In Luke 11 we see the story of the someone who receives some late night guests and has nothing to place before them, so he goes to a neighbor in the middle of the night asking for bread so he can offer it to his guests. I have heard this story preached many times, and the basic gist I often hear is this:
In those days, it was customary to offer guests something to eat after their journey, so upon realizing he had no food for his late night guest, the first man in the story was in a perilous position. He did not want to be rude to his guests, or offend them by not offering food, as was expected and customary.
So he goes to his neighbor and it's late. In those days, the family would all sleep together due to space and to stay warm, and would be upstairs with animals held safely inside downstairs for the night. To get up and get food for the man banging on the door would have been a great inconvenience, and would have waken everyone up! It is only because the man outside was persistent in banging on the door and yelling up at his neighbor that he got him what he asked.
(Some will even add) The neighbor was stuck in a double lose position: get up and bother everyone getting bread for the man at the door, or try to ignore him and have everyone in the house bothered by the incessant banging and yelling.
This never set quite right with me. I don't disagree with any of the customs as described, though I have no evidence either way. It makes sense, though, that if someone came as a guest, that you would be expected to offer them something to eat, and it makes sense that families would sleep together, and it makes sense that getting up in the middle of the night to get bread would involve some sacrifice. However, the moral of the story always seemed to be - not "ask and it shall be given" as Jesus said in the very next verse, but "bother God enough and He'll get tired of you, so in order to shut you up and make you go away, will give you what you want - so keep at it!"
Luke 11:2-13Luke 11:2-13 (NKJV)
So He said to them, "When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one."
And He said to them, "Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within and say, 'Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you'? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.
"So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" contains what Jesus says in response to being asked to teach His disciples how to pray. All of the text must be considered together, as it is one conversation. First, He teaches the Lord's Prayer, and immediately proposes a question in telling the story discussed above. After this, He proposes a few more questions in further making His point. Let's look at all of these questions, as they are all asked in the same discourse, and all are being used to teach the principles of prayer.
I have the fortune of having a few friends. Even though it may be a bother to them, I know that if I show up at their door at midnight and wake them up, even waking up their whole family, I can get bread from them if I ask. He will not just tell me to "go away." I also have a father, and I'm fairly certain that if I ask for bread from him, he will not give me a stone. If I ask for a fish, he will not give me a serpent. If I ask for an egg, he will not suggest a scorpion instead.
I believe the point Jesus was trying to make with every question He asked in explaining prayer, was that we should not expect the outcome proposed in the question. We should expect the opposite. He asked, in all four scenarios, a question that was seeking an opposite response to make his point. To every question, our thought should be, "no, that wouldn't happen." In none of the four scenarios was He making a statement of how things are.
"I'm sorry neighbor, but even though we are friends (as stated by Jesus) and you're in a tough spot, I'm not going to help you - you will have to go home and offend your guests with nothing to offer them." Or, "Son, I know you're hungry, so here's a rock." - in both cases, just the opposite.
This brings us to a couple of points that should be clarified so that there is no confusion. Verse 8 says "I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs." Maybe friendships were different then than they are now, or maybe Jesus was making the point that it's not because of the friendship that the man gets his late night bread. It is because of his persistence. The original King James uses the word "importunity" instead of persistence. The word is from the Greek anaideia. This is the only time this word is used in the New Testament, and it means shamelessness or impudence, and implies a lack of modesty. Picture a desperate man in need - guests have arrived and he needs to honor them with food, for they have been traveling, so he is knocking on a friend's door at night, regardless of the rudeness or inopportune time when everyone is asleep, and you will see a shameless man who knows he can come to his friend, even in this inconvenient situation, and ask for a favor.
And such it is with us and God. Even in the darkest hour, late at night, when every fiber of our being says that we don't need to bother Him with our petty problem, God says, "ask, and it shall be given." In our desperation, we can call on him, and our prayers will be heard, and provided for.
Between the questions, in Luke 11:9-10, Jesus says "So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." The Amplified Bible translates these sentences with "ask and keep on asking," "seek and keep on seeking" etc. because "the idea of continuing or repeated action is often carried by the present imperative and present participles in Greek." - from the Amplified's notes attached to these scriptures.
I agree. We should ask, and keep on asking. We should seek, and keep on seeking, and we should knock, and keep on knocking. But let's not apply the point here inappropriately to the story preceding it. There is no note of the present imperative being used in the story above, stating that the friend was "banging, and kept on banging at the door." There is no evidence that the friend was kept waiting at all. His friend saw his shamelessness (remember: anaideia) and answered the plea by giving whatever he needed.
The present imperative means: Continually, habitually follow this command! The Present Imperative is often a call to a long-term commitment and calls for the attitude or action to be one's continual way of life, or lifestyle.
Just because we knocked on the door last night doesn't mean we shouldn't do it again tonight if we find ourselves in another desperate situation. Asking - should be our lifestyle. In that, we should keep on asking, no matter how much asking we have already done. In fact, by definition of the imperative, it is a command.
I want to look at Luke 18:1-8, to conclude this study. This is the parable of the woman and the unrighteous judge. I often hear this story told in conjunction with the story of the late night neighbor, to press the point of "persevering with God so you eventually get what you need." Luke 18:1-8 read as follows:
Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: "There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, 'Get justice for me from my adversary.' And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, 'Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.'" Then the Lord said, "Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"
The point of most arguments suggesting God wants us to really pray and pray and pray is based on the words "He bears long with them." I agree that God wants us to pray and pray and pray. Please don't assume I am saying otherwise. But I don't believe He wants us to pray and pray and pray just so that can He sit up in Heaven watching, waiting, looking at His watch thinking to Himself, "I think I'll make him pray on this for 2 more weeks, and if he's still troubling me then, maybe I'll do something."
That is not our God.
We must look at the original Greek for these words, "bear long." It will change the entire meaning of the passage. We must also remember that it is God who is bearing long. It is not us who are bearing long, waiting for God to act. These two words are from the Greek word "makrothymeō." The outline of Biblical usage is as follows. I encourage you to read the full Thayer's Lexicon entry at the link above:
So in what way is God "bearing long" with us? By definition of the Greek, He is, not losing heart. He is persevering patiently and bravely in enduring troubles. He is being patient in bearing offenses. He is slow in avenging, slow in anger, and slow in punishing. He is longsuffering with us.
Look at verses 7 and 8 together in light of this definition: "And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"
He will avenge us speedily! He is bearing long with us, waiting on us! If we have sin we have not dealt with, God is bearing long until we take care of that before He answers. If we have anger towards our brother, He is bearing long, waiting for us to go make it right before He responds. If we have bitterness in our heart regarding the very situation we are praying about, He is bearing long, waiting on us to come to Him confessing our need for deliverance of that bitterness before He addresses the issue. We need to ask God to reveal to us what He is bearing long about when we pray. And when we do, and when we are praying in faith, because we are praying His Word, He says He will avenge speedily.