It sounds too simple.
Ask, and it will be given you, search, and you will find, knock, and the door will be opened for you.
As a smart, blunt colleague commented, “it’s just not true.”
There are too many times that asking does not lead to receiving, too many searches that do not end in finding, too many empty echoes in the school of hard knocks.
Sodom got wiped out; even Abraham, friend of God and historic haggler, didn’t get what he
Is Jesus just blowing sunshine?
That explanation sounds too simple, too.
There are also times when it is true, when what has been asked in prayer has been given, sometimes miraculously.
I’ve heard too many stories about people lifted in prayer being thoroughly and otherwise inexplicably healed.
I’ve also heard too many stories about how others lifted in prayer got no better, or worse, and a lot of them died, so it didn’t work.
But maybe that’s too simple too.
Maybe death is also a form of healing, and that when God hears it requested, physical health isn’t the only option in God’s mind.
Or could such thinking simply be a preacher’s dodge, trying to explain away an embarrassing
inconsistency of a fickle or erratic God?
Jesus makes it sound too simple.
Maybe that’s intentional.
Jesus was originally asked for a lesson in prayer by his rather unimpressive class, that dust cloud of rejected rabbinical students and redneck rabble around him we call the disciples.
There were certainly not the urbane, cultured sophisticates we fancy ourselves to be; their
industry jobs weren’t worth keeping when a wandering teacher invited them to join him
on his gypsy adventure chasing the so-called kingdom of God.
Or maybe that line of thinking is just a modern disciple’s dodge, a futile attempt to get ourselves off the hook for daring to pray so straightforwardly, so simply ourselves.
The very first word of Jesus’ prayer puts us at once in an uncomfortable position.
Translated Father, the word is Abba, one of the precious handful of Aramaic words we
still have from Jesus, a sweet word that a toddler still in diapers would use for her daddy.
From the very outset of his lesson, Jesus positions his praying disciples, now as much as then, not as discerning consumers but as dependent children calling upon their parent.
For all of Saint Paul’s inflated rhetoric about growing up into full maturity in Christ and putting an end to childish ways—wise words that we need to hear and certainly to heed in our relationships with one another—Jesus instructs us to approach God like a preschooler comes to Mommy.
Can we pray with such innocence and wonder and unfiltered honesty, such directness and lack of self-consciousness?
Can we pray with such trust in God’s providing love, and comfortable in the limits of our own
power and understanding?
Can we waddle around in the great mystery wearing no pants, blissful in our oblivion and secure in our status as the apple of God’s eye?
Or are we too jaded, too grown up, or too accustomed to expecting exactly what we order up, whether it is from Starbucks or Santa Claus or the website or the overworked servant we
badger to bring us another precisely mixed cocktail?
A child who asks for an egg and gets a scorpion can complain to the manager but can not send it back; you get whatever your parents set in front of you, and there’s no guarantee that either extra sweetness or a tantrum will work, though maybe it will, so why not try?
Is that what prayer is?
That sounds too simple too, even if there is often more truth to that than we might like to acknowledge.
There are in Jesus’ example prayer a couple of other correctives as well.
The first ask is not for ourselves, or for our neighbors, but for God—whatever hallowed be your name and your kingdom come mean, they have nothing to do with our immediate agenda and everything to do with with protection and wellbeing and success of God.
When Jesus does get around to us, it is only with daily bread, not steak and potatoes or a full
Costco run for a secure future … and it is for us, not for me.
Not only are we positioned in prayer as children, we are also siblings, and our prayer is shared, for others as much as for ourselves.
In case we miss this communal orientation, the next clause has to do with how we ask God to
treat us the way we treat each other—you know, graciously, forgiving! Yeah…
While we are still stuck trying to swallow that, Jesus presses ahead to something about avoiding going to trial and suddenly he’s done, presumably because the memory and attention span of a toddler can’t handle any more of this talking.
Or maybe that explanation is too simple—maybe less really is more.
Maybe prayer is not so much about getting what we want out of God as it is about getting ourselves right, positioning ourselves properly as humble and hopeful and connected, to God and to one another.
When we ask for a fish or an egg or daily bread, there is no promise from Jesus that we will get exactly what we ask for, steamed with butter or over easy or lightly toasted.
Instead the promise is, how much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
I didn’t ask for a Holy Spirit, did you?
And what is this Holy Spirit anyway?
The Holy Spirit is the power and presence of God with us.
It is kingdom come, the yes to our prayer.
It is the one, Paul writes, who helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words because we do not know how to pray as we ought despite Jesus’ best efforts to teach us.
The Holy Spirit is the engine of forgiveness and the breath of the voice that keeps us together and calls us home and reminds us that God is listening carefully to whatever is on our minds and in our hearts.
That doesn’t mean we will get what we ask for, or that we won’t.
As even a small child can tell you, it’s never that simple with a loving parent.
God knows plenty that we don’t, and why we do or don’t get exactly what we ask for will
probably always be beyond our capacity to understand fully.
But it does mean that God is paying attention, because we are God’s children, and God adores us all, which can’t be easy, but yes, it really is that simple.