I am frequently befuddled by people who talk to me about a message that I’ve preached as they explain what they “got out” of the message. I am startled because often what they heard and what I thought I was saying were two entirely different things.
I’ve enjoyed a series of comics from the Non Sequitur comic strip by Wiley. In this series there are two boxes. The first box is titled, “What Was Heard” in the other box, “What Was Said.” It illustrates how difficult communication can be. Let me give you some examples from the strip:
What was Heard (from a mother to daughter sitting with her man) “Oh, you could’ve done so much better than this loser, dear.” What was actually said was: “If you’re happy, I’m happy.”
A husband is reading the paper and his wife peers around the corner and he hears, “Let’s go drain the life force from your body.” What she actually said was, “Let’s go shopping.”
There is the picture of a family at dinner and mom is putting food on the little boys plate. What he hears is, “There is nothing I like more than making you puke.” What mom actually said was, “It’s good for you.”
A husband is talking to his wife as they are getting dressed. She hears, “Most of the time you look old and fat.” When in reality what he actually said was, “You look pretty tonight, honey.”
The parables we look at this morning are parables that are often heard differently than the way they were given. Conclusions are often drawn that are confusing and dangerous.
In the parable in Luke 11 there is the story of a man who receives an unexpected visitor late at night. You need to understand that in the east, hospitality was a “sacred duty”. If a guest came to your home it was a matter of honor to present the guest with an ample meal. Unfortunately and unexpected guest could be quite embarrassing. These people wouldn’t make a lot of extra food because it would spoil quickly. The man in the story faced such an embarrassing situation. He had a guest but the cupboard was bare.
Apparently this man knew that his friend had an ample food supply so he went to his neighbor’s house and knocks on the door. My research indicates that doors were almost always open in this area to promote ventilation. Doors were only shut when a person did not want to be disturbed. In this case the door was shut and it appears that the family was asleep. William Barclay tells us about a Palestinian home,
The poorer Palestinian house consisted of one room with only one little window. The floor was simply of beaten earth covered with dried reeds and rushes. The room was divided into two parts, not by a partition but by a low platform. Two-thirds of it were on ground level. The other third was slightly raised. On the raised part the charcoal stove burned all night, and round it the whole family slept, not on raised beds but on sleeping mats. Families were large and they slept close together for warmth. For one to rise was inevitably to disturb the whole family. Further, in the villages it was the custom to bring the livestock, the hens and the cocks and the goats, into the house at night.
With this set up it is easy to see why the man would not want to get up and answer the door! It would disturb the entire family. So he tells his friend to “Go Away!” The neighbor however kept knocking on the door (eventually waking everyone anyway). So, the man got up and gave the man food just so he could go back to bed.
In Luke 18 we read a very similar account. There was a woman who had been wronged. She went to court to get justice but the judge ignored her. Apparently the judge was only concerned about how much money he could make through bribes and other favors. He tried ignoring the woman but every day the woman returned to plead her case. Eventually the judge decided to dispense justice simply because the woman was driving him crazy.
Both stories seem to lead us to the proverb, “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.” In other words if you complain enough, you’ll get what you want! And many people have become quite proficient at this particular art. But is that really the way God wants us to approach prayer? Is that the message Jesus was really conveying? Obviously, I don’t think so.
GOD WANTS TO ANSWER OUR PRAYERS
Jesus is arguing from the lesser to the greater. In chapter 18 Jesus implies, “If the unjust judge will eventually give justice to the persistent widow, how much more confident should we be of God’s justice.” In the first parable, Jesus wants us to see that the sleeping man would get up and eventually give the man what he wants, even though he doesn’t want to, so how much more confident we should be that God will answer our prayers because He WANTS to help us. Jesus tells us to “ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.” We can be sure that God will respond to our cries.
