Saturday, February 12, 2011

God's gift through prayer

He was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples."

And he said to them, "When you pray, say:"

"Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread;
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us;
and lead us not into temptation."

And he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within, `Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything'? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs.

And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him 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!"

 – Luke 11:1-13
I had read this passage before and was not able to make sense of it. It begins with the disciples of Jesus asking for instruction in prayer and Jesus responding with the Our Father. The version is slightly different from the one in Matthew, but essentially the same.

But then there is a rather odd parable about asking a friend for bread in the middle of the night. At first the friend refuses, but finally he relinquishes and gets up from his bed and offers the bread that is requested of him.

As I was contemplating this passage this morning I had an insight into its meaning. The parable is speaking of a man praying to God and at first God does not respond. But the man continues praying (he is importune) and after a time God does respond.

This fits a pattern of how Jesus Himself usually responds to those who ask Him for a miracle. At first He does not respond to the request, as if to test the faith of the person. But once there is a true show of faith that is when Jesus offers His help. And at the same time He is very clear in recognizing and holding up as an example the depth of faith of that person.

He seems to be saying through this parable that we must be persistent in prayer. We should not expect God to answer us on the first or second try. But he also promises that if we continue to ask and are sincere in our faith, then an answer will be given.

The gift that we should expect will come in the form of bread, but not physical bread – this  refers to spiritual nourishment. It is our souls that are hungry for nourishment and God will not leave us to starve. Jesus promises us that our souls will be provided spiritual food even in the darkest night, if we only ask for it.

To further emphasize this point, in John 6:35 Jesus says: "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst."

If we have faith; if we are ready to follow him without conditions, then he will receive us and take care of our every need.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.  He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him."
 – John 6:53-56

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