When last Christmas I gave Cathy a handbag made by the designer label Guess, it reminded me of a quote attributed to Arnold Schwarzenegger who mentioned that â€œI saw a woman wearing a T-shirt with Guess on it. So I said (asking quizzingly) thyroid problem?â€
A stumbling block in prayer life can be that we know that God the Father doesnâ€™t need to guess how we feel or what we need because he already knows it, and in using the words of Martin Luther â€œI know not the way God leads me, but well do I know my guideâ€ we may agree and add, so why pray?
Likewise, have you ever wondered how unusual it was that in the Garden of Eden with its grand population of two, that after their fall to sin and while hiding among the trees that the all-powerful and all-knowing God the Fathers actions as recorded in Genesis 3:9 are: â€œBut the Lord God called to the man and said to him, â€˜Where are you?â€™â€.
A strange question asked by God and a logical question of prayer we may ask. A question from the all-knowing and a question from the un-knowing that are answered for us only in the revelation of Christ who has taken us from hiding in the bushes alongside Adam in sin, to standing before the Father in his righteousness. The revelation of Christ that has torn the curtain of the temple in two that now we talk to the Father not through fellow sinners, but through Christ himself.
To deny or doubt prayer is to doubt the Holy Scriptures and the redemptive powers of Christ himself. His redemptive powers born to us through his cross and resurrection that we be baptised into his family and have access to the Father himself who Jesus has told us today will hear our prayers and that they will not be in vain.
Access to the Father. Whether under a gum tree in central Australia or in a Cathedral in Rome. Whether on death row about to receive worldly justice or the Bishop holding court to the audience of a thousand, prayers are said and prayers are heard by the Lord himself. Through Christâ€™s atoning work on the cross he has fixed the fracture between sinners and God that we now have the privilege to complain, to beg, to ask and to thank the Lord himself as though he stands before in His compassionate, knowing and loving presence and with His welcoming hands out asking we draw near. Prayer is a great privilege and when in prayer we are souring in rare air indeed.
In todayâ€™s Gospel Jesus tells us:
â€œAsk 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. 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?â€
The Words of our Lord and Saviour himself and under the premise that we either believe him fully or not at all-his words here on prayer must be so.
So what of seemingly unanswered prayer?
I believe the answer was supplied to me from one of our own here today who commented that the Lords response to prayer is either yes, or yes but not yet, or no-because I have something much better in mind.
No because I have something better in mind. Wise words because could it be that the problem may not be us asking for an egg and getting a scorpion, but that unknowingly we are actuallyasking for the scorpion in the first place.
Is it wrong to ask for this and that? I donâ€™t think so. I donâ€™t think God will take offence that I wouldnâ€™t mind getting my hands on a new shiny red Lotus that goes zero to one hundred in 4.6 seconds with a top speed of 233 KM per hour. Would he mind if I had one, probably not but he might mind that should I get one, more than likely my last few demerit points might vanish along with my ability to travel in a parish that calls for travel.
As with Martha and Mary last week, prayer is about priorities-the Lordâ€™s priorities that through the struggle of seemingly unanswered prayer become our own like seen by Paul that though his repeated prayer that the â€œthorn in his side may be taken awayâ€ was declined, was given so much more in hearing the confirming words of the Saviour that â€œMy grace is sufficient for theeâ€. For as Christ prayed three times in the garden of Gethsemane that the cup of the cross might pass from him if it were his Fatherâ€™s will, the cross became his lot and his glorious resurrection turned it all into the greatest of triumphs. So too today may a Christian have such a huge problem that they may keep knocking in prayer on Godâ€™s door until their knuckles are raw knowing that he will answer in his time and in his incomparable way, and far from asking for an egg and getting a scorpion, and though we may unknowingly ask for a scorpion, He will provide the egg all the same for we know that if God is for us, then who can succeed against us as neither hardship or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword, nor death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
A hymn says it well, that: â€œAlthough we tarry long, He never comes too lateâ€ and Martin Luther, a man of deep prayer testified that:
â€œAll who call upon God earnestly and in true faith will surely be heard and receive according to their petition; though perhaps not at the very hour and time, nor in the measure of their petition, nor exactly what they pray for, yet they will receive something much better, greater, and more glorious.â€
Yes, God loves us too much to give us everything at the snap of our fingers because great character grows out of great wrestling in prayer, as we persistently and sometimes agonisingly shape our prayers towards His will.
In Genesis Abraham struggled with God in repeated requests that the city of Sodom might be spared from destruction and Jacob even with an angel of God. Tough times but in their struggles both Abraham and Jacob came to know God better and this is the supreme answer to prayer-fellowship with God.
Yet ironically, the by-product of prayer is greater than his answer to our petition as ultimately that closer life with God minimises the problem, as in His peace and strength we can handle it more with and under His grace.
So Lord, you can still throw that my red Lotus my way if you wish, but if not Iâ€™ll go with it for like the thief on the cross, I see that worldly things as such are of no consequence. That like the thief on the cross we see that the miracle is not that you forgive us of our sins, but the miracle that we came to ask you for what you so wanted to give.
Recently I saw a â€œFar sideâ€ carton in the paper that tickled my fancy where a horse is sitting in a chair with his mouth wide open, and the dentist while looking the other way says â€œbefore we start, I firstly need to know if youâ€™re a gift horseâ€.
God, seem through Him giving us his one and only Son, gives us no such need to doubt is Words.
So Lord, though your ways can confuse us we know that your gifts are free, eternal and that you hold steadfast to them. You have told us, that â€œwhen we pray and ask for something, that we are to believe that we have received it, and in that-we will be given for whatever we askâ€. So we bring before you now in silent prayer those things on our hearts and minds trusting boldly, that whether it be in our time or your time, or should you answer in the ways of our fractured wisdom or your perfect wisdom- we know that it shall be done for us according to your good and perfect will. Let us pray.
Amen. It is so.