It’s important that we understand this point. There seems to be a notion among Christians that God won’t answer our prayers until we “do it right”. Consequently, we are trying to learn endless formulas, systems, and devices to “pray more powerfully”. We think we have to pray with certain words or in a certain outline. Some seem to believe that if they “work ourselves up” to certain emotional feeling their prayers will be more effective. Do you see how offensive this is to our gracious Father?
God just wants us to talk to Him. He wants us to be honest and open. The most important part of prayer is our attitude. James tells us that we don’t have what we pray for not because we haven’t figured out the right code . . . we don’t have what we ask for because we ask with the wrong attitude. We are asking selfishly.
May I encourage you to adopt a new practice in prayer? Set aside formulas and gimmicks and just talk to the Father. Talk to him about your life and the people you care about. Tell Him how you would like Him to help you. Come to Him with reverence and respect but understand that He loves you. Enjoy His presence. When was the last time you talked to God about some of the delightful things in your life? When was the last time you shared a laugh? Do you really think God only cares about your problems? He wants to share your joys as well.
I sure want my children to come to me with their problems. I want them to know that I want to help them. But I also want to hear the good things that are going on in their lives. I want to share in their joyful moments as well as their heartaches. God wants to do that as well.
The assurance that Jesus gives is this: the Lord is eager to give the Spirit to those who ask Him. (v. 13). The prayer that God is eager to answer is a request for more of His Spirit. It is a desire for a deeper knowledge of God and he loves to answer that request.
WE MUST PERSEVERE IN OUR PRAYING
If God wants to answer our prayers why must we “pray and not give up?” (18:1) This is a difficult passage, isn’t it? It sounds at first that Jesus is telling us that we have to keep asking God or we won’t receive anything. If God is eager to answer our prayers why do we have to persist? Why can’t we just pray and be confident that God will hear and answer? I think there are several answers to this question.
First, persistence reveals sincerity. Shopping for your children at Christmas is a strategic endeavor. We learned early that just because our children told us that they wanted something didn’t mean they really wanted it. They would look through a catalog and say they wanted something on just about every page. They would see a commercial on television and profess that what they saw was something they would like to have. It seemed that they wanted everything. We quickly learned that as time went on many of those things they said they wanted were quickly forgotten. We had to listen for those things that were mentioned again and again if we wanted to know what they really desired and would enjoy.
I think it is the same way with prayer. We utter all kinds of things in prayer but often we can’t remember a single thing we prayed for. Could it be that God wants us to be persistent so that the really important things in our life become apparent? If we care about something we will see it through. If we really love someone we will continue to pray for his or her salvation for the remainder of our lives, if that is what it takes. If we are really concerned for a person’s healing we will be lifting that person before the Lord constantly and continuously.
Second, persistence develops relationship. One of the mistakes we make in prayer is that we assume that the purpose of prayer is to provide a means for us to get our needs met. Prayer then is then just a means to an end. But that is NOT what prayer’s primary purpose is supposed to be. The primary purpose of prayer is to build and maintain a relationship with the Father. God is much more concerned about relationship than He is with meeting our whims.
During the time we spend with God He has the opportunity to mold, mend and direct our hearts. Persistence is as much for our benefit as it is to see a desire through to the end.
Third, persistence builds strength. It is not the person who practices occasionally that becomes a good athlete, singer, musician, artist and so forth . . . it is the person who is persistent in their practice. They become focused. They will get better. God wants us to get focused. In our persistence we learn to zero in on what is really important.
Fourth, when we are persistent God gets us moving. As I pray for someone to come to a knowledge of Christ I mean it. But as I continue to pray I begin to wonder what part God might want me to play in this process. As I continue to pray I become more aware of opportunities that come to me. When I started to pray I may have felt that praying for a person completed my responsibility in the process. As I persist in prayer I begin to see that prayer is the beginning of my responsibility.
WE MUST REMEMBER THAT A GOOD FATHER GIVES WHAT IS BEST
A Good Father will not harm his child. Jesus states the obvious,
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (11-13)
If your child needs something, a parent isn’t going to mock that child by giving them something that is going to hurt them. And God will not toy with us either. However, there are times when we don’t know that what we are asking for is not something that is good.
