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Our Lord’s Surprising Secret to the Power of Prayer

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These days, with so much uncertainty in the world, it seems everyone is interested in the power of prayer. But I’m afraid we might be more interested in power than in prayer. I say this because the modern world (and many Christians who live in it) is obsessed with power and control. And if we can “unlock” the power of prayer, then we gain more control over our lives. But I don’t think this is what God had in mind for our prayer lives.

In Luke 11 we find a long, detailed discourse from Jesus about prayer; his answer stretches all the way to verse 13. And as Jesus so often does, he tells us a parable—about prayer. I begin in verse 5.

After Jesus provided a sample prayer, he continued with seven simple words that can forever change our ideas about the power of prayer. He says, simply, “Suppose one of you has a friend . . .” Jesus moved the conversation from the content of prayer to the relationship between God and man. This tells me that the power of prayer is found in friendship with God.

Some friendships stand on stick-legs; they can’t hold much weight. But Jesus isn’t talking about these kinds of friendships. Jesus presents the example of a friendship so strong that both men can say exactly what they think without any worry of ruining their bond. He tells the story of two men who knew each other so well that they could be completely honest.

One guy receives an unexpected visitor late at night and needs to provide hospitality. He goes to his friend’s house–even though it’s too late at night to drop by–and asks for extra food. His friend says, “Are you nuts? It’s way too late! Come back tomorrow.” Yet the relationship is so strong that the first guy can say, “I’m not leaving until I get what I need.”

Bible scholars will tell you that Jesus paints this picture to illustrate the importance of persistence in prayer, and of course that’s true. But there’s something more: Jesus invites us to imagine prayer as an extension of honest, real friendship. If we approach prayer academically we will rush past Jesus’ simple introduction, “Suppose you have a friend.” He asks us to draw on our experience and imagine the best friendship we have and then apply that kind of security and strength to the way we talk to God.

Friendship: The Power of Prayer

1. Friendship itself is the reason we can persist in prayer.

The reason we can be so bold to knock on the door at midnight is that we know our rude behavior will not sever the relationship. We can continue to ask, seek, and knock because we know the heart of the one we are bothering. He’s our friend. The kind of friend for whom the rules don’t count. That’s what real friends are for. Even if it seems like the first answer might be, “Don’t bother me!” Does our picture of God allow for the possibility that I could press through the first answer? Would you ever ask God to change his mind?

2. We don’t have to wait for the “proper time” to come and ask.

If the situation calls for it, bang on the door in the middle of the night. Why wait to ask? We can (we should) come to him as soon as the need becomes real. Friendship means we have the freedom to “break the rules” of propriety, any time, day or night.

3. When my friend does answer, he will give me “as much as I need.”

Friends don’t keep score: what’s yours is mine and vice versa. The basis for his generosity is the relationship, not the rules of etiquette. I can have the boldness to keep on asking, especially when I’m asking on behalf of someone else.

4. There’s a third party in the picture.

Remember how the story starts? The reason for the request is to feed my guests; they are the ones in need. Jesus is suggesting that when we pray out of our need to bless others, God is more than generous. But how many times have I limited my prayers to my needs only?

Perhaps it would be a useful exercise to think about our earthly friendships, those that are healthy and life-giving. Then, following the Lord’s suggestion when it comes to prayer, to imagine that God is our best (and perfect) friend. I think we will discover a new kind of power in prayer – the power that comes from friendship.