By Melissa McLaughlin
We all love a good story! I have an uncle who can tell a story like nobody’s business. Complete with animated facial expressions, exuberant gestures and winsome voice inflection. The listeners are always captivated and waiting for the punchline at the end.
Jesus knew the power of a good story and used parables, or storytelling, as a regular teaching strategy. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him how to pray, he offered a straightforward Model Prayer, also known as The Lord’s Prayer or The Our Father.
In order to provide additional instruction, Jesus’ teaching on prayer included three parable lessons.
Jesus’ Teaching on Prayer – The First Parable
The first story involved a friend at midnight, recorded here in Luke 11:5-13 – Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
The message? Pray boldly. Ask God for things in prayer that you could never accomplish on your own. Be willing to make yourself sound “shamelessly audacious” before God in prayer. Remembering all the while, that He delights in you as a Father and will display His power to do the impossible when we ask boldly. At the same time, keeping in mind, that we ask not because we think so highly of ourselves, but because we think so highly of God.
Imagine some friends dropped in unexpectedly after traveling a long distance, but you haven’t been to the grocery store recently and everything is closed for the night. Even in our culture, we would want to offer refreshments, maybe a drink of tea or some sandwiches and snacks. In Jesus’ culture, hospitality was even more highly valued. Think of the boldness that would be required to go to a neighbor at night and ask if they could loan you some food! This is the audacity we are invited to use as we go before God in prayer.
Notice, the Father’s desire to bless His children goes even deeper than an earthly father’s desire. However, this passage ends assuming that the one praying is asking for the Holy Spirit. As we pray for the impossible, let us anchor our thoughts on the eternal blessings God is offering us.
Jesus’ Teaching on Prayer – The Second Parable
The second parable lesson revolved around a widow. The story is recorded here in Luke 18:1-8 – And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
The lesson to be learned? Pray persistently, don’t give up, keep on asking. When we continue to bring our requests before the Lord, the same requests again and again, we are demonstrating faith that our Heavenly Father and Holy God of justice will act on our behalf. Though it may not be in our timing, we do expect Him to act. When we keep on praying, though we have to wait, we are proving our faith to Him and to ourselves. Use this as opportunity to exhibit your faith to a faithful God!
One important thing to note, Jesus was not equating God with the unjust judge in this story, but contrasting our God of justice with this unjust judge. Though a widow in those days had no prestige or leverage in the court system, her persistence brought about justice. Eventually this unjust judge ruled fairly on behalf of the widow. How much more can we be sure our just God will rule rightly on our behalf.
Hear the sound of longing in Jesus’ voice as He ends this parable. When He returns will He find faith on the earth? Though God’s timing may not be not ours, our job is to pray and never give up. For God will never give up on us. Let’s be found faithful as we pray with persistence.
Jesus’ Teaching on Prayer – The Third Parable
The third and final story Jesus told in His lessons on prayer included two men, a Pharisee and a tax collector. The passage is written in Luke 18:9-14 – To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Jesus was contrasting two interesting people in the Jewish community of that time period. The Pharisees were an influential sect of Jewish leaders who believed in the Old Testament teachings, but also in legalistic oral traditions that were inerrantly added to God’s Word. They considered themselves pious and righteous, upholding their own version of God’s law, but in name only, not in heart.
On the other hand, tax collectors were fellow Jews, considered traitors, because they collected taxes for the Roman government. In addition, most were known to cheat people by adding extra fees which they pocketed themselves, to amass personal wealth at the expense of their kinsmen.
Jesus certainly set the stage for this parable with these two opposing examples of vastly different men. One considered to be righteous. One considered to be a betrayer and cheat. Their prayers reveal a powerful and soul-piercing truth. The Pharisee proudly announced his personal righteousness based on his own efforts. The tax collector humbly and honestly confessed himself to be a sinner before God and cried out for one thing, mercy.
Pray with Humility and Honesty
The moral of Jesus’ story? Pray with humility and honesty before God. Let us return again and again to the fact that we are desperate sinners in need of a Savior. Only the blood of Jesus can cover our sin-debt and make us righteous before a Holy God. This is grace, amazing grace.
May our prayers be emboldened and strengthened by Jesus’ teaching on prayer through these three parables!
May we pray with:
1.Boldness – Remembering how great our God is.
2.Persistence – Demonstrating faith in our just and faithful God.
3.Humility and Honesty – Maintaining a humble heart, knowing God sees everything and were it not for Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, we have no chance of heaven.
Please join me in prayer.
Heavenly Father, we praise your Holy Name! For you are a God of righteousness, justice, truth and grace. Because of your mighty power and sovereign rule, we ask for the impossible today. We ask you to move the mountains in our life to display that you are indeed God Most High! There is nothing too difficult for you! We bring before you our prayer requests, that very ones we have brought to you in the past. We come again, because Jesus taught us to do so. We come again to demonstrate our faith in you, our just and faithful God. You will act rightly on behalf of your people. We believe this with our whole hearts. Holy Spirit, we ask you to help us maintain a heart posture of humility and honesty in prayer, remembering that God sees all and lifts the humble. We love you, Father God. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, help us become more like Christ. In His name we pray. Amen.