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049  Ask Boldly

Have you ever noticed how teachers make excuses for God when they talk about prayer? They begin, "God answers prayers," and they insist that we ought to pray. But then they start waffling about how God will respond. "Sometimes He says 'Yes.' Sometimes He says 'No.' Sometimes He says 'Wait.'" "If you ask according to His will He will answer" (so if He wasn't going to do it anyway, you're outa luck.) "If you're immature and ask for a million dollars, of course you're not going to get it." Oh, and my favorite: "God never answers the prayers of the wicked." Oy. (Head. Wall. Pound.)

Let's be candid: what's driving this waffling is not the Bible, but our experiences. If we're talking about the sorts of prayers that ask for things to happen, we've all had the experience of praying and seeing nothing change (in the two days since we asked), and we're bewildered. God apparently isn't good, or isn't listening. Or He doesn't care. Or, if we're faithful and understand that none of those things are true--He is good, is listening, and does care--then there's something else that we didn't understand. So we go looking for God's loopholes so we can let Him off the hook.

The truth is that He does not need to be let off the hook, we need to gain confidence so we can pray boldly and persevere. So let me give you a few principles about prayer to help make that happen:

(1) God wants you to be audacious in what you ask.

(2) God answers nearly all prayers "Yes," and you're not the exception.

(3) What's delaying the answer to your prayers is not God. It's often the demons or uncooperative humans, or it's just that what you're asking takes time to bring to pass. God paints on the canvas of time.

So if you're really serious about wanting what you're praying for, keep praying confidently until you see results--because God actually knows how to deal with demons and uncooperative humans, and your prayers drive His actions. That "No" or "Wait" stuff? It's not in the Bible anywhere, so don't buy it. If you haven't actually heard "No," assume "Yes," 'cause that's His general attitude. He'll let you know if you've gone too far.

Here's the thing: God made us regents of His Kingdom. A regent is an official who rules some subset of the kingdom on behalf of the king. The earth is ours; we're supposed to manage it (Gen 1:28, Psalm 115:16). Our individual skills and callings mark out the arena in which each of us is to act as regent. Prayer is an important way that we participate with God in the ruling of His kingdom. When we decide how we want to do something, God will back us up (Matthew 28:20b).

So while "Thy will be done on earth" is our general attitude (Matthew 6:10), He's given us latitude to do things in His name. And where those things are concerned, He actually wants us to tell Him how we want them done.

I hear people praying all the time asking to know God's will for some situation. He doesn't often say so, but I think that much of the time He's thinking "I'm actually waiting to hear what YOUR will is."

That's why He tells us so plainly: "Ask, and it will be given. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened." Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9.

He means it. So long as your heart is inclined to serve God and become like Him, and so long as you're operating within the sphere of influence that God has given you, you have liberty to ask for what you want and to expect God to support you. 

We humans all have this inner fear that we're asking too much. We feel like naughty children approaching an angry Dad after we broke the cookie jar. We want to ask "Is this OK?" about every little request we raise.

That's our unredeemed flesh talking. We have to learn to ignore that. Trust Him: if you exceed your bounds, He'll tell you.

There's a parable just after Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer that explains this. It's in Luke 11:5-8. The story is of a man knocking on his friend's door at midnight asking for a few loaves of bread.

Common interpretation of this parable would have us think that God is saying that we should pester Him about things until He gives in and grants them. However, Jesus said not to be like the Gentiles who think God will hear them because of their repetitions, because God is not like that (Matthew 6:7-8). If Jesus were saying "Pester God" in Luke 11, He'd be contradicting Himself.

What He's actually saying is that we should be bold and ask, and we'll get what we're asking for.

Where people get confused is where the parable says that the man "from within" answers and says "Don't bother me." The word translated "from within" (Greek, "esothen") usually refers to what goes on inside a man; it's used, for example, of false prophets who come in sheep's clothing but inwardly ("esothen") are ravenous wolves (Matt 7:15). 

For grammatical reasons it's translated in Luke's parable like he's calling out loud, but that makes no sense in the situation. If you and your family are in bed at midnight and somebody knocks at the door, you're not going to shout at them to go away 'cause you'll wake up the rest of the family. What you'll do, instead, is get up and trudge sleepily to the door. But while you're trudging, you'll be muttering "inside yourself" about what sort of infernal idiot is knocking at your door at midnight.

But then, you'll give your friend the bread he's asking for.

The point that Jesus is making is that what got the man his three loaves was that he had the audacity to ask.

It's like I told my kids when they were growing up: "Never be afraid to ask for what you want. If you don't ask, the answer is automatically 'No.' If you ever want to hear 'Yes,' you have to ask."

In verse 8 Jesus says the fellow got his bread "...because of his impudence...". This comment gives pompous theologians fits. In Greek, it's "anaideia", and it literally means "without shame." The reason theologians don't like that is that the word was used in lots of ancient Greek writing and it was never considered a virtue in any of them. On the contrary, shamelessness was characteristic of bad people. So the pompous theologians say that the parable is about how gracious God is being to supply our needs, while we're scumbags who really have no right to ask.

Jesus is saying precisely the opposite of this. Let the theologians hate it as much as they like; Jesus is saying that that sort of impudence is the right attitude when approaching God. Jesus is saying "Have the stones to ask God for what you really want, and don't be shy about it." Because, in fact, if you don't ask, you'll never receive.

Here's how Jesus sums up the matter:

"If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." John 15:7

He's taking it for granted that you're one of His disciples; but if you are, ask for Whatever. You. Wish. Don't make excuses for Him. He goes on to say how much it pleases God when we bear fruit. What He means is that when we get stuff done for the Kingdom of God by asking, that's a good thing.

We're in the middle of a process in which God is gradually bringing His kingdom to earth through His Church. Some parts of the Kingdom are future. Some are already here. And it turns out that which parts remain in the future and which parts arrive here and now is largely up to us. It depends on what we have the impudence, the khutzpah, to ask for. If we pursue some good thing in prayer, God will bring it to pass. All it takes is the courage to ask and the patience to see it through.

So practice asking boldly, and I'll be back in a couple of weeks to talk about why it often seems to us as though our prayers are being ignored.

 

Phil Weingart

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