Seek and ye shall find
Luke 18:1-8; Matthew 7:7-11
Everyone prays. At least when they’re desperate. But no-one seems to know why it works or how it could.
It’s an uncertainty that keenly afflicts westerners labouring under three false assumptions.
1) We think of “nature” as a closed system, grinding along according to iron laws.
2) We consider ourselves to be self-sufficient masters of our fate. We know where our next meal is coming from so we’re just not that desperate.
But perhaps most troublesome of all is,
3) Our concept of God is deeply affected by philosophical theism. God, if He has any kind of a role, simply pulls the levers, right? Far off in heaven He doesn’t inter-act, let alone re-act to His creatures, does He? And so we are plagued by the suspicion that “God already knows what I need and He already knows if He’s going to give it to me.” So why pray?
None of these hang-ups seem to affect Jesus. He paints prayer as a continual and confident petitioning – asking, seeking, knocking. And He paints God as an eager respondent to our prayers:
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
Here is a vibrant and dynamic give-and-take between the pray-er and God. There is heart-felt need – desperation even – as the requests turn to searches and the searches turn to hammering on heaven’s door. But it’s not the desperation of doubt. As we bang on the door, Someone is most certainly home. He is about to open that door and to pour out heaven’s blessings. So, Ask! Seek! Knock!
This is a revolutionary idea. When we think of desperate praying we imagine reluctant deities. Or if we consider bountiful gods we conclude there’s redundant praying. But Jesus puts the two notions together – desperate prayer and a bountiful God. How can Jesus speak like this?
Because God is Father. That’s how Jesus explains it in the following verses:
“Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:9-11)
Pray because it is “your Father which is in heaven.” That makes all the difference in the world.
Imagine if God were like the philosopher described – a distant individual, high on power, low on personality. Before there was a universe this god existed in unopposed majesty. Such a god orders every atom and act from a single centre of divine agency. This god is always acting and never reacting. If we ever prayed to such a god it could only be a pre-ordained request to receive a pre-ordained reply. Essentially prayer is pageantry because this god does not and cannot genuinely respond. Any appearance of prayers being answered is just that – appearance. When we trace all things back to their root cause we only see divine action, never divine reaction.
Now imagine the God that Jesus describes – a Father. Before there was a universe, this God was Father because this God has always had a Son. Therefore this God has always been acting and reacting. From eternity the Father and Son have enjoyed give-and-take and back-and-forth by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the beginning there was prayer. Now we are invited into the prayer life of God. In the Son we pray to the Father and His answer to us in Jesus is not pageantry – it is a genuine response. And it is the genuine response of the ultimate Father to His most beloved Son.
Even we “evil men” know how to give good gifts to our children. How much more will the Father give to His children good things – most essentially His Holy Spirit. Therefore Ask! Seek! Knock!
So allow Jesus’ revelation of the Father to re-configure our thinking:
1) The world is not the product of a solitary power-god. This is the creation of the triune God. It is an open and relational reality. Our world does not run on principles, it runs on prayer.
2) We may not lack anything materially, but in ourselves we are absolutely bereft of the Spirit. We have the Holy Spirit in Christ – the Anointed One. In myself I have nothing. In Him I have everything. Therefore I need to know my desperate need as well as God’s bountiful provision. Prayer is the articulation of my Christian life. I am empty in myself (therefore knock) and full to overflowing in Jesus (therefore the door is open to me).
3) God is not some distant administrator. Our prayers are not request forms lost in layers of bureaucracy. He is our Father. And we pray in the name of Jesus, His Son. Therefore we pray with total desperation and complete confidence. He knows, He hears and He responds. With a Father’s heart.