The parable of the friend at midnight is a parable clearly about prayer. Some may argue that this is a parable about persistence of prayer or that prayer must be done in a certain way at a certain time. These theories, however, have legitimacy issues when we look at other biblical text and implication of this parable. We are going to look at this parable and offer a valid interpretation based on the context and teachings of Jesus.
This parable takes place in Luke 11:5-8. The actual parable itself is quite short but the context and teachings of Jesus surrounding this parable offer insight into a plausible interpretation. Let’s read this parable,
“Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And 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.’ I 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.”
Even though this section contains the actual parable, what comes before and after is imperative to understanding the parable. Before this parable, Jesus prays. After he finished praying, his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. Jesus says what is commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer and then goes into the parable. After the parable, Jesus teaches about asking and knocking. Then Jesus says that since we know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more would God give to us. Before we talk about these teachings, let’s discuss the parable.
So Jesus puts the disciples into the parable as he says “suppose you have a friend”. He goes to his friend and asks for bread to feed another friend of his that is visiting him. The friend answers him in a way that most of us would if someone came to us at midnight. It is late, everything is locked up, and he can’t give him anything. There would also probably be no bread ready at midnight so baking the bread would be a whole process that wasn’t suitable at such a time in the night. However, the man gets and gives him what he needs. Jesus tells us that it wasn’t because of the friendship that the man got up, but it was because of the man’s “shameless audacity” or “boldness” that he got up and helped his friend.
This is a parable about big prayers. There is no assumption that the man was persistently knocking or asking over and over again for bread. The man only asks once. The reason the man helped was not because he kept asking over and over again, but it was because it was such a huge favor to ask he could not turn away. It was a big deal to break bread and it was a big deal to the man asking that he had food for his traveling friend. The issue is not about persistence but about what is being asked and the boldness to pray big prayers.
Jesus provides commentary on this by providing us with a teaching. Luke 11:9-10 says, “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Jesus is opening up the limitless possibilities of prayer here. Jesus is telling us to ask in prayer and we will receive. He is asking us to knock and God will open the door. None of this can be done though, without prayer. That is not to say God will not give us something unless we ask for it, that is not what is meant. What is meant is that we can receive what we need and find what we are looking for if we just ask. The man in the parable made a bold move, he had a big request. It would not have been done without the boldness to ask.
One of the greatest gifts we can receive is the Holy Spirit. Jesus mentions this in verse 13 when he says, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” We can give good gifts to our kids and family that they appreciate. If we can do this, and we don’t always have the best intentions, how much more is God able to give the Spirit to those who ask? Again, it all comes back to asking.
Jesus has taught his disciples what to pray for, the importance of prayer, and the power of asking through prayer. This teaching of Jesus will later come to fulfillment when he is in the garden, asking God to take away what is about to happen. As we know, Jesus knew that the events of the Crucifixion had to take place, yet he still asked. Jesus still asked if it was possible to take away the wrath he was about to engulf himself in (Matthew 26:39), though he knew he had to go through it. Praise be to God that he did.
As we can see, prayer is a powerful tool. We can ask for anything in prayer and with God, it will be given. This parable teaches us that even though we have big prayers or big requests, we should still ask. This was all part of the amazing kingdom of God that Jesus was offering and is still offering. Paul said it best when he wrote, “let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).