Sometimes prayer confuses me. I know some people don’t like admitting things like that publicly, but I’ve never believed in pretending like I’ve got every aspect of God and the Christian faith figured out. When I approach God in prayer, I’m speaking to the creator of all things. The King of the universe. That seems to demand a certain level of decorum and respect and reverence. But God is also my father, and Jesus is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. That seems to allow for a very casual sort of a chat. My prayer life ends up being a mix of the two styles, and I feel like it works well. There are times when being more formal feels right, like in a big group, and there are times when the casual feels fitting, like when I’m alone or in a very small group.
In the eleventh chapter of the book of Luke, Jesus is asked by his disciples to teach them how to pray. He starts out by teaching them what has become known as “the Lord’s prayer”, and just as a refresher it goes a little something like this.
Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
That’s a bit of a formal prayer, but it’s the one that Jesus immediately taught them, so I believe it’s extremely important. There was a time in my life when I held this prayer in low regard, but I’ve since seen God move mightily through it. One of the most powerful prayer experiences I’ve had in recent years was a 45-minute class during which a pastor prayed us through the Lord’s prayer, pausing on each point to go deeper and expand on what they meant and how they related to us on a personal level.
After he taught them the Lord’s prayer, Jesus told them what I find to be a very interesting story. Let’s check it out together.
Luke 11:5-10 Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, 6 ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ 7 And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ 8 But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.
9 “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
There’s a lot to get into here, but in a way you can already see the differences between the two types of prayer I mentioned a few minutes ago. Formal prayer to the creator of the galaxy in the Lord’s prayer, and casual prayer to a friend/family member in this story. Seeing that Jesus mentioned these two different approaches makes me feel much better about my own approach to prayer life.
But let’s look at this story he told. Two words jump off the page at me here, and they are “shameless persistence.” Let’s be real, if my friend or neighbor started banging on my door in the middle of the night wanting some bread to feed their visitors, I would not be thinking kind thoughts about this person in that moment. Most every human is grumpy when woken up in the middle of their rest, especially if the reason isn’t one that we consider urgent. Even in a more general sense, “shameless persistence” isn’t exactly the greatest of qualities under normal circumstances. A man asking a woman out on a date fifty times even though she keeps rejecting him? Creepy and harassing! A person applying for the same job over and over even though they keep being told they’re not qualified? Annoying and pointless! But here’s Jesus, not only encouraging the behavior, but saying that shameless persistence in prayer is the key to getting the things that you need. It’s the method that causes God to unlock doors that were previously locked to us.
I hate the sound of someone knocking on a door for a long period of time. I’ve always considered it rude, so I find myself greatly challenged by what Jesus is saying here. At the same time, I want to have a successful prayer life, and I want to pray the way that Jesus himself taught us to pray, and that means mastering the art of shameless persistence. It doesn’t mean asking, it means continuing to ask. It doesn’t mean knocking, it means continuing to knock. I’ve never really seen this concept in this way before, but it’s almost like the shameless persistence is a way to prove desire, to prove that you really hunger after whatever you’re praying for. Do you truly want change? You’ll knock on that door continually if you do.
Shameless persistence is about resolve. That’s a word that doesn’t get connected to the Christian faith nearly as often as it should. This walk is almost all about resolve. Resolve means having a firm determination to do something. It may not be pretty to bang on a door in the middle of the night, it may not please the neighbors, it may not be what you want to be doing at that moment. But if the thing that you need is on the other side of that door, then you will keep knocking. Jesus says keep knocking, keep asking, keep seeking, and you WILL find, and you WILL receive, and the door WILL be opened. Those are certainties. Guarantees, an exact formula for success. And if that’s the case, then why aren’t we in shamelessly persistent prayer for the things we need most, for the healing that’s yet to come, for the loved ones who are still lost?
Before I sign off, I want to say one thing. Jesus is promising us a method for answered prayer here, but he’s not promising that we’ll always love the answers. I’ve shown shameless persistence before only to be told months later “no, that’s not right for you right now.” While I was glad the door had been opened and I’d received an answer, I was left a little disillusioned over the answer I got. A lot of the time we’re going to find that the thing we thought was a desperate need worth knocking for was actually a want. Sometimes we ask for a blessing and we get a trial, sometimes we ask for a companion and we go through a season of having no one to rely on but God. His answers aren’t always what we want, but they are unquestionably always what we need. Trust that, even when it’s difficult.
I love all of you very much. I’m excited about prayer right now. Prayer works, and that to me is amazing. If you’ve got something going on in your life, pray about it! Remind God about it every single day, but that shameless persistence into action.
I had another great week on the blog here with all of you. I’ll be back on Monday with more Luke, and in the meantime if you need prayer or just need to talk, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org