A Good Father will sometimes not give what is asked out of love. We all know that a child who receives everything they ever ask for becomes spoiled. In other words, they don’t learn to wait and they don’t learn to manage and choose. If a parent gives their child candy every time they ask for it the child will be nutritionally deficient, hyperactive, and their teeth will fall out! If we let our children stay home from school every time they “didn’t feel like going” they would never learn how to work through the hard times of life. A parent sometimes says no to a request because they see a danger that the child does not see.
At these times a child feels that their parent is mean. They are convinced that a parent is saying “No” simply because they don’t care. But the truth is that the parent is saying “No” because they DO care! They are trying to protect, train and defend their child. It is only as we move on in life that we begin to understand the wisdom of many of our parents’ restrictions.
When we pray, we need to remember that the Father in heaven loves us as much as our earthly Father . . . and much more! Our perspective when we pray is extremely limited. Like an earthly child we want what is easy, we want pain to go away, we want to avoid hurt at any price. But sometimes those things are necessary.
If a person never died they would never get to Heaven. If there were never trials we would never learn to develop faith. If there were not delays we would not be ready for some of God’s blessings. Sometimes when we ask for something the Lord knows that to give it to us would be the equivalent of giving us a scorpion. Some things we are not ready to handle. Some things would turn our hearts away from the Lord rather than to Him.
I don’t want you to think that there are not times that are very confusing. There are. There are times when vital, healthy people die in seemingly senseless circumstances. There are times when people are put into physical circumstances that don’t seem to make any sense at all. There are times when we pray and pray over a relationship and it still crumbles. There are times when churches pray and still end up splitting. There are times we seek God’s will and follow where we think He is leading and things turn out bad. I don’t know how to understand these times. But the fact that I don’t understand doesn’t mean that there isn’t a reason.
The Father loves us. And in the confusing times of life that’s sometimes all we have to hold on to. But that should be enough.
I hope these parables encourage you to pray. And there are several things I think we must take away from these lessons. First, we should re-evaluate WHY we pray. We need to ask, “are we approaching God like a vending machine?” Are we coming to Him so He can “take our order” or are we going to prayer in an effort to cultivate a deep and abiding relationship with God?
Do you talk to God intimately and honestly or are you demanding, manipulative or superficial? We live in a day when people are eager for shortcuts. I think we’ve seen this is the “Prayer of Jabez” hysteria. People are looking for a simple formula to tap into God’s blessings. But there is no simple formula. His blessing is anchored in our relationship to Him. I encourage you to be a person who is honest, genuine and personal in your praying.
Second, the parables should encourage us to pray confidently. When we come to God honestly and are willing to persevere in prayer (work through these things with Him) we can be confident of God’s willingness to answer our prayers. We should be confident that God would answer our prayers in His timing. And we can be equally confident that God will not give us what is bad for us. There is no reason to be timid in prayer.
Third, maybe you need the reminder to keep praying. Maybe you have prayed and it seemed that you received no answer. Maybe you asked for something and you were disappointed with the answer. Keep talking to God. Be honest about your feelings. Let Him comfort you and teach you. Let him build faith even in the most confusing times of life. I personally don’t think there is any reason why we can’t express our disappointment and discouragement to the Lord. He loves us. He understands our limited perspective. He will comfort us and He will help us to rebuild our lives. And someday, He will help us understand.
Perhaps you need to be encouraged to keep seeking that conversion of a family member you were praying for. Don’t give up simple because it has been awhile. Hang in there! Keep praying. Perhaps you need to keep praying for the transformation of a person or situation, or that for a healing that is needed. It’s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to conclude that God isn’t listening to you. But these parables remind us that God is not only listening, He is able to do what you ask. Don’t give up. God may not do what you expect or even desire. But He will do what is best and what is right. He will do it in the lives of those you pray for . . . and He will also do it in you.