When Your Prayers Feel Meaningless

 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. 9 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. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”

Luke 11:8-10

 

Put yourself in the shoes of the disciples. You are in the city of Capernaum, and it’s early in the morning. Most mornings, you wake up to Jesus being absent- but you know to look up towards the Mount of Olives, where you can usually see Him walking down the mountain as the sun rises. He’s been praying, again.

This is the situation the disciples found themselves in daily. The Bible is not clear as to what exactly happened when Jesus prayed, but all we know is that it happened often. Often enough that the disciples began to notice that this was something that Jesus made a priority, even when He was as exhausted as they were. On this day in particular, a disciple looks at Him and says “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught His disciples” (Luke 11:1) and Jesus responds with the Lord’s Prayer, something familiar to most Christians.

My mind has a hard time comprehending how my prayers would ever be meaningful enough to affect the heart and mind of God to make any sort of impactful difference. If I understand God as He truly is, then He is both Creator and Sustainer of all things that I know and don’t know; He is the one One with the path to life, He holds all things together, His thoughts and ways are higher than mine and He is infinitely benevolent. And if I have a correct understanding of myself, then I am a sinner prone to sinning, and most of my thoughts and intentions are at best partially motivated by holiness or selflessness. I rarely have a desire to bring before God that would be purely for the good of others or the glory of God. Even in my best intentions, I am prone to selfishness. If this is true, then why in the world would God give me the ability to have any say in how the course of life progresses? Why am I invited to the table here? I would rather defer to His judgment anyway. And yet, here Jesus gives them a template for prayer. He invites us to call Him “Father”, He allows us to ask for supplication, He instructs us to model the Gospel in our forgiveness. He welcomes us to speak to God as He did.

We may never understand the intricacies of prayer and sovereignty, but I have seen overwhelming proof in Scripture that my Father wants me to pray. If that is all the explanation I ever got, I would pray just because I love Him and He tells me to. But because He is so exhaustively kind, and He is ever so gentle with the heart of an inquisitor, He has given me some answers to my never-ending string of questions, and I find them in the parable following Jesus’s template for prayer.

The story here is about two friends. One of the friends is in desperate need of some food to supply for his guest, and the other is asleep in his house with his whole family. Clearly, it is close to the middle of the night and a bit of an inappropriate time to be out and about. The friend in desperate need goes to the house of the sleeping family and knocks incessantly on the door to ask for bread. The door is answered, and the owner of the house declines his first request for food. But the knocking continues. The next verse is the one that strikes me: “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”

. See, it wasn’t because of their friendship that the man would disturb his whole family to get his friend what he needed- it was because of the man’s persistence. He just kept asking.

Now- what does this mean about God? Does it mean that He will give us whatever we want because He wants us to leave Him alone? Absolutely not. The Father is teaching us His heart by comparison.

This friend complied with the request made to him out of a desire to stop the incessant knocking. He was annoyed with the persistence of his friend, and probably tired. Does the Lord ever get that way? The man probably did not care about the problem that the desperate man was having. Doesn’t the Lord promise that He cares? This story is put in our terms, but God does not descend to our attitudes.

God has infinite patience, eternal wells of vitality, and all resources at His disposal. He is the definition of love, He is compelled by His nature to do good to those who love Him, He is intimately aware of His children, He is passionate about the life of His redeemed; He went to the greatest lengths to demolish the distance between His heart and our own, and He died to prove His desire to bring us together. If that annoyed and exhausted friend would consent to lend bread to his desperate brother, how much more would this kind of God be willing to provide for His children?

We are being invited to arrive incessantly and shamelessly at the doorstep of the King, desperate and weary for answers. Jesus is telling His disciples to keep going to the Father. No matter the desperation, or the anger, frustration- just keep going. Keep knocking on that door.

The questions that rattle around our minds never seem to end, and yet His answer is all the same: Come to me, come to me, come to me. 

Maybe my knocking is really loud, and maybe it fades to a whisper, and maybe it stops occasionally. Somehow He tells me I can keep coming anyway. And when I see Him, I remember why I will never wish to go anywhere else. C.S. Lewis puts it beautifully:

 

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”

 

By Samantha Arp

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