Posts Tagged ‘answered prayer’

Ask and you will receive?

July 27, 2019

Pentecost 7 – 2019
    Luke 11:1-13
Marian Free

In the name of God Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. Amen.

Some time ago I met a very angry woman. She had prayed and prayed that her mother would recover from cancer and still her mother had died. She felt utterly betrayed by a God whom she had been led to believe would answer her prayers. Her anger and hatred were all-consuming – in part, because despite her deep disappointment, she still believed that there was a God. It was just that God had turned out to be very different from the picture of God that she had in her head and God had let her down at the very time when she needed God most. The death of her mother convinced her that God was indifferent to human suffering, and that God had no personal interest in the affairs of individual people. This woman could not give up her faith, but the faith in which she had trusted had failed to give her comfort when comfort was required, and she could not forgive God for that betrayal.

She is not alone in feeling let down by a God who does not seem to answer prayers. There are many good people who feel disappointed and abandoned when their prayers go unanswered.

What is it about our teaching on prayer that leads believers to have such high expectations of results and which as a consequence lets them down so badly?

There are, no doubt, a variety of answers, depending on one’s background and experience of Sunday School and church, but a great deal of the problem stems, I believe, from today’s gospel which implies first of all, that if we pray with enough persistence God will give in to our request and secondly, and perhaps more dangerously that God will give us whatever we ask for in prayer. After all Luke 11:9 says clearly and unequivocally: “Ask and you will receive.” Can we then ask for anything no matter how selfish or punitive?  I suspect not.

To understand Jesus’ teaching on prayer, we must look at Luke 11:1-13 as a whole and not take one or two phrases out of context.

In the first instance is important to note that Jesus is speaking to the community as a whole and not to individuals. Jesus is responding to the disciples’ request: “Teach us how to pray as John taught his disciples.” In other words, how do we pray together?

Jesus begins his response with the words of a prayer – the only prayer that Jesus teaches. [We could, of course spend an entire sermon on the Lord’s prayer alone, but my intention is to show that the parable of the neighbour at midnight and the command to ask are framed in such a way that it is clear what it is that we are to ask for and what it is that God will give.]

The prayer starts by asking that God’s name be sanctified by the behaviour of the community – “hallowed be your name” and continues with a desire that God’s kingdom come, that the reign of God may become a reality for the whole world. In other words, Jesus’ suggests that prayer is about giving priority to God and to the kingdom of God. When we use this prayer, we are called to recognise that how we behave reflects on God – in other words if we behave badly, we bring God into disrepute and God’s name is cheapened, not sanctified. “Your kingdom come.” Together we express a desire that the world as a whole might come under the rule of God and that therefore that all the peoples of the world might live as God intended. These are not sentiments that relate to the wants and needs of ourselves as individuals, they are words that have a universal application.

Jesus’ teaching on prayer concludes by telling us what it is that we are to ask for. “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spiritto those who ask him!” We ask and receive, we seek and we find, we knock and the door is opened to us. It is clear that it is the Holy Spirit that we are to seek and for which we are to ask and who will open the door. God will unstintingly give the Holy Spirit to all who ask for it and in turn, empowered by the Holy Spirit, our prayers will, in effect be the longings of God uttered by ourselves.

Like all things spiritual though, most of us grow into prayer. We begin with “prayers of request (what we want) and move to prayers of gratitude (thanksgiving and praise) and graduate to prayers of empowerment (participation and collaboration with God)[1]”.

As our relationship with God deepens and matures, we become less focussed on ourselves and on our own needs, and more concerned with the kingdom’s becoming a reality. As we learn to listen to and to lean on God, we become attuned to what it is that God wants and what it is that God wants to us to pray for. The more practiced we are in prayer the more likely it is that our prayers will be aligned with the will of God and the more closely our prayers are aligned with the will of God, the more likely it is that they are to be answered.  When, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are able to sincerely pray: “Your kingdom come”, our prayers will be God’s prayers and we will ask for what is truly best for ourselves, for our neighbours and for the world.

 


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