Here is your trivia quiz for the day. What famous prayer does Jesus teach his disciples in our Gospel lesson…? Yeah, the Lord’s Prayer. We know this prayer because we pray it at every worship service. It’s clearly a powerful and special prayer, because Jesus taught it to those who were learning from him.
And—shameless plug time. Pastor Randy and I will be doing a sermon series in September and October on the Lord’s Prayer. So, come check that out, because it’ll be a rockin’ time! If I do say so myself!
So today, we are going to look at the second half of our Gospel reading, the part that talks about prayer in a bit of a broader way.
Warren Wiersbe tells of the time when he was helping to paint the outside of his neighbors' home. His neighbors had a small black dog that had a ritual of going to the back door of the house to bark and bark until someone finally got the message and let him out.
One day, Wiersbe was painting the outside of the house when no one was home. The neighbor's little dog, who was inside the house, took up his station at the back door and barked and barked all day long. The sad thing, Wiersbe said, was that it never dawned in his little brain that all his barking was totally useless-no one was home to hear!!
Maybe some of you feel like this dog when it comes to prayer. You pray, and pray, and pray for something, and you don’t seem to be getting an answer—you may even be wondering if anyone is home!
And our Gospel reading today tells us about prayer. Jesus tells the disciples, “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
It sounds like Jesus is saying that whatever we pray for, we will always receive an answer. So, if you’ve been praying for something over and over and it seems like God is silent about it, what’s up with that??
In order to answer that question, we have to talk about what prayer actually is.
The thing is, we sometimes fall into magical thinking about prayer. We pray, and then we assume God does something about what we prayed for—usually we expect something right away. And why not—there are a ton of books and preachers out there that support this thinking. They tell us if we say this one phrase, or pray in this specific way, God will DEFINITELY answer our prayers, in the way we want, in the timing we want.
But prayer isn’t like rubbing a magic lamp, or asking Santa Claus for presents. Prayer is direct, intimate communication with God. The main point of prayer is cultivating your relationship with God. Praying for specific things and people is important, of course, and we should do that. But what’s most important in prayer is that you are talking and listening with the One who knows you better than anyone else, the one who created you—your God. Effective prayer is simply a continual connection with God. And that’s why it’s so important—when we pray, we are connecting with our Maker and getting closer to God.
Jesus knew this— over and over in the Gospels, we see Jesus taking time to speak with and listen to his Father. He would spend time in prayer, even when he was busy. He knew that in order to better hear his Father’s voice, he needed to listen and talk with his Father on a regular basis.
So because prayer is about connecting with God and having a relationship with God, answers to prayer are typically not those magical results we sometimes expect. The implication of what Jesus says is that God does indeed always answer prayer. BUT—God doesn’t always answer prayer in the way we expect, or on our time frame.
It has been said that God answers prayer in one of four ways: yes, no, wait, and “Are you kidding??” Now that’s a bit funny, but I think a lot of that rings true. Maybe God is waiting to answer your prayer on God’s own time. Maybe God has answered your prayer, but not in the way you wanted or expected. Maybe you just weren’t aware God answered your prayer.
So some of you may know that my husband Will and I didn’t meet until our late 20s. That’s not so weird to hear maybe nowadays, but it felt like a ridiculously long wait for me.
You see, when I was 21, I had a failed engagement. It was a blessing at the time—it wouldn’t have been a healthy marriage had we gotten married. But going from thinking you’re going to spend the rest of your life with someone to suddenly being single and alone is really awful—if you or a loved one has gone through a serious break-up or divorce, you know how painful and awful it can be.
So I prayed. I prayed harder than I’d ever prayed before. I prayed that God would send me the man I was supposed to marry and share my life with. Years went by. And nothing happened. I dated a bit, but never found the right guy. After a few years, I got frustrated, so I started asking close friends and colleagues to pray as well, thinking maybe God would just get sick of hearing from me and just show the guy to me--- kind of like the persistent friend in our story today, who continued knocking on the door in order to get the bread for his guest!
Years continue to go by. I got more and more dejected, thinking that maybe God wasn’t listening to my prayers. I recruited more pray-ers for the cause. I upped my energy in dating, to no avail. I even sent in prayer requests about finding the right spouse to a Christian radio station. Nothing.
But one time when I was praying about it, like I did almost every day, I got an answer from God. It wasn’t a split the sky open, the voice of God booming from heaven type answer. It was just a still, small voice, in my head, that I knew wasn’t me—it was God. And the voice said “I hear you.” Well, I found that a bit encouraging. At least God wasn’t ignoring me. But come on, God, you didn’t tell me anything else! How about a day and time? I wanted an answer more like—“You will meet your future husband on January 15th, 2011, at 11am.” But apparently, God doesn’t always work like that!
So I continued to pray. And pray. And pray.
And then one day, I was online and a guy messaged me, just as I was giving up and about to delete my online dating profile. His name? Will.
He messaged me around 7 years after I started praying about meeting my future husband. 7 years!! Did God finally get sick of me asking, and grant me what I asked because I was persistent? Maybe! Maybe it was that God knew the best timing for us to meet—both Will and I agree that if we had met sooner in life, we would not be the same type of partner for each other we are today. Maybe it’s a little bit of both, or another reason entirely. Regardless, God was listening to my prayers the whole time and answering them—just not always in the way I wanted or expected.
And maybe this is happening to you in your prayer life. Maybe you’ve prayed for something for years and are still waiting. Maybe you are wondering why God didn’t answer your prayers, or they weren’t answered in a more obvious way.
Either way, we know from the Bible and what Jesus tells us that our prayers do not fall on deaf ears. God is listening to our prayers and wants to hear from us on a regular basis. And we know that God definitely answers our prayers—but we also know that God knows what is good for us, and God answers prayers based on what will help us become more of who God wants us to be. God answers our prayers in ways that change our heart with love.
You see, prayer isn’t about getting God to do what we want. It’s about connecting with God, as we said before—and even more than that, it’s about God changing US.
In his book A Voice Over the Water, William Breault writes:
"...Prayer is not to change God. It is to be changed by God--maybe that's why some of us avoid it. Way back in the instinctive zones of our brains is the conviction that if we keep on praying something will happen to us.
"And that is correct, for all prayer has one thing in common: a conversion. That is the occupational hazard of praying. But it isn't God who is converted, we are. Perhaps that is why we hold to the illusion that prayer does something to God. We don't want to be converted! But God doesn't let up easily.”
So, prayer isn’t just an idle thing we do once and a while, or when we are in a crisis and need something. Prayer is POWERFUL. Prayer changes things. Prayer changes US.
So during our prayer time in a few minutes, we are going to take an extended time of silence to pray for those things on your heart. You may pray out loud, or silently—it doesn’t matter how-- but during that time I invite you to really pray about those things you want to pray about. Pour out your concerns to God. Make that connection with God, let yourself be changed by God. When God acts and causes change, wonderful things can happen to us that we could never imagine or expect. Let’s really open ourselves up to what the Holy Spirit is doing through prayer.
So, as Jesus tells us to-- let’s knock, search, and ask boldly. God is listening. Knock on God’s door. Seek God. Ask God what’s on your heart. Because whoever seeks finds, whoever asks receives, and whoever knocks, God opens the door. Amen?