Sunday, July 24, 2022


"I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks,
the door will be opened."
Luke 1:11-13

These words of Jesus, if taken literally and by themselves, have probably let us all down more than once. We may have asked God for a favor, maybe “in faith” and “after hours of prayers,” only to be disappointed when we did not get what we asked for.  

I have come to the conclusion that Jesus should have added at least one caveat in this teaching about prayer.  He should have said that he will give us whatever we ask for only if it is truly good for us and not just if it looks good to us! What earthly parent would hand a child a can of DRANO simply because he wants it, it looks good to him  and he cries for it? Well, he did add that caveat. We see it in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread?” To understand what Jesus is saying, we have to remember what bread looked like at the time of Jesus. It wasn’t the sliced stuff in a plastic bag that we know. No, it was a round, dusty brown loaf that looked very much like a big rock from a distance. In this image, Jesus was teaching us that he wouldn’t give us a big rock if we asked for bread simply because it looked like bread!  

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus saysWhat father among you, if his son asks for a fish, would give him a snake instead?” At the time of Jesus, there was a scaleless fish called a barbut. We know it as an edible eel. In this image, Jesus was teaching us that he would not give us a poisonous snake if we asked for an edible eel just because they look alike from a distance!  

At the time of Jesus, scorpions would sometimes disguise themselves by curling up in a ball in a nest with the speckled eggs. If you could not see all that well, you could grab a scorpion instead of an egg.  Jesus was teaching us that he would not give us a vicious scorpion if we asked for an egg just because they look alike from a distance!  

The second caveat that Jesus added in this teaching about prayer, is that we have to do more than simply ask for what we want. We have to seek and knock as well. In other words, we have to be active partners in getting what we need. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says this:Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. That's a lot of seekin' and knockin', not just sittin' and askin'. It's not good enough to ask God to find you a job or a boyfriend or girlfriend and then sit back and wait. You have to knock on some door, put in some applications and get the training you will need. You have to get out, take some risks and go to those places where people your age congregate! What one of Aesop's Fables says, "God helps those who help themselves!" I guess you could say that prayer is a partnership - you do your part and God will do God's part.

When it comes to asking, seeking and knocking,” The blind beggar in the Scripture, Bartimeus, is a hero of mine and a model of how to pray! He has something important to teach us about prayer.  The story takes place in Jericho, a town about 15 miles from Jerusalem. Jericho was on the main road leading to Jerusalem. This story takes place a few days before the Feast of Passover, the most important of all Jewish Feasts. Every male Jew, if at all possible, who lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem, was expected to attend the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. That meant that the roads would have been clogged! Those who could not go, traditionally lined the road to cheer on those who could go. Bartimeus, being blind, parked himself in a seated position along the road with the other well-wishers positioned to cheer them on! When a distinguished rabbi was on such a to Jerusalem for a high holy day, customarily he would be surrounded by a crowd of seekers, disciples and learners, who listened to his teaching as they walked along. This would have been the most common way for them to teach.  


As the famous rabbi, Jesus, came into sight with all his disciples and the simply curious following along, the noise level rose among the bystanding well-wishers. The commotion caused Bartimeus to ask what was happening. When they told him that the famous Jesus was passing by, Bartimeus knew that his window of opportunity had opened and that he must strike while the iron was hot. He caused an uproar by yelling at the top of his voice, “Hey, Jesus, over here! Hey, Jesus, look over here! Hey Jesus, I want to ask you something!” The crowd told him to shut up and sit down, but he only yelled the louder, “Hey, Jesus, over here! I want to talk to you!” His yelping and screaming brought Jesus and his retinue to a standstill. In a case of “the squeaky wheel getting the grease,” Jesus called Bartimeus over.  Bartimeus threw off the cloak he was wrapped in, sprang to his feet and ran up to Jesus. When Jesus asked him what he wanted, Bartimeus told him that he wanted to see and immediately, because of his faith, Jesus restored his sight. The story ends with Bartimeus joining Jesus and his disciples on their pilgrimage up to Jerusalem. He became one of Jesus’ followers. He didn't just thank Jesus, go back to his home and enjoy his new sight. No, with his prayer answered, he became a disciple himself!


This story is a perfect summary of how prayer works and the stages of discipleship: eagerness, throwing off old ways of thinking, clarity about what you want, slowly coming to insight and, finally, giving one’s life to the journey. Anyone who is serious about prayer and his or her spiritual journey will recognize these five stages. First, you have to hunger and thirst for holiness, you have to have a passion for the search, not just dabble in religion. Second, you have to be willing to let go on some of the stuff (excuses, relationships, blame and the inability to forgive) that keeps you bogged down and stuck.  Third, like Bartimeus, you have to get up off your rear end and go for it!  You have to shout above the naysayers who want to keep you where you are, the way you are. Fourth, you have to be clear about what you want. God cannot help most people simply because they do not know what they really want. They have vague ideas about happiness and so look for it in all the wrong places. As I learned a long time ago, once you are clear about what you want, God will be there to help. Fifth, you must want to know God and you can’t come to that in a flash. You don't become an accomplished pianist by taking one piano lesson! Knowing God is a gradual coming to more and more awareness, one intentional and courageous step at a time, over a life-time.  When you commit to discipleship, you commit yourself, long-term, to your own spiritual growth.  As you grow spiritually, your prayer turns from “give me this and give me that,” to “may your will be done,”  from "telling God what to do" to "accepting his will."