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Three friends: Who is the shameless one? Maybe all three of them exhibited annoying behavior? You decide.
Jesus said to them, "Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within and say, 'Do not trouble me, the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you'?
"I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs." Luke 11:5-8 NKJV
Friends at Midnight
This is a playful little story which Jesus probably told with a twinkle in his eye. Some of Jesus' parables show us what God is like. Here's one that tells us what God is not like. It's a story about friends and neighbors and of one friendship that was strained to the limit at about a quarter past midnight.
The tale involved a swift chain reaction of unfortunate happenings. It occurred at night in a culture without electricity where everyone slept in one room, and there were no 24/7 stores. By midnight, if all was well, every house was supposed to be quiet except for the snoring.
But wouldn't you know it. One guy on the block had a friend endowedwith the audacity to show up in the middle of the night needing a place to sleep, which required the whole household to swing into motion and do all the things necessary to accommodate an unexpected guest. The unexpected guest must have arrived with his family because three loaves were required to feed them all before going to bed and everyone could sleep comfortably.
Tonight of all nights the unprepared host did not have sufficient bread. This predicament seemed like a real emergency. Which meant he would have to impose on their kind neighbor. Surely his good buddy Joe would help them out. So the man of the house went across the street and started banging on the door.
Well, friendly Joe was not so friendly after midnight. His response was a curt, "Go away." He wasn't about to disturb his sleeping family because of his neighbor's misfortune. We can't blame him. Beds are warm; the night air is cold. If his little ones were to awaken, who knows what time they would all get back to sleep again. Besides, what kind of house guests would be so brazen as to arrive at this hour of the night.
But the unanticipated visit put the host in desperate straights, so he continued to knock on his neighbor's door and refused to stop until the sleeper got up and supplied what he needed. Just to get rid of the nuisance, the irritated neighbor was willing to part with anything the rascal wanted. Probably threw it out the window at him in disgust. That relationship would surely need some mending in the coming days.
The message in all this will take some sorting out. Each of the characters were introduced as friends, yet they all displayed behavior we would call rude and inconsiderate. But the focus of the story is on the family in the middle who received the unexpected guests and had to go begging to find the bread to feed them. The word that is lifted up in praise of these efforts is "persistence". A word that can be viewed as a positive character trait or, if you are on the other side of the door, an inconvenient and untimely aggravation.
We understand the plight of these characters. In our journey through life we have been in the position of all three of them. There have been times when we, too, have failed our friends or acted with great reluctance. We have been on both sides of that closed door. We know what it's like to knock on doors that open and on doors that remain closed. We know what it's like to persistently bang away until our knuckles bleed in order to get what we need for ourselves and for our loved ones.
Life gets hectic, troubles keep piling on, day or night. And sometimes in the midst of real distress when we don't know what else to do, we knock on heaven's door. What Jesus wants us to know is that our Father in heaven is not like that neighbor across the street who viewed his friend's persistence as an irritation. Instead, the message is that when we pray we are to be relentless and stop at nothing. We are to pray with a determination that heaven will hear!
The moral of the story is: Be shamelessly bold when you pray. It was not on the basis of friendship that the sleeper got up and supplied the needed bread. It was because of his friend's persistence, his shameless audacity. The faith that was commended time and again in the Gospel stories defied traditional expectations. It was shameless, bold-faced and brazen. Jesus is actually encouraging us to be ill-mannered when we pray. Impudent! Rash! Daring! Greedy and grasping! So work up your nerve; go for it!
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Describe the neighbor you would go to if you needed help in the middle of the night.
Friends! One is a surprise package who arrived unannounced at midnight. One is his shameless host who goes out in the street in the middle of the night to plead for bread to feed his guest. One is the sleeping neighbor who doesn't like being disturbed and has to be coerced into aiding his old buddy. Name some reasons people arrive late to the inconvenience of others? Do unprepared hosts have a legitimate reason to awaken the neighbors? Are we obliged to answer the pleas of a friend after bedtime? Which of these characters best identifies who you are?
Think about the many doors you have knocked on in your lifetime. Name some which have opened for you. And some that remain closed.
God is not at all like the grumpy friend in this story who said, "Don't trouble me." How do we know this? Contrast what you know of God with the attitude of the reluctant chum? Is our heavenly Father troubled by incessant requests? Did God ever tell you to hush?
In the Lord's prayer we are instructed to honor, respect and reverence God's name. In this story we are encouraged to be bold and shameless in our asking, seeking and knocking. How can both of these teachings be true? Explain how we can be both reverent and audacious in our praying?
Perseverance may be considered a positive character trait. But if you are on the other end of someone else's persistence, it can be very unpleasant. How do you handle someone who is overly persistent? When teaching his disciples to pray, why would Jesus include a story about bold-faced persistence?
Most of us were raised to be well-mannered. So how do you respond to Jesus giving you a merry wink and telling you to be shamelessly bold when you pray?
On the other hand, Jesus criticized the self-righteous for their praying which he called vain repetitions (Matt. 6:5-7), and Isaiah 1:15-20 says we must have clean hands if we want God to hear our prayers. Discuss how these verses temper the notion of persistence.