Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door 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.
Or what one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?
If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father in the Spiritual Realm give good things to those who ask him?
There is a great deal to be said about this; but this time I want to revert to the way we used to handle passages on this (kwakerskripturestudy.blogspot.com ) site: Somebody posts the passage; then people respond with comments.
What is so problematic about this utterly simple and cogent passage? -- Why do the seemingly obvious conclusions people are likely to draw go off track and make most of us wrongly dismiss what Jesus is saying here?
And how, in practice, should we understand this?
It's part of the Sermon on the Mount, the sermon Jesus gave regularly as an itinerant preacher when he wasn't talking in parables or healing the sick and raising the dead. It wasn't part of a pick and choose buffet. Prayer comes from the heart. A heart that's right with God will have it's prayers heard. Of course a lot of what we ask for isn't good for us and just as our folks wouldn't give us the keys to the car or a gun when we weren't responsible enough to handle them, so to God doesn't give us the keys to things we aren't responsible enough for. Looking at all the irresponsibility we have shown we might ask why we get anything we ask for. I guess the answer to that is two-fold: sometimes the best thing for us is to learn from our own mistakes and maybe God isn't the one answering our prayers.:)
If God 'isn't the one,' wouldn't that 'other' one be God's partner, God's accomplice in playing 'Good Teacher, Bad Teacher' with us?
Part of this passage, of course, is that it isn't talking about a legal contract; it's describing a relationship between people who love each other. If love between them has been disrupted, as happens in many families -- and may still be the norm among God's children -- then getting all the goodies a kid wants won't make him happy, and that isn't what he'd most want, if he knew (and dared) to ask. (Maybe getting some clarity on what you want is part of why we're told to ask, not merely expect? -- although my wife Anne has a few really good stories of unexpectedly getting exactly what she'd needed!)
"All we need [really] is love," just like the song says. But love is a spiritual reality, beyond all the mental and physical and emotional criteria the word 'love' also implies.
Yes, this is part of the 'Sermon on the Mount,' and Jesus here is still talking about how to belong to God's true Israel and live under the Divine Regime. 'Ask for the Kingdom, and God's Shalom, and everything else will follow.' So it's interesting that the first requests that occur to [probably] everybody are minor personal favors. We should, of course, feel free to ask! (I have friends who still feel it would be wrong of them to pray for anything they personally want, which suggests something of a chronic lack of self-worth! If not just lack of faith...)
'Love' is such an odd 'thing,' isn't it? Is it harder to love our inadequate neighbors? -- or to love our inadequate self?
You could spend a lot of time reflecting on "love is a spiritual reality". I just did. I pray everyone that reads your comment does so also.
It is easy to lose track of what love really means. We live in a highly egocentric world in which it is quite common to place our own sense of entitlement (you're worth it! you've earned it! you deserve it!) above love for others. We love others as long as they fit into our narrative of ourselves as successful, intelligent, sensitive people (different cultures would substitute different adjectives: cool, tough, sexy, honorable, etc.), and when they no longer serve that validating purpose, we lose interest. I'm no more above this than anyone else, except by God's grace. But it is worth revisiting - and revisiting and revisiting - what we are talking about when we talk about love.
I have also run across people who believe that petitionary prayer is un-Quakerly. I think that stems sometimes from too high a feeling of self-worth. ("Asking" prayer is for the little people who haven't discovered that true holiness is basking in the presence.) But I'm sure the reasons for failing to follow Jesus' very simple advice are different for different people.
Adria. For many of us a conscious anchored in and a conscience informed by the immediacy of Presence itself is the act of asking and is being that is holy; and by the power and grace of that inward Presence, people transcend the outward carnal ego and experience life that is worthy.
Moralism is 'sin.'
We do want to be better, to 'deserve' love more than we do... but the fact is, when we're thinking of ourselves as if we were isolated beings, more or less 'worthy' than anybody else, we're lost.
When we let go of that stuff -- about whether we or anyone around us are 'successful, intelligent, etc etc -- then God can act through us; and then we find ourselves and the world around us goes the way it should, beyond all expectation.
Keith - I think that being aware of (and enjoying!) God's presence is one of the greatest blessings we can experience, and it is truly transformative, as you say. However, I don't believe that fact makes petitionary or intercessory prayer inferior. If such prayer were not worthy and desirable, my Savior would not have instructed me to engage in it. This is my firm belief, but I have met people whose opinions differ.
I appreciate what you have posted on this thread. Thee speaks my mind.
I think it's fair to observe that most people who have posted on this list have petitioned for something. Many of those petitions have been for better relationships between themselves and their meeting, yearly meetings and their member monthly meetings, patience for their meetings leaders, more love, more understanding, etc. Personally I'm very needy and petition to find things I drop, get new clients, help getting rid of old clients, and everything else under the sun that will make life more pleasant for those who live with me. :)
This may surprise some people, but I engage in petitionary prayer on a daily basis; for people I know who are ill, for my father and other members of my family, for friends and acquaintances who have requested prayers on their behalf, for peace among those in conflict both locally and at a distance, and I pray for assistance with my spiritual practice, etc. In addition, I have a list of people who have passed away that I have known and on the anniversaries of their passing I offer a prayer on their behalf. It's a long list. I don't experience any friction between this kind of prayer and the prayer of inward silence. Vocal prayer involving these kinds of requests frames the practice of interior silence and, I feel, deepens it.
Adria, My response to you did not judge your beliefs concerning prayer. It was corrective; suggesting you have misrepresented many of us who have "discovered that true holiness is basking in the presence." For many of us prayer is actively living the inward light, the inshining, in all moments and all relationships so that the very act of being in the spirit of Jesus Christ is petitionary in itself and in all moments and events. This is far from a "high feeling of self-worth." This ever present prayer-full life is the grace of Presence lighting the conscious and guiding the conscience so prayer is the activity of the Light itself sustaining our very consciousness throughout the day.
Maybe I've put the question badly.It clearly isn't an issue for anybody who's already so close to God that they could ask for anything and receive it -- but who need nothing for themselves, not even a place to lay their heads. I'd think the suffering around us might cause some unease, even for someone like that -- but I don't think that's the common condition. I wouldn't say I'm quite there, though I'm having one very fine life; and I do get to catch God playing peek-a-boo around the edges of my blind spots now and then...This is clearly a question I could only expect God to answer. But I'd like to see this discussion become a way God might answer it for all of us!