Summary: We need to approach prayer with a sense of bold, unhesitating urgency--with chutzpah. We have no worries--unlike the grumpy, groggy neighbor, God never slumbers and is always happy to hear from us.
Jesus gave His disciples the Model Prayer, and followed with a story about someone in need of “daily bread,” a parable that conveys the attitude our prayers should have—we should approach God an unhesitating sense of urgency. The story was a common situation for our Lord’s hearers, one they could easily identify with, and it’s likely many smiled and chuckled at this true-to-life tale. Some had likely found themselves in similar circumstances.
Hospitality was a big deal in Bible times, and as a host, it was considered a huge dishonor to be unprepared to provide for guests. There were no convenience stores, so people would call on neighbors in times of need. In this case, the timing could’ve been better. An unexpected traveler showed up late at night, traveling at night to avoid the heat, and no one would turn guests away. But this unanticipated guest caused an embarrassing predicament. The host is out of bread.
Midnight isn’t exactly when we’d like to be imposed upon, so the neighbor who has been awakened isn’t in a cordial frame-of-mind. Houses were small, and families would roll out mats and sleep all together in a row. To have to get up, light a lamp and unlock the door would wake his family.
The awakened neighbor is annoyed, yet because of his needy neighbor’s “boldness”, he begrudgingly capitulates and gives his aggravating neighbor some bread. Three loaves were the normal number used in a meal. The needy host is unabashed, and a bit insensitive, yet the needs of hospitality override the audacity of having to ask for bread in the middle of the night. As a host, he had a solemn responsibility to care for his guests, regardless of the hour of their arrival, and the sleeping man had an obligation to help his neighbor. He’s complains about the inconvenience, but he does not refuse. That would be unthinkable and dishonorable in this culture. He of course will be a good neighbor and friend.
Jesus closes His story with a few rhetorical questions, verses 11-12. If our children ask for good things, will we give them harmful things? Of course not. Will we respond to our children’s needs? Of course we will. Jesus then adds a third question, the key question: “How much more will God respond”? If a neighbor will respond by providing an urgent need, even in the middle of the night, how much more will God? And so, the parable answers the question: “Will God answer our prayers?” The Apostle Paul assures us in Ephesians 3:20 that God “will do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.” You will never hear God say, “I’m sorry; I’d like to be help you out, but this isn’t a good time for Me” (Fred Sisson).
We need this attitude of urgency in prayer that causes us to seek God with no hesitation. We may be troubled in the middle of the night. We may wake up with worries. Unlike the groggy neighbor in the story, God is readily, gladly available. We have no worries that we might “wake” God up. He never slumbers; He’s always “on-duty.” We won’t be bothering Him, and He won’t be irritated with us. Plus we have a right to pray, a privilege of access and confidence. Moreover, God wants us to pray.
I need to point out a misreading of this parable, centering on the word translated “boldness” (anaideia) in verse 8; the NIV nearly gets it right. It is a difficult word to translate. Because other translations render the attitude of the man asking for bread as “persistence” or “importunity,” some people think we need to nag God, to keep asking Him over-and-over for things, to be a pest. The rationale is: If we pray enough, God will be motivated to give us what we want…as if we could force His hand. Do we really think we can change God’s mind by badgering Him? And do we really want something other than His will? The word “boldness” might best be rendered by the Yiddish word “chutzpah,” a kind of brash, nervy audacity. We go to God without hesitation…then we accept His response. Sometimes the most loving answer God can give is “No,” and He’s not obligated to explain “why.”
Let’s remember the context: Jesus had just given the “Lord’s Prayer,” which says “Thy will be done.” That phrase is a prayer strategy to remind us that God’s answers are wiser than our prayers. The best prayer leaves the answer to God, who will always do what is best. Any other attitude assumes we know more than God. That would be like praying “Thy will be changed.” We need to see that God doesn’t always cater to our desires because He has something better in mind, something we fail to grasp. A woman struggling with clinical depression wrote: “I used to see prayer as my way of trying to get God to do what I wanted. Now I see it as my way of being in on what God is doing, and just hanging on.” Submission to God’s will means letting God be God.