George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
Social Claims Impelling Us to God
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--Luk 11:5-6
This Parable Resulted from a Request How to Pray
This parable was spoken to encourage men in the difficult exercise of prayer. Christ had been praying in a certain region, and the disciples, themselves unseen, had been observing Him. They had lighted upon the holy place, where He was rapt in communion with the Father. And when He ceased they did not steal away, nor did they try to excuse their presence there; they cried, "Lord, teach us to pray." One might argue from such a cry that these men had been ignorant of prayer. To do so would be a great mistake; and it would be an injustice to the twelve. What they felt was, when they saw Jesus praying, that their prayers were unworthy of the name. As they looked at their Master communing with His Father, there was something which told them that this was prayer indeed. And so when He had ceased they turned to Him, feeling as if they had never prayed at all, and they cried "Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples." It was then that our Lord supplied that form of prayer which has been linked with His name through all the centuries. It was then that He spoke this parable, teaching men to pray and not to faint.
Another's Need Made Him Pray and Beg
So far we are on familiar ground, for that is evident to every reader. But our text has a suggestion of its own, to which I propose to invite your consideration. When the man left his house to seek for food, it was not his own necessity that urged him. So far as he himself was concerned that night, we have no liberty to infer that he was in want. He had had his supper, and he had gone to rest, with a sufficiency to meet the morning's need. Had there been but himself to be considered, he would never have begged his neighbor for the loaves. The point to note is that what drove him forth was the unexpected demand on his resources. At midnight there arrived before his door a journeying friend whom night had overtaken. And it was this claim upon his hospitality, a claim that is always sacred to an Eastern, which sent him forth, and made him such a suppliant, that to refuse him was impossible. I do not say that his plea prevailed, just because he was asking for another. Had he been starving, and pleading for himself, his petition might have been equally compelling. But we are looking at the transaction from the petitioner's side, not from the side of him who was approached, and in that light the simple fact is this, that it was another's need which made him pray.
He Was Driven by Another's Need, She by Her Own
That this is not an accidental feature, may be seen if we consider the companion parable. The companion story to the Friend at Midnight is the striking picture of the Unjust Judge (see Luk 18:2-8). There was a judge that feared not God nor man, and a certain poor widow came before him. And she cried out, and she continued crying, "Avenge me of mine adversary." And you will note how all the features are alike--the persistence, the reluctance to accede--all are identical save this one feature which I have chosen for our meditation. The widow came pleading for herself, and to do so she had a perfect right. Someone had wronged her and she wanted justice; she wanted the wild justice of revenge. But this man was not thinking of himself, nor urging anything in his own interest. The claim which drove him to another's door was the social claim of hospitality. I think you will admit from that comparison that the feature before us is not there by accident. Our Lord delighted to repeat Himself with beautiful and intentional distinctions. Nay, I shall go farther even than that, and regard this as the key to the whole parable--the fact which determined its conception, the thread round which it crystallized.
Driven to Prayer by the Needs of Others
The teaching of the parable, then, is this, viewed always from the side of the petitioner. We are not only driven to prayer by our own needs; we are driven also by the needs of others. There are times when we are like the widow with the judge. We are driven to God by personal distress. Trouble has come, or sickness, or anxiety; or we are sorely tempted, or in great perplexity. In such seasons how much a man must miss who does not turn for communion to his Father, who never said to any of the seed of Jacob, "Seek ye me," in vain! That is the personal aspect of devotion. That is its private and individual bearing. For our own souls, in such a world as this, there is no hope at all unless we pray. And yet how ignorant is he of life, and of the complexity of human ties, who would limit to his own private needs the urgent summons to the throne of God! Is it not often because others need us, that we are awakened to our need of God? Is it not because others are leaning upon us, that we are driven to lean on the Eternal? In every relationship of human life large and various demands are made upon us. There are those who trust us; there are those who love us; there are those whose welfare hangs upon our guidance. And who are we, whose hearts are often empty, as empty as was that Eastern home--who are we, in our own poor resource, to meet and satisfy these social claims? It is then that we are driven upon God. We come to Him just because others need us. We come to Him not with our private sorrow, not with our weary and besetting sin. We come for the sake of those who love us so, for the sake of those who trust us and who honor us; for the sake of those committed to our charge; for the sake of all with whom we have an influence.
Let us think, for example, of a mother, whose children are growing to manhood and to womanhood. We shall suppose her to have come out of a Christian home, and to have enjoyed the privilege of Christian upbringing. In all her life there has never been a time in which she did not bow the knee to God. So was she taught when she was yet a child, and the influence of that teaching was determinative. And she had her trials, and her girlish troubles, and perhaps a time when she thought that no one needed her; and all this, as it helped to make her lonely, so did it bring her to the feet of God. Then her life deepened into motherhood. There were the voices of children in the home. And as the children grew, each was a separate problem, for each had a separate nature. Yet every one of them trusted her implicitly, and claimed her love as their peculiar heritage, and never thought of doubting for a moment that she was a pattern of perfect womanhood. And one made large demands upon her patience, and another made large demands upon her intellect. And one with eyes of innocence would look at her, as if he were reading her to the very depths. Until at last, feeling her own helplessness to guide and bless and save these young children, she has been driven to feel her need of God, just because other lives were needing her. Like the Syrophenician woman in the Gospel, she has cried for mercy because she had a daughter. She has knocked at the golden door of grace, because of the lives that were entwined with hers. That is the blessing of social demands, and of all the intertwining of relationships. Others are leaning upon us so hard, that in our poverty we lean on God.
