“Ask and it will be given to you.” That’s what Jesus said, and if Jesus said it, I believe it. But my Sainted Husband has his doubts. Dick has been playing Publisher’s Clearinghouse or the lottery every week for over 50 years, asking every week for the million dollar win so he could live in a manner to which he would like to become accustomed. And over 50 years of dedicated play, he has won diddly squat. Maybe 5 bucks. Dick has major questions for Jesus when he goes upstairs.
Ask and it will be given to you. How many of us have asked- for health, for the lives of those we love, for peace. And all we are given is resounding silence.
President Jimmy Carter once said, in regard to our prayers, that sometimes God says Yes, sometimes God says No, and sometimes God says, You’ve got to be kidding! But so often we don’t hear God say anything. Just silence. Ask and it will be given to us. Not so much.
Is it that we’re asking for the wrong things? That somehow we’re not supposed to pray that our neighbor with cancer lives? Or that refugees would find a safe haven? Or that our children would find jobs that pay them a living wage?
It’s hard for me to imagine that we’re not supposed to ask for these things, to seek these things. One of the parables Jesus tells in Luke 18:1-8 is about a widow who is seeking justice, and she knocks on the door of the wicked judge all day and all night long until he finally gets up and gives her what she’s seeking, just to get her off his back. And Jesus says, “Will not God grant justice to the chosen ones who cry out to God day and night?”
Jesus says it, and I believe it. But… how many of God’s children have cried out day and night, and have never heard an answer. You have to know, I really struggle with this. And so I got to thinking: what if… what God is asking of us is to voice our need? “Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Matthew 7:7)
I have an old friend who has the annoying habit of thinking I can read her mind. She doesn’t tell me when she’s angry, or frustrated, or in need. She just assumes I’ll KNOW, as if I have Extra Sensory Perception. She’ll give me the cold shoulder, or I’ll hear about it through the grapevine, but she herself never opens her mouth.
You’ve probably had friends like that- people who expect things from you, but also expect you to know without their asking. It’s frustrating, isn’t it? Is that what Jesus is saying? Be straightforward with God and with others around you. Don’t just expect that God will read our minds?
But hey! God is, like… God. If anyone should be able to read our minds, it should be God! So why do we have to pray, to ask aloud, to voice our need with persistence and honesty? I don’t know about you, but I have found for myself that when I have to actually say out loud what it is that I want, it becomes more focused. It’s not just little grumblings running around in my head; it becomes explicit, real. And sometimes, when I hear myself say it, I realize that what I’m asking for isn’t really what the issue is about.
A couple of years ago, my precious daughter who is Perfect In Every Way, forgot to send me a present on Mother’s Day. Not even a card. Nada. I was really hurt. And so I gave her a call and said, “I feel really hurt that you didn’t remember me on Mother’s Day. Can’t you remember to send me a small remembrance?”
Now, it’s not that she didn’t remember Mother’s Day; it’s that she gets busy and it falls off her list. Well, that and getting to a post office is somehow beyond her ability.
Anyway, I was crying, and she was feeling guilty, and she said, “What is it you want on Mother’s Day?” And we talked it through, and I said that I didn’t actually care about presents; I just wanted to be cherished by her. I wanted to matter enough that she would remember me. And then she said, “And I’m far away, and all the other mothers get to be taken out on Mother’s Day and treated special, and you don’t because I’m not there. And you miss me.” She nailed it. She got it.
Before we talked it out, I couldn’t give voice to it like that, because all I could feel was the pain of not having my precious girl with me. But talking it out, giving voice to my need… We- she- got to the core of what my heart was actually hurting for. It was never about presents. It was about being able to spend the day with her.
There is something transformative about speaking our need out loud to the person who needs to hear it. Is that what Jesus is talking about? Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.
I was reading different commentaries to try to find ways of approaching this text, and one of them hit me. The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary said, “We ask for what we wish; we seek for what we miss; we knock for that from which we feel ourselves shut out.”
There seems to be a rising intensity, a deeper need with each step. We ask for what we wish: sometimes that might be what we need, other times just what we want. It is the first level of desire. It is in the mind.
But then we start actively seek what it is we’re missing. We start to feel it in our bodies, we start to take action, because it doesn’t just feel like something we might like anymore. It feels more like something we need, something we’re missing in our lives, in our bodies, in our hearts. And we start to get persistent.
Finally, we start knocking on doors- knocking, because we feel we’ve been shut out, locked out. Knocking, because we need this like we need air. And we get dogged in our intent. We won’t let go, until we’re let in.
Is that what Jesus is saying? Pray until it’s not just something we think we want. Pray until we start to feel it in our body, until we start to act on it. Pray until nothing can keep us from it, until we won’t let go until that door opens. But we have to want it so much that it defines our actions, so that anyone looking at us would know what we are about.
I love Jeremiah 29:11-14, where it says, “Surely I know that plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your good and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon Me and come and pray to Me, I will hear you. When you search for Me, you will find Me; if you seek Me with all your heart, I will let you find Me…”
God’s people have been cast out of the Promised Land, and exiled in Babylon. They are suffering there, and they will suffer there for 2 generations- 70 years- until they are allowed to return to Israel. But they are not to give up hope. They are to ask for their release; they are to plan for their release; they are never to let go of the dream until it comes true.
There’s an song by Holly Near (2011) that has that sense about it. It goes, “We are a gentle, angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives…”
Is that how we pray? With passion? With humility? Knowing that we are singing for our very lives? And if we pray that way; if we live our lives and knock on every door that way: will the deepest desires of our hearts come to pass?
Is that what Jesus is saying? Not that God will give us whatever we want, but that to which we give our lives in passion and humility will find fruit. Maybe not now. Maybe not when we want it. But our lives will not be lived in vain, for God will provide.
This kind of prayer is a journey: first giving voice to that which is beckoning us from within; then setting out, putting our feet on the path; and then never giving up until we reach the destination, and we knock on that door, and we are welcomed into the place of our heart’s deepest desire.
It reminds me of what Carlos Castaneda, a 20th century mystic, once said: “Before you embark on any path, ask the question, ‘Does this path have heart?’ If the answer is no, you will know it and then you must choose another path. The trouble is people don’t ask the question…”
“Does this path have a heart?” If we don’t ask, our feet will never touch the path to our heart’s deepest desire. But when we choose the path with heart, the journey that comes out of our deepest places, it will be difficult, but it will bring life to us and to those around us.
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness / And all these things will be added unto you…
In the Name of the One who will never let us go, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Resources: www.biblehub.com/commentaries: –Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers; Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
SCRIPTURE FOR FEB. 19, 2017
The Sermon on the Mount is Matthew’s collection of 3 years of Jesus’ teachings. This is one of Jesus’ sayings in the Sermon on the Mount. ..
“Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, 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!”
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.