What Does Jesus Say is THE Key To Effective Prayer? #336 + A Friendly ‘Hello’ From Our Dog, Cooper!
Happy Thanksgiving Boxing Day, friends – or, happy Friday, if you prefer. Insert funny turkey or overeating joke here.
Today we are discussing impact prayer, and considering Jesus’ great emphasis on prayer that we see both here in Luke 11 and in Luke 18, which we will read next Friday. In addition to Luke 11, we will also read 1 Chronicles 24, Micah 2, and 1 Peter 4. I believe the next few weeks that the U.S. is going to see a great need for the saints of God to engage in prayer like never before, so I would earnestly ask you to listen to the teachings of Jesus in today’s passage. Let’s go ahead and read the passage – it’s quite long – and then discuss Jesus’ teaching on perseverance in prayer and shameless persistence.
Importunity has become one of my favorite words that I didn’t learn until I was in my 20s. Most modern translations uses two words in Luke 11 (shameless persistence, shameless boldness) where the KJV uses importunity. It is a word that means “persistence to the point of annoyance,” and is a very, very strong word. The Greek word here is, “ἀναίδεια anaídeia” and Luke 11 is the only place it is used in the Bible, making it a hapax legomena. In the Greek, to negate a word meaning, or display the opposite of it, you put an alpha/a in front of the word. We do this in English too with a, or anti. Apathy means lack of pathos, or interest, for instance, and is derived from the Greek. What we have here is the Greek word that means reverence or honor or modesty or even respect with the negative particle in front of it. In other words, Jesus is saying ask God without shame or modesty, or reverence…which is just mind-blowing. Now, I hear some of you right now, in your car, or exercising, and you are incredulous – “No way that Jesus would tell us to shamelessly pester God!” And, I hear you, but I cannot escape the conclusion that Jesus is here telling us to pray so persistently to God about things that if we were doing it to a human or anybody that lacks infinite patience, that it would come across as annoying. “Don’t bother your father,” is a phrase that has been uttered countless times on tv sitcoms over the years, but Jesus here is basically saying that the key to prevailing prayer – prayer that is answered – is to bother our Father!
You want proof that this conclusion is correct? Okay – how’s this. Imagine it is late at night maybe 12-1AM. You’ve been in bed for a while and your family is asleep too. You are dreaming this really amazing dream about these flying horses and BAM BAM BAM. You sit upright in bed – what was that noise? Your wife grips your elbow with a worried look, and you know she heard it too. One of the kids starts crying, because they are scared. Your wife urges you to go check it out, but you don’t hear anything, and are thinking maybe it was just part of the dream when BAM BAM BAM…DING-DONG. And you know somebody is at the door! You holler at them through the door, and it is one of your neighbors – one you don’t know very well. You ask him what he needs, and he hollers to you that he needs some bread. Come back tomorrow, you yell – I’m in bed and the whole family is asleep. You think that might work, and begin to lay down when BAM, BAM, BAM – DING-DONG, DING-DONG, DING-DONG! Go away!! BAM, BAM, BAM – DING-DONG! “Just give him the bread, honey – we need to sleep!” Now – put yourself in this parable of Jesus. The neighbor banging on the door doesn’t appear to be a bestie, but a friend, I suppose and he’s beating on your door around midnight asking for some food to share with a traveller who just arrived. Are you bothered? Aggravated a bit? I know I would be! But, you get up and give him the bread anyway. Why? Well, at least in the parable, Jesus says that the man at the door gets what he asks for because of his shameless persistence…and THIS IS HOW JESUS IS TEACHING US TO PRAY!
Further, He doesn’t end there, He keeps going:
9 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you.10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Jesus says, ASK, SEEK and KNOCK – all three verbs are in the imperative sense, which means that Jesus isn’t offering a mere suggestion, but commanding His followers to ASK God, to SEEK God and to KNOCK on the door until HE ANSWERS, just like the shameless man in the parable. Will this activity annoy God? I don’t think so – I think it will DELIGHT Him because you are obeying the command of Jesus! In fact, John “Amazing Grace” Newton wrote a hymn about this very concept, which ends with this line:
Then let us earnest be,
And never faint in pray’r;
He loves our importunity,
And makes our cause his care.
John Newton and Richard Cecil, The Works of John Newton, vol. 3 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 424.
Newton also wrote this of importunity and persistence in prayer:
For the prayers of God’s people have a powerful efficacy. The holy and benevolent importunity of Abraham would have prevailed even in favour of Sodom, if ten righteous persons had been found in it.* When Sennacherib invaded Judea, had overrun the greatest part of the country, and thought Jerusalem would be an easy conquest, Hezekiah, though he took such precautions as prudence suggested, did not defeat him by arms, but by prayer.† In the prayers of true believers is our best visible resource. These are the chariots and horsemen of Israel. United prayer, humiliation of heart, a mourning for sin in secret, and a faithful testimony against it in public, will more essentially contribute to the safety and welfare of the nation, than all our military preparations without them. We boast of our navy, and it has often proved, by the blessing of God, our bulwark; but how easily can he who walketh upon the wings of the wind, dash the best appointed fleet to pieces against the rocks, or sink it like lead in the mighty waters! We boast of our troops; but he can easily cut them off with sickness, give them up to a spirit of discord, or impress them with a sudden terror, so that the stoutest hearts shall tremble, and the mighty warriors turn pale and drop their weapons! A thousand unforeseen events and contingencies are always at his disposal, to blast and disappoint the best concerted enterprises; for that the race is not necessarily sure to the swift, nor the battle to the strong,* is not only asserted in the Scripture, but confirmed by the experience and observation of all ages. But his people are precious in his sight, and their prayers he will hear. Unknown and unnoticed as they are in the world, he highly values them. He has redeemed them by his blood; he inhabits them by his Spirit; he has prepared heaven for them; and the earth itself is continued for their sakes, and shall be destroyed when they are all removed from it. They are the light, the salt,† the strength, and the safety of the nations among which they are dispersed. Except the Lord of Hosts had left a small remnant‡ of these among us, we should long ago have been as Sodom, and made like unto Gomorrah. To his attention to their prayers and concerns, I doubt not, the preservation of this city, at the time of the late horrible riots, may be ascribed. I wish I could now recall to your minds the emotions which some of you then felt, when your countenances bore a strong impression of your inward anxiety. Those terrors came upon you unexpectedly; and, though they are forgotten by too many, scenes equally distressing may present themselves before you are aware. O may he in mercy animate this remnant, now to stand in the breach as one man, and to wrestle for a sinful land.
John Newton and Richard Cecil, The Works of John Newton, vol. 5 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 159–160.