Then he said to them, ‘‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.’’ Luke 11:5–8
The first teaching to His disciples was given by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount. Almost a year later the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. In answer, He gave them the Lord’s Prayer a second time, so teaching them what to pray. He then speaks of how they ought to pray, and repeats what He said before about God’s fatherliness and the certainty of an answer. Then He adds the beautiful parable of the friend who came at midnight to teach them the lesson that God wants us to pray not only for ourselves but also for the perishing around us and that in such intercession great boldness is often needed, is always lawful, and even pleasing to God.
The parable is a perfect storehouse of instruction about true intercession. First, there is the love that seeks to help the needy: ‘‘My friend has come to me.’’ Then the need that prompts the cry, ‘‘I have nothing to set before him.’’ Then follows the confidence that help is to be had: ‘‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread.’ ’’ An unexpected refusal comes: ‘‘I can’t get up and give you anything.’’ But his perseverance takes no refusal:
‘‘Because of the man’s boldness . . .’’ Last, there comes the reward of such prayer: ‘‘He will get up and give him as much as he needs.’’ This wonderfully illustrates the way of prayer and faith in which the blessing of God has so often been sought and found.
In the thought of prayer as an appeal to the friendship of God, two lessons are suggested. First, if we are God’s friends, and come to Him as such, we must prove ourselves the friends of the needy. God’s friendship to us and ours to others go hand in hand. The other lesson is that we may use the utmost liberty in claiming an answer for our needy friends.
So again, prayer has a twofold objective: first, to obtain strength and blessing in our own life; and second, the higher and the true glory of prayer, for which Christ has taken us into His fellowship and teaching, is intercession. In the latter, prayer is the royal power a child of God exercises in heaven on behalf of others and the kingdom. We see in Scripture how in intercession for others Abraham and Moses, Samuel and Elijah, with all the holy men of old, proved that they had power with God and prevailed. When we give ourselves to be a blessing, we can count on the blessing of God. When we draw near to God as the friend of the poor and the perishing, we may count on His friendship with us. The righteous man who is the friend of the poor is a special friend of God. This gives wonderful liberty in prayer.
Lord, I have a needy friend whom I must help. As a friend I have undertaken to help him. In you I have a Friend whose kindness and riches I know to be infinite. I am sure you will give me what I ask. If I, being evil, am ready to do for my friend what I can, how much more will you, my heavenly Friend, do for your friend what he asks?
The question may be posed as to whether the fatherhood of God does not give such confidence in prayer that the thought of His friendship can hardly teach us anything more because certainly a father is more than a friend. Still, this pleading the friendship of God opens new wonders to us. That a child obtains what he asks of his father looks so perfectly natural, we almost count it the father’s duty to give. But with a friend it seems as if his kindness is more free and dependent, not on nature, but on sympathy and character. Another contrast is that the relationship of a child to his father is more that of perfect dependence, where two friends are nearly on the same level. So our Lord, in unfolding to us the spiritual mystery of prayer, shows His desire to have us approach God in this relationship too—as those whom He has acknowledged as His friends, whose mind and life are in sympathy with His.
But for this we must be living as His friends. I am still a child even when a wanderer, but friendship depends upon conduct. ‘‘You are my friends if you do what I command’’ (John 15:14). ‘‘You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God . . . and he was called God’s friend’ ’’ (James 2:22–23). It is ‘‘the same Spirit’’ that leads us that also bears witness to our acceptance with God.
Likewise, also, the same Spirit helps us in prayer. Life as the friend of God gives the wonderful liberty to say, ‘‘I have a friend to whom I can go even at midnight.’’ And how much more when I go in the very spirit of that friendship, manifesting myself the very kindness I look for in God, seeking to help my friend as I want God to help me. When I come to God in prayer, He always looks for the motive behind my petition. If it is merely for my own comfort or joy that I seek His grace, I will not receive. But if I can say that it is so that He may be glorified in my passing on His blessing to others, I am not asking in vain. Of course, if I ask for others but wait until God has made me so rich that it will involve no sacrifice or act of faith to help them, I will not receive. But if I can say that I have already undertaken for my needy friend—that in my poverty I have already begun the work of love because I knew I had a friend who would help me—my prayer will be heard. We have no idea how much the plea avails where the friendship of earth looks in its need to the friendship of heaven: ‘‘He will . . . give him as much as he needs’’ (Luke11:8).
This may not always come all at once. The one thing by which man can honor and enjoy his God is faith. Intercession is part of faith’s training school. There our friendship with men and with God is tested. Is my friendship with the needy so real that I will take time, sacrifice my rest, and go even at midnight, and not cease until I have obtained for them what I need? Is my friendship with God so clear that I can depend on Him not to turn me away and therefore pray until He gives to me what I ask?
What a deep heavenly mystery there is in persevering prayer. The God who has promised, who longs and whose fixed purpose it is to give the blessing, holds it back. It is to Him a matter of deep importance that His friends on earth should know and fully trust their rich Friend in heaven. For this reason He trains them in the school of ‘‘answer delayed’’ to find out how their perseverance really does prevail and what the mighty power is they can wield in heaven if they but set themselves to it. There is a faith that sees the promise and embraces it and yet does not receive it (Hebrews 11:13, 39). It is when the answer to prayer does not come and the promise we are most firmly trusting appears to be of no effect that the trial of faith more precious than gold takes place. In this trial the faith that has embraced the promise is purified, strengthened, and prepared by personal, holy fellowship with the living God to see His glory. Faith, then, takes and holds the promise until it receives the fulfillment of what was claimed as vital truth from the unseen but living God.
Children of God working in love in your Father’s service, take courage. Parents, teachers, preachers—all who have accepted and are bearing the burden of hungry, perishing souls—take courage. That God should truly require persevering prayer, that there should be a spiritual necessity for importunity seems puzzling to us. To teach us, the Master uses this strange parable. If the unfriendliness of a selfish earthly friend can be conquered by importunity, how much more will it avail with our heavenly Friend who loves to give but is held back by our spiritual unfitness and our incapacity to receive what He has to give? Thank Him that by delaying His answer He is educating us in our true position and the exercise of all our power with Him. He is training us to live with Him in the fellowship of unquestioning faith and trust, to be indeed the friends of God. Let us hold fast the threefold cord that cannot be broken:
My Blessed Lord and Teacher, I come to you in prayer. Your teaching is so glorious but it is too high for me to grasp. I confess that my heart is too small to comprehend these thoughts of the wonderful boldness I may use with your Father as my Friend.
Lord Jesus, I trust you to give me your Spirit and your Word and to make the Word quick and powerful in my heart. I desire to keep this Word: ‘‘Because of the man’s boldness he will . . . give him as much as he needs’’ (Luke 11:8).
Lord, teach me to know more of the power of persevering prayer. I see that the Father knows our need of time for the inner life to attain its growth and ripeness so that His grace may indeed be assimilated and made our very own. I know that He wants to train us to exercise a strong faith that does not let Him go even in the face of seeming disappointment. I know He wants to lift us to that wonderful liberty in which we understand how He has made the dispensing of His gift dependent on our prayer. Lord, I say I know this, but teach me to truly understand it in spirit and truth.
Now may it be my joy to act as agent for my rich Friend in heaven and care for all the hungry and perishing—even at midnight. I can do this in confidence because I know my Friend always gives to him who perseveres, because of his importunity, as much as he needs. Amen.