What makes our prayer effective? On what do we place our hope when we pray?

Introduction

Click here to read the passage. (Luke 11:1-13) can be read below also1.

God works through our prayer. Through prayer, we can gain clarity for a decision we need to make. Prayer can help us be more cautious or even more courageous as we seek to live our lives well. Prayer is incredibly powerful and important.

We all have something in common: we all have people in our life we care about and for whom we want the best. Whether it is financial, physical, mental, social, or spiritual health, we want them to thrive.

When we pray, we hope. We hope for change, improvement, help, and for peace. When we pray we show our hope, so in what do we place our hope when we pray?

Is Prayer Effective because of the Character of My Prayer?

One way to think about it is that I can place my hope on the character of my prayer.

Our passage starts with the disciples saying to Jesus, “John the baptizer taught his disciples to pray. Please teach us to pray. Jesus responds by offering them what we call the Lord’s Prayer, and you will notice this version in Luke is different than the one in Matthew.

After Jesus gives them that form, he tells a parable. When we read parables we make instant conclusions. We get a quick impression and that becomes our own personal theology of prayer.

In this parable, Jesus is telling the disciples in what they are to place their hope when they pray.

The parable states that a friend arrived late in the night and the host friend is unprepared. He doesn’t have any bread. He resolves, “I know, I’ll go ask my neighbor.” So, bang, bang, bang on the door. “My friend has arrived and I have no bread. Lend me three loaves of bread.”

Sorry, I’m on the Atkins diet and I don’t keep bread around.

The man responds, “The door is locked and the ones I love most, the ones I’m responsible for are safe and sound. They are sleeping peacefully, so I cannot get up and give it to you.” 

Jesus then says, even though they are friends the man sleeping will not give bread, but he will give bread because the neighbor asked in a persistent manner.

This seems to indicate that the hope of my prayer is up to my persistence. The man had a need, banged on the door, forgot decorum, and asked boldly. He did not give up, and finally, the one who had what he needed was stirred to action.

Many ministers will lean into this and implore us to be “audacious askers.” If we have a need we need to march up to God and ask and not back down until God replies, “Yes, sir, right away, sir!” 

But, if that is what it says about your prayer, then what does this meaning say about God? That God is reluctant? That God is unaware of your needs until you bang on the door? That you better be self-sufficient and not have anything that may inconvenience the Holy One? Worse, that prayer is banging on the door of heaven to rouse a sleeping God who seems to only care about the precious few who already have what they need, thus leaving you in the dark? 

Some translators forego “persistent” because the Greek word that is used in Luke is rarely used and there is a divergence on how to translate it. Some translate the word as “shameless,” and some combine the two words, “because of his shameless persistence.”

This would seem to line up with the parable of the unjust judge (Luke 18). In that parable, the widow pursues justice and is shamelessly persistent in asking the judge for justice. Yet, the question remains, are we to take of this that God is an unjust judge who begrudgingly gives justice? That we must grovel in order to get an answer? 

Is it really good news to be told that the hope in our prayers being answered is up to our persistence and shameless asking? This mindset can turn grace into a reward: you prayed hard enough, so here, enjoy.

And when your prayer goes unanswered, where’s the comfort? Did we not persist enough? We didn’t bang loud enough to wake God?

Now, we are reminded by James in his short New Testament letter, “You have not because you ask not.” We are to ask and we should be persistent, but our hope is not in the character of our praying.

The Hope of Our Prayer is in the Character of God

After this parable, Jesus tells another story and gives us the answer we need. Instead of making our hope in the character of how we pray, Jesus makes our hope in the character of God. 

You see, God is not an unjust judge who withholds justice. God is not asleep, lazy, or reluctant to help. God is a Father who delights in giving us good things. The comparison is this: we are flawed people and yet even we are moved to action by the asking of others. God is not flawed, so we should expect our loving God to be attentive to us.

Jesus asks, who of you, having a hungry child who asks for a fish will give them a snake? If they ask for an egg, you’d give them a scorpion. None of you! Would God play such a heinous trick on us? No, because God is loving and benevolent.

Jesus’ point here is that we act this way yet we are moved to action. You are flawed by God is not. Place your motivation and your prayer-hope in the goodness and loving kindness of God. Why should I persist? Because God hears and acts. Why should I pray and not be embarrassed? Because God does not shame me or leave me locked outside.

God loves to care for us.

Jesus’ Model of Hoping in the Wisdom and Goodness of God

In our passage, Jesus gives the Lord’s Prayer, which is somewhat different in this gospel than in Matthew. It seems that Jesus is summarizing a prayer he prayed every day called “The Amidah.” The Lord’s Prayer is likely a shorter or summarized version of this prayer.

The Amidah has 18 blessings, the last three are thanksgiving. Imagine Jesus praying this every day of his life and how it shaped him, even in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he experienced great grief, where he had to depend on the character of God.

In part, we read from The Amidah, “We give thanks to You that You are the Lord our God and the God of our fathers forever and ever. Through every generation, You have been the rock of our lives, the shield of our salvation. We will give You thanks and declare Your praise for our lives that are committed into Your hands, for our souls that are entrusted to You, for Your miracles with us, and for Your wonders and Your benefits that are with us at all times, evening, morning, and noon. Oh, beneficent One, Your mercies never fail; Oh merciful One, Your loving kindnesses never cease. We have always put our hope in You. For all these acts may Your name be blessed and exalted continually Our King, forever and ever. Let every living thing give thanks to You and praise Your name in truth, Oh God, our salvation and our help. (Selah) Blessed are You, Oh Lord, whose Name is the Beneficent One, and to whom it is fitting to give thanks.” (read more here)

Even Christ himself was not exempt in trusting the character of God in the most difficult of moments. Praying with thanksgiving and trust can deepen our faith and build our love of God.

  1. He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
    Father, hallowed be your name.
       Your kingdom come. 
       Give us each day our daily bread. 
       And forgive us our sins,
         for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
       And do not bring us to the time of trial.’

    And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
    ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give 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!’ ↩︎

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