An emerging leader and Porterbrook Omaha student met with me recently to share some of the things God had been teaching him over the summer about prayer. I asked him to write about it so that others could benefit. Below is what he sent me.
This past summer, the preaching at Coram Deo focused on the theme of prayer. This theme matched God’s quiet work in my own heart. Theologically I understood how to pray, but somehow my prayer life felt dry. It lacked zeal and life. So I started asking questions about prayer and why we pray. And even more importantly, I started asking God to teach me to pray.
To my astonishment, God answered! In doing so, he has blessed my prayer life tremendously. I would like to share with you what he showed me through meditation on Luke chapter 11.
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
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. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 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!”
In this passage, Luke gives us a detailed account of Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray. Jesus first gives them a model – the Lord’s Prayer. Next, he tells them a story to illustrate what a prayerful heart should be like. And the story itself is making a point, as all of Jesus’ stories do.
The ESV translation uses the word impudence in verse 8, where most versions use words like boldness or persistence. What does impudence mean? Impudence is defined as indecency or shamelessness. And this definition fits this story far better than boldness or persistence. The neighbor was not persistent, nor was he bold. He was rude.
Impudence seems to best describe this man’s actions, but how are we supposed to be impudent before God? Are we supposed to ‘bother’ him in the middle of the night? Or perhaps we should pray in the nude? This story seems only to raise questions. Jesus goes on to teach that if you seek you will find, knock and the door will be opened, ask and you shall receive. But I spent ten years asking God for very specific things – things in line with his will – and he didn’t give me any of those things. Why not?
As I reflected on this passage patiently and prayerfully, God began to connect the dots for me. Impudence is the key to understanding prayer. The rude neighbor in the story was impudent for the sake of his friend, not himself. He cared so much for his friend that he was willing to be shamed and indecent to provide for his friend.
This is our model for prayer. The point of prayer is to forget about myself so that I might love others through prayer. This idea of loving others in prayer truly rejuvenates prayer. Prayer becomes exciting and worthwhile. We get to act as Christ did everyday by caring more about others than ourselves.
The idea of impudence applies to asking, seeking, and knocking, too. In the past, I’ve asked, sought, and knocked for my own sake, not for the sake of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. I’ve been guilty of James 4:3: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” I have asked for freedom from sin so that I might have my own righteousness, so that I might spend righteousness on myself. How might impudence change this? Impudence would move me to ask for Jesus’ righteousness so that I might bring glory to his name and serve his Kingdom.
But the most beautiful observation about this passage is that Jesus is foreshadowing himself. He was the most impudent man of all. He let himself be stripped and beaten, thus becoming indecent. He did this because of his love for us, so that we would not have to be made indecent. Jesus was shamed on the cross, bearing our sin like a criminal so that we would not have to. Jesus was impudent to the point of death because of his love for us.
Impudence, as Jesus taught, is rooted in love and it is only available to us if we let the love of Christ into our hearts. Furthermore, it should be an evidence of Christ’s love dwelling in our hearts. Let us, then, be more impudent – more shameless and indecent – in our prayers!
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Is this kind of impudence only valid if it’s on behalf of a friend or another person? Or is it also valid for ourselves?
I ask because I have wrestled with this question in general for several years. On the one hand, I want to do things rightly, to act well, to make wise decisions, to not be selfish with my focus or my requests. I want to be self-less and I want to be disciplined in loving others through prayer. On the other, I think that I often avoid making requests for my own life either because I don’t trust God to provide, or because I somehow want to do the best with what I’ve already been given. In other words, it’s not ok for me to make audacious requests, to think or hope big, to “fail” in my personal life by not making the best with the means provided.
On the other hand, it seems that even if the request is selfish or misdirected, making an impudent request can still produce conversation that leads to healing and wisdom. The example I think of is Elijah who, after being caught up in the miraculous show-down between the prophets of Ba’al and God on Mt. Carmel, ran for his life from the threat of Jezebel and prayed to God to take his life, a prayer which God refused to answer, even through death by old age. Instead God provided life for him, nourishment, protection, and conversation (which seems directed at getting Elijah to step out of his momentary fears and towards a new future). Such a bad prayer, I think it can be called, was impudent but in the end God also made it productive.
It seems better, given similar circumstances, to engage with God where we’re at, knowing we are angry or bitter or terrified and faithless than to disengage or wait until we have the right kind of heart. There are other prayers which, for me, seem in between. At least, I’m not sure if they’re terrible prayers or not, bound up as I am in my momentary anxieties and lacking in larger perspective sometimes. I’d rather be wrong (usually), and be corrected by God or by others in the church than to be stuck indefinitely in weakness or faithlessness.
