“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (NLT)
These words of Jesus offer both great comfort and great concern. Comfort because they suggest that when we pray we are not talking to thin air. We are heard and our prayers are answered. The concern comes when we realise that we don’t always get what we ask for. What we seek we don’t always find.
Many books and learned articles have been written about this. It was C.S. Lewis who titled an article he wrote, “Petitionary Prayer…the problem without an answer.” His point was that the fact that some prayers didn’t get the answers we expect was not the problem. We can’t assume we always pray for the good and godly things.
His problem, and ours, is that Jesus seems so clear and insistent that we get what we ask for. For some, this leads to rejection of prayer, bitterness and disillusionment. For others, it is just one mystery we live with.
When I pray, I am not primarily focussed on what answer I will receive. I am focussed on my helpless dependence on a God who cares for me and who knows best. My prayers are not a shopping list of demands but the means by which a relationship is maintained and deepened.
As one writer has put it, the only prayer that always ‘works’ is that which asks God to hold my broken life in the arms of his grace. That is my bedrock prayer.