Jesus said to his disciples: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7). If taken in a purely secular, non-religious, or non-biblical sense, this teaching of Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount may not ring true. Some people have also left their faith behind because they have asked something of God and from their perspective, they did not receive what they asked for.
To understand this verse we need to understand a few key points. One is that God is God and we are not. That means that we do not have the full scope and sequence of God’s infinite viewpoint. We can only see from our limited finite perspective. Our God, who is Good, will only give us that which is good for us and that which serves his ultimate purpose. What we are asking for may appear to be good, but may not, in fact, be truly good, and/or in our best interest beyond the moment. If someone wants to say, well, I ought to be able to decide that! That means they have missed the first point, God is God and we are not.
Another point that I have learned from Bishop Robert Barron is that “Your life is not about you.” We are created by God for a reason and a specific purpose. Our life is about fulfilling our role in God’s theodrama. We are not the director in the great play of life, God is, but we do have a unique and significant part to play! God does not need us but desires us to share in his work of salvation history. What God requires of us, he will give us the means and support necessary to fulfill it. We also need to remember that when we experience the forgiveness, love, and mercy of God, that experience is not for ourselves alone, but we are to receive these precious gifts and give them away!
A third point that can be helpful comes from C.S. Lewis: “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.” If we pray to God to bend his will toward ours then we are going to come away from prayer frustrated time and again. Our time of prayer with God has to do with answering his invitation to spend time with him, being willing to participate with his plan, and then being willing to share what he has given us in his love to share with others. In this way, we become transformed by his love and his grace builds on our nature.
As we make time to pray this Lent, let us approach our time with the proper orientation of recognizing that God is God and we are not, that our life is not about us but about coming to understand and how to follow the will of God, and acknowledging that our prayer does not change God, but instead does change and conform us to his will. When we approach prayer from these three points of reference, we can be confident that we will grow in our relationship with him and what we ask of God will be given to us, what we seek we will find, and when we knock, the door will be open.
Photo: One of my favorite pictures of St. Mother Teresa at prayer which I framed shortly after her death.