Ask, Seek, Knock
Ask, Seek, Knock
What is prayer if not a conversation with God our creator. In our passage this morning the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. The prayer which Jesus offers is what we now refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. However, it is the parable which comes next that provides the most illumination into what our prayer life should be like.
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Scripture: Luke 11: 1-13
Ask, Seek, Knock
In our passage from Luke this morning the disciples ask Jesus about prayer. Jesus then teaches the disciples the prayer that we refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. A prayer we repeat each week during worship. However, it is not the words of the Lord’s Prayer that I want to focus on today. Rather, it is the parable that Jesus teaches afterwards that draws my attention.
The parable is laced with humour. A guest arrives at midnight and the would-be-host is unprepared. The host or petitioner asks his neighbour for help, the neighbour initially refuses but relents in the end. And so Jesus instructs us to ask, seek and knock. An outline for prayer.
However, let’s look at the parable of the unexpected guest a little closer. Did the neighbour relent and give the petitioner what they need because the petitioner was not ashamed to keep asking? Other translations word this as the petitioners ‘shameless audacity’ (NIV) or because of the petitioner’s ‘persistence’ (NRSV). An alternate translation is that the neighbour relents ‘to preserve his good name’.
How we translate the petitioner’s actions demonstrates how we view our relationship with God. Are we able to act like a petulant child, constantly badgering our parents for what we desire until they relent?
Are we required to be persistent because God is somehow unaware of our needs? Does the persistence imply that God slumbers and requires us to wake God? David Buttrick writes, “…the notion that, repeatedly, we must bang on the doors of heaven if we are to catch God’s attention is hardly an appropriate theology of prayer.” (reference)
It is apparent that the petitioner is shameless in asking the neighbour for food to help feed his guest. Should we also act in a shameless manner when we approach God in prayer? Asking for whatever it is we desire?
One way of looking at this parable is to recognize that yes the petitioner is shameless in asking the neighbour for food. However, the neighbour alleviates the shame of everyone by providing the food, brining honour to everyone. This helps us understand that God will act to honour God, even when we are less than respectful in our conversations with God. God’s name is to be ‘hallowed’, something that we forget but which God does not.
Prayer doesn’t work because we badger God or are shameless in what we ask for. We are not the key to making prayer work. We ask, seek and knock because God has already done this in our own lives and continues to chase after us.
Any approach to prayer must begin with an understanding of God who desires to be in a loving relationship with us. This is what should prompt us to prayer.
Jesus reminds us that just because we ask for it doesn’t mean it will be given. That isn’t how prayer works either. God isn’t our personal miracle worker or problem solver. Rather, God through the Holy Spirit, will give good things. It leads us back to the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘your kingdom come’.
Prayer, all that leads to it and all that comes from it, is about God’s kingdom. It isn’t about our personal comfort or desires, but about God’s kingdom and how we operate within God’s kingdom.
George Buttrick wrote, “If God is not, and the life of man poor, solitary, nasty, brutish and short, prayer is the veriest self-deceit. If God is, yet is known only as vague rumour and dark coercion, prayer is whimpering folly: it were nobler to die. But if God is in some deep and eternal sense like Jesus, friendship with Him is our first concern, worthiest art, best resource and sublimest joy.”
Ask, search, knock. When you’ve lost the thread of who you are as a child of God, follow the words of Jesus here. Ask, search, knock. Or to borrow from a show company, ‘Just do it.’ And by it, I mean pray. Matthew Skinner writes, that “God gives what is necessary and beneficial, not whatever we desire.”
If God is like Jesus, then we know that our friendship is what God desires. I don’t know about you, but I tell my friends everything. From the casual to the deepest longings of my soul. My hurts and pains, joys and triumphs. And in conversing with God, I focus on how those things aid the coming of God’s kingdom. How they make it known and how they reveal the work we still need to do.
If in our prayer life we can consider God as a friend, someone we can trust and confide in rather than thinking of God as some benevolent deity who will gift us with whatever we desire, something we might take for granted. Then I think we are on the road to discovery about God. Then we begin to understand a piece of what God’s plan is in the world, specific to how it might relate to us. We start to see how we fit into God’s kingdom. It’s a journey and as we grow and our relationship and understanding of God evolves we put on new shoes. The important thing is that we have put on the shoes and we have begun to tie the laces. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.