Prayer, in general, is tough for me. I’m not a prayer warrior. I talk to God, I try to listen, but I’m not one who is good about carving out time in silence and solitude to laundry-list my needs and wants while awaiting response. Honestly, writing and contemplating are some of my best prayers, though I do try to make a point to reflect on my days and the people in them and the ways I hope to see God move.
That being said, prayer also has not been a big “struggle” as I know it can be for others, specifically in the belief that God will answer. I think if Snapple did a series of “big questions for Christians that make it difficult to believe” one of the lids would read “if God will give you anything you ask ‘in His name’ why do some prayers go seemingly unanswered?”
Yeah, good question. Those kind of topics I generally pass off to someone smarter because I could give a lot of reasons but none of them really satisfy the intentions of the asker. I’ve lumped the general topic into a category of my own faith called “ambiguities I’ve simply come to terms with.”So imagine my surprise when during his message this week, my pastor mentioned Jesus’ words to the disciples about asking for anything in His name and I spent the rest of the sermon cross-referencing and pondering. But I largely have Esther and my months spent with her book to thank.
What caught my attention was the similarity in language between what Jesus told his disciples and what King Xerxes told Esther (and, related, what King Herod told Herodias’ daughter after a banquet dance in Mark 6): ask me for anything you want and I’ll give it to you. Both kings added up to half my kingdom onto the oath.
Observation #1: Jesus is talking like a king. I have a feeling this was kind of a big deal. I’ve come to decide that any patterns that repeat through scripture (or history) are worth noting, so if this was a customary way of kings to talk to people they are pleased with (and it seems like it is so), by Jesus using the same language he is insinuating something about himself. Kind of like if I were to walk in the door after Christmas shopping and say, “ho ho ho!” – you would know that my allusion was making reference to what I thought about myself.
I’ve written very little, but thought quite a bit about, how we in our current society understand so little about what it means to live in a kingdom with a ruling monarchy. We live in the privilege of democracy and simply lack the experiences to fully comprehend what it’s like to have a king of any sort. So, with time and study, I hope to post on this topic again (surely someone smarter than me has already written about it. I’d guess NT Wright would have something to say, yes?), but Jesus’ talk on prayer while elevating himself to the level of King seems significant but lost on our culture.
Observation #2: Jesus one-ups the kingly tradition. He doesn’t put on the “up to half my kingdom” addendum Nope, it’s all there for the grabs. What is His is on the table for the disciples. And us.
Observation #3: No one ever took half a king’s kingdom. If a king just gave away half a kingdom, surely that would’ve been recorded, right? And it seems like this language was at least common enough for little ol’ me to pick up on, so there must have been ample opportunity for someone to take advantage. But yet, nowhere in history do I recall an average Joe – let alone little ladies like Esther or Herodias’ daughter – walk away with a good half a kingdom.
Which leads me to believe that the offer was more of a statement about the relationship with the person to whom it was being offered than it was a blank check. I found one place on the internet (and we all know that everything on the internets is true, right?) that said kings often spoke this way to people of their inner circle that they trusted. It wasn’t a prize for being good – that dance was so awesome, it was worth the whole SouthEast Plains! – it was a way of announcing that this person is pleasing to me. It spoke to their character and their worth. Hidden away in the offer of half a kingdom is the knowledge that the person to which it was being offered simply won’t take it – they’ll only ask for what they need. (In Esther’s case, when she was offered half the kingdom she said “dinner would be nice.”) There seems to be a level of trust on the part of the offerer that puts the recipient in a place that wouldn’t want to abuse the place of privilege.
I believe we can go boldly before the throne of God and ask for what we need. We need not fear that we’re asking “too much” of God. But the invitation Jesus offers – repeatedly, because he’s all the time telling us in the Gospels to ask and receive – might not just be about our needs or even our wants. Perhaps it’s about our place in relationship to Him.
Maybe it’s not the blank check that many Christians proclaim, but something worth even more than “half the kingdom.” Maybe it’s the confidence that we’re a part of Jesus’ intimate circle. Maybe it’s the knowledge that Jesus doesn’t just love us, but he likes us. He trusts us. He wants to empower us to do “even greater things” by giving us everything we would need. Not just with half the kingdom in our hands – but the whole thing.