Topical Scripture: Luke 11:5-13
2020 has been a year like no other in living memory.
It started as 1973, with the impeachment proceedings. Then it became 1918 with the coronavirus pandemic. It added 2008 (and maybe 1929) with the recession. Then it added 1968 with racial issues. None of the last three will end any time soon, and we can add the election this fall.
Psychologists distinguish between acute stress, something we experience in the face of immediate but short-term challenges, and chronic stress, which is ongoing and debilitating. Of the two, chronic stress can especially lead to depression and other physical and psychological challenges.
Today we’re beginning a series on hope for hard times, turning each week to Jesus’ timeless parables for the wisdom and encouragement we need. On this Father’s Day, we’ll begin with the power of persistent prayer. We’ll see how this power unlocks the door to God’s strength, encouragement, and hope. And we’ll see why it is especially valuable for fathers in our culture.
Before we study Scripture together, let me ask you to make this personal. Where do you most need persistence in your life? What in your past, present, or future is most on your heart this morning?
Name the reason you need the power of persistent prayer. Now let’s learn how to experience it from the Father who loves us all.
A rude neighbor
Today we’ll study one of Jesus’ most misunderstood parables. The problem is not the setting of the parable itself, for it was one of the most common of his time.
The first man in the story has a problem, much more of a crisis in Jesus’ day than in ours. A traveler has come to his home at midnight—not at all uncommon, since most people traveled at night to avoid the day’s heat. This man was supposed to bake enough bread for anyone who might come to his home that night, for this was a basic requirement of hospitality in their culture.
To have someone come to your home and have nothing to feed them is for us an inconvenience; for them it was a very major failure. If you were to invite the family over for Easter dinner, then forgot and had them all arrive but had nothing to feed them, you’d have this man’s situation.
So he goes to his neighbor at midnight for help. This neighbor has baked enough bread; that isn’t the problem. But his door is locked, something never done in the ancient Near East unless a family had gone to sleep and did not want to be awakened. A locked door was their “Do Not Disturb” sign, never violated.
The reason was simple. Common homes in Jesus’ day were one room, with one window and a door. The first two-thirds of the room was a dirt floor where the animals slept for the night. The back one-third was a raised wooden platform with a charcoal stove around which the entire family slept. For this man to get up at midnight he must awaken his family and then his animals just to get to the door.
All this to give the man what he was required by social custom to have anyway. If your family came for that Easter dinner and you were unprepared, so you went to your neighbor and asked her to give you the meal she prepared for her guests, you might anticipate her reaction.
In Jesus’ story, the neighbor gets up despite all this—the rudeness, the inconvenience, the breach of social custom—because of the man’s “impudence.” The Greek word means “shameless refusal to quit.” He simply will not go away until the man gives him what he wants. And so he does.
So Jesus concludes: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (v. 9). The Greek could be translated literally, “ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking.” Practice persistence with God.
A loving father
Now, what does Jesus’ parable mean for us? First, let’s dismiss what it doesn’t mean.
Jesus is not teaching that we can wear God out if we ask for something enough. That God is the man inside the house asleep, but if we come and bang on his door loud enough and long enough, he will give us what we want. Even if he doesn’t want to, if we keep asking, eventually we’ll receive what we want.
Unfortunately, I’ve heard that very theology preached: if you have enough faith, God will give you whatever you ask for. Whether you want to be healed, or be wealthy, or anything at all, just ask in enough faith and it’s yours.
That is absolutely not the point here. Jesus is using a very common rabbinic teaching technique known in the Hebrew as the qal wahomer. Literally, “from the lesser to the greater.” Applied here, the point is this: if a neighbor at midnight would give you what you ask if you ask him, how much more will God answer our requests when we bring them to him.
They must be in his will, for his purposes and glory. This is no guarantee that enough faith will ever obligate God. It is a promise that if this man would hear his neighbor, how much more does God wish to do the same.
You see the qal wahomer again in verse 13: “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!”
Why persistent prayer is so powerful
How does Jesus’ story relate to our need for persistent prayer on this Father’s Day?
Let’s admit that persistence in prayer is difficult for our fallen culture. Many in our secularized society are convinced that the spiritual is superstitious fiction. To them, praying to God is like praying to Zeus. If it makes you feel better, go ahead. But don’t persist in your prayers as though they make any real difference.
Our materialistic culture is also convinced that the material is what matters. Seeing is believing. You cannot see beyond the immediate, so why would you persist in doing something that doesn’t bring immediate results? If God doesn’t answer your prayer now, why keep praying it?
In the face of such skepticism, why do what Jesus teaches us to do? Because persistent prayer positions us to experience God’s best.
Praying to God does not inform him of our need or change his character. Rather, it positions us to receive what his grace intends to give.
Persistent prayer does something else as well: it keeps us connected to God so his Spirit can mold us into the image of Christ. When we pray, the Holy Spirit is able to work in our lives in ways he cannot otherwise. The more we pray, continuing to trust our problems and needs to the Lord, the more he makes us the people he intends us to be and empowers us for the challenges we face.
This power is especially relevant for fathers in our culture. A ministry focused on encouraging fathers ran a survey asking them to identify their greatest challenges. On the list were these issues:
- Work and home life balance
- Creating time to love my wife and kids as they need to be loved
- Spending biblical time with my kids when I’m exhausted
- Connecting with my teenagers
- Staying motivated when I’m tired
- Being a godly example to my wife and kids
- Being a consistent example and not losing my temper
- Being the leader my family desires, needs, and deserves
Jesus would tell fathers to take their challenges to their Father. He knows our wives and children better than we ever will. His Spirit stands ready to equip us, empower us, and encourage us.
So, pick your greatest challenge as a father. Name it before your Father. Continue to pray about it, knowing that persistent prayer connects you with his power and wisdom. Know that as you knock, the door will be opened, by the grace of God.
If you’re not a father, you can do the same today. Your Father is waiting to hear from you with all his omnipotent strength and omniscient wisdom. Unlike the man in Jesus’ parable, he is awake and waiting on you.
I walk in our Dallas neighborhood early each morning. This week, I came across a yard sign that impressed me greatly. It proclaimed: “Hope is alive. Jesus is alive!” The first is true because the second is true.
There is hope for our past because Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8) and then rose from our grave. There is hope for our present because the living Christ is praying for us right now (Romans 8:34). There is hope for our future because Jesus will come for us one day and is building our home in paradise right now (John 14:1–3).
Hope is alive because Jesus is alive. Why do you need to practice persistent prayer to him today?
It is always too soon to give up on God.