"Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (NRSV)
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gives us some simple and direct recommendations for prayer. The first component is simply to ask God for what it is we need. The presupposition of this recommendation is that God is good. Martin Luther recommended in his Small Catechism that we do this boldly and confidently because God is a good and loving Father. For example, since the annual congregational meeting in June I have been asking for God’s favor that we reach 220 in worship a year from now. I do this because I believe that God has given us a mission to proclaim Jesus Christ as the light to the world. I also believe that people who know Jesus need to be part of a community of people that help them live out their hope and remain in Christ’s light. In your personal prayer life, you can be direct about what it is that you need. One need not be embarrassed to ask God for anything.
Jesus then instructs us to search. Searching paradoxically requires both action and waiting. It requires action because we need to be paying attention. Active listening through prayer is used so we remain humble and hopefully we learn that we are not just asking God to simply acquiesce to our wishes or desires. Searching through Scripture reading, worship, prayer, and faith conversations is all about being open to God’s Word for your life. It is a test to find out if what we are asking for is what we really need. Therefore, in our searching we need to be diligent in seeking the Holy Spirit’s answer, but also still enough to hear His voice so that we are not just confirming our own selfishness.
As I bring my prayer for 220 in worship at Holy Cross, I must be humble enough to receive the Holy Spirit’s answer. If the Spirit tells us that this prayer is only about our pride, then we must be gracious enough to listen to the truth. If however God responds that this is a genuine prayer for what we as a church need, then we must work to make it so. Sometimes the Spirit may actually be leading us into a place in between, so that for which we pray may be transformed into something holy. So in asking God’s favor for 220 in worship we are asking that each person who arrives is coming for God’s reasons and that each will genuinely find healing, hope, and renewal through Jesus. Following Jesus’ recommendations in the Sermon on the Mount ultimately means asking God to transform our longings to conform to His purposes.
Jesus teaches that once we have asked and search then we must knock. We are called to embrace God’s reality as presented to us. We do this by responding to what God is telling us. For example, since starting to pray for 220 in worship, I have become more proactive about inviting people to church. In social situations and casual encounters where previously I would have been content just to be friendly, I now directly ask people to come to Holy Cross and give them my card. What made the change was the simple setting of the numerical goal and praying for it. The Spirit immediately laid on my heart that I had previously been too passive. God is inviting me and giving me the privilege to work for what I am praying. I have used an example from my ministry to provide an illustration of Jesus’ principles of prayer, and to invite you to join with me in this prayer for 220 in worship.
Please know that the most important aspect of this article is following the pattern of prayer laid out by Jesus. This pattern of prayer will have unlimited applications in our daily lives. If you pray for a new career, to raise healthy children, to understand the purpose of your life, to be healed, given peace, or anything else concrete, or abstract, the same pattern will apply. As Christians we boldly ask, we search to find God’s answer, and we knock so that we can work with God along our path of discipleship. As those of us who have been doing this a while will tell you, God will not always give us what we ask, but our loving Father in heaven will always give us what we need. The truth is that we will never know the difference until we ask. Therefore, I invite you to ask, search and knock for anything that is on your heart to bring to Jesus this day.
Keep the Faith,