A Further Primer on Prayer

September 15, 2008 · Print This Article

A Further Primer on Prayer

The Word

Text:  Luke 11:1-13 (KJV)

Probably nothing hinders an attitude of expectancy in prayer more than the supposition that to be effective, prayer has to take a long time. Inherent in our nature is the conviction that to get anything from God, we have to work hard to earn it. Most of us are at least superficially convinced that everything hangs on God’s grace, that we can be forgiven solely by free favor shown through the Lord Jesus Christ. But beyond that beginning, even the most sincere person will still be inclined to believe that great prayer requires great amounts of time.

The stories of powerful men and women who have prayed and shaped lives and nations through hours of intercession and lengthy travail seem to buttress the case against my being effective in prayer. But Jesus taught a pathway to effective praying that any one of us can walk. It may lead eventually to experiences like those of the great prayer warriors whose dedication so intimidates us. Yet their arrival at those heights began with early steps on the flat lands where they learned basic attitudes toward prayer—and, no doubt, where they cast off many false notions about it as well. Let us begin in the same way.

In Luke 11, Jesus tells a story that ought to be the primer on prayer. The message of the story is that God wants us to ask Him freely and boldly for whatever we need. Ironically, however, its original intention has been seriously distorted. The principal reason for this is one word in verse eight: importunity.

Importunity appears in the King James Version, while the word persistence is the unfortunate translation in most modern versions. Perhaps the best way to discover the simple power of what Jesus was unfolding in His preliminary teaching on prayer is to retell the story:

“Suppose a friend of yours arrives at your house in the middle of the night, after traveling all day long. Because he hasn’t had anything to eat, you go to prepare something for him, only to discover that your pantry is empty. Because the shops are closed at that hour, you decide to go to the nearby home of another friend, and although it’s a horrible time to arouse anyone, you bang loudly on the door.

“Now answer me,” Jesus is saying, “which of you has a friend who would stand at his bedroom window and shout out to you, say, ‘Don’t bother me. The whole household is in bed’?

“None of you! It’s not even a question of friendship. The man will get up and give him what he needs because of the simple fact that the neighbor had the nerve to ask.

“And I’m telling youask, and it shall be given unto you!”

That’s the uncluttered version of Jesus’ story. It tells how to learn to pray well. To begin, you need to learn to have the nerve to ask boldly.

A look at the original language supports this simple approach, so much so that it is mind-boggling to understand why this passage has been used to show that prayer must earn answers through overcoming God’s reluctance, as if our persistence could overcome God’s resistance. In fact, Jesus is saying that your first barrier isn’t God—it’s your own hesitation to ask freely. You need to learn the kind of boldness that isn’t afraid to ask—whatever the need or the circumstance.

The lesson revolves around one idea: shameless boldness. The word employed here occurs only twice in the Greek New Testament, once in its positive form and once in its negated form. In 1 Timothy 2:9 aidos is used to describe a posture of propriety and reverence. It means “modesty” or “respect.” It applies to the adornment of women that should distinguish them from the brassiness of the worldly woman. The Elizabethan English word, “shamefacedness,” which appears in the King James Version, is literally correct, but its flavor has changed too much in 350 years to be helpful any longer when it comes to ladies’ garments.

But Jesus’ use of the word in this parable is in its negated form—anaideia. The “alpha privitive” of the Greek language has the same force as English prefixes like “im” or “un.” Negated, “possible” becomes “im-possible”; “likely” becomes “un-likely.” Jesus said the reason the midnight seeker gets what he needs is because of his anaideia–not his reverence, not his modest sensitivity to the hour, not his caution, nor his respect for propriety, but his bold unashamedness—indeed, his brassiness.

It is the brassiness of a smart aleck making demands, but the forwardness of a person who is so taken with an awareness of need that he abandons normal protocol.

There is nothing in the text that lends itself to the idea of persistence. The contrast is clear: the awakened friend gets up and gets what is needed. He doesn’t carry on a war of words from the upstairs window. Nor does he smolder silently in irritation under the blankets while his friend downstairs insistently beats the door and shouts his need into the unresponding darkness.

The only other point of confusion lies in a misunderstanding of the verb “ask.” Its tense in Greek conveys the idea of continual asking. But that is not a command to ask repeatedly for the same thing in order to force God into action. The continuality which Jesus wants is in ceaseless petitioning. In other words, you need never hesitate to ask for something just because you asked for something else earlier. Any hint that heaven “gets too busy” with earlier requests to have either time or supply for the next is pure folly.

Here’s the message of the parable:

  1. You have a friend in the heavenly Father. He’s on your side, and available anytime, in every circumstance.
  2. Boldness is your privilege. Your assignment is to ask; His commitment is to give—as much as you need.

This is the beginning. “Seeking” and “knocking” are further steps as one walks the pathway of prayer. But we need to get started, and this is probably the greatest need facing us today: too many hesitate to pray. They hesitate through a sense of unworthiness, a feeling of distance from Deity, a wondering about God’s will in the matter, a concern of “if it’s okay,” an uncertainty of how much to ask for, a fear that God won’t hear.

Jesus strikes the death blow to such hesitancy: ask. Ask with unabashed forwardness; ask with shameless boldness! He commands. And when you do, He clearly teaches, “you friend, My Father, will rise to the occasion, and see that everything you need is provided.”



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