Summary: 1. Prayer’s cornerstone is the character of God. 2. Prayer is powered by our persistence. 3. Prayer is founded on faith.
A Chicago based company claims the prize as one of the world’s largest magazine fulfillment firms. Translated, that means they handle subscription mailings by computer. One of their main responsibilities is to send out renewal and expiration notices. But as computers do, there was a malfunction one day, and an unsuspecting rancher in Powder Bluff, Colorado, got 9,734 separate mailings informing him that his subscription to National Geographic had expired. The rancher had enough, and he dropped what he was doing and traveled 10 miles to the nearest post office. He actually sent in the money to renew his subscription, and included a note which said: “I give up Send me your magazine ” There is something about multiple requests that brings about a response.
Little children know this. They get it. If they want something, they don’t just say, “Mom, could I please have a snack?” No, they say, “Mom, give me a snack, give me a snack, give me a snack. Can I have a snack, mom? Can I? Huh? Huh? Mom give me a snack.” And they repeat that cycle until you break down and give in. They cling. They pull. They tug. They whine. They know how to get what they want.
As I began to think about the verses we have read together today, I began to think how wonderful it is that we have a God who actually wants us to ask him for things. He tells us to ask, seek and knock, and that if we do, we will receive, find and see an open door, an open heart and welcoming arms. What a wonderful God we serve He could destroy the world, but he came to save the world. He could have hidden from us, but he came to us and made himself known. He could be angry with us, but he constantly shows his love and mercy to us. He could remind us of how unworthy we are, but he opens his heart and invites us to ask for what we need from him. It is wonderful and exciting to know this God.
As we consider the words of Jesus, let’s first think about this: Prayer’s cornerstone is the character of God. Jesus begins by saying, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 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 ” (Matthew 7:9-11). The invitation to ask is based on the goodness of God and his love for us. The point of what Jesus is saying is that if we, as sinful human beings, want to be good to our children and bless them with good things, how much more does a God who is perfect in holy love want to give us good things.
The people who lived around the lake of Galilee understood some of the subtleties of what Jesus was saying. When he said, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?”, they saw the comparison. The brown flat stones around the lake of Galilee looked very similar to the flat bread which the women baked. A good parent would not try to fool a child with a flat stone when he asked for bread. He would not say, “You’re always asking for something. Here, this stone is all you get ” No, the loving father would give the child what they needed. Or what if a child asked for a fish, would you give them a snake? What Jesus may have intended was an eel — a sea snake. It is possible to imagine a father, living near the lake of Galilee, who is a fisherman by trade. You can see him pulling fish from his net, and close by is his son who says, “Father, give me a fish ” But instead the father pulls an eel from the net and throws it at him. Eels were considered unclean by the Jews of that day and were forbidden to be used as food, so it would have been a double insult to the child.
The Gospel of Luke adds a third example. He says, “Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (Luke 11:12). The scorpion is dangerous. It can sting with its tail, which it brings up over its back. It clutches its victim with lobster-like claws. The sting can be painful and even fatal. When it is at rest, it can fold its legs and claws under it. Like this, the pale scorpion can look very much like an egg. But what kind of father would mock his child by giving the child a scorpion when the child has asked for an egg? Certainly not a good father, and certainly not a good God. The goodness and love of God are the cornerstone of our faith. If we do not trust the character of God, we will not be able to pray in the right manner. If we do not understand the character of God, if we do not believe that God loves us and wants to do good to us, we will never be able to approach him. Or if we do, we will not be able to trust him.