Volume XXXVIII, #37: We Who Pray
“...yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.” Luke 11.8
After giving His disciples instruction on prayer (Lk. 11.1–4), Christ gives them incentive to pray by telling two stories—one of a persistent friend (vv 5–8) and the other of a consistent father (vv 9–13).
What’s extraordinary about the first of these is the unordinary behavior described. Guests have been known to show up unexpectedly at midnight, but unless starvation seems imminent, the concern for most at that hour is bed, not bread. But in Christ’s story, the host, whose cupboard is bare, goes out and awakens a neighbor to ask for three loaves of bread (which seems excessive). The neighbor’s irritated reply is: Can’t you see I’m sleeping?! “Don’t bother me!” (MOFFATT︎︎︎︎︎︎︎). At that point, anyone with a lick of sense would have apologized and left, but the man doubles down and keeps banging away until the neighbor finally gets up and gives him what he wants, just to get rid of him!
It’s so farcical it’s funny (at least it is to me), but beneath the humor is a needed point. The word translated importunity in v 8 is anaideia. It occurs only here in the Bible and is commonly translated persistence (NIV︎︎︎, NASB︎︎︎︎, etc.), but what it literally means is no shame, shamelessness—a shamelessness that disregards the rules of propriety and politeness and that isn’t thwarted from behaving in a way many would think rude.
“When your neighbor,” said Jesus, “says, ‘Shame on you! Go home and leave me alone!’ don’t listen. It’s easy for one who has bread to tell one who hasn’t to get lost. When you’re told this, never you mind what they say; knock on!”
Have you ever been ashamed to ask the Lord’s forgiveness for some particularly devastating sin? Have you ever been embarrassed to seek His blood because you’re confessing a sin you’ve confessed a thousand times before and promised a thousand times before you’d never do again? We’ve done disgraceful things, haven’t we? We’ve done things no one in their right mind would have done or even think about doing. We bear the weight of deeds it kills us to admit, even when alone in our room with the door shut. Our guilt tempts us to think we’re beyond the pale of God’s grace.
And yet, here’s our Lord telling us: “Don’t ever think that way! When you have need, Knock and state your ned! Even if it’s midnight, Knock! Even if the door doesn’t open immediately, Knock! For if a disgruntled neighbor will eventually answer a knock at the door, how much more will a loving Father.” (v 10).
“Knock, man!” said Alexander Whyte. “Knock for the love of God! Knock as they knock to get into heaven after the door is shut. Knock as they knock to get out of hell!”