Take a look at the cartoon that accompanies this post.
Does God listen to my prayers?
Have you ever played and felt like your prayers were just bouncing off the ceiling? Why should the Creator of the universe and the Manager of its day-to-day, minute-by-minute operations bother to listen to me? I know I don’t deserve his attention. What about at all the people more righteous than I, more significant than I, who are competing for his attention? Should I be surprised that my prayers don’t seem to reach Him?
Three truths from the Expert
If you have ever asked these questions, or if in fact you are asking them now, please permit me to point out what Jesus taught about communicating with the heavenly Father. Do I need to remind you that He is definitely speaking as an expert on the subject of prayer? He prayed early in the morning; He prayed into the night. He prayed in public and in private and in times of joy and times of sorrow. On the subject of prayer, in other words, Jesus knows what he’s talking about.
Jesus reveals for us three basic truths about prayer. Let’s consider each one of them.
Persistent in prayer
Number one: Jesus urges us to be persistent in our prayers. In the Parable of the Needy Widow and the Crooked Judge (Luke 18:2-8), he employs an argument from lesser to greater: even a judge who is so corrupt that he cares neither for people nor for God will respond to a poor widow who makes him black and blue with the persistence of her requests.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus urges us to ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:9-11). Greek scholars tell us that the present imperative has a derivative or linear sense, yielding the English rendering, “Keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking.” Those persistent people are the ones who get answers, find what they are seeking, and encounter (eventually) the open doors.
Boldness because of great need
Number two: Jesus encourages us to pray because our need is so great. The greater we perceive our need to be, the greater will be our boldness in prayer. The man who went home justified, Jesus says, is the man who so deeply senses his own guilt that he will not look up to heaven but beats his chest and cries, “God, have mercy on me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:9-14).
Defending God’s honor
Number three, and this is the most important, the most crucial: we must realize that God’s honor is at stake when we pray to him. More than anything else, he responds to our prayers because of who He is, not so much who we are.
The punch of the Widow and the Judge is the stark contrast between that judge’s character (or lack thereof) and the infinitely holy God. If a widow can persuade such a thoroughly corrupt judge, how will the God respond? Unlike the judge, He is always there and cannot be bought off. Jesus reassures us that he will see we get justice.
In the Parable of the Friend at Midnight (Luke 11:5-8) Jesus makes another argument from lesser to greater, with the character of God at its heart. The friend who has already gone to bed along with his family will go to the trouble of getting up and providing the requested bread, despite how much trouble it is. This is because he wants to ensure that his reputation in the community remains unblemished. This seems to be the meaning of the word “shamelessness” in the context of the parable. That culture placed a high premium on the virtue of hospitality—much higher than our culture does.
Jesus’ argument is that if a mere friend will overcome reluctance and inconvenience for the sake of preserving his own reputation, how much more will God respond to our prayers? The same theme lies behind the Parable of the Needy Widow and the Crooked Judge and the Similitude of the Father’s Gifts. Jesus is arguing that God will respond because of who he is, not so much because of who we are. He has an untarnished reputation as the judge of all the earth.
What’s more, he is our loving Father, who would never respond to our requests with something worthless or harmful (represented by the stone and the snake, respectively). Jesus is making strong effort to convince us that we can trust God to look out for our best interests.
Motivated to do better
Persistence, need, and God’s own character—these are the three things Jesus says that should motivate us to pray. As we contemplate these truths, let us resolve to pray more consistently and diligently.
Want to go deeper?
Herman C. Waetjen, “The Subversion of ‘World’ in the Parable of ‘The Friend at Midnight.’” At Academia.edu. Accessed on Sept. 16, 2016.
Waetjen addresses the issue of whether “shameless” in the Parable of the Friend at Midnight (Luke 11:8) refers to the unbridled rudeness of the person making the request or to the complete lack of any reason for shame on the part of the person just waking up in the house. He concludes, rightly I believe, that the latter is the correct understanding. This makes the parable primarily about the honor of God rather than the persistence of petitioners.