"Asking ... Seeking ... Knocking"
July 26, 1998 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
Based on Luke 11:1-13
Our God is not passive. One of the central emphases of Biblical faith is that God is always on the move, that God is active. This book of books begins with God taking the initiative to create the world, resting when the work was done. However, God didnít remain in an easy chair with remote in hand. At every step along the way, this story of stories tells us, God has been busy completing what was started on Day One.
Our God is not passive. He didnít create the earth and then back off and allow things to unfold as they will. God has been engaged with this world, connected to it, passionately loving it, and actively working for it at every step along the way. The One who said "I am who I am" from a burning bush is not someone who could care less about what happens on earth, who passively sits on a heavenly throne watching the peons below go about their business, or who, through endless cycles of reincarnation, has finally achieved a nirvana of care-less-ness and who awaits others to join him. That is not the God revealed in the Bible.
Our God is not passive. Oh, there are many times when we wonder what on earth the Lord is doing, especially when senseless things happen, when prayers seemingly go unanswered, when wrong prevails. "Where is the Creator?," we ask. Even so, our faith - passed on to us from those who have walked with this God before us - asserts that God "neither slumbers nor sleeps," that the Lord is at work, even when we cannot see him, and that what God has planned will be accomplished.
No, our God is not passive. Responding to his disciples request for pointers in prayer, Jesus began with a phrase that could not be spoken to a passive, care-less, armchair sitting, remote-control God. "Father, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come." Of course, weíre more familiar with the version of this prayer that Matthewís gospel remembers, which includes mention of "heaven" and Godís "will" being "done." Thatís the form we have memorized, though we may differ from church to church on a few details, like the difference between "debts" and "tresspasses." Lukeís gospel recalls a "bare-bones" prayer, missing some of the elaborations weíve grown up with. Even so, the essentials are present.
God cares, as passionately and intimately as a connected parent, and is actively at work bringing into being what should be, what will be, and what already is (at least in part) in the hearts of those who believe. That presumption is central to the message of this book of books, the foundation upon which prayer - upon which life itself - is built, the ground from which we, as believers, sprout and grow. We are grounded in this faith in a faithful God.
Even if we cannot accomplish a single blessed thing with our lives, when we run into brick walls left and right, what matters most is what this passionate, tough and tender God is about - what has already been accomplished by him and what still remains to be done. "God so loved the world," Johnís gospel remembers Jesus saying, "that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but will have eternal life." Thatís an active assertion, revealing someone who is far from passive and care-less.
Our God is not passive. Jesus revealed this age-old quality of God in fresh, new ways. In fact, Jesus embodied it. Our faith tells us that Jesus was God in human form - a bold initiative on Godís part. Anyone familiar with what the Bible has spoken of this God from Day One, however, should not be surprised. That Jesus actively laid down his life for others fits with the character of the One who parted the sea and led the children of Israel out of captivity in Egypt. The empty tomb was likewise no passive affair, and was in keeping with the One who led those same children out of the wilderness, across the Jordon River, and into the promised land. Obviously, according to this Word we have received, God isnít a passive, uncaring observer, not then, not now, not in the future. Our lives depend upon this message.
Having said that, there is a bold counterpoint, revealed in this morningís scripture from the gospel of Luke. Did you hear it? God is not passive, and neither are we. In fact, Jesus calls us to an active life. We tend to think of prayer as a passive affair, which in many ways it is. After all, prayer is listening before it is speaking. However, it is active listening. You know the difference between passive and active listening? Passive listening is the husband who has one ear to the television when his wife speaks. Passive listening is the wife who has her "to do" list between her and her spouse. Passive listening is the young person who hears everything through ears that are "bored" with anything and everything that isnít more exciting than what is possible.
Active listening, on the other hand, is giving 100% attention, and facing toward the One who speaks, putting aside remote-controls, "to do" lists, and boredom. Active listening is anything but passive. Itís really hard work, when you think about it. Itís not "zoning out." Far from it. Prayer is, in part, active listening. How do you receive daily bread from God, if youíre not faced in his direction, attentively reaching out? How does forgiveness become a reality if we donít step into it - and how are we to step into it if weíre not walking in the direction of, toward the One from whom forgiveness flows? The Lordís prayer, whether it be the version Matthew remembers, or the one Luke recalls, encourages active movement toward God on our part.
