One Saturday morning, while our sons were playing peacefully inside, my husband and I went out into the front yard to discuss what work we wanted to do next on the house. While we were outside, one of our four-year-old twins locked us out. The minute we heard the click, we turned around to catch the outline of a gleeful child through the door. Immediately, I ran up to the door and tried to turn the lock. “Honey, did you lock Mommy and Daddy out?” I asked calmly.
“Yes!” he replied confidently.
“Unlock this door. Now!” I shouted.
Unfortunately, as easy as it was for his little hands to lock the door, it was that much harder to unlock it. My husband and I made motions through the door as to which way to turn the lock, but he only stared back at us in confusion. His twin brother came and tried to help, to no avail. “Get your big brother,” we shouted. “He will know how to open the lock!”
It felt like an eternity before they were finally able to rouse their brother from his perch by the TV and get him to come open the door. Finally entering the cool living room, we sighed with relief.
“Knock, and the door will be opened for you.” Every time I read this line in Luke’s Gospel, I am amazed by the simplicity of the rules Jesus presents for prayer. “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (11:9) Prayer for me has never been that simple.
Getting someone to open a door, in fact, can be a complicated process. Before we came up with the idea for the twins to get their older brother to open the door, we tried a bunch of different ways. We knocked. We tried to pry the door open. We tried to see if we could go around the back (also locked). We may have yelled a little. The whole process was incredibly complex. By the time the door actually opened, we were hot and tired and frustrated. But we were also rewarded by the cool, welcoming air flowing from inside.
This whole ordeal is much like how prayer feels for me sometimes. I sit down in a quiet place and start a conversation. I give God’s door a gentle knock. No immediate answer comes. My impatience gets the best of me. I knock louder and harder, thinking God must not have heard me. I try to pry open the door, wondering if I can get it open with my human strength alone. I yell at God through the door as my impatience mounts. I try to rationalize with God about why I need this door opened right now. I did knock, after all.
Is this the wrong way to proceed?
Maybe not. If I go beyond those three simple instructions for prayer in Luke chapter 11, I notice something else very important being conveyed about prayer: persistence. Jesus is not just telling us just to knock; he is telling us to be persistent. He is telling us to knock and knock and try to pry the door open. He is telling us to return again and again, to the front door and the back, continuing to ask in new and different ways. Maybe the prayer that Jesus describes in Luke’s Gospel is not simple after all. I can’t just knock once or ask once, because prayer is not a one-time offering. It is a relationship built on persistence.
These days, I want things to come a little easier. I’m a bit tired of persistence. But I think in many ways when things come too easily, when they come after just one gentle and timid knock, I do not have the passion and desire I need to follow through with them. I need passion, desire, and stamina to act on the things I receive. I am an imperfect human being surrounded by other imperfect human beings. If and when I get what I have asked for, I am going to encounter obstacles. I will fall down. I might even fail. I am going to need to have built up the desire to push through all of it.
Sometimes it can feel like we don’t want to knock anymore. We don’t want to keep working at prying open the door. We just want to give up and walk away. But God is preparing us for something, and our persistence is a key part of the answer.
Photo by lisaleo via Morguefile.