Jesus told a parable about a man who was in need of bread to serve some unexpected guests. The man went to the home of a neighbor and continually knocked on the door until the tired, reluctant neighbor got up and gave him the bread he needed. Jesus concludes the parable by saying, “Ask and it shall be given to you, seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9).
Does this mean that if we ask enough times we will get the answer we want? Does this mean that God is a sleepy, reluctant neighbor who will not respond to our needs until we nag him to the point of annoyance? Or does this mean that everything we ask for will be granted sooner or later, like a celestial mail-order house?
The answer to all of these questions is “No.” God loves us too much to allow our prayers to be answered in any way but the best way. It is difficult to watch a tragedy and question why God does not intervene. But the meaning of prayer has more to do with the “sifting of wheat” in our souls during the process of prayer than merely “getting” the answer we seek.
It takes time to pray. Prayer is slow work, as is the molding and shaping of our wills to God’s will. It takes time to pray; and as we do, our prayers can come into alignment with God’s will so that we are praying in the Spirit of God, rather than our own human desires. It means that soulful prayer—like many human conversations—needs to be a lot more listening and a lot less talking.
I often find myself on conference calls using a toll-free number to connect various callers onto one conversation. One of the rules of conference calls is to use the “mute” button when you are not talking so your background noise does not interfere with the conversation. When the “mute” button is pressed your voice cannot be heard but you can listen.
As we pray we need to put the “mute” button on and listen to what God is saying about the things we are praying about. God’s perfect will sometimes is for us to wait; and sometimes it is a different goal or plan altogether. Sometimes the answer is “no.”
In the act of persevering prayer we do hear back from God. As we do, we can often find that our disappointment is actually an appointment to a better plan given to us by the loving hand of God. We can trust that God cares enough to give us the very best answer, often one more blessed than we could have imagined.
NOTE: This essay is Bishop Johnson’s generous response—and probably not her last—to our request for a personal reflection on prayer. “Rise Up and Pray” is our theme for the 2017 Eastern PA Annual Conference.
In light of that theme, we are asking and searching for informative, insightful writings about prayer. We welcome brief, intercessory prayers or words of wisdom and witness on this topic from anyone—clergy or laity, conference members or not—to share with our readers over the next four months, leading up to and beyond our June 15-17 conference session. If you have something under 600 words to contribute, please e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will select, title and slightly edit if necessary meaningful writings to share on the conference website and social media sites. We would appreciate receiving authors’ photos with their submissions; but that is not necessary. What is necessary, however, is some basic information: your name and e-mail address, your church if you attend one, and your city or town of residence.
It’s time to Rise Up and Pray. So, we’re casting a wide net, hoping to catch some inspirational words from inspired authors, words that can feed the hungry minds and souls of our audience and lead us all closer to the throne of grace. RSVP!