There is a somewhat strange parable in Luke 11. It comes in the middle of some teaching that Jesus is doing in answer to the disciple’s request: Lord, teach us to pray.
What immediately follows their request is a sample prayer that we now call the Lord’s Prayer. In our church we have a time of community prayer every Sunday when we praise God for answers to prayer, and bring our requests to Him as a church. We always conclude that time with the Lord’s Prayer. It’s a great example of prayer, one of many in the Bible, and we can all learn from applying the principles that Jesus teaches us through it.
But right after this model prayer Jesus tells us a parable about a man who is visited by a friend, has nothing to set before him, and who then goes to another friend at midnight to ask for three loaves of bread. I don’t know about you, but in my way of thinking, and based on what I’ve been taught about prayer, this parable seems a little odd.
Since Jesus is teaching about prayer, and if we represent the man who gets visited and doesn’t have any bread, in other words the one who has a need, then who is represented by the other friend? In other words whom do we go to in prayer when we have a need?
As our pastor likes to remind us, the answer that is almost always right in Sunday school and church is: God. God is the one that we go to and in this parable the man who answers from behind his door and tells his needy friend to go away represents God Himself.
Now I don’t know what you’ve been taught about prayer, but I don’t remember anyone ever telling me that I will go to God with my need and He will say, “I’m in bed, don’t bother me, go away.” And I have a hard time imagining that God would do that, but that is exactly what Jesus is teaching the disciples.
I suppose that I could look for symbolic meaning in all of this and wonder if the problem was that the man waited too long to go to his friend. After all, Jesus didn’t say that the visitor came at midnight; all He said was that it was midnight when the man went to his friend. Was it possible that the man created the difficulty, this resistance from God, because he put off going until he had tried everything else first? That’s hard to say.
But what we do know is that the man goes with a need and gets resistance rather than the assistance he was looking for.
James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Maybe James was thinking about this parable when he said that many kinds of trials, perhaps even some resistance from God Himself would test our faith. And he even goes further and tells us that we should consider it all joy, which makes no sense to me. After all, when was the last time that I rejoiced when I received more problems rather than answers to my prayers?
The only way we can look at these trials and rejoice in them is if we understand that we need perseverance. As long as our faith can’t handle resistance, our faith will always fail.
Jesus taught, and James repeats it here, that we need to have perseverance. If our faith can’t withstand trials and disappointments, if we allow ourselves to get discouraged and give up, then we have little chance of receiving anything from God. If our faith wavers based on the circumstances we see in front of us, and isn’t built on the solid rock of God’s word and promises, then we will almost always be disappointed.
The problem that I’ve found is that I tend to blame God. I keep asking Him why He doesn’t answer my prayers, and the answer I keep getting back from Him is: “Why won’t you believe? Don’t you know that all things are possible for the person who believes?”
God’s goal is to bring us through our trials and help us develop the perseverance to overcome any resistance that we might encounter. The resistance will begin to expose the doubts and fears that we have which will allow us to confront and overcome the lies that are causing them. God understands that the perfecting of our faith is more important than getting the answers to our prayers.
It’s not that God won’t answer our prayers, because He has promised that He will. The truth is that God wants our faith to stand up under any difficulty, in spite of any trial, and in the face of overwhelming problems. He knows that if we will let perseverance finish its work, if we will continue to rejoice in the trials because we understand what He is doing, we will perfect our faith and we will then never lack anything again.
The only question we need to ask ourselves is: Are we willing to let perseverance finish its work? If we do, the rewards are exceedingly abundantly beyond anything we could ask or imagine. Then we will finally experience the promise of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I do not lack.”