I have a question: What do you really think of prayer? When you pray, do you pray with confidence? I ask this because prayer is integral to our partnership with the Lord in outreach.
In Luke 9 and Luke 10 we read of two mission groups that Jesus out. In Luke 9:1, Jesus sent the twelve on a mission to Jewish people. In Luke 10:1, he sent out seventy to both the Jewish and non-Jewish peoples. These missions foreshadowed Jesus’ commission to his disciples, “You will be witnesses of me in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the world” (Acts 1:8).
Furthermore, in Colossians 4:2-3 we find that the Apostle Paul writes: Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ,…
I am sufficiently chronologically enriched to have been a young teenager at the time of the 1959 Sydney Billy Graham Crusade. I well remember that many thousands attended the 3-week mission.
But I also remember this: the significant numbers of God’s people from churches in Sydney who were praying for two years before the Crusade. I also recall Billy Graham’s comment that the success of his ministry was dependent on the thousands of people who prayed for his work.
Prayer is one of the essential keys to lives being transformed. So, I come back to my question: What do you really think of prayer?
In Luke 11:2-13 we read significant words from Jesus on the subject of prayer. In Luke 11:9-10 we read his specific promises: “Ask, and it will be given you; Seek, and you will find; Knock, and it will be opened to you.”
And, on either side of these wonderful promises he answers two questions: First, ‘Can God be trusted to hear our prayers?’ (Luke 11:5-8); and second, ‘Do God’s answers have my best interests at heart?’ (Luke 11:11-13).
Let me pick up today Jesus’ answer to the first of these questions.
In Luke 11:5-8 we read his parable – often known as ‘The Friend at Midnight’. The parable falls into the category of sayings that have an underlying, unspoken question: ‘Can you imagine…?’ ‘Can you imagine a man talking like this to a friend in need?’ Jesus is asking.
The key to understanding the parable is found in the words usually translated, ‘the man’s impudence’ or ‘boldness’ in verse 8. Let me suggest that this is one place where most of our English translations are unhelpful for they have followed a translation that probably goes back to the 12th century.
The late Dr. Kenneth Bailey brought some new and helpful insights to the parables from his work on Middle-Eastern culture.
We need to look carefully at the text of vv.7 and 8. The flow of the pronouns ‘me’ and ‘my’ in verse 7 refer to the householder who is in bed. Further, the flow of the sentence into verse 8 and the pronouns he and his, also refer to the householder.
What is more, as Bailey pointed out, the word translated, impudence in v.8 is better translated sense of shame. The flow of the syntax, the narrative impact of the story, has the sleeper in bed as the focus – not the man who is knocking on the door. In Jesus’ story God is represented as the one who is in bed.
The unwritten laws of mid-eastern hospitality, which are an important sub-text of the parable, required a man to get up and help his neighbour in need. If he didn’t he would be shamed, and bring dishonor to the whole community. ‘Can you imagine,’ Jesus is asking, ‘anyone saying to a neighbour in need, even at midnight – ‘Get lost’. ‘Don’t disturb me’?
So it is with God. Jesus is saying that because of God’s very nature he will respond and act. If he didn’t he would bring shame to his name.
This understanding of the parable is consistent with what Jesus taught his disciples to pray in the model prayer he gave them.
Pray: ‘Father in heaven, may your name be honored, in earth as it is in heaven’. Because of God’s honor, God’s integrity, God’s name is at the heart of the way he will not only hear but he will also act.
When we go back to the prayers of Moses and Daniel, we find that central to their prayers is the humble but bold request that God will act for the sake of his name or honor.
Prayer: Lord Christ, eternal Word and Light of the Father’s glory: send your light and your truth so that we may both know and proclaim your word of life, to the glory of God the Father; for you now live and reign, God for all eternity. Amen. (A prayer for the Gospel, An Australian Prayer Book: 1978)