A Friend at Midnight

Sermon by David Felker on October 20, 2019

Luke 11:5-13

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Please turn with me in your Bible to Luke chapter 11. Luke chapter 11; the passage begins on page 869 in the church Bible in front of you. If you’re visiting, welcome again to you. We’re in a Sunday night mini-series looking at the parables of Jesus. Tonight we will be in Luke chapter 11, verses 5 to 13. 

And before we jump in and read, just something to help orient us to our text tonight. I have mentioned before that I grew up, I went to high school in Fayetteville, Arkansas and I started college at the University of Arkansas before transferring and finishing at Mississippi State. And my years in Fayetteville were very formative. And they were very special to me and really gave me a vision for life in many ways, a vision for a cruciform life. And one of the things about Fayetteville that was new to me that I loved to see was that God really cultivated a culture of adoption and foster care and orphan care in that community and in our church. And I’ve told a story from this pulpit before about one of my friends and their process of adoption, but one of the things just from being in that community, I have tons of friends who have participated or prayed for or financially helped or even adopted, and some of them international children. And from being in that community and through those friendships, I have learned that there’s really not just one adoption story, that there is a different experience for every adoption; there’s a different story. 

And I have a friend who adopted a child and just very, very quickly this child that they got, “This is all new to me, but these are my brothers and sisters. This is my mommy and daddy. This is home.” I mean, understanding that this is factually, legally true, but also in their experience. They deeply felt it; that this is home. There are other stories where, you have maybe even heard, there are stories of families where the child has to grow into the experience. The child has to grow into the experience of being a son or being a daughter. I have a friend who adopted a child and said that for months that child would wake up in the night with night terrors, with night terrors. And sometime later I asked that friend if the child still had the night terrors, and he said no. And he said that he thinks they stopped when the child, when the child was convinced, it was branded into their soul, “I have a mommy, I have a daddy, that love me, and I am home.” In other words, the child had to grow into the experience. 

And adoption is a legal act. It’s a legal act. And the reason that’s important, it’s not a change in nature; it’s a change in status. And so an adopted child with a new mommy and daddy and a new name, and a new home, and the paperwork is in, it’s complete. The child is welcomed; the child is wanted. There is celebration and there is delight. There is love in this child. The child still has to grow into the experience. The child has to grow into the experience of being a son or being a daughter. 

And that is our story. Which of us has not, in some measure, felt like that child crying in the middle of the night? Which of us has not had to grow into the experience of being a child of God? Which of us has not felt like an orphan? So we’re in Luke chapter 11 tonight. We’ve been looking at the parables of Jesus and this parable immediately follows the Lord’s Prayer and it’s in that same context. And I’m so grateful, I am so grateful that Jesus doesn’t stop in verse 4. I’m so grateful that Jesus doesn’t stop. He doesn’t stop with just giving us the prayer to pray. I’m so grateful that He gives us this story, that He takes us into this story, because this story really gets to the heart. And I can’t speak for you, but at least for me, the biggest barrier to prayer is not that I don’t have the words. At least for me the biggest barrier to prayer is not that I don’t have the words, in verses 2 to 4. For me, the biggest barrier to prayer is that it is so hard for me to imagine that God cares for me, that God is for me, that God notices me, that He would really want to hear from me. You see, it’s the experience. It’s growing into the experience of being a son or daughter. That is my biggest barrier to prayer. It’s in the living. And that’s what we’re talking about tonight. And before we read, let’s pray and ask for God’s help. Let’s pray.

Father in heaven, we confess that we have listened to so many other voices this week and we confess that we even hoped that they might give us life. Tonight we come sitting at Your feet, the one necessary thing. We listen to Your words. We pray that You would work through my lisping and stammering tongue to give us, that You would give all of us a spirit of prayer, and we pray that You would start this work tonight. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Luke chapter 11, beginning in verse 5. This is God’s Word:

“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!’”

Amen. This is God’s Word.

