We have all heard it said about prayer. “We talk to God when we pray. And when we read the Bible He talks to us.
The statement makes the point that the 2 spiritual exercises are modes of communication. I do not think the statement intends to limit our understanding of prayer or Bible-reading. I believe we can hear from God while we pray. And I believe we can pray as we read God’s Word. Trust me, I know.
Now I want to share with you something else about prayer. We all understand the spiritual dimension of prayer (man-to-God). Now I believe we should add to that understanding the social dimension of prayer (man-to-man).
The social dimension of prayer lets us enter the arena of good deeds.
Those things that we do in response to a neighbor’s need.
The scripture instructs us that helping the needy must be intentional on our part. That is, it must be goal-oriented. God commands us to actively seek a return on our investment of good acts. In other words, we must intend our good works to create the infrastructure for reciprocal giving.
Continually doing good is a form of asking that good may flourish in a relationship, in a community.
This is the will of God.
Our text is Matthew 7:7-12. Here it is in full:
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to theone who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?
10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?
11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Those who have read the Gospels will likely connect this text to a similar one in Luke. There the “ask-seek-knock” passage is part of Jesus’ answer to a direct request from His disciples: “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
He said to them, ‘When you pray, say, “Our Father…”
…So I say to you: Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives: he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (see Luke 11:1-13, emphasis mine).
The Lukan text shows “prayer” and “asking” to be in the same passage. But here is the question: Does Luke want us to understand “asking” in no other terms than “prayer”? Not so fast!
We encounter a similar situation in Matthew. The text begins with “asking,” and the reader’s thoughts rush to prayer only to be crushed by an unexpected ending:
‘So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Mat 7:12).
What is Mat 7:12 doing here in a passage supposed to be about “prayer”? And Luke?
As we will see, the Gospel writers were not only eyewitness but instructors in the Christian faith. And they wrote their respective Gospels with a purpose in mind.What is the point about asking and giving that we read in the text? Jesus ends his teaching with a concluding word: “So….”
This means that everything Jesus said about asking and seeking and knocking up to this point come down to this:
’SO do to others what you would have them do to you’’(emphasis mine).
Matthew and Luke take the “ask-seek-knock” passage with an objective in mind: to teach about building good human relationships that lasts. The wording in Matthew makes this an imperative task.
This is how it works. In Luke, a human-interest story acts as a bridge from the “prayer” part to the “ask-seek-knock” part. It is the riveting story about a person who sought help from a friend at midnight and got it.
In Matthew, the “ask-seek-knock” instruction (7:7-8) reaches the Golden Rule (7:12) via a poignant story that acts as a bridge to bring the two together: a father is confronted by an “asking” son.
Don’t we all expect the father to give what is right to his son? “How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”And then Jesus concludes with, “SO in everything, DO TO OTHERS what you would have them DO to you, FOR this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
In other words, building a good relationship is what God does for His children all the time, setting the example for us to follow.
Let us conclude this. Everything that Jesus said about “asking,” “seeking,” and “knocking” in the passages we have considered is intended to teach us about human relationship.
First, we must build good relationships with others.
Second, we must make sure that everything we do is for their good: “in everything do to others.”
And third, we must do everything with the objective of setting a clear example that they can follow: “what you would have them do to you.” And the best place to start is in the family.
This is what the Word of God is all about: ‘for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.’
A man nearly lost his life for protecting an elderly lady from muggers. When a reporter found the elderly lady the two of them went to see the man in a hospital nearby. The reporter asked if he had any regrets. He said he did not. “I only did what my Dad would have done.” And the elderly lady reached out for the man’s hand and held it tight.
Building good relationships should define our faith and life.
3 thoughts on “PRAYER AS A TWO-WAY STREET”
It is Micah 6:8 expressed differently. If I may offer a crittique of church songs; have you noticed almost all of them are one-directional? I have yet to hear a fully communitarian song.
The “paradigm” of prayer practiced by many Christians envisions prayer as a pair of mutually-exclusive tasks: the human being asks, and God answers. God asks nothing of us, and we do not participate in the answer. The article’s main text, Matthew 7:7-12, suggests, by its literary arrangement, something quite different. In the context of prayer, God also asks something of humankind for which man is answerable: “So, in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” Although God can and does act unilaterally as it pleases His will to do so, Jesus explains the relationship between God and man in reciprocal terms. The Greek for prayer, prosyookay, meaning an exchange of wishes, strongly reflects the reciprocity between God and man. We wish for God to act on our behalf while He wishes the same from us. And for what does God wish? For men to treat each other in exactly the way they themselves would wish to be treated–with kindness, understanding and respect.
“The Greek for prayer, prosyookay, meaning an exchange of wishes, strongly reflects the reciprocity between God and man. We wish for God to act on our behalf while He wishes the same from us. And for what does God wish? For men to treat each other in exactly the way they themselves would wish to be treated–with kindness, understanding and respect.”