Saturday, June 9, 2012

My Cupboards are Empty!

Lord, Teach Us to Pray (Part 5)  
Reading: Luke 11:1-13
When the disciples came to Jesus in order for Him to teach them how to pray, He not only taught them how to pray, but gave them a simple parable that reminds us of the key motivation for our prayer. Unfortunately, this clear motivation for prayer is often obscured by our translations. However, it isn't hard to clean away the grime so that we might peer into this great motivation for prayer for ourselves.
Then Jesus said to them, "Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.' 7And suppose the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. (Luke 11:5-8 NIV)
The above quotation is from the recent update (2011) to the NIV, which has definitely made an effort to include the primary meaning of the word in vs. 8 translated “shameless audacity.” The older NIV translation read boldness. Many translations point toward persistence (importunity). And while there are many great teachings in scripture on the importance of persistence in prayer (especially when we feel like God is being silent!), or boldness (because we no longer need to be afraid), I don't think that either of these capture the plain teaching intended in this text of Scripture.
Let's begin by examining the story. Jesus very wisely puts you, the listener, into the parable. You, the one being taught to pray, have an active role in this parable. What is that role? Your role in this parable is to pray. You have a friend, and at midnight you go to him to appeal to him, to make an audacious request of him. What is your request? It starts with another friend who has come to stay with you, and he is hungry. You are required both by custom and by your friendship to offer him hospitality. However, you are a slacker and therefore have nothing to offer him. The notes in the NET translation say on verse 6, “The background to the statement 'I have nothing to set before him' is that in ancient Middle Eastern culture it was a matter of cultural honor to be a good host to visitors [emphasis mine].”
You should be embarrassed; you should be ashamed of yourself. You are unprepared and have nothing to offer your guest. But what do you do? You go immediately, without hesitation even though it is very late, to a friend and wake him up and openly admit your shameful situation: My cupboards are empty! [I have nothing to set before him.] While you don't actually even ask for food, the request is implied by your unashamed admission of need. We are told that this man will get up, not because of your friendship. You receive nothing because of who you are, or because of your standing with this man. He gets up to provide you with the food you need because of your _____________. (This is where the translation of this word becomes very important.)
While various translations fill in this blank with references to persistence, or boldness, the common meaning of the word is unashamedness, or shamelessness. However, even though many acknowledge this meaning, they often go on to say that there is nothing in the context that fits that translation (unashamedness), so they offer solutions in the area of boldness or persistence. Might I suggest that there is plenty in the context to suggest the common meaning of the word: unashamedness?
In fact, that is exactly the point of the parable. You aren't going to have your prayers answered because God is partial to you. That should never be your motivation for prayer. That would be a Pharisaical approach to prayer (see Luke 18:11-12). Your motivation for prayer must be your utter need. And your need is rooted in the fact that you are a slacker. But instead of shame, and hiding from your sufficient friend, you unashamedly go to him immediately, admitting your need, acknowledging your desperate situation and inability to serve others without his help.
Now that unashamedness will no doubt be great motivation for persistent prayer, as your need will drive you to keep asking, seeking and knocking in order to receive the Holy Spirit to help you minister to those whom the Lord brings before you (Luke 11:9-13). Oh that the church, each of us, would learn to embrace our desperate need, and unashamedly go to the Father immediately with our inability to serve others, that we might be empowered by the Holy Spirit to effectively serve them in their time of need! It is your need, and lack, that is intended to spur you on in prayer to the One Who is all-sufficient.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,