I admire the truth of what you’ve shared – that “this idea of loving others in prayer truly rejuvenates prayer,” and a part of me wants to agree wholeheartedly. I’m sure that being disciplined in prayer by focusing requests on others can build a heart for others, too, because I’ve witnessed it in my own life. But I also am temped to say that the needs that drive self-focused desires are also rooted in real needs or real problems, and though God may not answer them in any way like we wish or have requested (even as he didn’t for Elijah, for who God’s answer was more like a rebuke than anything else), the request still seems valuable, and the impudence or rudeness also seems to have its place.
Am I wrong in thinking this? Is this just an attempt to justify self-centered thinking?
Greetings! What a great discussion on prayer! I appreciate both your questions, thoughts and insights. After 36 years of learning to pray, I have come to understand that as our heavenly Father, he seems to “tolerate” and even gets a kick out of our imperfect prayers or attempts at praying. I am sure he has shaken his head in disbelief at how rediculous some of my prayers have been! But what I have seen God do in my journey in prayer has been amazing. I have learned to pray his word, the scriptures back to him, and when I do that my prayer is based on his word not just mine.
Our prayers steeped in scripture are like a sweet smelling incense in his nostils.
God in his mercy is patient and the Holy Spirit places our prayers before the Father in ways that are unable to be uttered and rightly put. There are days when I pray, I feel heard and comforted and yet other times it feels dry and like it goes no higher than the ceiling. But one thing for sure GOD LOVES IT WHEN WE PRAY! Whether we pray like a child who asks a parent for specific things or we find our praying is filled with weeping for a friend of lost one, God loves us to pray. We know we are to pray without ceasing. (the scripture means to pray with the consitency of a hacking cough!) Now with all that being said, I want to inject a caution. Our God is a fearsome and mysterious God not to be fully comprehended. He cannot be “used” for our own gain and may not get the answer back we expect.But things left at his feet is sometimes where they need to remain. He is trustworthy. He is kind. He is patient!
But we can trust as we learn to pray WE will be changed and God will be gracious to hear and answer as he sees fit. Keep praying family!
I see this as tying in with the concept of lament. Biblical prayers are so shocking and heretical and “impudent.” People who claim the core theological belief that the Word comes from God, ought to pray more Bible-shaped prayers.
Deirdre you make a great point and pose a great question. I love this topic and I love the concept that God hears our prayers at all. This is no small feat. Depending on your view of lots of things, God’s interactions on behalf of our prayers could be rewriting the very fabric of the universe (or not).
I was very moved by a sermon once, and I’m mentioning this only because I’m just as guilty of it as anyone: I tend to treat God like an employer and not a Father. As an employer, our prayer requests on behalf of ourselves (which is what you were mentioning, Deirdre), tend to have the feeling of asking your boss for a raise. Even if you’ve merited the raise, it’s nerve-racking and you know that more is at stake than just your raise. What if you anger or offend your employer somehow? In short, what if your impudence backfires?
The good news (heck, let’s just call it the gospel) is such that we don’t have an employer, we have a Father. We can (again, borrowed from a sermon I once heard) go jump on our Father’s bed at three in the morning and ask for a glass of water. This is impudence, but it’s tolerated and accepted because of the familial bond granted to us through Christ. The prodigal son was not merely tolerated, he was brought back in and loved because of his sonship, which never went away even after a lot of bad choices.
So my point: be impudent for others, but also be impudent for yourself. Jump on the bed at 3:00 in the morning. Ask for a glass of water. As Bob stated, the person praying cared so much for his friend that he could afford to be impudent. We can love like that because He first loved us. We learned impudence from the Master, now we get to “go and do likewise” not just for others, but for ourselves as well.
Last point: it was not wrong for Christ to ask if the cup of suffering could be taken from him, because he followed it with “not my will, but thy will.” Impudence couched in acceptance of God’s will, basically “God, impudently, this is what I want, but I want, I need to want what you want even more than that” is never wrong. It’s the perfect model our Lord and Savior provided in his moment of great anguish.
Great article – I def agree w/ Andrew about being Impudent for more than just others… for self as well. A good example is the Widow before the unjust judge in Luke 18 – Jesus is highlighting her Persistence and how even an Unjust Judge would help her – how much more would God… I think her asking could def be described as Impudent.