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How much more… in Christ?

July 27, 2010

Colossians 2: 6-15   Luke 11: 1-13

If a lazy friend will eventually give in to you knocking on their door at night, how much more will God answer your hopeful prayer?

If a parent knows how to give good gifts to a child, how much more will God?

Jesus is a bit confusing here… it sounds at first read, as though Jesus takes God to be a bit lazy, like the man asleep in bed, so we must keep on praying … to overcome God’s laziness presumably. But there’s something wrong with that isn’t there? There’s something wrong with the selfish God. It doesn’t seem to square with the God who gave his life to death for us. It doesn’t square with the Father of the Prodigal son who lifts his clothes and runs towards the distant son.

So what does Jesus mean? I take it that the real point comes in the little phrase right at the end – ‘how much more’.

God is so much more than the lazy householder who eventually gets up. The lazy householder is a kind of straw man. God is so much more even than the caring parent. God will give us so much more than we think we need or want.

Here’s the confusing thing, even though God is, in fact, not lazy like the householder who needs to be woken up, there is still a case for perseverance in prayer. That’s where I think the ‘so much more’ comes in. To persevere in prayer is to discover how much more God has for us than we can even imagine.

We ask and keep on asking, because our life is a journey towards life in the fullness of God’s life. What we receive is so much more than what we ask for… so much more than we are ready to receive even… You see what we receive, in the end is not some commodity, some useful thing that we can put a price on, something that serves our purposes in life. In the end what we receive from God changes us, and the process of asking is part of our ability to receive it. So we keep on asking, for the one who asks receives, those who seek find.

A good parent would not give a scorpion instead of an egg… But the heavenly Father, might give even more than an egg… something unimaginably better than the egg that we might be asking for. The life of prayer looks beyond what we see as the solution. It is a journey. So it’s not so much God’s laziness, as our need to be better recipients, that draws us on in perseverance.

Listen to the last sentence again.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

That’s the stunning thing here. God does not give takeaways. God doesn’t give private property. God gives God’s own self. God pours God’s very self into your everyday activities and relationships.

That means that the journey of prayer, of keeping on praying, is a journey into the very life of God, it is a journey into a new life that we cannot even imagine from where we are. The eggs we ask for are nothing… compared to the life we are being given by God. Even in the deepest tragedies of our lives, Jesus tells us, God’s future for us is an abundance beyond our hopes. So we keep on praying!

Praying is part of receiving… in the end its not really about putting in your order, like you do at the fish and chip shop, and waiting for the chips to be ready. Notice that the prayer Jesus taught his disciples is not about one-off orders. It’s about constant elements of the life of faith, our basic physical needs, our spiritual need for forgiveness, our rightly ordered lives in God’s kingdom, as it comes to us.

The things we learn to pray for, always point us beyond our narrow vision of the world to a vision of life in God’s kingdom. If they don’t, then something is wrong with our prayer life. Perhaps our imagination is stunted. We are stuck with a God who is like us, a selfish householder, who can’t be bothered waking in the night. Perhaps we can’t see that God is so much more than this. Perhaps it hasn’t dawned on us that God is the God who gives God’s very Self to us. Greater even than a parent with a child.

If we take a side-trip into our reading from Colossians we get a glimpse of this vision of the greatness of God’s giving. Here too Paul is concerned that our prayer-life might get distorted:

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe”

The spirits of the pagan world (elemental spirits of the universe) held people captive. They did deals. If you sacrifice an offering, or a first-born child or whatever, the rain will come, or the crops will flourish. Prayer in that context is very like waking the sleeping householder with our shopping list. But Paul says, everything is different in Christ, because…

‘…in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him.’

When you pray ‘in Christ’, you are not doing a deal anymore, you are participating in the life of God… and the victory that Christ has won, in his crucifixion, over the powers which dominate the world. This is ours to participate in!

“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”

In Jesus death and resurrection, there has been a great disarming. The rulers who control the military and threaten us with death if we do not conform, have been disempowered, for we are not afraid to die. The powers who threaten us with loss of status if we do not buy their products have been disempowered, for we are not afraid to lose status.

So when we pray we have a new confidence in the ‘so much more’ of God’s kingdom. We don’t have to do deals with a lazy God to secure our stake in things. When we pray we know that the future is secure in all that really matters. When we pray we are open to God’s future and are moving from one kind of life to another. When we pray we call out to God, who is bringing the whole world from one kind of life to another.

So we keep on praying and we keep on hoping. For God is so much more than a lazy householder, so much more than the kindest parent. And when we pray, our desires for the world and God’s desires for the world are coordinated.

Thanks be to God.

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