Knocking on an Open Door

Following this shorter version of the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel of Luke, we find a parable. This parable is often used as an instruction for how to get prayer right or for how to get God to do what we ask. The key to an effective prayer, it seems, is persistence. We are to ask over and over again.

I’ve always had a problem with these kinds of instructions. It makes it seem as if God is playing some kind of mean game with our prayers. No matter how righteous our request or how often we have made it, we can always be told by some well-meaning person, that we simply haven’t asked often enough.

I was influenced this week by Elisabeth Johnson’s commentary found on She offers another translation for the word “persistence” in this text. She suggests we consider the word “shameless” instead. Shamelessness is a quality, not a method. The man in the parable approached his friend shamelessly, boldly asking for what he needed.

I have had a couple of powerful experiences in my life, and perhaps you have too, of discovering that I could be shameless with a friend. I have discovered friends whom I could tell a painful and guilty secret, and be met with compassion. I have experienced a moment when I called a friend at 1:00 a.m., and she answered the phone asking, “How can I help you?” in a friendly and concerned tone. Jesus points out that the friend in the parable is not this kind of friend. He responds badly. Our own friends do better, and I’m guessing we endeavor to be those kinds of friends as well. How much more so with God?

Prayer is not primarily about our requests, but is about developing a relationship with God. A relationship where we can be bold in asking for what we need and shameless in our confessions, trusting that God will respond with compassion. We are to have persistence, praying frequently and often, not because we need to badger God into hearing our needs and concerns, but because frequent communication creates a relationship. We pray with persistence because God wants to hear from us, because we get to know God’s voice and God wants to hear ours.

Here’s the sermon.

Luke 11:1-13 (NRSV)

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”


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