Seek, Knock, and Ask

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, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and 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’? 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. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 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!” – Luke 11:5-13 ESV

Jesus continues His lecture on prayer to His disciples. Once again, He has given them a model prayer intended to illustrate the manner in which we are to pray. Our prayers are to be God-directed, cognizant of His holiness, submissive to His will, reliant upon His gracious provision, and grateful for His forgiveness and loving leadership. 

But now, Jesus moves from talking about how to pray to the why behind our prayers. Instead of continuing to discuss methodology, He switches to motivation. And to make His point, Jesus uses a parable intended to make the rather esoteric topic of prayer much more practical and applicable. Jesus describes a real-life scenario in which an individual receives a midnight visit from an unexpected out-of-town guest. To make matters worse, he lacks the resources to show proper hospitality to his friend. So, in desperation, he attempts to wake up a nearby neighbor so that he can borrow three loaves of bread. 

This man finds himself with an unexpected problem that he has no capacity to solve. But his impassioned plea for his neighbor’s assistance is met with cold-hearted rejection.

“Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.” – Luke 11:7 NLT

Jesus clearly intended for this response to strike a nerve. The disciples would have been shocked and angered by the neighbor’s refusal to help. Hospitality was a high priority in their culture and to think that this lazy neighbor would refuse to help this man save face was totally unacceptable. It would have taken little effort for the neighbor to get out of bed and give the man three loaves of bread. And notice that the neighbor doesn’t deny having the bread. He simply refuses to help.

But Jesus wants the disciples to see this story from their own perspective. He wants them to personalize it by considering what they would do if they were the man who had received the calloused response from his neighbor. And Jesus, knowing exactly what they are thinking, puts their thoughts into words.

But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.” – Luke 11:8 NLT

At least one of the disciples is thinking, “I would keep banging on the door until he gives me what I need!” And Jesus affirms that mentality by inferring that the man’s unrelenting and persistent knocking would finally end up shaming the neighbor into action. Driven by his unexpected problem, the first man was willing to make an embarrassing spectacle of himself, waking up the entire neighborhood if that’s what it took to get what he needed. And his persistence would pay off. Eventually, the neighbor would get up and give him what he needed, otherwise he would be exposed as stingy and unhospitable himself.

But what’s Jesus’ point in all this? What is He trying to say? Remember, the topic is prayer and He seems to be stressing the motivation behind our conversations with God. What often gets overlooked in the story is the basis of the man’s need. We tend to think it was the arrival of the late-night guest. But the man’s real need was his lack of bread. This ties directly back to Jesus’ model prayer: “Give us each day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3 ESV).

The arrival of the guest simply exposed the need. The man had learned to live without, but when his friend showed up unannounced, he was forced to seek help. He lacked what he needed to be a good host. So, he took that need to a neighbor. When his neighbor proved reluctant, the man’s need didn’t suddenly go away. His guest was still sitting in his home and the cupboard was still as bear as before. And that pressing need caused the man to knock all the harder. He refused to give up asking because his need was great and his resources were few. He had no other option.

And Jesus makes the logical connection between the story and the lesson it provides concerning prayer.

“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. – Luke 11:9-10 NLT

Life has a way of exposing our needs and insufficiencies. Had the guest not shown up at midnight, the man never would have made his late-night visit to his neighbor. His lack of bread would have remained unknown to all those around him. But circumstances forced him to make his need known. And Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that, in time, they would have their needs exposed by the circumstances of life. And when those unexpected “guests” showed up on their doorstep, they were to take their need to God. Unlike the stubborn neighbor in the story, Yahweh is gracious, merciful, and generous. Jesus is not suggesting that getting God to answer our prayers requires stubborn and persistent asking, seeking, and knocking. The lazy neighbor was not intended to represent God. Jesus is simply stating that the neighbor eventually relented because the man with the need kept asking until his need was met. And we are to continually, repeatedly, and persistently take all our needs to God. The apostle Peter reminds us to “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7 NLT).

This entire exchange between Jesus and His disciples is a repeat of the message He delivered in His sermon on the mount.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” – Matthew 7:9-11 NLT

Jesus was simply reiterating what He had already taught them. In that same sermon, Jesus had told the disciples, “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” (Matthew 6:7-8 NLT).

The neighbor had no idea the man lacked bread. And even when he became aware of the man’s need, he refused to meet it. But it is not that way with God. He knows our needs before we even ask. And sometimes God will use the surprising and unexpected circumstances of life to expose our needs so that we will come to Him for assistance. And when we seek, knock, and ask, our gracious God always provides. He is nothing like the reluctant neighbor. We don’t have to shame Him into action. He doesn’t require us to beat down the door of heaven to get what we need. Like a parent who gives their child exactly what they request, God lovingly and graciously meets our needs. But first, we have to seek, knock and ask. And that requires that we acknowledge our needs. Like the man in the story, we have many needs that remain hidden and out of sight. Our friends and neighbors know nothing about them. But God, because He loves us, allows our needs to become known. He brings circumstances and situations into our lives that expose our needs and force us to seek His aid. And Jesus encourages His disciples to understand prayer as a means by which they were to take their needs to God – seeking, knocking, and asking for His gracious and loving assistance. As James would later write in his letter, “You do not have, because you do not ask”(James 4:2 ESV). 

And the apostle Paul provides us with strong encouragement to make our requests known to God.

…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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