Shameless Asking, Shameless Answers

Luke 11:5-13

Picture a large mat in a one-room house. Dad, mom and their young children are sleeping on it, all tucked together under a big blanket. It is a chilly night in Palestine.

“Joe! Joe!” Dad wakes to his neighbor’s voice outside.

“Can I borrow three loaves of bread? My friend just arrived from a long journey. I had no idea he was coming. I’m so embarrassed; I have nothing to feed him!”

Joe knows that if he climbs out from under the blanket, the cold draft will wake up Betty. And if he slides the heavy bolt to open the door, they will have crying kids to get back to sleep. As much as Joe likes his neighbor, this doesn’t seem like a good time to move from the mat.

“Joe! Please help me! I know Betty baked lots of bread this morning. Please, I don’t have anywhere else to go. Joe, you know that if I don’t give him food, it will look bad on the whole village!”

That is the picture the Lord Jesus painted for His disciples to teach them about praying. The parable ends with Joe getting out of bed to give the bread, and the Lord explains, “I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth(Luk 11:8).[1]

How should we understand this parable? What was the Lord teaching? The answers are in the keyword translated “importunity” (v8), the application the Lord makes (vv9-10), and the follow-up mini-parable (vv11-13). What becomes clear is that we should be praying like the man at the door, and that our Father answers in ways that are both like, and not like, the man inside.

“Importunity” (v8) is alternatively rendered “persistence” (HCSB), or “shamelessness” (LEB footnote). This word is used only here in the Bible and could literally be translated “not shame.”  In this parable, it may describe the shameless way in which the man outside continued to plead until he got the bread. He didn’t care what anyone else in the village thought about his banging on Joe’s door at midnight – he just kept at it.

Is that our prayer life? Shameless persistence in God’s presence shows how seriously we take prayer, and how seriously we desire what we are requesting. We persist in our studies, projects and lifegoals, but if we don’t persist in prayer, how seriously do we desire what we are requesting? Do we really believe prayer matters?

Our keyword may also be used to mean “avoidance of shame,” which could, alternatively, be describing the motive behind the final response of the man inside; he acted to avoid the shame a village would suffer in that society if seen to be inhospitable.[2] A guest at one home was a guest of the village; a failure to show common courtesy reflected badly on everyone, and it ultimately would bring the most shame on the man who refused to help. As the subsequent verses show, there is nothing shameful about our Father’s responses. Like the man in the house, our God answers prayer in a way consistent with His dignity and for the best of all. This should give us every reason to keep praying!

In poetic language, the Lord explained the parable: “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Luk 11:9-10). Each of the verbs is continuous. Like the man who would not leave, “keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking!” Each statement is repeated twice, emphasizing the importance of persistence – and the promise of God’s response.

Our Father’s character and care are further illustrated in the second parable. Picture the same home. Joe and Betty are now at the dinner table, and their young son politely asks, “Dad, could I have a little bit of that fish? Those eggs look so delicious, could I have some on my plate?” There is not a chance Joe would respond by putting a snake, or a scorpion, or anything else that would harm his child, on his dinner plate.

Would our loving Father? Is there any possibility that He would keep what is truly good from us? When He denies us what we request, can we be certain that it is because He loves us and knows what is best for us? The Lord answered those questions unequivocally, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Mat 7:11, in a passage parallel to Luke 11).

Notably, the Lord’s words in Luke contain a special promise: “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (v13). We don’t need to ask for the Spirit to indwell us – He already does (Rom 8:9). But we could keep asking for a greater sense of His working in our lives. In Luke 11, this teaching comes immediately after the Lord told His disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation” (v4). How easily we are tempted by the world, the flesh and the devil. Are we consistently praying about this? The power we need is found in the Holy Spirit (Romans 8), and the Lord here promised that we will know this power if we ask persistently and dependently (Luk 11:9-10,13).

Our God does not need to be stirred into action, and His willingness to answer does not depend on the frequency of our coming to Him. But these parables teach us that we should pray as if it did! We should pray as persistently as the man at the door, who knew Joe could hear him, and as confidently as the child at the table, who knew his father would meet his need. In both cases, it was the character of the one being asked that assured them that he would answer.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.

[2] Walter L. Liefeld, “Luke,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 949-950.