“Ask and it will be given you…”
I had this moment a few months back when I found myself praying for an actual miracle.
Now this is not my usual way of praying, not even a little bit.
I am more inclined to simply sit quietly. To lift up the needs without directly suggesting the outcome, no matter how deeply that outcome might be yearned for. When called upon to pray aloud whether it is at a public celebration or in the quiet of a hospital room, I am inclined to offer words of thanksgiving, or words of joy, or if appropriate to ask for strength or peace or patience. Seldom do I ask for a specific outcome, particularly when it is evident that the heart’s desire of the one or ones asking for prayer is not likely to happen.
Indeed, some years ago now, I got called to the hospital to be with a family.
Their loved one was in ICU. She had overdosed and she was young, too young, and those gathered were heartbroken.
By the time I arrived there was no brain activity and the nurses on staff were having a terrible time convincing at least part of the family that there was now no turning back, that hard decisions had to be made.
I can recall spending time with part of the family in the waiting room, listening to their pain, their struggle. I remember stepping to the bedside and offering prayer. I know I prayed for strength and for peace. I did not pray for a miracle, at least not the sort some of those gathered wanted. As soon as I ended, one in the group as much as said that my prayer was worthless and mostly politely asked me to leave as they would be getting someone else.
And perhaps it was.
I did leave. And being just a volunteer chaplain on call, I have no idea what happened next, although I have always wondered how they reconciled their own experience of this loss with their trust and hope in God who has promised to answer prayer.
And yet with all of this, I do know more fully now what prompted their desire to pray that the inevitable be altered.
- In the piece of the journey I have been on, I had heard the diagnosis along with the seriousness of the doctor’s tone.
- I had listened to my friend’s growing certainty that the cancer was more widespread than she wanted to believe.
- I saw how her physical being was deteriorating quickly, although I could not have imagined that it would be a mere five weeks between when she heard the certain news of the disease and her decision to end treatment almost before it started, so quickly did her body succumb to the illness.
I knew all of this.
I had witnessed it up close.
And still. In the middle of that time I found myself praying for a miracle. The sort you hear about from time to time where the tumor just disappears and those most affected by its threatening appearance can just go back to their lives as they knew them before. Changed, certainly. More deeply aware in so many ways. But at least without an imminent death sentence which threatens everything you have known.
And oh, I do not know that even as I spoke the prayer that I fully expected my asking would be answered in the way my deepest hopes wanted that prayer to be answered.
- But there was at least a moment there when I fully lived in the truth and the possibility that God was and is bigger than all of this.
- More powerful than those forces which threaten death.
- And there was this: for a moment there, I was filled with such a deep sensation of peace and hope, that I was not and am not sorry that I asked. Even though my asking was not answered as my perhaps most far fetched hopes desired.
And so it is that at the request of his disciples, today we have Jesus teaching about prayer.
In Luke’s telling, he starts with the familiar cadences of the Lord’s Prayer — though not precisely as we recite these by-heart-known words, even so they resound within us as our own.
- And then he goes on to emphasize the importance of being persistent in prayer.
- And from there we hear that we only have need to ask, to search, to knock.
- Finally, Jesus speaks of the goodness of God who will always only give good gifts to those who are so beloved.
And yet, we all hold the lived experience that asking will not necessarily, automatically give us that for which we ask. Even so, even with our disappointment in this, surely we also know this, don’t we?
- We know that sometimes we do not know what we are asking for, even as we speak the words. Sometimes it is so that time and space give us the wisdom to recognize the truth of this.
- We know that we do not always hold the big picture which would delineate all the consequences, intended or not, of a positive answer to our asking.
- We know, we have known again and again, that God does not always give us what we think we want. But in the end, we will be given what matters most.
- And we know, and we are taught again and again, that the praying we are invited, encouraged, taught to do, is really first and last about the relationship with the One to whom we pray. The One whom we ask.
Oh, I do not remember the last time I prayed for the sort of miracle I did a few months back. And while I had only the tiniest measure of hope that it would be answered in the way I wanted it to be answered and while I surely did not receive the ‘miracle’ which I somehow dared to articulate in the presence of God, I was not then and am not now sorry for having asked. For in the asking, in the speaking aloud of what I wanted most, somehow I realized that my heart was open and it was opened even more than it was before in and to the power and the gift of the One who holds us all, in that moment then and in all the moments yet to come.
- And so I wonder how you and I will find ourselves reflecting upon these words among people who too much of the time understand prayer as a shopping list of requests to put before God. How is it that we ponder the meaning of “Ask and it shall be given to you” in light of this, whether such prayer as experienced by those gathered is answered as hoped for or not?
- Indeed, is there any way to do this without going deep into our own journey, our own lived experience of prayer, our own hopes, or yes, our own sometime heartbreaks?
- How is it that we take Jesus’ teaching now and offer it as a reflection of our whole relationship with God in all of God’s fullness and all of our own? How will that preach where you are?