Luke recorded that one of Jesus’s disciples asked Jesus to teach him how to pray. Almost as if to reassure the disciple about the efficacy of prayer, Jesus gave a parable that is rarely discussed today:
“Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee.”
That isn’t how friends respond! And the Savior knew it. He went on to explain: “I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth” (Luke 11:5-8).
Friends give friends what they stand in need of, even if they knock on the door in the middle of the night!
To make the application of the parable to prayer clear, Jesus then taught, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Luke 11:9-10).
The Importance of Prayer
There is perhaps no truth taught more frequently and clearly in the scriptures than the admonition to pray, and the promise that if we ask of God, we will receive from Him.
However, we must truly ask, seek, and knock. Those words aren’t just interchangeable scriptural repetitions. Each one is a divine injunction to open the doors of heaven.
- Asking implies a spiritual quest, usually dialoging with the Lord in prayer and through the Spirit.
- Seeking implies a knowledge quest, searching for answers through study.
- Knocking implies an action quest, living the gospel and acting in faith on the directives the Lord gives us.
Thus, as we pray, study, and obey, we will receive answers!
Receiving What We Need
However, let us never confuse God answering prayers with God giving us everything we want. After the parable of the friend at midnight, the Lord went on to say that fathers don’t give their children stones when they need bread, or snakes when they need fish (see Luke 11:11). God will give the good gifts of the Holy Spirit that He knows we need (see v. 13).
In our relationship with God, we must always acknowledge His will and greater knowledge and purposes beyond our own desires and limited perspectives. Thus, the scriptures promise us that “whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.” (3 Ne. 18:20; italics added) and “Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you.” (D&C 88:64; italics added).
Approaching God Through Prayer
Some might wonder how prayer connects us with Christ if we are praying to the Father? We must remember that there is no competition between members of the Godhead. We pray to the Father because Jesus told us to. When we do, He is pleased.
Some like the thought of approaching Jesus in prayer because they see Him as a kinder and gentler being than the Father, who they mistakenly think is stern and harsh. But in John 14:7, Jesus said that if we have known Him, we have also known the Father.
By teaching about the friend at midnight, the Savior, who said in Doctrine and Covenants 84:63, “Ye are my friends,” was assuring us that the Father is our friend too. They are both there for us.