Ask and You Shall Be Surprised!

Ask and You Shall Be Surprised!

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Here is a link to today’s readings.

ThinkstockPhotos-475559731Abraham always upsets me in the bargaining session with God presented in today’s first reading. Even as a kid, I used to wonder, why didn’t Abraham bargain all the way down to one? It seemed clear to me that, despite his reservations, Abraham was not annoying or offending God by continuing to plead on behalf of the just. Of course, in the end, God gave the gift that Abraham didn’t ask for but really meant… he saved all the just ones from destruction, regardless of the number that Abraham had settled on.

In the Gospel, Jesus delivers those famous lines about prayer: “ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Moreover, he tells us that we should not stop asking, seeking, and knocking. Unlike Abraham, who desisted at last out of fear that he was asking God too much, we are instructed to badger God. Some youth groups have used the acronym PUSH to encourage constant prayer: Pray Until Something Happens. The advice comes right from Jesus himself, who compared prayers of petition to bugging a friend for food in the middle of the night: “I tell you, if he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.”

St. Teresa of Avila recognized such prayer as an act of praise “You pay God a great compliment by asking great things,” she said. So what are your big needs? Are you afraid to ask for something because it seems too much, like asking for a miracle? Or, on the other end, do you sometimes think your requests are so petty and so small in a world full of need? Jesus says ask away!

ThinkstockPhotos-498953870When I was a young boy, my dad stopped at home during his police shift one evening to bring my mom a Greek salad. When he arrived, I was lying on my mom’s bed with her watching TV. I had never seen a Greek salad before, and it looked delicious. Everything in it looked so tasty and crisp and mouth-watering. I kept eyeing the salad as my mom ate it during the TV show (probably The Love Boat, T.J. Hooker, or Rescue 911… these are some of the shows I remember watching with my mom as a kid). When the salad was finally gone, my mom said to me, “You wanted to try it, didn’t you?” I admitted that I did, and she responded, “Why didn’t you ask? You know I would be happy to share it. I want you to learn to ask for things.” It was an important lesson that I never forgot. God, it appears from the Scriptures, also wants us to ask.

As a religious educator, I have another perspective on these readings about prayer. They worry me. I know that all of us, from time to time, ask for things and do not receive; we seek and we do not find; we knock and the door isn’t opened. Even Jesus didn’t get what he wanted, on one level, when he prayed in the Garden for the cup to pass him by. If we aren’t careful with these readings, we set our young people (and ourselves) up for disillusionment and loss of faith. Jesus reminded us that what God ultimately wants to give us in prayer is a sharing in the inner life of God’s own love. Everything else is judged by God, I think, based on whether it is conducive to this ultimate gift that we usually call Grace. Jesus said, “If you then, 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?”

ThinkstockPhotos-464934517Saint Augustine put it this way: “The Lord our God wants us to petition him, not in order to inform him… but in order that by our prayer we might exercise that desire by which we prepare to receive what he wants to bestow upon us.” In other words, by praying, we open ourselves to Divine Grace. Everything we are asking for is merely symbolic of what we really desire, complete and unending happiness. We should ask with confidence, not because God will give us the relatively little things we plead for, but as with Abraham, God will go beyond and give us what we ultimately desire. God will give us eternal happiness, which is to say, God will draw us into the Divine life of unending love.

(St. Augustine quote is taken from St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer, Cliff Ermatinger, ed.)

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1Comment
  • Marion Collins
    Posted at 22:37h, 27 July

    Thanks Kevin, sometimes we all question if we are asking too much , too often or for the right reason. Sometimes we even try to put our requests in perspective as we see the refugees trying to find a home and future for their children. Once again, you have made your blog very personal to so many of us.
    Sometimes we question ourselves -are we asking too often but you addressed that with the quote about “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” This passage has been a favorite of mind since childhood because of the beautiful painting by Hunt of Jesus knocking at the garden gate!.
    This is the essence of Prayer. We do not always get the answer we want but we do know that the answer we get is in our best
    interest because it is a loving Father who gives it.. We must not let
    ourselves or others get discouraged in the waiting or final outcome .
    God can not be offended by our repitious requests because through these prayers we are in conversation with our God and ever growing closer to Him- Father, Son and Holy Spirit..
    St Augustine also reminds us that our loving God gives us even more than we have asked for because in His infinite wisdom, He knows what is best for us. He is promising us Eternal Happiness!.
    Thanks again, Kevin Dowd for bringing us to a point of introspection and growth in our relationship with God.
    I also like Your choice of graphics.. They add a new and so appropriate dimension to the text and meditation.
    Thank you Bayard for the gift you have given to so many..