Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 49: Asking

Then He said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and from inside he answers and says, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything. ' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. "So I say to you, 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 he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. (Luke 11:5-10 NASB)

When I read "ask and it will be given to you," I want to believe that God will give me exactly what I have asked Him to give me. When I read this phrase in English, it appears to mean exactly that. 

When I look at it in the original language, however, I find something surprising. The word translated as "ask" is aiteō and indicates a person of lesser position making a request of someone of higher position, someone in authority. Understanding that God is a higher authority than I is not really a problem for me, unless there is something I am determined to have. In that case, it is easy to slide into the "I want what I want and I better get it" attitude. It's a very American mindset to think that we can work hard and get whatever we want, and it sometimes translates into thinking that, if we pray hard enough, we can get God to give us whatever we want. 

The word translated as "will be given" is didōmi. This is the same word used to indicate a seed "giving" fruit. The fruit, of course, looks nothing at all like the seed that was planted. That is often the way of the answers to my prayers. They look nothing at all like I expected (nor like what I thought I wanted!). I have learned to be grateful that God gives us what we need and not what we think we want. 

Some years ago, I was betrayed and deeply wounded by someone very close to me. I stormed heaven non-stop and many of my friends prayed right along with me. I expected the situation to unfold a certain way. I expected that the situation would end up with the kind of glorious results that would point people to Christ and give them hope. (And, of  course, I expected that it would vindicate me and make me look good. Let's not forget there is sometimes a good bit of pride in our prayers.)

Instead, God moved. He answered my prayers. His answer, however, looked nothing at all like I expected. Years later, there is peace between me and the person who betrayed me. We are friends and comfortable in each other's company. The malice and anger are gone. The hurt feelings are gone. The relationship was not repaired; it was remade completely. 

I am still astounded by what God did. As it turns out, His answer was more than I ever expected, and in some ways, it was better than I dreamed. The seed of prayer gave forth fruit, and the fruit looked nothing like the seed. 

Could God have done what I wanted? Of course He could, but He was working with two flawed and sinful people and, if the truth be told, He didn't have as much to work with as I thought at the time. (I am speaking of myself when I say that.) The healing took years, but it came, and one of the reasons it came is persistence in prayer. What began as praying for my enemy became praying for my friend. 

This business of praying in the way Jesus told us is a glorious, wonderful thing, and brings the most exciting life possible. I never know what God will do and I love that! He takes a seed of prayer and brings forth fruit, and I have no way of knowing in advance what that fruit will be. The amazing part of this fruit-bearing is that the fruit is always bigger, more complex, more beautiful, more satisfying, more delicious than the seed. 

Today, then, let us ask for whatever is on our heart, but let us also ask with expectation that God's will be done, and that His will can do more than we ever asked or imagined. Every single time. Let us ask, knowing that the seed will bear fruit. 

κἀγὼ ὑμῖν λέγω αἰτεῖτε καὶ δοθήσεται ὑμῖν ζητεῖτε καὶ εὑρήσετεκρούετε καὶ ἀνοιγήσεται ὑμῖν. (Luke 11:9)