My NIV study Bible lists, among “The Parables of Jesus,” two “About Prayer”: “The Friend at Midnight” (Luke 11:5-8) and “The Unjust Judge” (Luke 18:1-8). I’ve set them out below, along with immediately subsequent verses for each, since they also seemed relevant to the parables. This is an important area, and we’ll see that Jesus’ message is simple and clear.
Here’s the parable of “The Friend at Midnight” and immediately following verses:
5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 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.’ 8 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.
9 “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. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 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!”
And here’s the parable of “The Unjust Judge” and immediately following verses:
1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
So what is the simple and clear message here? Don’t be afraid to ask for things in prayer! Don’t worry that God will think that you’re a nuisance, and don’t worry that you’re somehow not good enough. Be “shamelessly audacious”! Keep “bothering” Him! The only proviso seems to be that we pray humbly rather than arrogantly.
C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, addresses the concern that some have about God being able to hear all the prayers that are addressed to Him at one time; Lewis points out that such concerns would not apply to someone who transcends all time. Likewise, a true member of the Trinity would reassure believers that they should never hesitate to pray. There cannot be too many prayers, only not enough. We are supposed to pray — a lot.
I have a separate post on this blogsite discussing “Why Pray?”
But then there’s the other big question: Will we get what we want when we pray? Well, we know we don’t always — or at least we don’t always get what we think we want right when we want it. But that’s no doubt a good thing, as this country song wisely tells us. I’ll note also that there is one thing in the first parable that Jesus seems to say specifically God will always provide: “[H]ow much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” And God, says Jesus in the second parable, will also provide “justice for His chosen ones.”
Finally, I should add that of course there’s more than the passages above about Jesus and prayer. For example, the Gospels tell us that Jesus prayed frequently, often by Himself, perhaps most dramatically at Gethsemane. And He taught His disciples how to pray by giving them the Lord’s Prayer at Matthew 6:5-15 (see also Luke 11:1-4).