Again we might take an illustration from those who are engaged in social service. We might think of those who are bravely setting out to do something for Glasgow in the name of Christ. There are, I think, two great discoveries made by all who share in that service. The first is how deep is the need of God on the part of those whom they are trying to serve. Ameliorative schemes are not enough. Men know the better, and pursue the worse. You may cleanse the home--you may reform the public-house, and the last state be little better than the first. Sooner or later a man awakes to this--and what is needed, if dark is to be light, is nothing more and nothing less than God, changing the heart and ordering the life. But if the worker lights on that discovery, sooner or later he makes another too. It is not how fallen men need God. It is how utterly he needs God himself. And just in proportion as he serves with blessing, and is trusted and loved by those whom he seeks to raise, will he be driven by his service to his knees, and to that fellowship which is the source of power. It is not always when men fail that they pray best. If they are real men, it is when they succeed. It is when others are trusting them--when eyes are looking to them--when little children are drinking in the teaching. It is when the young men and women in the class think there is no one in the world like their own teacher. It is when a minister feels himself surrounded by a loyal and an earnest people. Who then is sufficient for these things? The friend has come and we have naught to give him. And who are we, so helpless and so sinful, that we should be trusted and used and loved and honored so? it is then that we betake ourselves to God, just because others betake themselves to us. The pressure of other lives upon ourselves is the pressure that drives us to the throne.
Shirking Responsibility Weakens Our Fellowship with God
Now if that be so, we have lit on a great truth; one that is worthy of most careful pondering. It is that if we shirk responsibilities, we weaken our life of fellowship with God. Take the case of the man we are considering. Suppose he had refused to entertain the wayfarer. Suppose he had cried to him "My house is full," or, "My larder is empty and I cannot have you." Why, then he would have gone to sleep again, and never would have made that midnight pilgrimage, and never would have beaten at his neighbor's door, clamoring in necessity for bread. He was responsive to the claims of others, and so was forced to go and beg for help. He was sensitive to the appeals of friendship, and so was he driven forth to be a suppliant. Had he hardened his heart, and played a selfish part, and muttered sleepily "Am I my brother's keeper?" then there would have been no parable of his eager entreaty for supplies.
Beware of the Temptation in Thinking That Seclusion Would Draw You Closer to God
Now I believe we are all occasionally tempted by a very subtle and insidious temptation. We are tempted to think we might live nearer God if we could free ourselves from social demands. It may be that there are worries in the home. It may be that there are anxieties in business. Or gradually our work for Christ may have so grown, that the burden of it is well-nigh overwhelming. And then it is that the temptation visits us, that, could we only be freed from these demands, prayer would be easier, our life in God be deeper, our fellowship with heaven more sustained. Remember I am not saying a word against the need of seasons of retirement. Sometimes it is good to get away, and be alone with our own hearts and God. But what I do say is, that if one who is much burdened is never driven to God because he is burdened, he is far less likely to approach the throne when the pressure of his burdens is removed. It is God who sends to us the friend at midnight. It is God who determines the bounds of our habitation. It is God who leads us to a growing usefulness with all its deepening responsibility. And if all that does not make us pray, and does not waken us to our need of Him, then, in the hour when we renounce our service, we shall be farther off from blessedness and heaven. Think of what happened in the monasteries, to take an instance from the larger world. Men said, "We want to live with God more wholly," and they cut the ties which bound them to society. The common result was sloth and bestiality, the very antithesis of all religion; and today the ruins where the ivy clings are the judgment of heaven upon that mistake. They refused to open to the friend at midnight. They shut their ears to the demands of life. They said, "Let us be free from all this trammel, and then we shall certainly be nearer God." Far better had they served their generation, and played their part, and mingled with humanity, until the burden of it all, weighing them down, had brought them to the everlasting arms.
Thank God for Every Midnight Call
So I close by saying this to you who are taking up the service of the winter. Thank God for every call that reaches you. Thank Him for the opportunity of toil. The hour may come for you when it is midnight, just as it came to the host in our parable. The hour may come when heart and flesh are weary, and hope is dim, and courage is decayed--and in that very hour, for aught I know, the hand may be heard knocking at the door. But if these claims awake you to your weakness, and make you feel anew your need of God; if they send you out from your own self-sufficiency to lean upon His grace and on His love; why then, my brother, all your happy holiday, and all your remembrances of the purple heather, will not be such a blessing to your heart as the burden and the service of today. "Commit your way to the Lord .... and he shall bring it to pass." Come now, and cast your burden on the Lord. Take up your service, whether in church or city, no matter how impoverished you feel. There is One whose store is always overflowing, and He is willing to give you of His best; and men will be blest in you and call you blessed, just because they make you lean on God.
Previous Day | Today's Devotional | Next Day