Trinity 6: Ask, Seek, Knock


Genesis 18:20-32
Colossians 2:6-15
Luke 11:1-13

School is finally out for summer! Yeah for the teachers, parents and children! However, in church this is very much a teaching season as we look once again at the familiar gospel readings and parables of Jesus.

The set readings have had us spend the last three weeks in Luke 10; it started with Jesus sending out the 70 ahead of him to find labourers for the harvest. Next, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan and challenges us on who is actually our neighbour and how loving we truly are. Luke 10 ends with the story of Martha and Mary, the great lesson in the balancing of work and activity with the need to sit and listen at Jesus’ feet. These stories give examples of the activity and associated instructions needed to spread the kingdom and show the love of God.

The start of Luke 11 takes us deeper into spending time with God; as it starts with Jesus at prayer. There is obviously a quality about this prayer that attracts the disciples and makes them want to learn. They would have seen Jesus pray many times before. One of the disciples is brave enough to ask Jesus to teach them how to pray.

Jesus’ gracious response is to teach them a prayer which we should recognize as the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus teaches the disciples to talk to God and to bring the whole mess and muddle of our lives, the mundane, the exciting, the big and small, to God.

That is what prayer, at its heart, is: talking to God. Talking. Not begging, pleading, negotiating, bargaining, hiding, pretending all is well when it is not. We have been shown work and activity, sitting and listening, and now we have a guide for talking to God.

Who taught or told you to pray? I remember as little girls, my sister and I being taught to pray by our Nana and our parents. The first prayer that we learned was the classic 18th century children’s prayer – ‘Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep’.

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take
If in the morning light I wake
Lay down my feet
That I my take the path of love
for thy dear sake

God Bless Mommy, Daddy, Susie, Jenny, etc.
And it always ended with ‘God bless all the little children in the world. Amen.’

I realise that this is a combination of the many versions (thanks to Google) but this is the one that I know. Recently my younger sister admitted that this is still her ‘default prayer’. She taught it to her three children and she still prays it on a regular basis before she goes to bed. She also prays it before she walks into the courtroom in her job as a lawyer.

For many of us, the Lord’s Prayer might be our default prayer. Much like ‘Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep’, the wording can be different and we can use it at different times. My version of the Lord’s Prayer is said with ‘thy’ and ‘thine’ and ‘trespasses’ not sins. Again, family influence comes into play: my Mom’s upbringing on the old Anglican Book of Common Prayer and my Dad’s love of the King James’ Bible.

However, it is really not about the words we use. The language of the Lord’s Prayer is simple and intimate; it affirms the fatherhood of God; we are cared for as his children; we are reminded that God is holy and we must reflect this in our words and worship; and it ends with addressing our physical, spiritual and safety needs. The simplicity of the wording makes it easy to slide in our own needs and requests as there is a space for every plea, cry and desire; without need of particularly eloquent language.

It is talking to God and bringing our concerns, which I may remind you, He already fully knows about. You are not fooling Him by withholding! I often think that God uses our prayers to bring needs and issues to our attention.

The second point I would like to briefly make is around persistence in prayer. I have always found the ‘Parable of the Friend at Night’ in verses 5-8 a bit annoying. Just get up and give him a loaf of bread. Jesus uses this story of the irritating friend to get the disciples to see prayer as something basic, day-to-day. Prayer does not need to be carefully sanitised. Nor do we have to worry about bringing to God only what we think he will accept. Back to: God already knows.

Prayer can come with a great sense of frustration. Has this been true in my own prayer life and in the situations that have required persistence? There is always ‘work in the wait’ and a sweetness to both the prayers that have been answered through persistence and those that still await an answer. As uncomfortable as it may be – we are to persist.

Jesus is encouraging the disciples to bombard God with requests, tell him everything, talk constantly to him, involve him in every part of life. We are not to limit God and prayer to Sunday mornings in a particular pew with particular words. The more we bother God, the more we learn about him and the more we learn about ourselves in relation to God.

Why do we need to bother God?

In verse 9, ‘so I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.’

