Did you ever notice that Luke presents something additional following the Lord’s prayer? Here are the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray, and Jesus gives them the Lord’s prayer. Then he teaches them about persistence—about asking, seeking, and knocking in vv. 5-11. What is the theological implication of this ordering of notes on Jesus’ teaching? (I am convinced that what we are provided in the Gospels is notes on the teaching of Jesus, bits of what is remembered.)
In my theology and leadership of worship course, we are using a book by Laurence Stookey called Let the Whole Church Say Amen. The book is a manual for learning to pray in public. Each week we do one or two exercises, which involve writing out a prayer or editing a written prayer. It took some work mentally for me to “warm up” to the idea of written prayers. I dislike using them in a congregational setting, mostly because I feel that writing out a prayer beforehand does not leave any space for taking any of the congregation’s needs before God; and I think that this is an important part of worship in today’s society. Whether I like it or not, people today are generally self-centered and want to know that God is a God who cares about their needs. They also want to know that the body of Christ cares about their needs. If we cannot pray corporately about an individual need, how are we acting as a community toward one another, caring spiritually for each other’s needs?
But writing prayers isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Stookey compares it to piano practice; and this I can relate well to.
Last week, one of the exercises involved learning to use “vigorous verbs” instead of passive language (e.g. “may we,” “be with,” “bless so-and-so,” etc.) I found this exercise to be the most fascinating so far. I have been writing personal prayers in my journal since 1984. In these prayers, I have never held back anything. I have wrestled theologically, thrown all kinds of temper tantrums, learned to praise… And I have learned that it’s ok—even good—to use “vigorous verbs. It isn’t “ordering God around” if I pray, “Lord, give me strength and a clear mind as I study.” It’s certainly a lot more specific than praying, “Lord, be with me as I study.” If I prayed the latter, how would I know that God isn’t with me but sitting over there reading His book while I struggle away? It’s a bit like a child asking, “May I have something to eat? To which the parent could say, “Sure,” and then go about life because the child could go in and slap a piece of bologna on bread. But if the child says, “Please fix me a pot of spaghetti,” the request is certainly more plain and the parent is drawn into an interaction.
What does any of this have to do with persistence? A lot. Persistence requires vigorous verbs. How can I expect to receive from God if I don’t ask specifically for what I want?
I had a memory of a child asking me for a peppermint once… She wanted it badly, but she didn’t want to come near me because my dog was sleeping in the room. She continued sitting on her mother’s bed and shouting, “May I have a peppermint?” This went on for an hour or so, and I continued doing what I was doing and telling her that she could have one, but she would need to come and get it.
Finally, she came wandering out. By this time, I had forgotten about the peppermint, assuming that she was not going to come out. She stood next to me and said, “You said I could have a peppermint.” Reminded of her request and absolutely thrilled by her bravery, I told her that yes, I did say that, and I was very proud of her for comint out; and I gave her one.
I wonder how many times I either fail to be persistent in the first place or don’t do what God has asked of me upon hearing my persistence. Entering into these interactions with God often results in a revelation of something that I must do in order to receive what I am asking of Him. How many people asked Jesus for healing and were instructed to go and do something: wash in a pool, pick up their beds and go home, etc. Could they have received what they asked if they had disobeyed this instruction?