“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
Luke 11 continues to surprise me. How much more? Some more? A bit more? A lot more? This is one of those passages that I’ve always passed over pretty quickly – “yes, I know, earthly parents give good gifts, God gives better ones, right?”
Well, yes. But the answer is so, so much richer when we consider who is the giver of more.
Through the faithful teaching of the word, our church is being led to really consider what Jesus was longing to communicate to his disciples when they asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” It’s been a slow, but considerate approach and one that has unearthed treasures I didn’t really know were there.
You can almost feel the ache as Jesus asks his followers to pray believing that God wants to answer their prayers. “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.” And then he tells them why – because “everyone who asks, receives; he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened.”
But if I’m honest, I don’t genuinely believe that – or at least sometimes I don’t really believe it applies to me. I don’t pray believing that God will answer my prayers. I pray believing that if I happen to figure out what God wants me to pray for, and it also happens to coincide with His sovereign will, then maybe, sometimes, I’ll see the answer to my prayers.
At best what I really believe is that God will change my mind about my prayers or that I’ll get some better information later that makes me know the right way to pray. But at worst I’m tempted to believe sometimes that there’s some secret cosmic joke he’s playing at my expense – or if I’m a little less self-absorbed, at the expense of mankind.
But I don’t normally have the guts to say that sort of thing out loud. First of all I know it isn’t true, and secondly, I’m pretty sure that the other Christians in my life don’t think it’s true either, and I don’t want them to think badly of me.
But if I’m honest, really honest, my prayer life uncovers the sham and shows that in the darkest parts of my heart, I don’t really believe I am heard by a loving Father who wants to give, find and open anything of value to me. As our pastor said it yesterday, “We’ve done the sub-conscious cost-benefit analysis and in light of what prayer has done for me in the past – it’s not really worth it.”
What a truth that ought to be a lie! Is that really what I believe?
Like the neighbor who pounded on the door after everyone has gone to bed, knowing that if he pounded long enough his neighbor would respond to his need, we need to know that in our perpetual state of desperate need God will always answer our prayers.
Like you, though, there have been many times in my life when I have begged the Lord to intercede on my behalf yet he remained silent and seemingly uninvolved. What are we to make of this? What of the many times when we ask, seek, and knock and find nothing to show for it?
This shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did – Jesus know exactly what this is like, for he had prayers that went “unanswered” as well.
In the garden of Gethsemane, on the night before he died, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” And then again, when he was crucified but not yet dead, he cried, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”
The “answer” to both of those prayers was silence. Yet the answer to both of those prayers was profound intervention. Was God unkind or malicious or disinterested when he remained silent and did not change the circumstances for Christ? NO! He was kind and gracious and actively engaged through his silence and the work that He was accomplishing through Christ.
Sometimes the most loving thing God can do for us is to remain silent. We learn to wait. We learn to trust. We learn to bear burdens and ask in our need for our faith to be increased. We learn to see God at work in ways that we hadn’t realized before. We learn that God is faithful, and true, and slow to anger. We learn that he loves us.
And if we’re teachable, we learn that when we, like Christ can say, “yet not my will, but yours be done,” we will wait and see what good gifts await.
Jesus asked, which one of you fathers will give your son a snake if he asks for a fish? Or which one of you, when your son asks for an egg will give him a scorpion instead?
Why do I listen and believe that God is not for me? Why do I entertain lies that convince me that God is just toying with me?
“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” What will it take for me to believe that God will only give good gifts when I ask?
How many times has my unbelieving heart missed the good things that God is giving to me because I am looking for bad things that he has lovingly withheld?
I cannot allow this to undermine my confidence in God’s faithfulness. I cannot allow this to convince me to quit asking, seeking, and knocking.
How much more? Well, he’s already answered that one: Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)