With the many and varied changes in the culture around us – the pressures of secularization, the decline in church attendance, the changed attitudes to sexuality, the rise of militant Islam we might wonder about the future. We can feel powerless.
Too often we overlook the importance of prayer. CS Lewis in The Efficacy of Prayer asks: ‘Can we believe that God really ever modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men? For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it’.
GOD HEARS AND ANSWERS PRAYERS
Jesus teaches us that God can be trusted to both hear our prayers and answer them, giving us the good things we need. “And I tell you, ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you…,” he says. “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (Luke 11:9-12)
Jesus is saying that if a violent thief can be kind to his son or the most mercenary minded father be generous to his daughter, ‘Will God be any less generous?’
Following the logic of Jesus’ words, we learn that to trust in God’s goodness is also to rely on his fatherly wisdom. If a son asks for a fish, will we give him a snake? But what if he asks for a snake, will we give him that? What if the son persists, ‘I want it, I need it, everyone else has one’? Will a good father yield? No. A truly good and loving father will give good gifts, but he’ll use his own discretion as to how he will act.
Jesus assures us that God will not exploit our prayer or act in some malicious way. The words, ‘Your will be done…’ in The Lord’s Prayer, are not those of a fatalist. Rather they are necessary in our conversation with a good and loving, all-powerful Father. We are not wise enough or good enough to get everything we ask for from someone who is all-powerful.
YOUR WILL BE DONE
People who find this difficult to grasp have often experienced an unhappy childhood— perhaps neglected or abused. What Jesus is saying is this: no matter our experiences in life now, we can trust the goodness of our Father in heaven.
God may not give us everything we want. He may delay his response. Furthermore, he may also want to test our seriousness in prayer—whether we will persist, as the widow did in another parable (The Parable of the Unjust Judge, Luke 18:1-8). He may want to test the reality of our relationship with him, the level of our trust in him.
There will also be times when God says, “No”. He did this when Jesus prayed that the cup of suffering might be taken away (Luke 22:42-44). We need to remember that if God says, “No”, it is because his plans are bigger than ours.
When we begin a prayer relationship with God the Father, we open a door to untold blessings. That’s why Jesus is speaking with such unqualified confidence when he says: Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
Once we start listening to God through his Word, we will want to talk with him. We will long to honor and glorify his name. Indeed, as we come to know God better we will also want to ask him questions, express our feelings, even our doubts, as we make our requests.
God is our Father who loves us and delights to give us the very best in life. If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Jesus says (Luke 11:13).
Why does Jesus speak of the Holy Spirit here? He is anticipating the great gift of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit who will open our minds to hear the voice of God through his Word; the Spirit who will open our hearts to God and enable us to call him ‘Father’; the Spirit who will open our lives to God, and empower us to trust God and live with God.
Prayer is a precious privilege. It brings us into the very presence of the God who is at the heart of the universe. Why don’t we pray more consistently than we often do?
© John G. Mason
Note 1: During August, my Word on Wednesday is adapted from my commentary, Reading Luke Today: An Unexpected God (Aquila: 2012), pp.161-167.