’s special interest in positioning prayer as central to the story of Jesus’ life.
In the parable at vv.5-8, Jesus teaches on prayer by creating a situation of contrasting needs. The complexity of the problem begins at v.5 as Jesus asks the disciples to suppose that one of them has a friend and the disciple goes to that friend at midnight requesting three loaves of bread. Here, the most striking elements are the timing of the request (midnight) and the requested items (three loaves of bread). Then, at v.6, we find the explanation for the timing and the request: the disciple has to make the request because a friend has just arrived from a journey, but the disciple has nothing to place before the guest.
The arrival of the guest at midnight coupled with the host’s empty cupboard necessitates the knock at midnight. In search of a way to fulfill duties of hospitality, the disciple has to rouse another friend at midnight to properly fulfill the role of host. At v.7, we learn that the friend’s first response was that he did not want to be bothered, that he and his children were in bed, that the door was shut, and finally, that he was not able to get up and give to the friend making the request. But then, at v.8, Jesus tells the disciples that even though the friend would not rise to give to the friend making the request because of the friendship, it is the knocking friend’s persistence that leads to the fulfillment of the request. This verse is the heart of the contrasting needs: one friend has to make a request of the other due to the late arrival of a traveler and yet a neighbor, who initially
refused, finally addresses the need due to the knocking friend’s persistence. At v. 9, Jesus concludes the parable by telling the disciples to ask, to seek, and to knock. The idea is that – we knock (wait or persist) – in prayer. We do so trusting and believing that God hears us.
In this passage, Jesus works to equip his disciples with essential tools for carrying out his mission. No matter how one defines the mission, the parabolic teachings of Jesus indicate his intention to train certain individuals on how to carry the mission forward. The disciples were not intended to simply follow Jesus, but rather to learn from Jesus and then to apply those teachings in their own lives and in their efforts to carry out the mission. In Luke 11:5-8, Jesus relates a chain of events before highlighting the necessity of persistence. The friend inside did not give to his neighbor to fulfill the neighbor’s desire to be hospitable. Instead, the act of answering the request was to restore peace to another person’s household – the only way to a restful night’s sleep was to get up and answer the request. It is by fulfilling the request that the neighbor finds rest.
This, according to the parable, is true for God. Those who persist before God (wait before God) will be answered, and yet there is more. At 11:13, Jesus contrasts the disciples with God. He tells them that if they, being evil, know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will the heavenly Father give (the Holy Spirit to those who ask). This return
to the Holy Spirit weaves the parables on prayer into the fabric of the Lukan special material, thereby creating an image of the ideal human posture before God – a position where waiting before God (persistence – asking, searching, knocking) is prayer.
When we praise God it puts us in the right frame of mind to tell God about our needs. We must never forget or lose faith in prayer – asking, searching, knocking – on the doors to the heart of God. Why? Because prayer is the most fundamental weapon of spiritual warfare. We must not just read about prayer. We must pray.
Prayer is a weapon that Satan always seeks to keep us from using because it is so powerful. It keeps all of the resources of heaven immediately available to the child of God at all times. It makes one conscious of the vast powers that are available to her/him at all times. Praying with faith is what brings into immediate reality what one is praying for. Praying with faith ignites the fuse that creates action or that causes one to act to destroy the enemy’s darts and to release the healing life of God into every dimension of every situation in life.
May God continue to keep you on your knees, constantly believing and receiving the blessedness of the presence of God. I ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.