"Ask. Seek. Knock"
Ask. Seek. Knock.
The covenant that we make with one
another when we join this congregation includes that wonderful commitment to
“walk together in the ways of Jesus Christ, made known and to be made known to
It is a covenant deeply rooted in the
Congregational tradition, recalling the words of John Robinson to the Pilgrims
as they departed for the New World: “God has yet more truth and light to break
forth from his word.”
We keep returning to Jesus’ Sermon on
the Mount because in it we find good markers of the way of Jesus Christ that
has been made known to us. We listen closely to those old, familiar words and
discover in them more truth and light, making known to us the new ways of Jesus
Christ for today.
Ask. Seek. Knock.
To ask is to be open.
Have you heard recently that Facebook is
falling out of favor with many people? There are a number of reasons, but a major
one seems to be that people generally use the social media site to show how
good their lives are. Every post is about something wonderful they are doing—or
eating. And many are finding this somewhat depressing. It’s like getting one of
those bragging Christmas letters several times a day, 365 days a year.
So I was surprised by a post that I saw
a few weeks ago.
It was from a Facebook “friend”—really
someone I knew a little, many, many years ago.
And the message was short. Out of
nowhere he asked: “How am I going to do this?”
Some people responded with light-hearted
banter. But it was a serious question.
Facing a very difficult situation, he
dared to ask publicly: “How am I going to do this?”
It was a moment of stark vulnerability
on a forum known for showing our best.
It is not easy to be the one who asks. Questions
come from a place of emptiness.
When we pray, we come before God with
empty hands and open hearts. Empty hands and open hearts are ready to receive.
Open hearts find that on our own we have
nothing. The Reformers who wrote the Heidelberg Catechism reminded us that
“neither our work and worry nor God’s gifts can do us any good without God’s
The processes theologian Bruce Epperly
suggests that “‘asking’ is not primarily about us, but our relationship to
God’s reign in our lives….We utterly depend on God’s graceful and forgiving
presence for our spiritual and personal well-being….God is giving us good gifts
at each moment of experience. God weaves together our deepest needs and the
needs of the world in such a way that our quest for wholeness enhances the
lives of others….We are encouraged to ask God to respond to our deepest needs,
even though God is constantly seeking the highest good for us and those for
whom we pray….Prayerfully asking creates a spiritual field of force in which
God’s vision can be more effective and clear in our experience.”
We are taught and invited to pray as
those who ask. It is difficult to find that we come to prayer with empty hands.
But because our hands are empty, because our hearts are open, we can receive
what is given to us when we pray.
It’s an odd business, the kind of prayer
in which we ask and it is given to us. Always, what is given is God’s Spirit
that we might better see and use all that we have, all that is available to us.
Such prayer is not always easy. People
often feel let down or rejected or abandoned by God. At such times trusting in
God’s goodness seems extremely difficult, perhaps even foolish.
At just such times, Jesus calls us back
and invites us into a relationship of trust. We come slowly to the sense that,
as good parents can be trusted to give good gifts to their children, even more
so can God be depended on in our daily existence.
Oh, in case you’re wondering how the
rest of the story went, my friend from Facebook found a way through.
In prayer we take the risk of not having
it all. We take the risk of not having it all
together. Because God can be trusted, we dare to come before God in need.
We come, Jesus suggests, not to give,
but to receive. We come empty. We come asking. Prayer is an occasion of
Ask, seek, knock.
To seek is to be dissatisfied.
Remember how Martin
Luther King, Jr. spoke of his own dissatisfied seeking and the wonderful way he
encouraged us to have the same spirit: “I never did intend to adjust to the
evils of segregation and discrimination,” he said. “I never did intend to
adjust myself to religious bigotry. I never did intend to adjust myself to
economic conditions that will take necessities from the many and give luxuries
to the few. I never did intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism,
and the self-defeating effects of physical violence. And I call upon all
[people] of goodwill to be maladjusted because it may well be that the
salvation of our world lies in the hands of the maladjusted.”