These verses are not about the prayers we pray for the stuff, the answers, the problems that we want God to respond to. Many people feel misled by God when they read these verses and then ask God to heal their loved one dying of _____ (and nothing short of that), or for a million dollars or a million other things.

When these prayers are not answered in the way that is expected, it is all God’s fault. They then give up on God or turn away from faith as they have created a vision of God as a genie in the sky waiting to grant wishes. Their view of God is fundamentally flawed.

The asking, seeking, knocking that Jesus is talking about is in relation to pursuing God, talking to God, learning more about God and who we are in relation to Him. It is about seeking God’s will and not solely our convenience.

Ask for God to come into your life and He will be given to you.
Search for God and you will find Him.
Knock on the door of heaven and it will be opened for you.

Paul, in Colossians, is imploring that young community to live their lives in Christ. Stay rooted and grounded to be built up and get established. We all have needs, wants, struggles and desires, both secretly and publicly, in all areas of our lives that we (I hope) would want God to be our ever present help in trouble.

Paul goes on to warn them of all the empty deceit happening around them. That hasn’t changed! There is so much deceit and empty philosophy in the world today and it is so attractive. Ultimately it will fail. Jesus is the only one who will ever fill us. We can be alive together with him.

Finally, Luke reminds us that our Father in heaven will give us good gifts, more than we can ask or imagine. It is all for the asking.

How is your prayer life at the moment? Do you?
How is it going? Need a change or boost?

If not – why not?

Do you want to do anything about it?
Maybe you need to want to want to do something about it!

Talk to God. It is not eloquent or fancy, not just an activity for Sunday.

I am going to leave some space for a few minutes to do just that. You are not bound to your seats – get up. For some people sitting on a hard pew is not conducive to prayers. Light a candle at the back. Kneel if you’ve got the knees for it.

Easter 7: Unity & Prayer

As the congregations move back to worshipping in the 6 churches across the Hambleden Valley from next week we need to stay united to Jesus and to each other.

St Matthias, the apostle who replaced Judas Iscariot. The apostles began their search for a replacement with prayer, asking God to search their hearts. A lesson for us all.

Easter 7

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19

How are the fruit bearers doing this week? I loved Sue’s sense of urgency at the end of her sermon last week. There are just some things that cannot wait. Over the past two Sundays we have explored Jesus’ teaching in John 15 about abiding, pruning and being fruit-bearers. The take away messages (I hope!) were about being rooted in Jesus. This is where our love and hope is found.

The message of this morning is unity; being not only unified with Jesus, but also with each other. This is poignant today as many of us will be returning to worshipping in our church buildings from next Sunday. Zoom has unified people from across the Hambleden Valley over the past year in new and unexpected ways. This isn’t going to end of Zoom but it will be different as the mix of people we see on here will likely change.

Yet we will still need to be unified. We need to remember and remain rooted in Jesus and to each other. It may be tempting to flop back into our tribes and carry on as we scrabble for something that looks like the normal we once knew. But it would be unfortunate to lose what has been gained. I know there is a desire to ‘go back to the way things were’ – but friends we are not. Nothing in the world is. This is not all bad!

We have the opportunity through the Rural Review to look at how each church operates, how we operate as a larger benefice and where we sit within the Deanery. I sense a fresh energy in what might be possible going forward: new ideas for family services, lay-led services, a real determination to invite our villages into the church to see for themselves. Many people have been hurt, damaged over this past year by the consequences of lockdown; our families, friends and neighbours. Surely we want to bring them to a place where they can find love and hope again, find unity with Jesus that lasts for an eternity.

Where do we start?


What do you think you are doing when you pray?

I am making some assumptions here that I assume are right. Firstly is that you do – in fact – pray. Secondly that you think about prayer and praying. This is an important question to ask ourselves this morning.

Back to my original question: What do you think you are doing when you pray?

Are we telling God what to do?

Giving him information about a situation, a person or ourselves – information that he already knows and then offering suggestions on what the Almighty might like to do about it?

Are we presenting a laundry list of ills and complaints?

Are we praising and thanking?

Are we pleading and begging?