I have quoted before in a wedding homily the poet, W. H. Auden, who said, “You cannot tell people what to do. You cannot tell people what to do. You can only tell them parables. You cannot tell people what to do. You can only tell them parables.” The gospel of Luke is littered with Jesus’ parables and many of them occur as Jesus is traveling, as He’s traveling to Jerusalem, to the cross. And there is this long, what is called “the travel narrative” of Luke; this long journey as Jesus is slowing making His way to Jerusalem. And tonight we have Jesus, you see in verse 1, one of the disciples asks Him a question and Jesus, notice He responds first in verses 2 to 4 with the Lord’s Prayer and then right on the heels of that prayer He’s still responding to this question. He responds with this story, this parable. “You cannot tell people what to do. You can only tell them parables.”

In Luke chapter 10, Jesus could have just said, “Love the unlovely. Love those that are hard to love. Love the stranger.” Instead, Jesus said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell among robbers who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.” It’s the parable of the good Samaritan. In Luke chapter 15, Jesus could have just said, “God loves sinners.” And instead He said the famous words, “A certain man had two sons.” In Luke chapter 18, Jesus could have just said, “God loves the one who comes to Him empty-handed, in prayer and in worship. God loves the one who comes to Him and says, ‘You should not love Me.’” Instead, Jesus said, “Two men went up into the temple to pray.” That’s the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. So these stories, these parables go right to your heart. “You cannot tell people what to do. You can only tell them parables.”

I have to tell you, both in my own experience and as a pastor, there is a lot of guilt and a lot of shame in this area of prayer. There’s a lot of guilt and a lot of shame and that’s for a host of reasons. Jesus, in His greatest hour of need, in His greatest hour of need in the gospels, He said, “Will you be My prayer partners?” He went to His three best friends and He picked them and He said, “Will you be My prayer partners?” And they said, “Yes, Jesus. We have got You covered. We will pray.” And when Jesus came back, three times, three times they were sleeping. 

And maybe you’re here tonight and you feel like you are one of those sleepy disciples. That’s how you feel. You feel like you’re one of the sleepy disciples. Maybe you find yourself in a funk in prayer because of life’s anxieties, maybe because you exhaust yourself with noise. Maybe because it is so hard to stop and sit down and listen, the one necessary thing, and let the soil of your heart be tilled. Or maybe it is hard for you to pray because you have prayed. Maybe it’s hard for you to pray because in your desperation, you got down on your knees and you prayed and your father died or your wife got sick or the money never came in or you couldn’t conceive a child. And so you have prayed. And what I’m saying is, we don’t like to get near this. We don’t like to talk about this because prayer is difficult and there’s guilt and there’s shame. And so how are you doing tonight? How are you doing? If what I am describing is familiar to you, if you are unsettled and exhausted and you are a son, you are a daughter, but you’re living life as an orphan, then how do you change?

I love this line. The great southern writer, Flannery O’Connor, in her journal in 1946 wrote, “Can’t anyone teach me to pray? Can’t anyone teach me to pray?” Is that the language of your heart tonight? “You cannot tell people what to do. You can only tell them parables.” So if you struggle to pray, and even as I’m talking about this you know and you would say, “It has been so long. It’s been so long for me.” And I want you to listen to how Jesus tells us to overcome the inertia. What does Jesus give us here that might actually change us, that might wake us up and motivate us to pray? 

Well He gives us in verses 5 to 13 these two brief parables and they focus on the identity and the character of the One hearing our prayers. First in verses 5 to 10, to motivate you to pray you have to see that God is your friend and you are a beggar. God is your friend and you are a beggar. And then second in verses 11 to 13, to motivate you to pray, you have to see that God is your Father and you are His beloved child. And so God is your friend and God is your Father and you are a beggar and you are His child and He is the best friend and He is the best Father that you could imagine. 

