June 30, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 11:5-8 (NRSV)
And [Jesus] 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.”
In Luke 11, Jesus tells a story that encourages us to pray boldly, and not just boldly, but with shameless audacity. When we need something from God, we are free to ask and ask and ask, even if it seems rude. God can handle it. Jesus encourages it. What an amazing invitation!
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
In Luke 11, after Jesus gives his disciples a model prayer, an abridged version of the Lord’s Prayer, he continues to teach a bit more about prayer with a parable (Luke 11:5-8) and some additional instruction along with illustration (11:9-13). Today we’ll focus on the parable. On Monday we’ll examine Jesus’s supplementary teaching.
The parable in Luke 11:5-9 doesn’t require lots of interpretation. When a man is visited late at night by an unexpected out-of-town guest, the man wakes up a neighboring friend to ask for three loaves of bread, enough to satisfy the guest’s hunger. But the friend declines, explaining that his children are in bed with him. Poor families in the time of Jesus lived in one-room homes and slept in a common family bed. The man with the bread didn’t want to wake his children. If you’ve ever been a parent with young children, you can understand his concern. Waking them up would mean a whole less sleep for the whole family!
Nevertheless, when I read this parable, I think to myself: What a lousy friend! Surely any true friend would help the man in need of bread, even if it required waking his children. I don’t think I’m projecting my own friendship values onto the first century, either. Friendship was highly valued in that time, perhaps even more than it is in my current cultural setting.
Jesus understands that the guy in bed is not being a great friend. That’s the assumption behind verse 8. Jesus recognizes that the man with the bread won’t give what a friend ought to give. But, and this is the main point of the parable, if the man in need of bread exercises persistence, if he keeps on knocking and asking, then the man in bed will finally give his friend the bread he needs.
It’s true that the man in need of bread exercised persistence. But that language – which I borrowed from the NRSV – actually misses the nuance of Jesus’s teaching here. If you were to look up the Greek word translated as “persistence” (anaideia) in the standard Greek-English lexicon you’d find, not “persistence,” but “shamelessness, impertinence, impudence.” So, Jesus isn’t only saying, “Pray and keep on praying” but, as the NIV puts it, Pray with “shameless audacity.”
Isn’t that amazing?! Jesus is encouraging us to go for it completely when we pray, not to worry about having good manners with God. I do find this surprising. Though, when I consider the Psalms, I remember how brash the psalm writers can be when they pray. For example, consider Psalm 44:23: “Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! To not reject us forever.” The Message puts it this way: “Get up, GOD! Are you going to sleep all day? Wake up! Don’t you care what happens to us?” If you didn’t find that line in the Spirit-inspired Psalms, you’d never think it was appropriate in prayer.
The New Testament book of Hebrews provides a solid theological basis for bold outspokenness in prayer. In chapter 4 we read, “Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us, therefore, approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We can come before God in prayer with boldness – the Greek word means, more literally, “saying everything that’s on our mind” – because of who Jesus is and what he has done. He not only understands our weaknesses, but also has opened up for us free and full access to God’s throne.
So, the parable of the man needing bread is shocking, but it’s not inconsistent with what we see elsewhere in Scripture. Jesus encourages us to be persistent, to ask, and keep on asking in prayer. But, even more, he urges us to be unafraid of breaking the rules, of going too far, of being shameless, impertinent, and impudent. God seeks our complete honesty. God is not put off when we speak boldly, even brashly. Yes, to be sure there is also good reason to be humble before God, to submit our will to his. But that should not keep us from telling God exactly what we need, again and again, and again. You see, God is not like the man in bed, even though it might seem like it sometimes. God is ready to offer “mercy and grace to help in time of need.”
How do you respond to this parable of Jesus?
Have you ever asked anything of a friend that created inconvenience? What happened?
How much freedom do you feel when you pray?
Can you imagine praying to God with “shameless audacity”? If so, why? If not, why not?
What holds you back in your communication with God?
What helps you to pray freely and boldly, without worrying about politeness?
If there’s something in your life that needs God’s help, practice what Jesus encourages in this parable. Pray with persistence. Even more, pray with shameless audacity. Pay attention to what you think and feel as you do this.
Lord Jesus, thank you for this amazing parable. If you hadn’t told this story, I would not believe that shameless audacity was fitting in prayer. But you encourage us to pray in ways that seem to break the rules of politeness. That’s almost beyond my comprehension.
Lord, I know there are also times when it’s right to be humble in prayer, to submit my full self to God. And there are times when it’s good to wait in silence. Help me, I pray, to experience the full range of prayerful communication. May I know the freedom to come before God without holding back, without fear or hesitation.
Thank you for the invitation to approach the throne of grace with boldness. Thank you for the promise that, when I do, I will receive mercy and grace. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: https://www.theologyofwork.org/the-high-calling/daily-reflection/wake-o-lord
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.