Grease for the Wheels of Prayer, Part 3
“Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks.” This was the stunned assertion of the guards in John 7:46, who were supposed to arrest Jesus, but they just couldn’t bring themselves to do it. Jesus was too unique, too powerful, too “otherly.”
Jesus’ words on prayer are like this as well. The insight, encouragement, and compulsion he creates when it comes to prayer is nothing less than Holy Spirit wrought. That is what I want to grease the wheels of prayer with in this post. I want to look at three parables that Jesus spoke concerning prayer that are surprising in their approach and staggering in their implications.
There is one massive similarity between these three parables. This similarity is that these are all reverse parables. What is a reverse parable? First, look at a normal parable. A normal parable takes something common and understandable from the natural world and uses it to make a spiritual truth understandable. Therefore, we read the Kingdom of heaven is like leaven, or a pearl of great price, or a mustard seed. People knew how these things worked and so Jesus used them to show how spiritual matters worked. But a reverse parable does the exact opposite. It takes something common and understandable from the natural world and uses it to say that the spiritual truth is NOT like that in any way. Here are these parables:
Luke 11:5–8 Then He said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; 6 for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
Luke 11:11–13 Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? 12 Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
Luke 18:2–5 “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. 3 There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ 4 For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’ ”
Why does Jesus give these reverse parables?
First, Jesus is doing something special for prayer. Jesus only uses these reverse parables for explaining prayer. I don’t know of any other spiritual reality that gets this unique treatment. There is something about the nature of prayer that causes Jesus to addresses it in a unique way.
Second, prayer gets special treatment because it is especially difficult. The nature of prayer is that the one praying is regularly on the precipice of discouragement and abandonment. You know this is true, and if you don’t, just look at the prayer meetings. Are they packed with fervent saints on their knees, eyes scanning the horizon for God’s answer? Answer: Not that I see. People are always giving up on prayer. Prayer is always being marginalized and ignored. Do we talk about it? Yes. Do we actually pray? Hardly. If we didn’t have the obligatory prayer before and after a bible study and before meals how much praying would be left? Not much.
Third, a reverse parable is like a parable on steroids. It is the ultimate way to highlight a truth. Do you know what jewelers do when they want to show you a diamond? They will set it on a black velvet board. With such a dark background, you are able to see the refraction of light through the diamond alone, in all its spender. In these parables, Jesus crafts black-velvet backgrounds of groggy slumbers, evil men, and selfish atheists so that we will see God’s alertness, God’s goodness, and God’s care in stark and beautiful contrast. In these parables, if people got what they needed even in these terrible situations, then how much more will we get what we need when an alert, good, and caring Father hears our cries? Sadly, when it comes to praying to God, people often feel that God is ignoring them or doesn’t care about them. But Jesus is highlighting those very actions in these parables. Those actions of ignoring and not caring are the black background of sin, which is totally absent in the Holy God who is our Father. We may feel that we are praying to a God who ignores us like an atheistic judge, but our actual situation is the exact opposite. Omnipotent power is on our side. God wants the best for us and is committed to it infinitely more than we are even in our best moments. That is what is true in the very situation about which we are praying. That is what we are to remember while we are praying, especially when our praying is beginning to wane because God hasn’t done anything we can see.
So the question I leave you with is the very one that Jesus ends with after the parable of the unrighteous judge in Luke 18:8. “When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Will you believe what has been displayed? Jesus has been clear. Your doubt can only be attributed to hard-hearted disbelief. And if you still manage to squeeze out some prayers in such an unstable state, those prayers will fall flat. We have been warned about unstable praying. James 1:6–7 “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord…” Take what the Lord has said and run with it joyfully. What will it look like? Simple. It will look like abundant, fervent, cooperate prayer and private prayer. May it be so.