Prayer has been an allusive discipline to me. When I first became a Christian, I used to journal my prayers which consisted of list upon list of people I was thankful for, people who I was asking God to bless, and things I wanted or thought I needed. I don’t remember how long this lasted, but it was definitely not more than a year after the point in my life where I understood Jesus as the Son of God and the Redeemer of all creation. At some point I think someone told me that prayer is more like a conversation with God. This seemed to me to be a much easier way to think of prayer and I tried very hard to pray in this way. But for some reason that has also been short-lived. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone you can’t see in the flesh or hear audibly with your ear drums. Somewhere along the way, someone recommended the book Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. And I read it. And it was good. I liked how he talked about being in prayer to God at all times. He seemed to have figured out how to “praywithout ceasing.” I remember where he wrote about praying while he did the dishes at the monastery. It is almost as if the very act of being was a prayer to God. I have tried to walk in that but it did not last either though admittedly due in part to my lack of discipline.
Over the past year I have been challenged in prayer. At the beginning of this year long period, I was going through a book called Discipleship Essentials, by Greg Ogden, with a friend of mine and somewhere in there (I don’t have it in front of me) there is a part where it talks about prayer and focuses on Matthew 7.7-8 which reads,
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; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
But there was something that didn’t make sense to me. Hand in hand with this passage, was the Parable of the Persistent Widow found in Luke 18.1-8.
1Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ ”
6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
These two ideas seemed to contradict themselves. Ask and you shall receive, but you have to ask a billion times to change God’s mind with your persistence. Now I realize that part of what is going on in this parable is the fact that Jesus is saying something along the lines of,
“If this unjust, uncaring judge will grant the widow her request, how much more would God who is the very definition of love, justice, and peace grant your requests!”
But that doesn’t seem to add up either when you take into consideration the fact that we often pray for God to heal people of cancer and other sickness and it doesn’t happen. This has more to do with “the problem of pain.” It is things like this that cause me to wonder. Does God answer our request but just not in the way we had hoped? Maybe those individuals were more in need of a healing that could not be seen by human eyes. But then that just seems like a cop out. And to make things more complicated, we have this gem :
2You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4.2-3, emphasis added)
But there is another reason the “Knock…seek…ask…” verse did not sit well with me. It seemed to me that, like the persistent widow above, asking for something over and over again was an indication of a lack of faith. I wanted to just be able to ask for it once and have faith that God would grant my request. To my dismay, the verb tense of the Greek words translated in Matthew 7.7 indicate a constant knocking, seeking, and asking.
I wasn’t sure why at the time, but this just didn’t sit well with me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I could not reconcile this fact. But lately I have realized something that I think will be revolutionary for my prayer life. I think that I did not like the idea that prayer requires a constant knocking, asking, seeking because
each time I ask
I am admiting over and over again
that the thing I desire or need
is beyond me and out of my control.
Every time I ask for something, a small piece of the little ‘g’ god I allow myself to be dies. Every time I ask for something I realize how much I need God. There is a part of me that still doesn’t like that. But now my little attempts to rebel against my Beloved have been shown for what they really are. I am saddened by them, but thankful to have eyes to see it for what it is.