Prayer can be beautiful and poetic but routine if not kept honest, simple as bedtime prayers spoken by a child, or as desperate as someone facing a crisis they’re not sure they’ll survive. Prayer can be taken lightly or seriously, spoken as part of a daily routine, or casually remembered as part of a yearly ritual. The latter two forms are perhaps the most ineffective because they not only disregard the power of prayer, but they also disregard the One to whom the prayers are directed. Whatever approach a person takes in their prayer life reflects and discloses what they truly believe about prayer itself.
Jesus introduced one of the most important perspectives on prayer in what we call the Sermon on the Mount which is more of a collection of His teachings than it is one discourse delivered on a hillside. The traditional site which is located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee is a beautiful setting and one can easily imagine Jesus there speaking to the crowd surrounding Him. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or what person is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf of bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? So, if you, despite being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Mt. 7:7-11)
There are four prominent action verbs in this passage: ask, seek, knock and give. The first three are a special verb form in Greek which could literally be translated as, “the asking one, the seeking one, and the knocking one” and it’s obvious why our English translations smooth it out for us, but the tense drives home the aspect of prayer which is persistent and personal. Spiros Zodhiates noted that this type of prayer is not demanding but humble. It involves the same type of trust exhibited by a child when he/she asks for bread or fish (two basic staples of the audience in Jesus’ day).
The fourth verb, give, is a key word throughout the passage, appearing 5 times and relating back to the verses that appear just prior to this passage which speaks of the “good gifts” God gives to those who are seeking His kingdom and righteousness (6:33). Jesus’ teaching here also corresponds with the prayer He taught at the beginning of chapter 6 whereupon faithful disciples ask the Lord for “daily bread” (6:7-8) with full assurance that the Lord will supply for their needs. God’s good gifts do not necessarily match what we ask for word for word, but the teaching here implies that God will give us what is best for us. The parallel passage in Luke adds further insight by replacing "good gifts” with “the Holy Spirit” (Lk. 11:13)-the preeminent example of a good and perfect gift coming down from heaven above.
There are two other interesting aspects of prayer here. First, the word “son” which we often think of as a child, is not a young child who might not know the difference between a “good” and “bad” morsel of food, but an older one who would naturally be able to distinguish that a stone and a snake were not edible. Therefore, we can conclude the one asking, seeking and knocking will know when the answer is given or the answer is found and when the door is opened. And secondly, the obvious contrast between a Heavenly Father and an earthly father. Jesus assumes that an earthly father, even with his faults and failures, knows what is best to give his child when he needs food. So, then, wouldn’t a Heavenly Father who is holy, just and loving, give gifts that were even better?
The struggle we have is that we often think we know what God should give us! We never ask with the idea of patiently waiting to see how God will answer our prayers, rather we basically send up a list of what God should do and then complain He hasn’t answered when that list is not fulfilled. Jesus promotes that prayer is an action that God will respond to and that our trust in His ability to give good gifts should compel us to continually ask until we recognize the answer. This approach to prayer is a powerfully dynamic one filled with complete trust. God hears. God answers. We will see and recognize it when the answer comes. Is this how you are praying?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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