Teach Us to Pray (7): When God is Reluctant
February 22, 2015
Intro – (Read Luke 11:5-8). The count was 3 and 2 when Danny MacFayden, pitching for the Pirates, fired what he thought was a strike, but which Umpire Bill Klem called Ball 4. Danny rushed the plate, offered his glasses to Klem yelling, “Here, you need these more than I do!” Manager Frank Frisch arrived on the scene just as Klem thumbed MacFayden. Frisch argued, “Bill, the kid didn’t mean that. He was excited. Have a heart.” Klem responded, “I’m not throwing him for insulting my eyesight. I’m tossing him for inciting the fans.” Danny took offense: “I was not yelling at the grandstand. I was hollering just in case your ears are as bad as your eyes.”
Well, I’m wondering today if some of us have stopped praying feeling the Lord is hard of hearing. Prayer seems to yield nothing, so we have largely given up. We’ve all been there. But Jesus urges, get back in the prayer game.
In Luke 11:1-4 Jesus teaches what to pray. Now, in vv 5-13 Jesus teaches us how to pray. Two words – persistently and expectantly. Vv. 5-8 deal with persistently. V. 8 is key: “I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence (persistence, shameless audacity) he will rise and give him whatever he needs.” How should we pray? Persistently. We’ll examine that more closely next week.
But first, let’s get oriented. In any parable we ask what the parts represent, right? Here it’s clear. The man seeking bread is the disciples – or us. The sleeping friend is God. So, with that in mind, I want us to ask two questions of this parable. Why is God reluctant? And why is persistence necessary?
I. Why is God Reluctant?
A. W. Tozer made a profound comment: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Dead on! What we think about God is the most important thing about us because that will inform virtually every thought and every action we take. And if we think of God as a decrepit umpire who can neither see nor hear, why pray? Right?
But isn’t God the sleepy neighbor here? Note his response to the request: “7and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’?” Don’t bother me! So God doesn’t want to be bothered, so you can only move Him by being the squeaky wheel, right? You’ve got to be the loudest and longest to get a response. And that’s too hard, so we count ourselves out. If that’s how we view God, we’re not likely to spend much time pursuing Him.
So, why does God not want to be bothered? Why is God reluctant? And the answer is [listen carefully now. Here is the heart of the message]. Why is God reluctant? The answer is – He’s not! That’s great news, isn’t it? He’s not reluctant. But sometimes it appears that He is! Given that, Jesus is teaching us what to do. How do we deal with a seemingly reluctant, AWOL God? Jesus answer is – keep asking, persistently and even shamelessly, impudently.
But before we go there, it’s important to ask why God sometimes appears reluctant. Remember, the most important thing about you – the thing that will drive every decision you make – is how you think about God. If you think He’s reluctant, you will act in kind. You will blow Him off like you think He’s blowing you off. But if you understand that He is not reluctant, it changes everything. So, if He’s not reluctant, how come I don’t get immediate answers? I’m an American! I want it now! Why does God delay?
A. Unconfessed sin – Psa 66:18, “If I had cherished [held unconfessed] iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” How did David know that? Because he had tried it many times. By firsthand experience he knew, if I harbor known sin in my life, the Lord is under no obligation to hear my prayer. When I cover sin – bitterness, anger, selfishness, a critical spirit, vengeance –I’m not being genuine with God. And He knows our heart! We can’t ask God for help with our marriage while we cheating on our taxes, right? You can’t ask a friend for a loan while you stab him in the back at work. Unconfessed sin ties God’s hands – except to discipline us.
Jesus says in Matt 5 that if you bring an offering (equivalent to prayer today) but have unresolved conflict, “First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23). Your offering is no good here until you’ve done what you can to right the wrong. If we harbor sin our hearing is denied. God gets really personal about this in I Pet 3:7, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” Look at that. Unresolved conflict in marriage nullifies prayers. In the case of unconfessed sin, it isn’t a case of God appearing reluctant, it’s a case of Him being reluctant. But the fault is not His. The fault is ours. And the answer is, confess and forsake the sin.
