“Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” Luke 11:9
The four letters of fish can provide an acronym to help thoughts about Jesus’ teaching on prayer: “F” for “father;””I” for “I;” “s” for “searched;” and “H” for “Holy Spirit.”
Jesus’ disciples come to him and asks that he will teach them to pray as John had taught his disciples. The disciples would have been familiar with the formal prayers of daily life and the synagogue and the Temple, but they wanted something more, something personal, so Jesus teaches them the prayer, which is found in a fuller form in Saint Matthew Chapter 6 and which becomes known to us as the Lord’s Prayer.
“Father” the prayer begins. It is a prayer addressed to a person to someone with whom one has a close relationship. It is an understanding of God very different from the remote and terrifying God who only communicated through certain chosen people. It is an understanding of God that was threatening to the professional religious people who saw their rituals as an essential part of people’s faith; if there could be direct access to God through simple prayer, then what need would there be for the religious hierarchy and all those involved in it? It is an understanding of God that is reflected in Saint John Chapter 4, where Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that worship will no longer be on a holy mountain nor in Jerusalem, and says in Verse 23, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”
“Father” is a challenge to us about the way that we see God. Is our understanding of God someone who is far away, remote, impersonal, unconcerned, or do we see God as someone whom we call “Father?” If God is as close to us as someone we would call “Father,” then what does that say to us about how we should think, about how we should speak, about how we should live our lives?
“F” for “Father,” “I” for “I:” what does Jesus teach us about personal responsibility in prayer? In Verses 5-6, Jesus uses the example of a man who presumes upon the good nature of a friend. “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.'” Jesus’ listeners would have been intrigued at the thought of God being someone who might be approached in such a way. They would expect the answer given in Verse 7, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” They would not have expected the element of personal responsibility found in Verse 8, “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” Prayer, Jesus teaches, is something that demands personal engagement, both in asking and in responding
It would demand a strong friendship and a high degree of trust for any of us to consider doing such a thing, to put ourselves into a situation where we ask directly and expect that God will answer directly. Jesus challenges us to have that sort of bond of friendship and trust with God.
“F” for “Father,” “I” for “I,” “S” for “searches.” Jesus tells the disciples in Verses 9-10, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Prayer is to be something more than asking and receiving, it must also be about searching and finding. Jesus is making it clear to his listeners that God’s ways may not be obvious, he is suggesting to them that answers may not be straightforward. The traditional teaching that good would be rewarded in this world and that the evil would be punished has not matched people’s experience of life. Jesus’ disciples are asking questions. We hear that questioning in Saint John Chapter 9 Verses 2-3 where they ask about the man born blind because they believed that, for such a thing to happen, it must have meant someone was being punished. They ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answers them, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Jesus tells his disciples they must search because answers are not simple.
Are we people who search? If we believe God is working his purposes out, then do we search for those purposes? When we ask for things, we need to remember we must also search for things.
The final letter of “fish” is “H” for the Holy Spirit.” In Verse 13, Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Jesus tells the disciples that the Father will give them the Holy Spirit as readily as any parent would provide for their own child. Perhaps those listening would have been surprised at the comparison Jesus makes in Verses 11-12, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?” Of course, their answer to such a question would have been “no,” and if they would listen to their children’s requests, then God will listen to the disciples requests.
Being Christian is not about fulfilling the Law, it is about responding to God’s grace, responding to God’s generosity to us. The Holy Spirit, God’s presence with us, is there for the asking. Perhaps a religion of rules and regulations is easier, it is about our outward selves, perhaps a faith that demands that we are changed inwardly is much more challenging. Do we ask for the Holy Spirit in our own lives?
Fish: Father, I, searches and Holy Spirit, asking us about our faith.