Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.
We recite this prayer, taken from Paul's letter to the Ephesians, often without focusing on the importance of what we allege in its words - that God gives us more power than we can imagine, if we simply ask. It repeats one of the messages found in this morning's Gospel passage: "Ask, and it will be given you," one of the lessons you may remember clearly from early Sunday school instruction. Ask, seek, knock - the instruction which asserts relationship between person and God and confirms that those who do ask, seek, and knock will be abundantly provided for.
Luke not only upholds the magnitude of God's love and generosity and packs this chapter with instruction about praying the words most of us have known all our lives as the Lord's Prayer, but he reminds us at the same time that persistence is necessary in the relationship. God persists in loving and providing, we mortals must also persist, keep on asking, seeking, and knocking. Even casually observed, persistence isn't likely exist without a focus.
The prayers and thanksgivings found in our Book of Common Prayer acknowledge God as the ultimate authority; they provide a focus and unify us as the body of Christ in our corporate worship. Prayer and worship together form the foundation for who we are and what we do as a church, providing the means for open conversation with God, and for renewal of the commitment we make through periodic reaffirmations of our Baptismal Covenant. We pray corporately and, hopefully, we do so privately. In our corporate praying we can focus on and acknowledge God as creator (all things come of thee, O Lord), parent (Our Father who art in heaven), and provider (giver of every good gift), admit our shortcomings (we, thine unworthy servants), and apologize (we earnestly repent and are heartily sorry). We make promises (we may delight in your will and walk in your ways). Do we keep the promises? Or do we casually leave them at the door when we head for whatever activity, person, or event shifts the focus?
What, exactly, is our promise to God? Our corporate prayer spells it out pretty thoroughly, based on God's instruction that we continue to ask: "we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to they service;" " we humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit;" " have mercy on us and forgive us;" " give to us your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, so that our minds may be fixed on the doing of your will." To begin to be true to the promises, we need to develop the habit of paying attention, to fix our hearts and minds and strength on the doing of God's will. We may learn to believe and even trust what God has promised in scripture, but life can be frustrating when it is not immediately apparent what God is calling us to do - or if God is, in fact, listening. It is difficult to believe when God appears to be silent. Each of us must define what God's will is in our life.
Paul wrote, also to the Ephesians: ". . . I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through Faith as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."
To know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Be filled with all the fullness of God. These are - or should be - very humbling prospects. We (flawed) humans don't get there by accident. We must persevere. Practice does make perfect. Ovid observed centuries ago that "nothing is stronger than habit." So, the challenge becomes one of developing habits of God-centered thinking and behavior since we have made a verbal commitment to or covenant with God. It doesn't just mysteriously happen. We don't wake up one morning and discover that life has been magically transformed - that, for some inexplicable reason, there is plenty of time to begin each day with prayer, that suddenly we are able to see God in all of creation (including the neighbor's kid who repeatedly tests your forbearance by grand-slamming his baseball squarely through your bathroom window), that an obscure relative you didn't know you had has died and left you with resources sufficient to allow you not only to discharge all of your debts, but also to honor, perhaps for the first time, the biblical standard of the tithe!
Scriptures tell us repeatedly about God's promises. We are offered love, salvation, and life eternal. Nowhere does scripture suggest that anyone gets eternal life without effort. Are we not reminded every day in one way or another that there's no free lunch? But, we're also told that the best things in life are free. Whether or not there is consensus around the latter opinion would depend, I guess, on identifying ahead of any vote exactly what the "best things" are. God promised to provide for us what we need if we ask, but it would be naive, wouldn't it, and unrealistic to assume that God has no expectations where salvation and life everlasting are concerned? The Commandments given to Moses and supported throughout the New Testament really can't be ignored.
Accepting that everything is imperfect compared with the Creator, we begin to understand that our corporate prayer is punctuated by design with phrases and refrains such as "I will with God's help," "Lord, Hear our prayer," "Lord, Have mercy." The good news is that God is there - is here - to help each person focus and to develop the habits which will lead to "delighting in His will, and walking in His ways, to the Glory of His name." No one is left hanging all alone, unloved, and unsupported.
Whenever you are feeling as though you are hanging out there all alone, unloved, and unsupported (and we all have days like that from time to time), that is the ideal opportunity to take stock in the gifts you have been given (We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life). In the bleakest hours, there should be certain comfort in a merciful God who offers equal - and repeated - opportunity to establish direction and goals for our personhood and forgiveness when we don't manage to attain them. We are given the freedom to live as we choose, guidelines to aid in keeping ourselves honorable (and focused), and we will be called to account, probably when each of us least expects it. Meanwhile, we benefit from membership in an enormous family, an extended community which challenges us along the length of our faith journey with others engaged in similar struggles (and has promised through thy well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name thou wilt be in the midst of them), and includes everyone in God's dialogue. Achieving a comfort level with prayer and developing an active spiritual life with prayer at its center is in the doing. We are fortunate in that we have been taught how to pray, have been given words of praise both in the prayer book and the hymnal. It is how we proceed in prayer using those books as a foundation is entirely personal and, ultimately, personally fulfilling as our dialogue with God is revisited.
I would like to close in the 16th Century words of St. Ignatius of Loyola. "Let us pray : Teach us, good Lord, to serve Thee as Thou deservest: to give and not count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not ask for reward save that of knowing that we do Thy will." Amen.