Tuesday, April 14th
Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
This unsettling time has caused us to wonder and ponder about things we may not have considered in quite a long time. I recently received an email from a student who was in one of the churches I’ve served. He had a number of questions about what he could do or not do as a disciple of Jesus, about prayers that are appropriate and those that are not. His questions spurred thoughts of my own, especially about prayer. It seems to me that we lack confidence about how to pray. What is proper in approaching the Almighty?
I think Jesus’ disciples were captivated by this desire to know how to pray, so much so, that from time to time they even asked him for lessons. Jesus responded by giving them/us that model prayer earlier in his sermon. But I wonder if Jesus noted that those listening were fixated on trying to memorize it in such a way that they could pray in the right manner; and when he did, he gave them/us this simple lesson about prayer found in today’s text.
Professor Tom Long has a wonderful related insight in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew:
Sometimes people wonder about what is appropriate to ask for in prayer. Is it fitting to pray for rain, for help on an exam, for strength to forgive, for healing? The line between what we genuinely need and what we merely want is often quite thin. Should we try to edit our prayers to remove all flecks of self-gratification? Jesus’ word in this passage pushes us the other way, toward prayer that is daring, even brash. We can spill out our prayers to God, not attempting to sift wheat from the chaff, because God hears beneath our words to our deepest needs and knows how to give gifts.
Overly careful prayers betray an assumption that we, the ones who do the praying, are in control. We must then be cautious and meticulous about our prayers lest we pray for something we shouldn’t. What are we thinking? That our prayers will somehow put God in a bind or that prayers are magic words that manipulate God’s will? Jesus calls for an open, free, venturesome prayer, a communion with God that is like a child curling up in the lap of a parent, pouring out fears, dreams, desires, needs and wishes.
So, rather than being straight-jacketed with getting it right, immobilized by concern about proper structure or words, the primary goal of prayer is being conscious and concerned with relationship. Jesus guides us in that direction by using a particular grammatical style, the present imperative, which in Greek issues a command that should continue. Thus, His word to us is to keep on asking, keep on knocking, and keep on seeking.
Perhaps there is no better example of that than the movie/play, Fiddler on the Roof, whose main character is a man by the name of Tevye, a poor Russian laborer with five daughters. Tevye talks with God throughout his workday in an easy yet respectful manner, and honestly shares his complaints and his joys and his hopes.
What a liberating way to pray . . . what a liberating way to live . . . what a liberating way to love!
A Time of Reflection and Prayer
Saint Augustine said, “He who sings prays twice.”
- Today in your prayer, thank God for music and for those who are passionate about conveying truths through music — those who compose, play, sing and dance.
- What are your favorite pieces of music that connect you with God? Thank God for them. Better yet, play them and imagine you and God listening together.
- Consider finding a song each day that yokes your heart with the heart of God. Sing it aloud, and let it sing through you all day long.
A Guide for Prayer: A Benediction by The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, at the funeral of author Rachel Held Evans
“Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
“Blessed are those whom no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers. The closeted. The teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
“Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.” Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
“I imagine Jesus standing here blessing us because I believe that is our Lord’s nature. This Jesus cried at his friend’s tomb, turned the other cheek, and forgave those who hung him on a cross because He was God’s Beatitude— He was God’s blessing to the weak in a world that only admires the strong.
[And shall Rachel have this last word…]
“‘Jesus invites us into a story bigger than ourselves and our imaginations, yet we all get to tell that story with the scandalous particularity of this moment and this place. We are storytelling creatures because we are fashioned in the image of a storytelling God. May we never neglect that gift. May we never lose our love for telling the story. Amen.’”