July 24, 2022
There was an article I read recently that talked about how we are formed to make requests—to ask people for something. The author said that there are “askers” and “guessers.” “Askers” are the kind of people who are very comfortable asking for things—like requesting a pay raise from a boss, or asking for a friend to help them pack boxes for a big move, or a volunteer coordinator asking individuals to help out with things. Then the other type, the “guessers,” are people who are very selective about asking for things—they will wait until they’re basically certain the answer will be “yes” before they even ask.
But it’s not just the way we make requests. It’s also the way we expect others to form their requests. Askers expect others to be like them, and ask for things when they need or want them. Askers are comfortable saying “no” because they themselves are comfortable with receiving a “no.” Guessers, on the other hand, don’t like to have to say “no,” and may even resent someone who asks them for something they think it’s obvious they won’t agree to. Obviously, like everything else, no one is 100% one or the other, but it’s a great way of understanding how and why people do what they do. It’s this crazy way of understanding how people interact that I find endlessly fascinating.
And it makes me wonder how it is reflected in our prayer lives. Whether it was explicitly taught or not, I always had this feeling that I needed to be humble with my requests to God. Don’t ask for too much. Don’t reach too high, because doing that would make me seem self-centered and self-important when God wants me to be humble and selfless. Prayers needed to be realistic and filled with a heavy dose of recognizing how great God is and how small I am. Does that sound familiar to y’all?
And yet…does keeping our requests from God humble, and small, and manageable, make God out to be small and humble and manageable too? When Jesus instructed his disciples on how to pray in our gospel reading this morning, he didn’t seem all that concerned with keeping those prayers small and polite. He actually seemed to suggest our prayers should be the opposite of that!
Think about what we say when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, after all. We’re asking God to make God’s name holy in the earth—to make our lives reflections of God’s own holiness and goodness, to radically transform us so that others will see God’s goodness in us. And we’re asking God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven—to make this world literally as complete and good and just and loving as heaven, along with all the massive transformation and upheaval that would require. We’re asking God to provide everything for us—our daily bread—and nothing less than that. We’re even asking God to forgive our sins, to erase the memory of the wrongs we’ve done, and free us to forgive others. Far from being a humble little prayer, the Lord’s Prayer is a laundry list of bold, massive requests for God to act in huge, earth-shaking ways. But if that wasn’t enough, Jesus instructed his disciples about the way they were called to pray.
Be persistent! Like a neighbor who won’t stop banging on their neighbor’s door—a neighbor who has already gone to bed—to get bread to share with another friend who’s arrived at their house, Jesus instructed his disciples to keep at it. Don’t stop praying. Don’t stop asking. If you get a “no,” just keep at it. Where we’ve been told year after year to piously accept God’s answer with a “thy will and not my will be done,” Jesus is apparently pushing us to be like annoying neighbors who won’t give up asking until we get what we need from God! That’s quite a change of attitude, don’t you think?
But maybe we’re stuck in that fear about how God will react if we ask God too much, too persistently, presume too much that God will eventually cave and give us the thing we’re asking for, Jesus adds another illustration. A parent doesn’t respond to a child asking for an egg by giving them a scorpion. In the same way, God doesn’t respond to our prayers for good things by giving us bad things. God doesn’t punish us for being persistent in asking. God doesn’t lose patience and snap back at our request with some kind of disaster or catastrophe. God, Jesus tells us, loves us more than our parents, and if our parents won’t hurt us for asking, then how much truer is that about God.
So be bold in your prayers! Jesus basically insisted that we be that way. Know that when you pray, no request is too big for God. God doesn’t want you to shrink down your hopes, your fears, your wants, or your holy longings. God wants you to embrace the bigness, the grandness, the massive scope of who God is and have that in mind when you pray. This is the God who created the heavens and the earth. This is the God who rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. This is the God who restored the lost and formed a people just so the world could see God’s goodness. This is the God who walked willingly into the clutches of death for our sake and came out the other side. When you pray, remember who you’re praying to!
But also, when you are being so bold in your prayers, be prepared for God to answer them. Be prepared for the earth-shaking response of the Almighty—and be prepared that you might just be how God is answering someone else’s bold prayer. Because God is a mighty God, and God is prepared to answer prayer, whether we recognize what we’re getting into or not. God may just respond to our requests with the kind of vast graciousness that miracles are made of—the request for bread being turned into a community bakery for the poor; the request for an egg being turned into a chicken co-op that gives every kid breakfast; the request for forgiveness being turned into the deep and whole healing we’ve all been longing for.
God does big things, so ask for big things. Let your prayer constantly remind you that God is a God who does big things. Be persistent in asking for big things. Be overflowing with confidence in God when praying for your neighbor, when praying for healing, when praying for forgiveness, when praying for your needs. Never shy away from holding God to the standard of being as gracious, loving, powerful, and rich in mercy as we know that God is. Because being bold in prayer is precisely what Jesus instructed us to do when he taught us how to pray.
Thanks be to God. Amen.