Then [Jesus] said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’
Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked,
and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’
I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
I’ve heard many a sermon on this passage over the years, with the emphasis on the necessity of being bold and persistent in our prayers. The KJV translates the word “boldness” as “importunity,” which is not a word we use much these days. I looked it up and it means “urgent or persistent in solicitation, sometimes annoyingly so.”
But what I somehow have always missed in this passage is that the neighbor’s persistence was not motivated by his own need. Rather, his boldness was expressed on behalf of one whom he was serving.
The man in this parable was most likely asleep when the late-night knock came, yet he opened the door wide to the weary traveler and invited him to come in and rest. He had no bread to share, yet he welcomed his friend to the table. There was no 24-hour grocery store down the street in those days, so that he could fetch what he needed. His only recourse, to provide refreshment for one who was weary and hungry, was to be willing to abase himself by waking his neighbor and pleading with him for help…persistent to the point of annoyance!
I do not usually have difficulty being persistent or bold when a personal need is weighing heavily on me. I will go to God continually about it, much like my three-year-old grandson Isaac will repeatedly ask me for a cookie when he has his heart set on a treat. He doesn’t easily forget the focus of his desire at that moment! But never has he persistently begged me to also give a cookie to his little brother. We’re just not naturally wired that way! Jesus knows this, which is why He tells the parable in such a way that the need of another is what prompts an impassioned plea for help.
This parable is bookended by Jesus’ other famous teachings on prayer: the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2-4) and the admonition to “ask, seek, and knock” (Luke 11:9-10). He ends these teachings on prayer by reminding us that the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11 says “good things”; these parallel passages can be reconciled by the understanding that when the Father gives the Holy Spirit, we truly have the best of all possible “good things”). In contrast to the reluctant and sleepy neighbor in the parable, God is shown to be a loving and attentive Father who delights to give good things to His children when they ask Him.
When our children were young, it gave us pleasure to give them good gifts. It blessed our hearts when they trusted us enough to come to us with the needs and desires that were concerning them. It blessed us even more if they asked for help on behalf of someone they were trying to serve, because it allowed us to see their hearts of compassion.
How much more does our heavenly Father rejoice in providing for us when we are selflessly seeking to serve others?
As I was meditating on all three of these teachings on prayer that Jesus gave for our instruction, I realized that it’s not "either/or," but rather “both/and.” God delights in us when we bring our own needs to Him, even when we bring them over and over again; and He also delights in our bold intercession for others. But the important lesson for me here is this:
The needs of others should motivate my prayer life at least as much as my own needs...
if not more.
Your part in intercessory prayer is…to utilize the commonsense circumstances God puts you in, and the commonsense people He puts you amongst by His providence, to bring them before God’s throne and give the Spirit in you a chance to intercede for them. I have to keep my conscious life as a shrine of the Holy Ghost, then as I bring the different ones before God, the Holy Spirit makes intercession for them. Your intercessions can never be mine, and my intercessions can never be yours, but the Holy Ghost makes intercession in our particular lives, without which intercession someone will be impoverished.