Ask, Seek, Knock
Following the tragedy that took place last Sunday in Las Vegas, President Trump addressed the nation. After pledging the full support of the FBI and the Department of Homeland security in the investigation to follow. After praising the local police and other first responders who raced towards the gunfire to protect and to save as many as possible, he turned his attention towards those who had been wounded or killed. He spoke to their families. He said:
“Hundreds of our fellow citizens are now mourning the sudden loss of a loved one. A parent, a child, a brother or sister. We cannot fathom their pain, we cannot imagine their loss. To the families of the victims, we are praying for you and we are here for you, and we ask God to help see you through his very dark period. Scripture teaches us the Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit. We seek comfort in those words, for we know that God lives in the hearts of those who grief.
To the wounded who are now recovering in hospitals, we are praying for our full and speedy recovery, and pledge to you our support from this day forward.”
This call to prayer was repeated by many others in government service. To date I’ve heard no one cite separation of Church and state. I’ve heard no one criticize President Trump or any of these other elected officials for turning to God in this tragic time.
I think even those who do not believe understand that prayer is not something that can really be required or restricted. It just happens. It is a spontaneous response to a world filled with beauty and wonder and to a life filled with obstacles and grief. We pray because something wonderful surrounds us and we feel thankful. We pray because evil rains down automatic fire on a helpless crowd of innocent people. We pray because we do not know who else to turn to in a time like that.
This morning we’re going to think about that a little more, but first we ought to begin with prayer:
Almighty God, you have created us, called us, chosen us to be your people. We wait now to receive your word of guidance and blessing. Grant unto us ears to hear, eyes to see, and faith to respond to your love and leadership. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.
A Newsweek survey indicated that a majority of Americans, 54% pray every day. 29% pray more than once a day, and 87% say they believe that God answers their prayers at least some of the time.
We all pray, but sometimes we wonder, “Am I doing it right?” “Does God hear?” “Does God answer?” “What should I pray for?”
These are the kinds of questions some of Jesus’ disciples were asking.
“And it came about that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after he had finished, one of his disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
I’m pretty sure that this disciple did know how to pray. From his mother’s knee he would have learned a prayer called the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is one.” He would have learned other prayers from grace before a meal, to prayers of penitence at Yom Kippur, to prayers of thanksgiving for the season of Pentecost. All of Jesus’ disciples would have been schooled in prayer. They could recite them on cue.
Still, when he watched Jesus pray he saw something or heard something that he was lacking in his prayers. His prayers didn’t sound like Jesus. They were not as natural. They did not find the connection with God that Jesus seemed to have. So he asked, “Lord, teach me to pray” – like you pray.
Prayer, like many of the spiritual disciplines are caught as well as taught. When you see someone else doing something well, you hope to learn from them.
Golf courses today are filled with young African American kids, who a few years ago, would never have dreamed of picking up a golf club. But, they are out there now. Why? A phenomenon named Tiger Woods picked up a driver and hit the ball over three hundred yards, and picked up a bunch of trophies in the process. When he talks about how you should hit a golf ball people listen.
When Michael Jordan talks about how to shoot a basketball, people want to play basketball listen. When Yo Yo Ma talks about how to play the cello, people who want to play the cello listen. When Warren Buffet talks about the Stock Market, people who invest in the stock market listen. Why? We listen to those people who really seem to know what they are doing.
So, when Jesus speaks of prayer those who pray listen. Why? Prayer first and foremost reflects relationship, an intimacy with God. Clearly, no one has enjoyed a closer or more intimate relationship with the Father than the Son. What did Jesus say? First, he offers a model, a template to get us started. Today, we refer to this as The Lord’s Prayer.
We all know the prayer. We say it every Sunday. Many of you pray it every day. Because we use it so routinely, we sometimes forget what an unusual prayer it is. It is different from many of the other prayers we’ve been taught.
Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about and see if you can see the difference. I have a copy of The Book of Common Worship, copyright 1946 which was used in the Presbyterian Church in which I was raised. The first prayer in that book begins:
O God, who art infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, glorious in holiness, full of love and compassion, abundant in grace and truth…
That’s the way my pastor began his prayers when I was growing up. That’s the way I thought you were supposed to talk to God. How did Jesus begin? He said, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Do you see the difference? Jesus keeps his prayers simple. He doesn’t use fancy language. He doesn’t believe that we need to butter up God, that God will only hear our prayers if we schmooze him to win him over. God doesn’t need to see us grovel before he will respond. Why? Because Jesus said, God is our heavenly father.
A friend of mine described it this way, “When you were younger and wanted to borrow your Dad’s car, did it really help to flower up the language? Did you even once try to approach your Dad saying, “Oh thou, from whose loins I sprang, bestow upon me I pray the means of propulsion through the roads of life?” What did you say? “Dad, can I have the keys to the car?”
