“It was an answer to prayer.” Have you heard someone say that before? “It was an answer to prayer.” I imagine it was an answer to prayer because whatever was prayed for was received. It can be a dangerous thing when prayer becomes a way of understanding God as a genie who grants wishes or Zeus who brings about joy or despair, for the pure pleasure of seeing people happy or sad.
Very often when people pray Jesus is a physician. We pray for our health and the health of others and we want him to heal us. Other times Jesus is a financial adviser. We want Jesus to help us land a job, get a good grade or get a promotion. You can see the risk of praying for things to go our way. The downside is if our prayers aren’t answered as we have requested then Jesus is somehow at fault, or has something against us, or wasn’t listening, or some other kooky idea. You will note that all of these prayers are in spoken our of fear. The unknown diagnosis, the unknown financial security, the scary stuff that keeps us awake at night.
We typically have two ways of being. One is when our heads are clear and our lives all make sense. Things are going along pretty good and our lives full of purpose. The other way of being is when we feel unbalanced, afraid, and anxious. Our daily lives are a tension of these two modes of existence. We waver between our lives feeling meaningful and meaningless sometimes back and forth throughout the day. Jesus teaches his disciples to pray this morning, understanding that we live in this tension.
He begins teaching the prayer that is familiar to us.
Our Father, who art in Heaven…
He acknowledges God as both personal and ethereal. God is the Holy Parent, relational and caring, in heaven, hallowed, mystical, intangible. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Frederick Buechner comments on these powerful lines and warns that we not take them lightly. He writes, “When we say, ‘Thy will be done’ “We are asking God to be God. We are asking God to do not what we want, but what God wants. And if that were suddenly to happen, what then? What would stand and what would fall? Who would be welcomed in and who would be thrown the Hell out?… To speak those words is to invite the tiger out of the cage, to unleash a power that makes atomic power look like a warm breeze. We can do nothing without God. We can have nothing without God. Without God we are nothing.” (Whistling in the Dark)
After Jesus teaches what to say, he teaches how to say it. He says we are to pray with perseverance and he tells a story about a neighbor who goes to a friend at midnight and begs for bread. Jesus suggests that prayer is like driving for days to get to a friend’s house, whom you haven’t seen in a long time and you wonder if they will remember you and if they will be as glad to see you as you them, because you really haven’t kept in touch as you had promised, and you are so excited, so anxious to give them a hug and say “hello” but you don’t get there until it’s very late and all the lights are out and wonder if anyone is home and you stand in the dark. And you stand at the door and knock. It’s hard to tell if there is movement inside, any sign of stirring, it is so quiet. But there you are. You have driven so far to see them. You have nowhere else to stay. You can give up and go away, thinking they have given up on you. Or you can stand at the door and knock and knock and knock. And standing there, if you are persistent, who is to say that the friend will not answer? Jesus assures us the door will be open.
“Ask and you will receive,” Jesus said. “Search and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you.
The point of prayer is not to get what you want. The point of prayer is to have relationship with your Creator. When Jesus says, “ask, seek, and knock” he doesn’t mean if you pray hard enough, ask, seek, and beg long enough you will win the lottery, have perfect kids, and never be sick. When Jesus says, “ask, seek and knock,” he means to be relentless in your pursuit of your relationship with God. Seek first the kingdom of God. Seek first the righteousness of God. Jesus says be persistent in asking God what to do and how to fulfill the vision for the kingdom of God. Seek first the kingdom of God. And if you do this, all things and more will be added unto you.
Now hold on. Let me be very clear, I am not preaching the prosperity Gospel. In case you every guessed, I am not a fan. I am not saying if you focus on God and His Kingdom you will get the car you always wanted, or if you set your mind on Jesus he will reward you with no cavities. No. If you seek God first in all things, then your soul is in the right place and your soul will be able to receive all it needs and more. If you seek personal gain, personal pleasure, or personal reward, you are asking the wrong question, seeking the wrong answers and knocking on the wrong door. But if you seek God..Seek God..Seek God in the quiet of the morning, in the hearing of the Word, in the space between the exhale and inhale, you will come to know that all is well. All is well, All is well. For all will be given unto you and more. Trust in God. Go to him.
Praying takes courage. It takes courage to ask for help and be real in whatever it is your feeling. It takes courage to muster up the honesty to seek God and say “help me, I am lonely, afraid and worried.” Ask for help. God is listening.
It takes perseverance to seek God, to seek a new way of living when the rut you are in is no longer working. When your relationships are shaky and your life feels unhinged. It takes perseverance to seek answers to questions, and to find light in the darkness. Seek God out. God is listening.
Finally it takes great nerve to knock on the door and be willing to fall into the arms of the One who is on the other side. If you knock on the door, you have to be willing to face the One who knows everything that’s going on, and how hard it’s been and what you did and accept that the One who answered the door still loves you and is so happy to see you. The door will be answered and you will be received and welcomed and heard. Keep Praying. God is listening.
Would you sing with me?
Seek Ye First the kingdom of God and his righteousness. And all these things will be added unto you. Allele, Alleluia.