Jesus teaches what to pray, how to pray, and why to pray.
Pray boldly because God is good.
Pray persistently because God is good.
This synopsis of Luke 11:1-13 was the subject of yesterday’s post. Motivated by the goodness of God, we should honor Him by tenaciously asking anything and continually asking Him, assuming that He always operates for our good and His glory.
Jesus said it this way:
“‘What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’” (Luke 11:11-13, ESV)
However, we are still left with two inescapable questions. Here’s the first: Why does God not answer every prayer like we want? I know that God answers every prayer. He answers with a yes, no, or not now. I know that. However, those who have attempted sustained prayer for something big know it is difficult to find that comforting when heaven is silent. I know I shouldn’t think this way, but I wonder if those who are so glib about the silence of heaven have ever wanted something desperately. When we are desperate and God is silent, our minds wander. We are left wondering if God is fickle or capricious. So, why is it that God does not seem to answer each prayer like we desire?
The answer to this question is: we don’t know. There is no way to explain why God acts miraculously in some circumstances and seems inactive in others. There is just no way to know. In fact, attempts at answering this question too quickly make us trite. When I’m desperate, I don’t want some clichéd proverb extracted from the bottom of kitschy hand made porcelain. Please. We also become trite with God when we quickly dismiss His silence as God’s indifference, impotence or ignorance. At least this is how the theologians have dealt with this problem.
For an example of being trite with others and with God, read the book of Job. God puts an end to their fruitless deliberations when He essentially tells Job, “Job, you lack the capacity to understand. Even if I could tell you why every prayer is not answered immediately, you would not get it.” This is a tough pill to swallow, but we are not aided in our search for answers until we come to grips with the fact that while answers will be unlimited above, those answers will be limited below.
Imagine, however, if we had every answer to every prayer immediately upon asking it.
Imagine every time you bowed your head and what you asked for was immediately answered exactly like you wanted. Can you even imagine? At first, we would be noble by asking for health and financial prosperity for the poor. They would be immediately answered. I think I would quickly ask for financial security for all of my loved ones, then my friends, those in the church, until every disease was healed and wrong righted. I would do everything in my power until all of my will was done exactly like I wanted. My will be done. This is not exactly what we are commanded to pray. We are actually asked to pray that God’s will be done and His kingdom come. It’s His kingdom, not ours.
If every prayer was automatic, we would not be God. We would have God for our servant. We would not be the genie; we would own the lamp. Which leads us to another question in this text: Why did Jesus say that God would give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?
Though we do not resent the gift of the Spirit, wouldn’t something more practical be in order? This inclusion seems out of place. But Jesus is moving from lesser to greater in His illustration. We are evil parents, but we can give good gifts. God is perfect so He gives what is perfect. Think about this – the very Holy Spirit of God. Incredible! This is the very presence of God residing with me at all times. No other gift can touch this because the gift is God Himself. God has no greater gift to us than God. So if God is committed to giving you the very best—God Himself—is that enough for you? This is the question that prayer forces us to ask.
If I go to God wanting _______, and all I get in return is God, is that enough?
Is the presence of God enough for me even if I never get the career I want, or the friends I want, or the relationships I want, or the money I want? Are we content with God alone? Because God is too good to give us any less than His best.
Pray with boldness and pray with persistence because even though we do not understand the mystery of unanswered prayer, we know God is good. And whatever we ask we can know that we will get it – or something better: the very presence of God. The answer to prayer for more of the Spirit is always yes.
All of this being true brings us to one final question: What then is prayer? Is prayer tenaciously seeking what we want or is it passive resignation to whatever God wants? What is our posture in prayer? We will try to answer that question in Friday’s post.