We seek because by God’s grace we are
not content with what is. We seek because we are dissatisfied with we know,
with what we currently understand, with what we are able to see. When the
choreographer, Liz Lerman, was here last summer, she told of working with a
Nobel laureate who said of his search: “I am fueled by my own ignorance.”
We seek in the hope of finding
something. We seek what is misplaced or lost. We seek what is not yet known. Have
you explored a new city for the first time? Or have you looked at a familiar
place with new eyes?
I still remember my first trip through
Iowa City sometime back in the 80’s: taking wrong turns, heading out the
Coralville Strip only to find, well, nothing. What a strange and wonderful
place this city was. And it was something new again when I came back years
later. Even today it is possible to look at it in fresh ways, to discover
something new in someplace familiar.
Prayer is an occasion of such
exploration, of such surprise. The opposite of faith, after all, is certainty,
not doubt. If you have certainty about all things, you don’t need to
pray—indeed you cannot pray. Prayer calls for doubt and questioning. So it is
that we are a congregation that respects questions. In prayer we search after
what is needed—and after what it not known.
In prayer we find ourselves looking at
the world, at our lives, at our souls. We can explore those regions of life
that are usually ignored.
Because of this, prayer takes each of us
into the shadow side. Seeking what is truly needed in prayer, keeping at it, we
are bound to run across, well, evil in our own lives. M. Scott Peck once said
that there’s a part in each person that “belongs in jail.” Our seeking in
prayer will lead us to better know that part. Our seeking in prayer will also
lead each of us to discover in ourselves and in our neighbor the person that
God loves without limit, the new creation that we are becoming in Christ.
In the shadows we encounter our sin—our
separation from God.
And in that shadow region, we find the
light of Christ shining all the more. The forgiveness that we encounter tells
us that it’s all right to keep exploring even if we’ve made some wrong turns,
even if it seems that we’ve come to a desolate place.
We are seekers—in shadow and light.
Prayer is the seeking of the dissatistfied.
Ask. Seek. Knock.
To knock is to persist. It involves us
in the active waiting for that which we desire.
There is perhaps no better example of
this kind of persistent knocking than what we find in the story of Abraham’s
conversation with God in Genesis—and what is prayer but conversation?
Taken aback by God’s threat of
destruction, Abraham knocks: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is
just?” he asks. If fifty righteous people can be found, certainly God would
With delightful humility Abraham knocks:
“Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.
Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole
city for lack of five?”
Abraham knocks: “Suppose forty are found
And knocks: Thirty.
And knocks and knocks: twenty…ten…
And knocks until the door of God’s mercy
swings wide open.
Karl Barth, one of the theological
giants of the twentieth century, both inspires us and challenges us when he
says that we should pray with the awareness “that God answers. God is not deaf,
but listens; more than that, God acts. God does not act in the same way whether
we pray or not. Prayer exerts and influence upon God’s action, even upon God’s
This was the experience of Abraham.
This is the way of prayer to which Jesus
How easy it is to forget the good news
of God's love that waits for us, ready to welcome and embrace each one. When we
knock we actively wait for the welcome that we desire and discover as Robert
Frost famously put it: “Home is the place, where, when you go there, they have
to take you in.”
We knock until we might enter through
the open door.
Ask. Seek. Knock.
The way of Jesus Christ is a way of
openness, dissatisfaction, and persistence before God and with one another.
Ask. Seek. Knock.
Yes, there are times when we ask only to
be answered by great silence or an empty hand, when we seek in the darkness and
no light is seen, when we knock with scraped knuckles on unmoving doors. These
are not the times to stop. They are the times to continue in the way of Jesus
Christ, letting our vulnerability be seen, letting our emptiness be known,
letting our weariness be obvious to all who would look—even to God.
Jesus promises fulfillment to our
asking, our seeking, and our knocking. But that seems to be secondary. The important thing is to do as Jesus says:
ask, seek, knock.
It is a way of life, not just a way of
prayer. In following, we find that we receive, we discover, we are welcomed.
Ask, seek, knock.
In doing so, we learn to pray. We learn
We learn to follow in the way of Jesus
Christ even as new ways are made know to us.
And we find ourselves embraced by the
God whose love does not fail.