Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 22

What I Read Today: Luke 11.

What Stood Out: Luke 11:9-13, “So I tell you: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, although you 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!”

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

The secret about me is that I don’t pray very much.

Like I said yesterday, it’s a lot easier to prepare lessons about prayer for my students than it is to pray. It’s a lot easier to write a seminary paper on prayer than it is to pray. It’s a lot easier to take somebody’s prayer request than it is to pray. Prayer is difficult for me and I’ve thought a lot about why it is, too.

First, God blessed me with an active mind. Now, don’t mistake activity for anything that produces visible results. I liken it to running a lot of laps. It looks like you’ve been running for a long time but you never really went anywhere. Mostly, all it takes for me to start thinking about anything other than God is to start praying with the words, “Dear God…”

Second, I’m surrounded by noise. My home starts waking up and it’s the Good Morning America folks chatting away. Or the morning music from the back while the day’s starting. Or even a dishwasher or washing machine. My car has a radio that I’m not sure where the “off” button is. I walk into a restaurant and televisions are visible no matter where I sit. I let mobile phones steal my down time during any type of lull in my day. It’s constant…and the funny thing is I tend to be okay with it all.

Third, I’m not exactly sure what it is prayer is supposed to accomplish. I’ve studied all about this at seminary. I’m not sure that it changes much about God’s plan or will. I’m pretty sure that we do it so poorly that the Holy Spirit tells God what we really mean. And the reality that it’s supposed to change me and align me with this plan of God isn’t a motivator. I find that anything that causes me to really believe God’s way is better than my way really just wants me to delay doing it.

Fourth, which kind of ties into that, is the reality that I might not like God’s answers. I mean, I like God being my cosmic Santa Claus where I just ask him stuff and he brings what I want. The reality is that if He answers things His way, well, that’ll be terribly uncomfortable.

Fifth, I’m pretty uncomfortable with all the stuff around prayer…you know, that business about making things right with people you’ve wronged before you pray? Man. That’s, um, well, difficult and stuff. It’s easier to sweep it all under the rug.

Sixth, if the standard for prayer is “praying without ceasing,” well, that seems so daunting that it’s self-defeating.

And let’s not even get started on the idea that sometimes I feel like the prayers go about as far as from my mouth to the ceiling and that’s it.

I have others, but I think you get my point, right?

So, like I said, I’m not too good at prayer. I’m a lot like the disciples in Luke 11, though. I want to get better at it and do it more often, so I’m pretty good at asking those I see doing it well to get their ideas, thoughts and encouragement.

Notice early on that Jesus starts out with “when” you pray. He assumes this is a practice you’ll incorporate in your walk with God. He didn’t say “if” you decide to pray. No matter our objections we’re supposed to do it…that I’m sure about.

Much has been made in commentaries and all about the content of the prayer Jesus delivers, and I’ll spend some time when this parallel passage is discussed in Matthew (gotta save some stuff because it’s a long year and a big Bible, right?). But He certainly gives us an overview of content (the old “adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication” ACTS acronym).

But what stands out to me is that God has our best interest at heart.

In fact, one of the best sermons I heard in 2010 was on this very reality. Yes, I’m a sermon geek and my guess is that I hear over 100 each and every year so keep that in mind as a reminder that I’m not using hyperbole to make my point. I’m telling you that one of the best sermons of the year for me reminded me that God loves me dearly.

See, Heather Thomas was preaching at Imago Dei while I was on my vacation to Portland–

–two side notes: First, I have no problem with the reality that it was a female in the pulpit. She was under the authority of her elders. Second, the world tends to shrink up sometimes as I discovered she’s the granddaughter of Major Ian Thomas, a man who’d had tremendous impact on the spiritual lives of those who attended my church through his teaching on various occasions–

–and I don’t think it was her very cool British accent that made it sound smarter than it was. It was really insightful.

See, she pointed out the verbs: Ask. Seek. Knock. We do these things.
Then she pointed out the response of God: Gives. Finds. Opens.
She mentioned that it doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO or the janitor.
She highlighted the implied realities: First that if we’re praying, we’re implying that we’re humble enough to admit we’re not God–and this shows we have a NEED. Second, that we’re praying to someone we TRUST can handle the situation.

She used an illustration about coming over to her niece’s house not long after Halloween. Her niece’s parents had been keeping the candy out of reach of their young daughter by placing the bag on top of their refrigerator and giving it to her whenever it seemed appropriate. So, when Aunt Heather shows up, she was taken to the kitchen, shown the bag of candy and then her niece got all Disney-princess-eyed, knowing that Aunt Heather could deliver when asked to give her the goods.

And her point was that this is how we should approach our God: With a “wide-eyed expectation and regularity” voicing our wants and needs. It sounded really cool in a British accent, too.

Which profoundly affected my prayer life. I prayed more with that illustration as a guide. I guess I should say that I still pray more, too, with that illustration as my guide. Wide-eyed expectation. Regularly. Wants and needs.

It says right there that if we’re asking our own parents for basic food items that they’re not going to give us things (snakes and scorpions) that are harmful and/or useless by way of return. Obviously, God won’t do that, either. I guess we’ve allowed the reality that most of our social interactions wind up causing us to be skeptical of the other other’s motives to creep into our spiritual walks.

And what I learned is that overcoming the objections about prayer ultimately come down to a simple reality: Do I really trust that God loves me enough to answer my prayers in a way that’s best for me?

Granted, that’s a pretty big answer…

…but if you can…

it’ll revamp your prayer life. It has mine…at least it’s better than it was, anyway.

And what needs and wants should we be bringing to God with wild-eyed expectation today?

See? I told you it was a good sermon.

(Tomorrow’s Reading: Luke 12)