God is your Friend 

Okay so, first, God is your friend in verses 5 to 10. God is your friend and you are a beggar. And so in this first story there is a social disaster in a shame culture. And so the story is told that a traveling friend has shown up in this village and he has shown up to his friend’s house, probably travelling in the night to avoid the heat. And one of the things that would have been customary – and it still is in our day – is the host, the friend, would provide something to eat for the guest. And so the host notices, in verse 6, that he doesn’t have the bread to supply his friend a meal. I think this is important language. He says, “I have nothing.” He says, “I have nothing to set before him.” And if something like this happens in our day, this is a good problem. If something like this happens in our day, you take them to Waffle House. This is a good problem! This host, this friend, is left with one option though – “I’ve got to go next door.” And so he goes to his neighbor. He says in verse 5, “Friend, lend me three loaves.” And it is the middle of the night. This feels intrusive. This feels strange. This is asking a lot. He’s going to wake them up. 

And so the first response he gets is in verse 7. “Do not bother me. The door is shut. My children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything.” But see this is important. The friend doesn’t have anywhere else to go. He doesn’t have anywhere else to go. He said, “I have nothing.” He doesn’t have anywhere else to go. He doesn’t have any other resources. He has this awareness of his need and his poverty and so he’s coming to his neighbor because he desperately needs something from him. And so we see he perseveres in his impudence and in his desperation until verse 8, until the neighbor, Jesus says, gets up, he answers the door, he gives him whatever he needs. 

And so this is Jesus’ story. This is Jesus’ prayer seminar. He’s answering again the disciples’ question in verse 1, “Teach us to pray.” And so Jesus says, “prayer looks like this.” Prayer looks like this. Prayer looks like a man going to his neighbor’s house in the middle of the night because he is so depleted of his own resources. He has a deficit in his life and he is forced to ask. He’s forced to be needy. He’s forced to be desperate. He’s forced to be weak. He’s forced to be a beggar. And with boldness, his neighbor answers his request, gives him whatever he needs, and Jesus says amazingly, “Pray then like this.” And then in verse 10, “Ask, seek, knock.” And in verses 9 to 10, actually that’s a series of imperatives. Those are present imperatives so it’s “Keep on asking and it will be given. Keep on seeking and you will find. Keep on knocking and it will be opened to you.” And so this persistence, that’s in the very grammar of this passage. And so this is something that you do and you keep doing. This posture of need. This is a lifestyle. 

And I think that we know this doesn’t mean, verse 10 doesn’t mean that the answer to the request comes to you in exactly the form that you’re asking. Just as children often ask for things and you as fathers know that those are not the things that they need, and so you, out of fatherly affection and out of fatherly love, you don’t give them what they ask for. You give them underneath what they’re asking. Because of your love for them. But what is Jesus trying to teach us in this first parable? He’s teaching us, “Pray like a beggar.” He’s teaching us, “Pray like a beggar.” And this is why prayer is so difficult for so many of us. The posture of prayer is a posture of need. And that is so difficult. Every one of us, children and adults, every one of us, we have come up at some point in our lives against something big. We have come up against something frightening and we have come up against something scary. I think every one of us, we’ve come up against something great. Maybe someone that you love is on their deathbed, and so in that moment, even if you haven’t prayed often in your life, in that moment, what do you do? You cry out to God. You cry out to God. Your cupboards are bare. You see yourself as vulnerable and needy and weak. You are at rock bottom. Can you recall one of those moments? Can you recall what that is like? Do you remember? Those moments are so hard to hang on to, but you have this awareness of your poverty and of your weakness before Him and you cry out. And your language isn’t fancy and it’s not fake. You get on your knees and you say, “Lord, help. Help. Help me.”

And why do you pray that prayer? Because you see yourself clearly. You pray that prayer because you see yourself as you really are, because you finally know your cupboards are bare. You know that you are depleted of your resources. You don’t have the resources. You don’t know what to do. You don’t know what to do or where to go and Jesus is saying, “Pray then like this.” Pray like this. And so I want to ask you this evening, “What stops you? What is it that stops you from being a beggar?” We’re talking about real life. We’re talking about the experience. Real life with God. What is it that stops you from going to God this way in prayer, from this posture of need? 