B. Spiritual Warfare – One day Daniel got a vision he did not understand. It plagued him and he prayed for enlightenment. Nothing came. He neither ate nor bathed so consumed was he in seeking an answer. After 3 weeks, an angel showed up, and said in Dan 10:12, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day (that’s not reluctance) that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. 13 The prince of the kingdom of Persia (demon) withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, 14 and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.” Amazing insight. Sometimes good angels and demons battle it out in the background before answers come. And Paul tells us we’re in the same warfare. So, sometimes the answer may be delayed because of the spiritual warfare that surrounds us unseen, but very real.
C. Timing is wrong – Suppose your 10-year-old son came and asked for the keys to the car. You giving them to him? I don’t think so! Why? Don’t love him? Want to deprive him? Indifferent to his transportation needs? No! It’s a timing issue. He’s not ready yet, though he may think he is. Prayer can be like that. God won’t give us what would hurt us or others. Sometimes we don’t know what we’re asking for, or the timing is simply wrong. But with our limited capacity, we can’t always know that. Often we don’t know that.
I was watching a ballgame once during the 70’s that went into extra innings. This disrupted the TV schedule, so announcer Curt Cowdy explained: "The 'Tonight Show' has been canceled, the 'Tomorrow Show' will be seen later tonight and the ‘Today Show' will be seen tomorrow." That might be more than I could keep track of, but God would have no problem. And we can trust His timing in our lives as well. It reminds me of what Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth Bell Graham once said: "If God had answered every prayer of mine I would have married the wrong man seven times." I suppose she thought God was reluctant at times, but it was simply a question of the right timing.
Sometimes the right time is a long time. Paul asked 3 times to have a troublesome “thorn in the flesh” removed. Did it happen? Yes – but not until he was glorified. Meantime God had distinct purposes for leaving it intact.
D. Answer is Unrecognized – Sometimes the answer is not what we think and we don’t even recognize it. We’ll develop this later in this section, but realize what looks like reluctance may be a No or Maybe or even “here’s what you really need” answer that we don’t recognize. Lloyd Ogilvie tells us a businessman in his church who was praying for a big order to come through. Instead it was canceled and the guy got so depressed his work suffered so much he got fired. That led to him starting his own consulting firm that has expanded him in every way and opened new avenues to represent Christ in his business dealings. What looked like no answer, was exactly the right answer. We’re just a little too anxious to help God out!
The deal is this, Beloved. God is never reluctant, but His perfect timing may differ a bit from ours. Hang on to this: Psa 84:11, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” What looks like reluctance is actually love in action – saving us from ourselves.
II. Why is Persistence Necessary?
A. We Are Responsible
V. 5: “And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey.” Why is this man at his neighbor’s doorstep at midnight? Because he has a responsibility. There are few public places to stay, and no bakeries open at midnight! Now a friend has arrived – perhaps unexpectedly. He is tired and hungry from his journey and in keeping with the customs of the day he is looking for hospitality. This guy has a responsibility. He is not asking for himself; he is asking for someone else. He asks 3 loaves – one for the friend now; one for himself to join his friend; and one to offer later to show his generosity. That’s the custom. He must respond or be negligent.
Let me ask us to consider a question this morning. Who has arrived at our doorstep to whom, before God, we have a responsibility? Is there anyone like that in your life? Of course, there is someone like that in all our lives. God has not set any of us down in a wilderness where we have no responsibility to others. It may be to supply physical, emotional or spiritual support, but we must realize that we touch lives every day for whom we will one day answer to God. That is why we must persist in prayer. We are responsible for meeting the needs of others that God figuratively places on our doorstep – whether at work, at school, at church, in the neighborhood, the town – wherever. Somewhere someone is depending on us to supply a need.