In the Acts and Gospel readings this morning we see examples of how the Apostles prayed in the early church and how Jesus prayed just before his death.

The Apostles (this is the new name of the Disciples – same people, different name) are getting on with the business of church. There is a vacancy to be filled; Barsabbas and Matthias are the proposed candidates. The Apostles begin the process with prayer and with a rather interesting opening line ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen.’ Notice that the Apostles don’t jump in with their requests or demands. They start by acknowledging God’s knowing.

God knows everyone’s heart. Every thought, the deepest secrets and hurts, the highest highs and joys, He knows every crack and break. God knows before we even utter a word from our mouths what the condition of our hearts are. There is no fooling him! As they were acknowledging that God knew their hearts and then they asked him to ‘show’ them which of the two should be chosen and God does. Matthias is chosen to take up the apostleship.

Do you expect an answer? Clearly the Apostles did; and they got one. I am not sure that I could pray with no expectation that God is going to do something. I have to be willing to wait and trust. Wait to see what the answer is and not rush off in the fear that I won’t get what I want or worse – no answer at all. I also have to trust that even if I don’t see a clear answer (ie: voice from heaven, message written in the clouds) that God has heard my prayer and will do as He sees fit. Even if – even if – I don’t get the answer that I want.

What do we learn about prayer here: God knows the condition of your heart, acknowledge this before you start, present your request, wait in trust for an answer.

The second example of prayer comes from Jesus himself. It might be helpful to keep in mind that this event was one of the last earthly things Jesus did before his crucifixion. He prayed. He prayed for his friends and he prayed for all of us.

He prayed out loud in front of his disciples; for his disciples. If I asked for someone to pray out loud, right now, at this moment in the service, how would you feel? Would you do it? Without a script, just off the cuff.

Fortunately Jesus is not awkward! Jesus prays for some very specific things for the disciples with the underlying message of unity in God and Jesus. We are all bound together in love.

Helpfully, if we find ourselves stuck on what to pray for, Jesus also gives us some ideas. In verse 12 he talks about protection. Jesus asks God to protect the disciples with the same power that God has already given to Jesus. This is what ‘in your name’ means. Jesus protected the disciples in his own name; he guarded them while he was with them. Jesus has been utterly faithful to the task assigned to him: to keep and protect those God has given to him.

This is an important thing to do for those given to our care – pray for God’s protection on them. Not only from physical dangers, illness and all the other bad things that can happen. But they will stay under the spiritual protection of God that comes from staying close to Jesus.

The next thing that Jesus prays for is joy; this means rejoicing, celebrating, enjoyment, bliss. I remember going out for dinner with friends at a highly recommended restaurant in London a few years ago (can’t remember the name). The starters were fantastic, the wine list was fantastic, the main courses were all beautiful and the puddings were hugely disappointing!

My joy was so nearly complete but then disappointment resulted. I appreciate that this is a trivial example – but the point is that so often our joy in a worldly sense is never quite complete. It is only in Jesus that our joy will ever be complete. It is only the love of God that brings us joy, brings us salvation.

Thirdly, Jesus prayed that the disciples would know the truth and be sanctified by it. Sanctify here means to be set apart for God and God’s purposes alone. It does not mean that someone is better than anyone else, but they are different. Jesus is praying that the disciples will be set apart to do only what God wants them to do. Jesus was sanctified, set apart by God to fulfil his purposes.
For us, we can pray that our people will know the truth of God and go into the world to live and share it.
Of course there are many more ways and things to pray about for those we are called to pray for. I think that protection, joy and truth are very good places to start.

As we go from here today my prayer is that we will remain unified as a Benefice; loving and supporting our friends and neighbours in old and new ways. Old dogs can learn new tricks – it just takes longer!
Like the Apostles we start in a place of praise and acknowledging who God is and that He knows the condition of our hearts. We also need time and preparation for the answer even if it seems hard. God is faithful!
Jesus sets an example of how and what to pray as He prayed for his disciples right before his death. He prayed for protection, joy and truth.
Leave some space for you to think about the people who know and love who could use protection, joy and truth today.