And whatever your story, whatever your situation, this parable is good news. First Pres, this is a very talented place. This is a very talented place and I think that we need to hear the conviction and the comfort of these words – that not only is it okay to be a beggar, but that is a condition of receiving grace. Blessed, blessed are you who have nothing to bring. Blessed are you who have nothing to bring to God but empty hands, who have absolutely nothing. Blessed are you who have nothing to bring but your poverty. Embrace this truth – that you are a beggar – because that is the place, that is the beautiful place where God wants to meet you and where He teaches you to sing, “The Lord is my strength.”

There’s an author who told a story of an Irish Catholic priest who was walking along on a road and he saw a potato farmer on the side of the road and his head was down in prayer. And so the priest said to him, “You must be very close to God. You must be very close to God.” And the potato farmer responded – and how I wish this would be easier for us to say – the potato farmer responded, “He is very fond of me. He is very fond of me.” You see, you’re a beggar, but God is your friend. He is very fond of you. That’s the first thing that Jesus gives us to motivate us to pray. And only a Christian has the resources to say that. “I am a beggar, but Jesus is very fond of me. I am preciously loved by God.” That’s the first thing.

God is your Father 

Second, the second motivation. In verses 11 to 13, God is our Father and we see His heart here. We are His beloved sons and daughters. And this is a greater motivation because see, in the second picture, you’re not on the outside. So in the second picture, in verses 11 to 13, you’re not on the outside knocking on the door of a friend, but you are inside. You are inside the house as a child. And this God to whom you pray is not just a friend, but a Father. And not just any father, not an earthly father. Earthly fathers who are evil, he says, know how to give good gifts. Earthly fathers never give scorpions and snakes rather than a fish or an egg. And how much greater. You see, that is the movement of the passage. It’s a comparison. He’s building a lesser to greater argument over the course of these verses. And so he’s saying, “Listen,” in verses 5 to 10, “if there is a friend, if there is a friend who won’t give you what you need except if you are persistent, how much more than, verses 11 and 12? How much more would it bring joy to an earthly father to give his child exactly what he needs and then one more time, how much more than a heavenly Father? Verse 13 – how much more a perfect heavenly Father who delights to give good gifts?”

In Paul Miller’s book, The Praying Life, he has a section on learning to pray to the Father as a child. I have three kids. I have two, a five and a three year old, who – I can affirm the truthfulness of this quote. He says, “What do little children ask for? Everything and anything.” What do little children ask for? Everything and anything. “How often do little children ask? Repeatedly. Over and over again. How do little children ask? Without guile.” Jesus tells us to watch little children if we want to learn how to pray. Tim Keller said – this is a famous quote. He once said, “Who dares to wake the King in the middle of the night? Who dares to enter the King’s presence at night without being summoned? Only His child. Abba, I’m scared. Abba, I can’t sleep. Abba, it is dark. Abba, I need You.” You see, that is the spirit that Jesus is saying we are to have in prayer.

And I think when that gets into your heart it is transforming – when that gets into your heart, even if you have had a father who disappointed you. Henry Lyte was an Anglican minister and a hymn writer and he wrote many hymns that we sing. He wrote, “Abide With Me.” And one of my favorites that he wrote was, “Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven.” And when Henry Lyte was a child, his parents separated and his father sent him to boarding school. And while he was at boarding school his father got remarried. And the story goes that after the marriage – and I don’t know all of the details for why this was the case – but whenever he dad would write Henry from that point on, after he remarried, he would refer to himself as “Your Uncle.” He wouldn’t sign it, “Your Father.” And he would not allow Henry to call him, “Father.” But God worked in Henry’s life and years later he was able to write these words. This is in “Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven.” He was able to write these words about his heavenly Father. And he wrote, “Father-like he tends and spares us. Well our feeble frame He knows. In His hands He gently bears us; rescues us from all our foes.” How could Henry Lyte write that? You see, he could only write it because of communion with God and fellowship with God. He learned, “This is the kind of Father that I have. This is what my heavenly Father is like and He has redeemed my story.” 