See, we all have a mission to fulfill, and it is not primarily about us. Charles Swindoll was in seminary facing immense financial, academic and family pressures. In the midst of that, he and his wife were told the baby they were expecting would likely not live. He needed a friend and went to see a prof he’d studied under for 4 years. He knocked at the office door, but no answer. Seeing a light he persisted. Finally the man opened the door a crack. He said, “Yes?” clearly perturbed at being disturbed. Swindoll says, “I stood there and tears just ran from my eyes. And I could hear in his voice that he didn’t want to talk to me. I said, ‘Am I disturbing you?’ ‘Yes, you’re disturbing me. What do you want?’ I said, ‘Nothing. I don’t want anything.’ ‘Fine,’ he said, and closed the door.” Swindoll goes on to say, “I’ve wondered since then if anyone will receive a reward for how much Greek he knows.”
Next morning, Swindoll ran into Howard Hendricks, another prof who asked what was wrong. Chuck pour out his heart about being worried about the expected baby, and even fearing for the life of his wife. Hendricks listened patiently, put his arm around Swindoll’s shoulders and shared about the miscarriage he and his own wife had suffered. Chuck says, “From that day forward, I wanted to know what he knew, because I knew how much he cared.” Listen, Beloved, God has placed someone or some group of ones on our doorstep. We must persist in prayer or we will miss them. We’ll be like Prof #1 who forgot why he was there in the first place. To care for others. That’s why we must persist in prayer. We have a mission to our world.
B. We Are Resourceless
Why was the man at his neighbor’s at midnight? Because a friend had come and he had a responsibility. But look further in v. 6, “for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.” There’s the dilemma. He was responsible, but he was resourceless. He had two choices – say, “Sorry, friend, but the cupboard is bare.” OR – persist in asking from someone who had the resource. By this parable, Jesus is teaching a very important lesson. You must persist in prayer because you have a responsibility to others that I set on your doorstep, but on your own, you are absolutely without resources. Feel inadequate, feel helpless in the face of someone’s emotional turmoil, feel like you do not have the spiritual answers for someone? Join the club. You are right. You don’t, so you must persist in asking the One who does.
Perhaps no aspect of ministry and serving others is more critical to understand than this. God has gifted us to minister to others. He specifically says in I Cor 12:7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” That simply means that God has gifted every believer for a mission in life. We have been born and reborn for a purpose and we have been gifted to meet that purpose. But – our giftedness is useless unless empowered by Him. When Zerubbabel was trying to rebuild Israel’s temple, God told him Zech 4:6, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” Zerubbabel had the gift of leadership, knowledge of construction, and a mission to accomplish. But it did not get done until he persisted in prayer in recognition that eternal worth must be produced by an eternal God.
Thus, in ministry, we apply the gifts that God has given us – but nothing of value happens unless we have prayed the HS into the equation. It is not us doing something for God; it is God doing something through us. Major Ian Thomas, founder of the Torchbearers in England (Dick M on the board) tells of exerting all his energies for Christ as a university student in London. His gift for preaching was evident and every day he was active preaching and teaching – but no one was ever converted. He says, “The more I did, the less happened; and I became deeply depressed because I really loved the Lord with all my heart.” Mere activity and even giftedness was not the answer. What was? Thomas tells how he was pouring out his heart to God one night – persisting in prayer when a verse came to mind he didn’t even know he knew. “Christ, who is your life” (Col 3:4).He suddenly realized he’d been trying to do for Christ what only Christ could do through Him. He didn’t need more effort; he needed more HS. He prayed, “Thou art the One Who art going to go out now, clothed with me to do all that I so hopelessly have been trying to do in the past.” The following Sunday as he prepared to teach 90 boys, he prayed, “Well now, Lord, Thou art going to speak to that boys’ class, isn’t it wonderful? Yesterday I thought I was going to, but Thou art going to now.” That day 30 boys embraced Christ as Savior. Ian Thomas had learned all that God is is available to the man who is available to all that God is!
Conc – Far from saying, “Don’t bother me,” God is saying, that’s the only way you can do anything worthwhile. But the lesson is this: God is not hard of hearing, and He is not reluctant to answer. He’s just waiting for us to be faithful in service, persistent in prayer and trusting Him for the results! You persist in prayer and sooner or later, in His time, the Lord will light up your life with answers you never imagined. Let’s pray.