I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will arise and give him as many as he needeth. (ASV)
Would you rather be a bad host or a bad friend? In Luke 11:5-8, Jesus told a parable about an annoyingly persistent friend who, when faced with this choice, decided he’d rather wake up his sleeping friend (and his whole household) to borrow a few measly pieces of bread than be a bad host to his out-of-town company.
The persistent friend didn’t care that his midnight visit and his loud “whispering” through-the-walls, put his friend out. To him, the greater offense would’ve been not offering his travel-weary friends some much-needed refreshment. So he began asking, seeking, and knocking until he found a solution to his problem. It wasn’t love for his friend that finally prompted the man to get out of bed, but it was his friend’s utterly shameless, overly bold, and annoyingly persistent request. In other words, it was his importunity that got him the results he wanted.
After Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray, Jesus told a story.
And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell 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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”Luke 11:5-13
Five Principles for Receiving Answers to Prayer
Have you ever felt like your prayers only go as far as your ceiling? The story in Luke 11 provides us with five principles for receiving answers to our prayers. Receiving answers to our prayers isn’t about saying the magic words, but it is sometimes a matter of our importunity.
1. Get Comfortable with Uncomfortable
The sort of importunity we find in Luke 11 makes us a little uncomfortable. Most of us would rather be a bad host than an annoying friend. Yet, Jesus used this story as an illustration of how we ought to pray. In other words, Jesus sanctioned brash and somewhat demanding prayers when we approach God. This feels wrong, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we be polite, reverent, and deferential when we approach God in prayer? According to Jesus, not necessarily. When was the last time you prayed with importunity?
2. Desperate Times Call for Desperate Prayers
In 2003, my Mom was dying from cancer. She desperately needed a needle in the haystack “perfect match” bone marrow donor, to save her life. I rallied friends and family to pray. At times, I was self-conscious about asking for prayer again. I wondered if I was testing the limits of friendship to send out yet another request. But those thoughts were fleeting, as we were desperate for God to intervene and save her life.
It was my importunity that caused me to lay aside my self-consciousness, and beg people to pray for her. In our desperation for God to intervene, we pray with more boldness. If you’ve ever been roused to pray for a friend in the middle of the night or rushed to the hospital to be near the bedside of a loved one, you know what importune praying feels like. If you’ve searched the Scriptures to lay hold of God’s promises for peace in the midst of a storm, you know the desperation of needing God to answer your prayers.
While we don’t like that feeling of helplessness and dependence, God does. I usually take a more humble and reverent approach to prayer, and only on a few very desperate occasions have I ever dared to ‘demand’ anything from God. Yet, recently I was in a place of needing to see God move. I’ve been asking him to show up for my family in a big way. I’m reminded again of the access I have to pray with an almost irreverent boldness.
3. A Case for Unrelenting Prayer
Is it ok to demand anything from God? Can we be bold and say, “Listen here, God! I need you to remember me, and do something!” If this sort of prayer makes you uncomfortable, listen to some of the cries to God from the Psalmist.
- Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry! Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit! Psalm 17:1
- Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! Psalm 27:7
- Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy! Psalm 55:1
- Hear my prayer, O Lord; let my cry come to you! Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call! Psalm 102:1-3
- Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! Psalm 143:1
4. The Father’s Heart is to do You Good
We are rarely encouraged to be utterly shameless, overly bold, and annoyingly persistent. Yet this is exactly how Jesus encouraged us to pray. If you’re wondering if after praying with such boldness, you might’ve offended or angered God, Jesus reminds us that it is the father’s heart to give good things to his children.
“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13).
5. Sue God to Answer Your Prayers
God is not mad or annoyed by our persistent, demanding prayers. He doesn’t roll his eyes when we desperately lay our burdens before him again. Instead, he welcomes our importunity and reminds us that he loves us and wants to do us good. The Puritan Thomas Goodwin took it even a step further, and said, we ought to ‘sue God’ in our prayers. He said,
“Sue Him for it, sue Him for it. Do not leave God alone. Pester Him, as it were, with His own promise. Tell Him what He has said He is going to do. Quote Scripture to Him…It pleases Him. The child may be slightly impertinent, it doesn’t matter, the Father likes it in spite of that. And God is our Father, and He loves us, and He likes to hear us pleading His own promises, quoting His own words to Him, and saying, in light of this, can you refrain from answering me? It delights the heart of God. Sue Him! That is, demand that He answer you because He has promised to do so!”
All in the Family
Incredible, isn’t it? Sue God. Perhaps this is as uncomfortable as it is awe-inspiring. You have access, as God’s child to approach him with bold, importune prayer.
However, if you’re not a child of God, I wouldn’t recommend this approach. I’ll happily attend to my children, when they may demand food from me because they’re my kids. But I’d feel differently if one of their friends entered my house and made the same demands. This type of access to our heavenly Father is a benefit of being a child of God. The good news is, that we are all invited and welcome to join the family. The first prayer God wants to hear from you is the one of repentance and belief in his Son.
Friend, whether you’re asking God for three loaves today, or you’re asking him to move mountains on your behalf, you can pray with importunity.
You can approach the throne of God and sue him to fulfill his promise to you through his Word. He delights to do you good, and he’s eager to answer such prayers.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Pray Hardest When it’s Hardest to Pray