Now, the first few times it happened, we thought it was really cute and funny. And while our plan all along had been to go get some doughnuts, it was fun to let them think they had cajoled us into going. Well, the problem was that it didn’t take them long to use that tactic of chanting their requests for other things that they wanted, sometimes in public, and we realized that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to encourage that form of asking us for something. Because, some of the things they were requesting were things we didn’t think were appropriate at the time they were asking for them. Besides, if they made the request in a public way, and if we told them no, well, as parents we could look like the bad guys, and we certainly didn’t want that.
Jesus tells us today that persistence and even nagging will deliver results from God. And he invites his disciples into a deep personal relationship with God, even encouraging them to call upon God using the same name he himself used, Father. And he suggests that if generosity is what it is among families and friends, it is all the more so with God who wants to give to us what is good and life-giving for us.
But here’s the problem: anyone who consistently prays to God and asks for things on a regular basis knows that not all our prayers come to be answered. Why do you think that is? Why does Jesus tell us that we should be persistent in our asking but then not give us what we want?
Well, I’ve heard an answer to that, and it’s this: God always answers, but sometimes his answer is “no” because we are not asking wisely. Now, that’s fine, I suppose, but then why does Jesus tell us that for everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and the one who knocks, the door will be opened? And again, in his example of the friend who is asked by his visitor for three loaves of bread at midnight, Jesus says that if he does not give the visitor the loaves out of friendship, he’ll give them to him out of being worn down by the nagging. So, what is Jesus telling us?
I don’t know if you heard it but buried at the very end of our gospel reading today, in his final words, Jesus gives us this little gem: “if you, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him”. Ah, the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is not telling us that God will give us anything we ask for! Not at all! He’s actually telling us that what we need, more than anything else, whether it’s bread, or a fish or an egg, is the Holy Spirit. And, in telling us that, he’s also telling us that, whether we know it or not, at the end of the day, it’s the Holy Spirit we are, or should be, seeking.
And so, if it’s the Holy Spirit we receive in and through our prayer, and maybe not so much bread or fish or eggs, we can understand Jesus’ words a little better, if only because frequently our prayers seem to go unanswered. So if it’s the Holy Spirit we receive in and through our prayers, and if God always gives the Holy Spirit to those who pray, then even when a prayer seems to go unanswered, so to speak, God has provided a deeper answer after all.
Jesus is telling us today that what we need most, and should ask for the most, is the Holy Spirit – which is what we get even when we pray for other things. There’s a part of our lives, a very important part of our lives, that can only be satisfied by the Holy Spirit, and the Father is only too willing to give us that.
And here’s the point: God wants to give us what we need most – the Holy Spirit. And that’s because the Holy Spirit guides us, empowers us, to take the path that God wants us to take. It’s the same Holy Spirit that filled the life of Jesus that will be given to us if we keep asking God for it. You might ask, why do I want to pray for the Holy Spirit when all I want is my daughter or son, or my husband or wife to get better? Jesus is not telling us not to pray for those things – and frequently he does respond to those requests. But what he is telling us is that all those things that we request are already well within his scope of vision, and we will do better for ourselves and each other if we keep in our minds and hearts our need to align ourselves with God’s will.
Personally, I’ve found that the Holy Spirit somehow makes especially my burdens and crises, but even the welcome events, easier to accept and process. While God typically does not remove my suffering and pain in the face of such events – whether it’s a bad day at work, or something like the loss of a family member, and even the breakup of my marriage – the Holy Spirit does provide me with something that somehow enables me to rise above those things over time, and to eventually take them in stride. I have come to look forward to every opportunity to share my burdens with the Holy Spirit.
So, what does that mean to us in practical terms? I have a couple of suggestions for you today.
The first is quite simple: Each morning ask the Holy Spirit to be a part of your day. Invite him in. He won’t come if you don’t invite him. A simple prayer, “Come Holy Spirit” is all it takes. Come Holy Spirit. Once in the morning, once in a while throughout the day, and once before bed.
The second thing is this: If we continue to insist that God is not answering our prayers, maybe it’s because we don’t recognize the voice of God. Often, that’s because we’re so busy nagging him for things we want and need that we don’t give him a chance to put in a word edgewise. In other words, sometimes we do all the talking. So try this – I think I spoke briefly last week about it – just for a brief time, every day, simply sit alone with God, and beyond telling him that you love him, simply sit there in his presence. No words. Just love. And give the Holy Spirit a chance to respond to you. Whether you hear something or not. Over time, you’ll begin to recognize God’s voice, at least once in a while.
God is our Father, and we are his children. And we should approach God as the child approaches his earthly parent, and with the full confidence that that parent loves us, unconditionally.