My grandfather loved knock, knock jokes. His favourite was – knock, knock and we dutifully replied, who’s there? Lydia. Lydia who? Lid-i-a teapot. (This probably only works in a Scots dialect!)
Well mercifully this type of jape has gone out of fashion. But it is useful to see how they work. Of course, they use excruciating wordplay. But the real key is the unexpected answer to the question.
And that, folks, is very much like praying.
Let’s then take our lesson of this morning and see what it can teach us about asking, about being answered and also about God’s questions to us.
Firstly, we see that the friend was unafraid to go to his neighbour even if he got a cold welcome. Here is a reminder that God seeks our wants, fears and hopes at any hour of the day. Put simply, his office door is always open and his mobile phone always on. Note too that the visitor was rewarded when he persisted when his needs initially went unmet. As a result, he went home with his bread. In other words, he got his answer with a little effort.
But, like the knock knock joke format, our story has the unexpected at its heart. For we must be ready to represent the unexpected needs of others immediately in prayer. We must be ready to respond to others’ unexpected needs with a good grace. But, above all, we have to be ready for God to make an expected make request of us.
Indeed, often prayers seem to go unanswered because we did not listen long enough to hear an unexpected answer. Perhaps we did not expect an answer in the first place. Or, we gave our own prayer priority over those that God needed help with. Needs we might have foreseen if we had been more mindful of the world around us.
Because for prayers to be appropriate, valuable and fulfillable, we need to be on the same page as Jesus; we need to think deeply about what we are asking and what we might be asked in return.
And to re-enforce that idea, did you notice that the friend’s request for bread was not for himself but for another? Another who may have had a long journey and could be famished. And so, despite its inappropriate timing, his asking in the spirit of God’s service to humanity was worthy. Similarly, the householder although annoyed by his household being roused did eventually give in. And as a result, he maintained a warm relationship with a neighbour. He met the essential need for the sustenance of another. Perhaps, above all, he went back to bed feeling a bit better about the world in general and himself in particular. Since, we all feel rewarded when we help build godly friendships. Or in the somewhat trite words of the theme tune to Australian TV Series:
Should be there for one another
That’s when good neighbours become good friends
This then is the real point of Christ’s parable. For, when we pray, we are not verbally filling in forms for the attention of a celestial autocrat. We are not putting forward proposals for arbitrary decisions.
Instead, we are in a genuine conversation with the loving God we see through Christ Jesus. We are talking to someone far closer than a friend: we are conversing with a family member intimately concerned for our wellbeing. And, once we grasp that, we understand the need for persistence in prayer. Because it means we are constantly being nurtured in the cradle of all being. It means we are constantly finding our creator. It means we are constantly serving God within his creation. And that is a ‘win – win – win’ situation
And this is also a huge message for the so-called First World. Since, anytime I am on the internet, I seem bombarded with adverts for people offering meditative counselling. In fact, Bloomberg reports that meditation training is now a huge global enterprise. Often called mindfulness, the provision of reflection generated $1.2 billion in revenue last year alone.
Four in 10 adults in the United States say they meditate at least weekly, and major companies including Google, Apple and Goldman Sachs have adopted it. In fact, one Health insurance giant reported that an employees’ annual productivity rose by about $3,000 after they participated in a mindfulness program. Here in the UK, Schools hold classes in it, Police forces are using it to prevent officer burnout and the NHS prescribes it.
Therefore, it seems to work.
But is it fad with a doubtful basis?
Well, mindfulness trainers say they are only modernizing ancient teachings to make them accessible to the general public.
Now that also sounds a bit like prayer. The only difference is in prayer you don’t find restfulness alone you find it in God. In regular prayer, you don’t find peace in being blissfully inactive but fulfillment in being tirelessly active. By persistent prayer, you don’t find life within yourself, you find it in all fulness through God and with God and for God.
To prove my point, one mindfulness teacher suggests we linger over our morning coffee in contemplation. She goes on to say –
“Here is my advice to you – Savour the coffee! What you really want is to be happy and the happiest people don’t have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything.
So, live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly….and your life will be fully lived.”
Well if you can discover all that from just smelling the coffee, imagine how much more you will be given by meditating with Jesus. Just think how much we will be opened up with frequent conversations with God. In fact, think not what you could accept with prayer but what you might change with prayer. Even better, it’s all free – all you need do is ask who’s there and then be surprised by the answer.