The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. What follows inverses 2-13 is Jesus’ answer to that request. His response comes in four parts.
- The Model Prayer (vs 2-4)
- The Impudent Friend (vs 5-8)
- Ask, Seek, Knock (vs 9-10)
- The Goodness of the Father (vs 11-13)
While much could be said, and certainly has been said, about each of these sections, I want to focus upon a theme Jesus introduces in the hypothetical story about The Impudent Friend (vs 5-8) that carries over into the next section about asking, seeking, and knocking. Here is the story:
“And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 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 11:5–8, ESV)
It is important that we keep the context in mind. Jesus is answering the disciples request that he teach them to pray. This story is a direct answer to that inquiry. Jesus is telling us, through this story, something extremely important about prayer.
I love the raw honesty portrayed in this tale. For, if we are truly honest, this story tells us exactly what the experience of prayer often feels like. When we first begin to pray, we sometimes experience what seems to be resistance. In the story, the neighbor tells us to go away. It’s late. His kids are asleep. He is busy and other things are more important than us. It is important to note that in this story, Jesus is not telling us what God is like. He is telling us what prayer is like. His point isn’t that God is too busy and can’t be bothered with our request. His point is that when we begin to pray, we feel like this is the case. This story first describes what we commonly experience when we pray. He then tell us that the key to effective prayer is to press through this initial feeling of resistance.
In the story, the neighbor is our friend. But Jesus overtly makes the point that this friendship alone is insufficient for prayer to be successful. Jesus says that the friendship is not the basis for the answered request. According to Jesus, “impudence” is the reason the prayer is answered. What is impudence?
Webster defines “impudent” as “marked by contemptuous or cocky boldness or disregard of others, insolent.” The root meaning of the English word means “shameless”. Obviously, the New Testament wasn’t written in English. So let’s investigate to see if the Greek might give us additional insight. The following definition is from The Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament edited by Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D.
335. anaídeia; gen. anaideías, fem. noun from anaid?s (n.f.), impudent, which is from the priv. a (1), without, and aidos (127), shame. Recklessness, audacity, shamelessness, insolence. Recklessness or disregard of consideration by the one making the request.
As in the English and Latin, the Greek word used here also carries the literal meaning of “shameless”. Is it possible that Jesus is saying that the key to effective prayer is to pray with a contemptuous, cocky boldness, along with insolence, recklessness, shamelessness, and a complete disregard of consideration? Yes. That is precisely what the text of scripture says.
If this kind of praying is, according to Jesus, the key to answered prayer, is it possible that we lack answers to prayer simply because we refuse to pray in this manner?
Again, let me clarify. I do not believe Jesus is telling us what God is like. The point here isn’t that God is reluctant to respond to us. We are not being asked to wear God out through sheer annoyance until he finally gives in. The purpose of impudence in prayer is not to convince a reluctant God. Jesus isn’t describing what God is like. He is describing what prayer is like. When we pray, we initially experience resistance. It feels hard. God seems far away and reluctant sometimes (though he isn’t). Impudence is what is necessary to overcome this experience of resistance. Only with a bold, persistant disregard for this initial experience of resistance are we able to press beyond it.
In the following section Jesus talks about asking, seeking, and knocking, with the promise of receiving, finding, and opening as the guaranteed result. In this section I want to point out that the relevant verb tense in these verses implies continual action. We are to ask and keep on asking. How are we to ask? How are we to seek? How are we to knock? With boldness. Without shame. With persistence. With total disregard to any feeling of resistance, inappropriateness, or doubt. With impudence!!!
If prayer often feels like an exercise in pushing through strong resistence, and if an attitude of impudence is what is required to push through this feeling of resistance and rebuff, then what is on the other side of our bold persistance that makes all this effort worthwhile? Jesus’ answer: a good Father.
“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” ” (Luke 11:11–13, ESV)
Do you want to experience your good heavenly Father who delights to give good gifts to his children? To get there you might have to press past the experiential difficulties that often accompany prayer. You will initially feel resisted. You will feel rebuffed. This is what prayer is like. But do not give up. Ask more, keep seeking, knock louder, not because God is reluctant, hiding, or deaf, but because you are so convinced that he is eager, present, and responsive that you won’t allow anything but your confidence in his goodness to deter you.