Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
Jesus was a pretty impressive pray-er. Even after the disciples had been around him for a while, when they saw him pray this particular time, it made such an impression that wanted to be on the level that He was on prayer-wise.
“Jesus please teach us to pray,” and then, seemingly trying to exert some sort of peer pressure on him, they followed that up with, “John teaches his disciples to pray, so you should teach us!”
What followed was a repetition of the essence of the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 5. This is a different setting, so we know that this isn’t the same thing referenced in Matthew 5. This is interesting because, while we might think that the Lord’s Prayer is simplistic, Jesus sees it as so foundational that, rather than teach them a new prayer, He repeats what He has already told them.
He then follows it up with a couple parables.
Jesus tells a story where a friend shows up late, and the host doesn’t have any food because he wasn’t expecting a guest. So he bothers a neighbor friend for food until he gets it.
One of the broad lessons here is the difference between God and the neighbor. While the neighbor was a friend, he was unwilling to give the gift even though they had a good relationship. God, on the other hand, is always willing to give us good gifts. He doesn’t have to be poked or prodded, or spiritually blackmailed by bothering to respond to our prayers.
Though at the same time, one of the lessons taught here is that persistence is necessary in prayer. The man was denied multiple times, but wasn’t discouraged. One thing to keep in mind is that prayer doesn’t draw God closer to us, but us closer to God. Perhaps God isn’t answering a prayer because we need to search our hearts and repent. Some of the promises are conditional, and we might need to find a new level of obedience.
He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
This doesn’t answer the question of why physical ailments aren’t healed. I don’t have good answers for that, as I’m not God. I know some people that have experienced healing, and a lot that haven’t. Some things are the result of our own lifestyle choices and might require changing how we live. Some are the effects of living in a sinful world, whether through humanity’s mistreatment of the planet, or the result of what others do to us. All I know is that God wants our good, and beyond that, we need to trust Him and wrestle that out in prayer.
A third lesson is that, yes, prayer does have a purpose. The man wouldn’t have gotten the bread if he hadn’t asked. I’ve wondered sometimes if prayer will have an effect. Isn’t God going to do what He’s going to do? Nope. There are things that God wants to do, but He is waiting for us to ask for them, and we won’t get them otherwise.
Another takeaway is that it helps to ask for things that can be a blessing for other people. The man wasn’t asking for bread for himself, but for a friend. God likes to answer those types of prayers. Asking to give is very much taking after how Jesus lived His life.
Lastly, we should expect good things from God. Earthly parents can be messed up, but in general they want the best things for their kids. They aren’t going to mess with them by giving them harmful things when the kids expect something else. God is not in heaven yanking our chains. Certainly there is a spiritual war behind curtains we can’t draw aside, and we feel the effects of it, but as far as God is concerned, he wants good things for us, and he’s not going to pull the carpet out from underneath of us. “Haha, look at that poor human, man, I really got him good!” That’s not how God does things. He wants the best for us.
The parables have lots of lessons for us, and it’s worth our time to think them over, meditate on them and draw the lessons out. So for these two parables, mull them over and learn to pray better than you have been.