Friday, July 1, 2011

Ask, Seek, Knock – SOTM #21

When Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” it sends every commentator scrambling. “Wait a minute,” we say, “I’ve seen a lot of asking go unanswered, many seekers left still seeking, and plenty of knockers to whom the door was not opened.”

The Sermon on the Mount is not the only place where we are told that Jesus made these sweeping promises of answer to prayer. He tells his disciples on another occasion, “Ask anything in my name and it will be given to you.”

So what are we to do when we have asked and seemed not to have been given what we asked for? What are we to think when our seeking leaves us still bewildered and lost? What are we to say when we’ve knocked our knuckles bare and door is still shut?

A lot of answers to this knotty problem have been offered. Some say that not all answers come in this lifetime; for some we’ll need to wait until we reach our eternal home. Another explanation offered is that answers do not always take the form we expected; if we look at our situation from the right perspective we’ll see that our prayers were answered. Those who wish to make us feel especially good tell us that God’s answers often take the form of “No!” Just as we expect our children to accept a sovereign, “No” from us, we should be willing to accept one from our Heavenly Father. Still others “encourage us” with the opinion that our lack of faith has delayed the answer; if we only bolster our faith we’ll see the answers come. And there are those who tell us to just hang on to our hope; that with God a year is as a thousand, and a thousand years is as one. If we have patience we’ll see the answer to our prayers. Still others tell us that the kind of miraculous answer to prayer that Jesus talked about came only in apostolic days; that we cannot expect God to intervene miraculously in our day.

That, of course, does not exhaust the explanations given when prayers go, or seem to go, unanswered. All of those listed, and many more that could be added to the list, are credible to greater or lesser degrees under certain circumstances. But Jesus did not give conditions under which prayers would or would not be answered. He stated flatly that they would be answered. I have contended that Jesus meant what he said in this, and in the other parts of the Sermon on the Mount so, when I pray, and the prayer goes unanswered, I cannot simply shrug it off; I need an explanation that leaves Jesus’ credibility intact.

My explanation may not satisfy others any more than those offered above satisfy me, but I’ll offer it because I believe it does, in fact, maintain the credibility of Jesus offer to his disciples, and further gives us an understanding of the power available to believers.

Jesus indicated that the things he did, his disciples would do also. Indeed they would do greater things. (That would be a discussion for another time, but not now.) Jesus further indicated in a variety of statements that the things he did were those that he saw his father doing. I believe, by implication, he was saying that he did nothing but what he saw his father doing. The key to his miracles then was not that he possessed special powers as the Son of God in the flesh, but in the fact that he was “binding on earth, what he saw bound in heaven.” Or to put it another way, he was praying, with full understanding of God’s will, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So, when Jesus told his disciples, “Whatever you ask, in my name, it will be given you,” he was not giving them a blank check with which to buy condos and Cadillacs, but telling them, “If you ask the Father for anything you know I would ask of Him, it will be given you.” Likewise, in the Sermon on the Mount, when he says, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” he is revealing to his disciples the power that is theirs if they learn to pray within the Father’s will.

And how do we know the Father’s will? In the same way Jesus, as son of man, knew it; through study of the Word of God, observation of the world around him, and reliance upon the Spirit of God that indwelt him. Oh, and one more thing, perhaps the thing most likely - in its absence - to hinder our prayers today, total submission to the will of the Father.

So, what sounds, at first, like a wonderful offer of anything and everything one might wish, turns out to be an invitation to submit ourselves to the will of God and become channels through which His will can be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

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