I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs” (Luke 11:8, ESV).
When waiting on an answer from God, it is easier to doubt than trust.
To help us overcome this inclination, Jesus taught of a man who received a guest at a late hour. Being so late, he had no food to set before him, a customary hospitality. It is not unusual for desert travelers to do so at night, but the traveler was still unexpected. The cultural demands of hospitality imposed themselves upon the host’s conscience like an ominous shadow. He was forced out into the night to beg a neighbor for help (Luke 11:6).
We might envision the man approaching a neighboring tent, maybe some distance away. Within was a common area – a large main room in which to eat a meal, to socialize, to escape from the heat of the day. It could be open to the air, or closed off if needed due to wind and sand.
A large curtain or curtains toward the back divided off a smaller section, the sleeping quarters. The whole family slept in this room, which may or may not have been divided into smaller sections by curtains. Unlike our walled and insulated homes, to disturb the tent at midnight was to disturb the whole family.
The neighbor does not want to be bothered. He first snubs the request. Why should this be his problem? Perhaps he had good reason. Maybe he had been up later than usual already – working out a problem with a family member, or tending to a sick child, or suffering with an upset stomach. Perhaps only recently had his eyes found their much-longed for heaviness. “No! Please leave me be!” (Luke 11:7).
But alas, like water over a rock, the neighbor’s rejection is met with his friend’s tenacious persistence that slowly wears him down. He finally rises and fulfills his friend’s request, not out of good will, but because he realizes he will have no rest otherwise (Luke 11:8).
The bond of friendship can have its boundaries. The pressure of culture can be mitigated. In all of us, in all our relationships, there are circumstances that drive us to promote our self-interest over the interests of others. We know this of ourselves, and we see it in others. When our requests are not fulfilled, when our expectations are not met, we immediately default to what we know: our selfishness often trumps our best intentions. We often assume the worst, that we’ve been given second place, or worse, forgotten altogether.
But Jesus painted this lackluster – yet true – picture of humanity to provide the stark contrast between ourselves and God. None of those things are ever true of God. God is not like us (Psalm 50:21). God is not like our friends.
He is never so absorbed in himself that he cannot answer. He is never so consumed with someone else’s problems that he cannot be bothered with ours. He is never ignoring us, or snubbing us, hoping we will drop the subject.
Sometimes, it just seems that way.
But even the school of life teaches us that all is not as it seems. Shadows are often distorted images of the objects from which they are cast; sounds and sights are often falsely identified; people often turn out far differently than we first imagined, for better or worse.
Through this parable, Jesus teaches us that things with God are not always as they seem. Our default when awaiting an answer from heaven is to make God one of us – distracted, selfish, disinterested. Jesus retrains our hearts – broken by our own sins and the darkness of this world – to claim a new default when doubts arise concerning our heavenly Father (Luke 11:11-12). God always hears, and cares, and answers. Our persistence in prayer is actually welcome, and beneficial (Luke 11:9-10). We are no bother at all.
This parable (and others similar to it) is an expression of divine compassion, intended to forever lift the dark clouds of doubt from our heart, and to deepen the anchor of our faith in God. If even this one thing is true of our God, then we are blessed indeed.