And He 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)
For a number of years, it never occurred to me how stark a contrast this parable is meant to be. I have heard it presented more times than once as a parallel, saying that God is like that friend in the house, and if we bug Him enough, He’s bound to crack eventually and give us what we’re asking for. However, it might be more accurate to say that with this parable, Jesus is giving us a picture of what God is not like.
The first and most obvious difference is that God never slumbers or sleeps, making it impossible to catch Him at inconvenient time. The other crucial difference, which is unfortunately often overlooked, is God’s generous and giving nature. He does not need to be pressured or pestered in order to be convinced to give to us what we legitimately need.
“Which of you shall have a friend…and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me…'” This question implies that this is not a common occurence. Think about it for a second. If you have a friend — someone who is genuinely and truly your friend — and one night they knock on your door, saying, “I’m so sorry to wake you, but I had this unexpected guest. They’ve been traveling all day, they’re tired, they’re hungry, and I don’t have anything at all to give them. Can I borrow some bread for them?” What would you do? Sure, you might be a bit bugged. You might be grumpy and incoherent when you staggered out of bed, and you might not say much to them when you get to the door. But you probably wouldn’t just yell at them to go away. You probably wouldn’t respond, “I don’t care who showed up on your porch. It’s inconvenient.” If the person is your friend, you will do what you can to help them out when they’re in a pinch.
However, what Jesus presents in this first parable is somewhat of a worst-case scenario. Suppose a man went and approached his friend in the most inconvenient time possible, when he and his family were all asleep. This would have been especially troublesome in ancient times, where the entire family would often sleep in the same room. Suppose again that the friend was cranky and stingy, unwilling to assist the man in need. Even though he would not be moved by the social pressures of entertaining guests and being obligated to a friendship, he would be moved, if for no other reason, to make the first man stop banging on his door.
If a sinful, selfish human can be so persuaded, how much more can we expect to affect the heart of a generous God by our prayers, knowing that He already loves us and wants to provide extravagantly for our needs?
Jesus was not telling us to wring an answer out of the hands of a God who is unwilling to give it. He’s encouraging us to be persistent. Even when the answer is delayed in coming, we can take heart knowing that if it works even on a stingy human being, it will certainly carry weight with a richly generous God.