Many times people are uncomfortable praying even in their own families because they are worried about the grammar and syntax, but God is only concerned about the matters of your heart. He cares about those things that weigh you down. “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden,” Jesus said, “And I will give you rest unto your souls.”  God cares about those things that scare you to death. That’s why he says, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, I am the living one. Because I live, you also shall live.” God cares about you when you feel alone and that’s why he says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
In fact, the Bible says, God cares about most of the important things that you care about: daily bread, forgiveness, and strength to face temptations. The Bible says we should bring these concerns to God and that we should do so faithfully.
When Jesus said, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened” he meant that we should do so in an ongoing way. The English translation doesn’t convey what the Greek carries and that is the idea of continually. It does not mean ask and stop. It means ask and keep asking. It does not mean seek and then stop, it means keep seeking. It does not say knock, (knock once). It says keep knocking. (Knock many times.
I think sometimes we treat prayer as a kind of fast food drive through where we shout our orders at through a speaker at someone we can’t see, and then expect that this McPrayer will be instantly answered.
It’s kind of like the bit Gracie Allen did with George Burns on their old radio program.
Gracie became upset because her new electric clock kept losing time, so she called in a repairman. He came and looked at the clock and said there’s nothing wrong with the clock. It’s just not plugged in. She replied, “I know that! I didn’t want to waste electricity so I only plug it in when I want to know what time it is.”
Isn’t that how many of us treat prayer, how many of us treat God? Don’t we just try to plug in God to fill in the gaps when our own efforts have failed? We wouldn’t do that with anyone else. We wouldn’t go up to a stranger on a street and say, “Give me five bucks”. If we ran into an acquaintance we hadn’t see in years, we wouldn’t immediately ask to borrow their car.
But, we do that with God all the time. We ignore him for days or weeks or months or years, and then when something doesn’t go our way or worse something goes against our way, then immediately we turn to the Lord and start shouting requests. That’s why I think the Bible says our prayer should be unceasing, because prayer is as much about who were are as it is about who God is.
It’s like the old preacher’s story about the father who sat down to supper with his family, saying grace, thanking God for the food, for the hands which prepared it, and for the source of all life. But, during the meal he complained about the freshness of the bread, the bitterness of the coffee and the sharpness of the cheese. His young daughter questioned him, “Dad, do you think God heard the grace today?”
He answered, “Of course he did. God hears all of our prayers.”
Then she asked, “Do you think God heard what you said about the coffee, the cheese, and the bread?” Not so confidently he answered, “Why yes, I believe so.”
The little girl concluded, “Then which do you think God believed – the prayer of thanksgiving or the griping about the food?”
We tell our children that “practice makes perfect”, but then shun that spiritual discipline which most connects us with God.
Jesus concludes his lesson by describing the generous nature of God.
“If one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he?
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?”
This is where faith for many has been challenged. They have prayed. They have asked. They have sought. They have knocked. They’ve done it day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. After a while they wonder is God really there? Does God really care?
This is the bottom line of prayer. As much as we pray for and ask for God’s healing, as much as we pray for restoration of a broken relationship or new employment opportunities; as much as we pray for all those things we need in this world – our daily bread; still more do we need God’s Holy Spirit that can provide His “peace that passes all understanding”, God’s Spirit that brings “healing in his wings”, God’s Spirit that leads us to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
That’s where Jesus believes prayer begins and ends. The answer to every prayer is the presence of God’s Spirit who I believe was with those who survived in Las Vegas and those who did not.
There have been so many of these, many may have already forgotten another shooter who took aim at a group of Republicans playing on a baseball field. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was the first one shot and barely survive his wounds. He recently returned to his duties in our Nation’s capital. When asked what he was thinking about when he lay bleeding on second base.
He said he prayed. He said, Prayer gave me a sense of calmness a weird calmness, while I’m hearing the gunfire. You know the first thing that came to mind?” , he said he thought of his daughter. He prayed he’d be able to walk her down the aisle at her wedding.
After thanking the Capitol Hill police, his doctors at MedStar, and his well-wishers in Congress and from around the world, Scalise said his faith in God was strengthened by the experience and the outpouring of love he felt.
“While some people might focus on a tragic event and an evil act, to me, all I remember are the thousands of acts of kindness and love that came out of this.”
It is my hope and my prayer that the victims in Las Vegas will focus not so much upon the tragic event and evil act, as they will upon the thousand acts of kindness and love that come out of this.
So, think about what you’re asking for, what you’re seeking? Don’t be afraid to ask, to seek, and don’t forget to knock. God does hear your prayer. He may not always answer in the way you desire, but he will be with you always.
Our Father, in the presence of a glorious sunset, or when the ceiling crashes down around our heads we pray. We need to know that you are with us always and so we seek your presence. Hear our prayers, O Lord. Amen.
Children’s message: One preacher put it this way. Prayer is the rope you throw to the shore to bring the boat safely home. When you pull on the rope is it the shore that moves or is it the boat?
 Newsweek, March 31, 1997, pg 57.
 Luke 11:1
 Deuteronomy 6:4
 Book of Common Worship, Presbyterian Church USA, 1946, pg 11.
 Barnes, Craig, I’ll Pray For You. April 25, 1999. National Presbyterian Church.
 Matthew 11:28
 Revelation 1:17