There were a few things that intimidated me when I made the transition from journalism to ministry. Would I be able to teach the Bible with authority, honesty, and humility? Would I be able to preach in ways that glorifies the Lord and engages our souls? Would I be able to keep up with all the different committee meetings?
All of those questions gave me moments of pause and reflection and they still do. Yet, what intimidated me the most about entering ministry were none of those things. What intimidated me the most was praying in front of people, especially during worship.
The pastoral prayer intimidated me. I didn’t always know what to say. Growing up in the church, I remember pastors having long and beautiful prayers that were both powerful and deeply emotional. I didn’t know if I could do that. I didn’t know how to do it. Was there a proper way to pray as a pastor? Did it have to be a certain length? What if I didn’t cover everything? Would God not honor those prayers?
These were simply the questions of a nervous new intern and pastor starting out in ministry. If we were to be completely honest with ourselves I think we would admit we have all felt some of those same questions. Perhaps not the same exact ones, but I would imagine we have felt some sense of intimidation with prayer and the feeling of not always knowing what to say.
We know prayer is important for our spiritual development, yet we don’t always know what to do with that time. We may know prayer is a powerful and holy way we communicate with God, but we may struggle with coming up with the right words to say. As well, we may also know that a life in continual prayer is life changing, but we may not know what to pray for.
Prayer is important. It is as common to us in our familiarity with prayer as it is distant to us in how we understand it. Our lack of understanding prayer or knowing what to say or how to pray can lead to frustrations. In these frustrations, we begin to look around and say things like, “Why hasn’t God answered my prayers in a proper time?” We may get so frustrated with prayer, either by our own doubts of not knowing what to say or our belief that God must answer us in proper time, that we may give up praying all together.
No matter who we are we have felt some of these frustrations. The good news is I believe Jesus is speaking to us in these moments in our passage from Luke 11:9-13. What he tells us is that even when we don’t know what to say, or when we get frustrated to always keep praying. Jesus calls us to a prayerful life that keeps listening for God’s voice in our prayers and lives.
This teaching comes as Jesus concludes a section on prayer. From Luke 11:1 to 11:13, Luke describes Jesus’ teaching on prayer that begins with the Lord’s prayer and ends with these words of asking, seeking, and knocking. The Lord’s Prayer serves as a framework for prayer. The middle section about the persistent friend reminds us to always pray for the things that are on our hearts. This serves as the context when we come to this concluding section. When Jesus mentions the words “ask,” “seek,” and “knock,” he is giving us some guiding words that help us to be people who never stop praying.
Jesus says, “keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.” Asking involves bringing to the Lord our greatest need in the hopes that God will hear our prayer.
When we think of asking in prayer we may think this means going to God with our “wish list” of items. One of my favorite authors, Miroslav Volf, says we treat God like Santa Claus. We think all he does is fulfill our wishes. By this, we go to God with all those things we believe we need and then expect God to give us every good thing. For instance, “Dear God, please help me to find a new home and car,” or “Dear God, will you help my favorite team win tonight,” or “God, will you make me popular?” In asking, we go to God with a list of things we want fulfilled and act like God is at our disposal to do just that.
This is not what prayerful asking looks like. Prayerful asking is a deep experience where, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we tell the Lord our deepest need of our heart and lives. God already knows those things that we truly need or are on our hearts. In the asking, though, we lay these needs at the Father’s feet and ask that God will be there with us in those places of need, whether they are physical, emotional, or spiritual. It is a powerful and humbling act when we simply ask God to hear the needs of our heart and lives.
Jesus also says to pray by “keep on seeking” so that “we will find” what we are looking for. We pray seeking God’s presence. That’s not how we always go to God in prayer. Sometimes we pray seeking our own will instead of praying to receive the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. By this, we go to God saying, “Lord, we know what we want and need, so please fulfill these request, or else we will go somewhere else.” That’s not seeking God, but seeking our own self.
When we think of seeking after God we mean listening for God’s desires. We pray to listen to what God’s desires are for our lives, our families, our communities, and our churches. In prayer, we seek God’s voice so we will know what God wants for us. Keep in mind, though, there is more to this than simply listening. One commentator notes that this element of seeking involves us doing some work. For instance, we cannot pray for a deeper understanding of Scripture and then not seek after this through reading reading the Bible, going to church, and being active in small group studies. Prayer is not about us sitting on the sidelines waiting for God to do the work. We pray by listening for God’s voice and then join in what God is doing in our lives and the lives of our communities and churches.
Jesus says we pray by asking and by seeking. He also says to pray by “keep on knocking” because the “door will be opened to you.” We do not ask for things in prayer once and move on. We keep on praying. Jesus calls us to be persistent in prayer, and not just persistent, but passionate.
That is what is involved in prayerful knocking. Think about when we go to someone’s home and we knock on their door,. We don’t lightly tap on the door as to barely make a sound. We knock in such a way that we get the homeowner’s attention to let us in. That is what knocking in prayer is like.
The best picture of knocking and being persistent in prayer in Scripture is the story of Abraham and Lot. Knowing that God was about to destroy Soddom, which is where his nephew Lot lived. Abraham pleaded with God to save Soddom and eventually God relents in such a way that protects Lot’s life.
Knocking in prayer is about getting God’s attention. It is about the Lord know about our desires, and being persistent in such a way that we may change God’s heart. John Wesley, who was the founder of the Methodist movement, reminds us that “God does nothing but in response to prayer.” Our prayers are powerful, bring us closer to God, and help us to connect more closely with the Lord. We are persistent in prayer, knocking in ways to get God’s attention, because our prayers are important and God is active in our prayer.
Jesus calls us to pray by asking, seeking, and knocking. Three simple words tell us so much about having a prayerful life. Everyday is an opportunity to engage our Lord and ask God to hear our needs, to seek God’s voice, and to be persistent in our prayers. Sometimes our prayers only do one of these three words. Sometimes our prayers involve all three at the same time. No matter how we pray, or when we pray, the one thing that is important for us to remember is that, as a church, we are called to be people who are praying and who never stop praying.
With that in mind, what might we be in prayer for as a congregation? There are so many things for us to be in prayer about. Allow me suggest a few. Never stop praying for me, the ministry God has called me to do here, and my family. I cannot do what I am called to do without your prayers. Never stop praying for each other. We are in community with one another. We are not only friends, but truly family. When one of us hurt we all hurt. When one rejoices we all rejoice. Never stop praying that God will be with each of us in our lives and how we seek to live for the Lord each day. As well, never stop praying for the mission of our church. Pray that God will open doors for us to be the church our neighborhood needs us to be. Pray that God will equip us in being disciples so that we can go and make disciples of all people. Never stop praying that we will be about the business of doing God’s will and not our will.
Truly, never stop praying. Even when prayer seems intimidating, keep asking for those things that the Holy Spirit has laid on our hearts. When we are frustrated in our prayers, keep seeking after God’s voice and desires. When we feel like giving up, keep knocking on the door and trust that God will provided us the greatest gift, the Holy Spirit, in the midst of all of our needs.
Ask. Seek. Knock. Three words that say so much about a life of prayer. I wonder what God will show us if we were all to pray in this way?