A Recipe for Importunate Prayer

March 22, 2019 at 3:13 pm | Posted in Luke, parables | 4 Comments
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Prayer is an expression of faith. A lack of prayer – by which I mean private prayer time, praying when there is no one else around – shows a lack of faith. I once heard a preacher say that we need to pray in two different ways: with our with our boots on and with our boots off. “Boots-on” prayer is when we pray through our prayer lists. This is the hard work of prayer. “Boots-off” prayer is our worship of God in prayer, and it should not feel like hard work. It should be joyous. In the event that you find all of your time spent praying to be difficult or awkward, this is not, however, an excuse to stop doing it. Prayer is like most spiritual disciplines. Often our “have to” comes first, but if we are PERSISTENT, our “want to” will catch up to our “have to.”

And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.

Luke 11:2-4

Our preparation for prayer should include seeing needs, noting them down, reading the Bible, sticking our noses into the spiritual walk and lives of our friends, listening to people when they talk so we can pray about their desires, fears, and needs. Even the first part of our prayer ought to be preparation for the rest of our prayer, getting God-centered and God-focused, seeking to make our will conformed to God’s will, so that we can ask God for what He wants us to have with confidence and passion.

And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. 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.

Luke 11:5-8

Vance Havner used to jokingly remark how accurate this parable was in portraying unexpected company always seeming to show up at your house at the most miserable times. Notice the studied ambiguity whereby it’s unclear precisely whose “importunity” is being highlighted. It works either way. If it’s the borrower’s importunity, then it’s his “need” that is the cause of the friend rising at midnight. If it’s the lender’s importunity, then it’s his fear of shame in refusing the plea of his friend. We might define “importunity” as embarrassing insistence. Think of it like this: take need + urgency + persistence + shame and stir them all up in a pot and you’ll get “importunity.”

Let’s say the person who needs the bread at midnight is us. There is something we want, and we believe it is very, very important and that it is in God’s will, or maybe we want to know whether it IS in God’s will. The idea that we would pound on our neighbor’s door at midnight shows how crucial it is.

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.

Luke 11:9

The words translated as “ask” and “knock” have a connotation of persistent asking and knocking, so if even a grumpy sleepy person will respond to your “importunity” – your obvious need – when you stay after him long enough, how much MORE will your Heavenly Father respond to you, His child, when you are persistent?

This is NOT teaching that God is reluctant to help us, but if we bug Him enough, He will finally cave. It’s showing that persistence helps us to be more DEVOTED to Him.

Now let’s say that “importunity” Luke 11:8 refers to the feeling of the lender – the person whose door is taking a pounding at midnight – and he starts to feel embarrassed, perhaps a type of second-hand embarrassment for the person who considers him to be his friend, but also because of his own reluctance to help out, and what a refusal to help would say about him.

For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Luke 11:10

This is NOT teaching that we need to chide God, and say, “Lord, I can’t believe you won’t even make it so that I can pay my house note this month. I mean, COME ON, Lord, I really serve You, You know? After all I’ve done for You…” hoping that God’s face will get kind of red and He will say, “I know, you’re right, what was I thinking..? Here you go – hey, psst, don’t tell anyone that I’m slow to answer prayers, alright? I have enough trouble getting people to come to Sunday School as it is!” That’s NOT the meaning of this passage.

However, we know from Scripture that God is zealous about His Name, and He is in the business of getting glory for Himself, and that one of the ways He does that is by answering prayer, so it is right and good – not as a manipulation tactic, but as a way of calling upon the promises of God – to speak to Him about His Own glory. Moses and other Old Testament patriarchs did this. “Lord, You’ve delivered us from Egypt when we had no hope, and You promised to bring us into the promised land, and it’s totally our fault – we’ve broken the Covenant, not You – but, Lord, You know what the heathen are gonna say. They’re gonna say You weren’t powerful enough to fully deliver, or You weren’t big enough to keep Your Word. Lord, don’t let us be the cause of Your glory seeming to be diminished.”

When we honestly pray for God to glorify Himself in answering our sincere petitions, God has authorized and encouraged us to be persistent about that.


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