In Mark 9, Jesus meets the father of a boy possessed by an ‘impure spirit’. The man desperately wants his son healed, but is unsure of Jesus’ ability to help: “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us,” he begs. Jesus replies “‘If you can’?” Jesus then heals the boy with a simple word – he is more than able to meet the father’s request. “All things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)
It’s fascinating, then, that earlier in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has been met with a different question – not a question of his ability, but a question of his willingness. ‘A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.’ (Mark 1:40-42)
If God were able to do all things but unwilling to hear us, prayer would nothing more than a last resort – a desperate, fearful attempt to twist the arm of a capricious, distant deity. But for the Christian, approaching the all-powerful God in prayer is also approaching a loving, willing heavenly Father – one who desires to give good gifts to those who ask.
That’s why Jesus uses the image of a human father in Matthew 7: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matt 7:9-11)
I’m a pretty good Dad, overall, and I want to give good things to my three beautiful kids. But not always. Sometimes I’m busy with other things, or I’m tired and just want to be left alone for five minutes. At other times, I want to help, but it’s not in power to give them what they want. And there are plenty of times where I just don’t know what they need.
But not God. God is never too busy. He never gets tired. And because all things are possible with him, it’s always within his power to give good gifts. If only we will ask!
God is always willing to hear. He is always willing to give good gifts to his children. That’s why Jesus says we should keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking. (Matt 7:7-8)
Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying hold of God’s willingness. (Martin Luther)
Thank you, God, that you are my perfectly good Father in heaven. Thank you that you want to hear my prayers, and that you desire to give me good gifts. Please help me to keep asking, to keep seeking, to keep knocking, and to trust your willingness to answer my prayers. In Jesus’ name. Amen.