Hook, James Clarke, 1819-1907. Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55500 [retrieved July 20, 2022]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_Clarke_Hook_-_Give_us_this_day_our_daily_bread.jpg.

RCL Year C Proper 12 Alternate Readings
Genesis 18:20-32, Psalm 138, Colossians 2:6-15, Saint Luke 11:1-13

Sooner or later, we should make up our minds about prayer. Does it work or not? Prayer always works. It is working when it appears not to work. God’s silence often is God’s answer.

You may say that prayer is not working when you do not receive what you ask for. But there can be at least two very good outcomes from not receiving what you ask for.

One very good outcome is this. Your earnestness and perseverance will likely increase. If you really want something, you will ask for it more fervently. In the Gospel Jesus says, “because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.”[1] Abraham harasses God persistently in the First Lesson to save the righteous people in the wicked cities. And it works. He whittles God down to save fifty righteous persons to ten while letting the wicked go unpunished. In prayer, too, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Another good outcome of not receiving what you ask for is to learn that the blessings you have already received from God’s hands have not been properly valued. What we labor to receive, we preserve with care. The blessings we thankfully receive only increase as we value them more. And as we value them, we learn that they do not come from someone out of whom gifts must be unwillingly extracted. They come from a Father who delights to supply his children’s needs.

And what should God do if we should with great persistence ask for something that is bad for us to have? As all parents know, the answer to some requests can only be No, for the well-being of the person asking demands that the answer be No.

When God does not give us what we want, we should quickly recall that God has already given us what we need. We ask for eternal life in baptism, and we are baptized into his death. We ask for eternal life, and God gives us a cross, for the simple reason that by following Jesus and by walking in the way of his cross and passion we attain to eternal life.

Praying in the words our Savior taught us teaches us all these things and more. We learn that before we ask for anything for ourselves, we give God glory and reverence. Only when we give God his place will other things take their proper place. When God sits upon the throne of our lives, when God has the preëminent place, all other things find their proper, subordinate place.

[1] Saint Luke 11:8.