Prayer is more than listening, though. Did you catch what Jesus said? There is a very active aspect to this relationship we have to our active, caring God. "Ask," Jesus says to us emphatically. "Search," he directs. "Knock," he pounds on the door of our awareness. Those are not passive words. A good friend, asleep in bed, may have reservations about getting up in the middle of the night to answer a request. Persistant knocking may finally arouse them to do what is necessary. "What then, of your active, caring God, who neither slumbers nor sleeps?," Jesus asks. A parent wouldnít resentfully respond to their beloved childís request for what he or she needs with things that would cause harm. "Do you think God, who cares much more than youíll ever realize, will do less than that?," Jesus asks. No, our active God has a great deal more in store for those who ask, who search, who knock.
Jesus was teaching his disciples, and us as well, that prayer is an active response to Godís initiative. Weíre not just passively sitting around waiting for God to do what Godís going to do. Now, there are times when thatís about all we can do. Thatís when we learn what this business the apostle Paul called being "justified by faith" is all about. When it comes right down to it, God doesnít love us and care for us because of how good we have behaved, how actively we have lived out what heís called us to be. No, the simple truth is "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." No reason given. Apart from anything we do, or fail to do, in Godís eyes - how God sees us through his Son - we are immensely valuable, worth far more than all the gold in Ft. Knox. All along, God has been taking the initiative to reach out to us, just as we are. And we are saved, if you will, we are justified, our relationship with this God is made right and we are propelled forward solely by our faith in this faithful, active, caring God! Nothing more.
Having said that, our lives in Christ are lived on the other side of that statement. We walk by this faith. We see our path with eyes of faith. And this faith challenges us to live actively, not passively. This faith dares us to live care-fully, not care-less-ly. How else could we respond to an active, caring God? ... You see, in this morningís gospel, Jesus was not just talking about prayer, as something separate from life. We have a wrong-headed notion that prayer is a little locker in which we stuff our religious clothes while we swim in the pool of everyday life. Some of us are better at carefully folding those clothes, so they wonít be all wrinkled when we put them on. Even so, compartmentalize prayer and remove it from daily life.
Jesus had nothing to do with such prayer. For him, life and prayer were intertwined, part of the same fabric. Prayer is not an escape. Life is lived out of prayer. If, in prayer, he calls us to ask, to search, to knock, then youíd better believe thatís how God wants us to live as well - actively, not passively.
Based on what Iíve just said, let me lay out a few challenges to those among us who will soon board a jet and fly to Colorado for National Youth Conference. I dare you to approach this experience exactly as the theme implies: "with eyes of faith." Donít satisfied with passivity. What do I mean by that? Donít go to Colorado looking to be entertained, to have your boredom relieved, to passively receive like bumps on a log. If you travel with that expectation, youíll either be disappointed or entertained for a while, but with no lasting effect.
I invite you to actively approach this conference, you know: asking, searching, knocking. Care enough about it that you put yourself into it, and thus get something out of it that will last. Thatís how it happens, you know. What we get from an experience depends a great deal upon what we put of ourselves into it. Of course, God loves us as we are, no "ifs," "ands," or "buts." Even so, God actively "asks" us to invest our lives in his kingdom. God actively "searches" for us, even when we hide. God actively "knocks" upon our door every day. I challenge you to actively listen for God to speak to you throughout the time. That doesít mean that you should walk around the campus there with your hands folded, with pious eyes aimed toward the sky. No, have fun - fun with a capital "F." Realize, however, that real fun is a by-product, not a goal. Happiness comes from living out the asking, searching, and knocking. "Well, Lord, what have you got in store this day? Where are you leading? What doors do you want me to open?"
What did Jesus say? "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened." Can you live this experience with that kind of expectancy? I dare you to. In fact, I double dare you to... And you know what? The same goes for all the rest of us. Do I hear an "Amen"?
©1998Peter L. Haynes
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