And I want you to notice how the passage ends in verse 13. It ends by saying, “How much more will your Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?” In the parallel passage in Matthew’s gospel it says, “what is good to those who ask.” Why does Jesus here say, “the Holy Spirit.” This seems like an odd way to end. But you remember Paul in Galatians 4. Do you remember, Paul says that God sends His Spirit into our hearts to convince us of God’s love. God sends His Spirit into our hearts crying, “Abba, Father.” And do you remember what Paul calls the Holy Spirit in Romans chapter 8? “The Spirit of adoption.” The Spirit of adoption. 

Russell Moore, he has been in our pulpit. He was a longtime professor and staff member at Southern Seminary and I’ll never forget the story that he told about going to the Ukraine to adopt his sons. And he said that the thing that startled him the most at the orphanage in the Ukraine was not the conditions. It wasn’t the terrible conditions. It wasn’t the darkness of the orphanage. He said it wasn’t even the smell, the awful smell. He said what startled him the most, even though there were babies everywhere, there were babies everywhere in the orphanage, he said what startled him the most was the silence. He said there was deathly silence. He said these children had discovered that they could cry and cry and cry and they discovered that no one would answer. And he said is there anything worse than that? And he said the most moving thing that happened in that visit, you saw these kids rocking themselves to sleep with no father to do it, just silence, and in the course of their time there as they were getting to know their boys before they brought them back home, before they brought them back to the States, he said that as they were ready to leave one of the boys in the crib screamed. He said one of their boys cried. And he said that was because the baby in his little heart and in his little mind says, “I have found someone who will answer. I have found someone who will answer.”

You see, the Holy Spirit is the gift given to our hearts. God’s love poured in, Paul says in Romans chapter 5. He is the gift who convinces us, “Your Father will answer. He will answer your prayers. You are His and He is yours and He will answer you.”

Let me close with this. In Luke 11, this is a parable that is an invitation. This is an invitation to communion. This is an invitation to communion with God because it is all too easy tomorrow, it’s all too easy to go back to the familiar, to the well-worn paths of our frenetic lives and our shame and the noise and the prayerlessness. It is all too easy. And this is an invitation. What will motivate you to pray? What will change you? You have to see that God is your friend and you are a beggar. This is true. You have a friend for sinners. And you have to see, second, that we are not orphans. You are not an orphan if you belong to Jesus Christ. You are not an orphan. You have a Father and you have been given the right to become children of God.

Yesterday evening I had to run up to the office for a few minutes and then I went and picked up dinner for my family. And when I went inside, I walked in the side door of our house and it was pitch dark. There was not a light on in the house. And when I opened the door, music started playing on the kitchen table – dance party music. And in the distance I saw some movement and I actually saw these glowsticks and I heard some whispering. And then all of a sudden, my children, my son, Marshall, five, and my daughter, Finley, three, they ran to me and they grabbed my hands giggling, with glowsticks, and they wanted to have a surprise dance party. And do you think as their father that I judged their skill? Do you think I judged their skill as they’re dancing in the living room with glowsticks? What gives me great joy as a dad is seeing my children experience my love. It’s seeing my children free and self-forgetful and living and resting and delighting in and celebrating in my love.

Do you not know, and have you not heard? This is like our God. See, what kind of love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God. And so he who has ears, let him hear. Amen. Let me pray.

Our Father, we pray that You would help us to know the sweetness of Your presence, Your communion. We pray tonight that You would unsettle us, that You would make us restless with business as usual; that You would help us to persevere in prayer that we might see the smile of Your face. And so come and meet our heart’s desire tonight. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

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