Today’s thoughts have left me with a lot more questions than answers and I found that today’s readings echo this and after reading them, especially the Old Testament reading, I found myself asking is there a right or wrong way to pray? We each, I am sure, all have our own thoughts on this but the readings today are asking us to do this.
Prayer – we may worry that it is something mysterious that requires us to have extra special talents or that we must follow a particular method in order for it to have any meaning. At times it can be strenuous, frustrating or even annoying as well as demanding. From the reading in the New Testament, I get the feeling that the disciples looked to Jesus for help in “the art” of praying.
Within Luke we heard that Jesus was praying in a certain place when he was approached by the disciples. Although we all have a need for prayer in whatever shape, form or style, our uncertainties, like the disciples make us ask Jesus for his help.
When we are praying, it is our own personal connection with God. He wants us to know Him. In time we discover that Prayer is more than simply asking God for things; like a selfish means to an end. Prayer is not an attempt to force God’s hand; it is there to help us see that Gods answers are wiser than our prayers- and we also have to accept – even though it may be hard – that we may not like the answers.
For many the Lord’s Prayer is simply a Prayer to recite. Most of us will have learned it either at school or at home or at Church – it is something we learned by rote. However we should note that there is no magic in a prayer and mechanical recitation means that it can become empty and meaningless.
Some people think of prayer as a parachute – they’re glad it’s there, but they hope they never have to use it. In prayer we rely on God; prayer is our steering wheel, not our spare tyre. Those who feel that they do not need to pray are trusting on their own, limited resources. Some people turn to God only when their fragile foundations are shaking and then they discover it is God who is doing the shaking.
We sometimes struggle with how God answer’s our prayers. Prayer may not change our situation but it changes us. To continue with how God can be trusted to respond to our prayers Jesus told us of the parable of the friend who calls at midnight. Hospitality was of paramount importance in the biblical world, and when a guest arrived -¬even unexpected, even at midnight — there was no question that hospitality must be extended.
So when the man in our story finds himself without enough bread for his guest, he goes to a friend and asks to borrow some, even though he must wake up his friend’s entire household.
People here today might empathise with the woken-up friend and think that the midnight caller is pushing the limits of friendship. But in the culture of the biblical world, and of our life here, it is the woken-up friend who is behaving badly. The ability of his friend to provide hospitality, and thus his standing in the community, is at stake.
Jesus’ parable implies that if it is so among friends with their mixed motives and self-interest, how much more so with God who wants to give us what is good and life-giving, and who is invested in keeping God’s name holy.
Moving on within the reading from Luke – Jesus continues: “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to 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”
This is difficult because our experience contradicts Jesus’ words. So often we have asked and not received; we have searched and not found. In spite of our most fervent prayers for their health and safety, we have lost loved ones to cancer and senseless accidents. In spite of the fervent prayers of people around the world, daily we hear of tragedies of violence, hunger, disease, and natural disasters.
If God is like a loving parent who desires to give what is good and life giving, why do so many prayers seem to go unanswered?
There is no simple answer to this question, though simple answers are often given. One answer given is that it only seems that God has not answered our prayers; God always answers, but sometimes says no.
There are times, perhaps, when that is the case. We do not always ask wisely, and God, to be a truly loving God, must refuse our request. Jesus tells us to pray for daily bread and for God’s kingdom to come. Yet millions continue to go hungry and wars rage on.
Another explanation often given to the problem of unanswered prayer is that “everything happens for a reason.” God has some purpose in everything that happens. No matter how bad it may seem, it is all part of God’s plan to bring about some higher good.
This is a troubling explanation, as it holds that whatever happens must be God’s will. One would then have to say that all kinds of evil — such as violence, torture, starvation, and premature death — are the will of God. We dare not call the tragic results of our own sin and rebellion “God’s will.”
How often have we said to ourselves when we hear and see of these things on the 24 hour news world that we live in today – how could God let this happen?
Of course we believe that God can bring good out of evil. Indeed, this is our only hope and the heart of our faith in Jesus’ death and his resurrection. But that is quite a different thing from saying that whatever evil happens is God’s will.
What then can we say about unanswered prayer? It is wise to be wary of saying more than we can possibly know. We can, however, affirm what Scripture tells us: that God is all-powerful, yet God is not the only power in the world. Gods’ will can be — and often is — thwarted.
Why bother to pray, then, if God’s will can be thwarted? Again we affirm what Jesus tells us in this passage: that we are invited into relationship with a loving God who wants to give us life, and who continues to work tirelessly for our redemption and that of all creation.
We dare to be shameless in our prayers, to keep bringing our needs and hopes to our heavenly Father, because Jesus tells us to do so, trusting in God’s loving purpose for us. Not everything that happens is God’s will.
That is why Jesus says to the apostles, “Knock, and the door will be opened.”
Prayer is the opening of the door to deeper relationship with God. It is not about the elegance of the language. It is not about the form, or about who wrote the words. It is about relationship, about opening the door to the God who dearly loves us and who wants the best for us, and wants us to be the best we can be. God is waiting on the other side of the door.
Ask. God will respond. We may not get exactly what we are asking for, but God WILL respond.
Search. God will find you, and let you find him. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you may find him in the place and in the way you least expect.
What helps you to knock, to ask, to search? Prayer – simple words; the words that Jesus taught us, or at the moments when words fail us.
To finish off I have from New Zealand (version of the Lord’s Prayer)
O most compassionate life-giver, may we honour and praise you; may we work with you to establish your new order of justice, peace and love.
Give us what we need for growth, and help us, through forgiving others, to accept forgiveness.
Strengthen us in the time of testing, that we may resist all evil, for all tenderness, strength and love are yours, now and forever.
God understands, whatever the words, whatever the form, whatever the language. Spoken aloud or in the silence of our hearts, God knows.
Thanks be to God.