Life is a lesson in limitations. There are limits to how fast we can run, how high we can jump, and how long we will live. Money, patience, compassion, generosity, friendship, time—they all have limits. There is a limit to how late you should call or how early you should text. There is even a limit to what we feel comfortable asking.
It’s a nice surprise, then, that when Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He followed The Lord’s Prayer with the parable of the Friend at Midnight (Luke 11:5-8). Life has limits, prayer does not.
In the parable, a man gets company in the middle of the night. Hospitality is expected, but his food supply is gone. There is no Walmart down the road, not even an all-night convenience store. His only option lives next door.
“Sorry to bother you,” he whispers, “but could you please lend me a few loaves of bread? We received unexpected company and don’t have anything to serve them.” The response is not, “We don’t have any bread,” it’s, “I’d have to wake up the whole family in order to help you. I can’t do that.” And with all the tenacity of a telemarketer, he’s not about to let him hang up. “I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.” (verse 8)
Their friendship had limits. God’s friendship does not. “Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus explained, “than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Jesus did even more. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) We were His enemies. Jesus died to make us His friends.
Requests have limits, don’t they? Asking for bread was one thing. Asking him to disrupt his entire household elevated matters to another level. When the response is “No” and the reason is given, you’d have to be shameless to keep pounding on the door. That’s the point, isn’t it? There is no request that is too large, too shameless, or too difficult for Jesus. He invites us to pray for all things. “Thou art coming to a King,” the hymn reminds us, “large petitions with thee bring. For His grace and power are such, none can ever ask too much.” (TLH 459:2)
What about timing? It’s midnight in the parable. Don’t think of our midnight where the streets are still lighted and many are still awake. Their midnight was as dark as an Amish farm house. Is there a middle of the night for God? Is there an inconvenient time when He prefers not to be bothered? That’s impossible. “He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121:4) His eyes are always on the righteous. His ears are always open to our prayers.
Is there a limit to how often we can come? Abraham kept coming (Genesis 18:16-33). Each time, he lowered the bar for the number of righteous in Sodom. The Lord was neither annoyed nor put out. In fact, the parable of the Friend at Midnight is followed by the words, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Literally, “keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking.”
God invites you to be the Friend at Midnight, persisting in prayer, knowing that He hears and will answer you. There are no limits. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)