Asking for 'I Don't Know What'

Some New Testament scholars use the model of a sage, a novel dispenser of wisdom, to explain how Jesus might have looked to his contemporaries. Though the idea of Jesus as sage does not do justice to the entirety of the gospel stories, it certainly fits Luke 11:9-13. On the heels of the Lord’s Prayer, a succinct but very concrete model for asking things from God, Jesus delivers some of the vaguest instruction in all the New Testament: "Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." These verbs need direct objects. One can imagine the disciples saying, "Ask for what? Seek where? Knock on which door?" While the Lord’s Prayer is quite specific about what to ask for---daily bread, forgiveness---these verses enjoin the disciples to quest after an unknown object. The text is quite clear, however, about who will allow the asker to receive, the seeker to find, and the knocker to enter. Jesus promises that the Father will "give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him." It is instructive to compare these words with Matthew, where Jesus says that the Father gives "good things" to those who ask. Luke, both in his gospel and in Acts, highlights the activity of the Holy Spirit. One characteristic of the Spirit, especially in Acts, is that it continually surprises those who see its manifestation. Perhaps what Jesus wants his disciples to say to God is, "Surprise me." If prayer only takes the form of a wish list that gets checked when God grants each wish, it constrains what God might give (or, more accurately, what the person recognizes as God’s response). Prayer, according to these verses, might take the form, "I am asking for I don’t know what, except that it be a gift from you." Sometimes the quest can be more fulfilling if one cannot see the goal with clarity. The promise given here is not that the one who prays will get what she or he wants but that God will give the Holy Spirit. That answer would be "far more than all we ask or imagine" (Eph. 3:20). Kyle A. Keefer

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