Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’
And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give 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!’
In this Sunday’s gospel reading we read the Lord Jesus’ teaching on prayer. At its heart is the belief that when we pray to God we are not approaching a benign but distant monarch who might just condescend to get involved in our lives if we ask nicely enough. When we pray we approach our Father with the confidence in his love, and with the boldness boldness of a true child. We trust that God will give us that which we most need.
This insight helps us understand Jesus teaching about asking God for things. ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you…’ It is possible to read these words in a rather transactional way, as though God were an all powerful transcendent vending machine. Input the correct code and the machine will produce a mars bar or a can of coke. Pray the right prayer and you you will persuade God to get involved in your life.
The trouble with this is that it fails to understand the true inner dynamic of prayer. To reduce prayer to a transaction with the almighty is to diminish its true power. God isn’t absent from our lives until we ask him to get involved. He is maximally involved with our lives all the time. Every nanosecond our lives are held in existence by the gracious outpouring of God’s love and power. Our existence is testimony to the fact that God is not absent until we ask him to get involved. He is with us, providing for us, at every moment.
This helps us understand the way the Lord Jesus concludes his teaching on prayer. He says that our prayers will always be answered will always be answered (and this not to diminish the pain of the countless unanswered prayers which faithful people have poured out over the millenia) by the gift of God’s own presence. Behind every wish, every need, every desire that the human heart can conceive is a deeper desire, the desire for God himself. When we turn to our Father and lay our lives, our needs, our desires before him, we will realise that God has already answered our deepest prayer by giving us himself. ‘If you then… 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!’