Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
These two verses from Matthew are fairly well-known. They also pose a lot of problems for people. People wonder, and rightfully so,
- Why am I asking God, very clearly, what I want in prayer and I’m not getting it?
- Why can’t I find the job or the relationship that I am seeking?
- Why does it feel like I’m knocking on God’s door and He doesn’t seem to be home, or choosing to answer?
These are very real questions that I have asked numerous times in my life. I remember years ago, during the early months of the pandemic in 2020, the feeling of isolation when the churches were closed for three months. There was genuine fear—we didn’t know what we were dealing with. We didn’t know how easily one could get sick, or how serious it would be to catch Covid. There was genuine anger at how things were being treated, by the government, by the church, by one another. Some people think we went way overboard with caution, and others thought we didn’t do enough.
I remember on many occasions, while offering services in an empty church, with people only able to worship on-line, that I prayed to God for this scrouge to be lifted and for people to be able to come back and feel safe. Many of us were doing that. Why didn’t it happen sooner? Maybe we will never know. It was certainly a time of uncertainty.
I also remember one day, while celebrating the Divine Liturgy, I raised the chalice in order to receive Holy Communion, and as I raised it over my head, I gazed at it for a moment and thought “this is the only perfect thing I have. The world is very screwed up right now, but this is still perfect, and again, this is the only perfect thing that I have.” And then, as if making a toast almost, I said to myself “unto my salvation.” Meaning that whatever happens in this difficult time, whatever I am asking for and not receiving, whatever I am seeking but not finding, may any and all of it be unto my salvation. And since then, in the many instances where prayers have not been answered, where I can’t find my way, and where the door seems perpetually closed, I have this thought “unto my salvation” in my mind. Because as a Christian, that is the ultimate thing I am asking for, the ultimate thing I am seeking and the only door that must open. Imagine getting everything you ask for and finding everything you seek, only to get to the end and find that the door to heaven will not open for you.
The magi would have had a similar disposition, though without the salvation part. They kept on walking, for two years, that’s a long time, seeking but not finding for two years, seeking and somehow trusting that if they kept walking they would find. Yes, sometimes, maybe even oftentimes, prayers are answered, we find the things we seek, doors are opened. When this happens, we have to thank God for His blessing. Sometimes, we ask and seek and a door opens that we didn’t expect. Sometimes we try to be too fine or too controlling and if we could just let things happen organically, then we will see the door that God wants open for us will open in a marvelous way. I can’t tell you how many times when I have just “let go and let God” or “given Jesus the wheel,” I have been pleasantly surprised in my seeking, finding and door opening.
We are only a couple of days away from the Nativity. And it’s time to ask ourselves what are we bringing to the manger this year. Psalm 50/51:17 offers a beautiful idea: The sacrifice (gift) acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise. I can still remember lifting the chalice that day nearly four years ago, with a heart that was broken, sad and frustrated, and having the thought “Unto my salvation”. This thought still sustains me in the rough times. It inspires me to remember that salvation is the goal, and if whatever challenges I face lead me there, then that’s okay, so long as I get there. Many people reading this message have a crushed heart or a broken spirit. Bring those to the manger, along with a disposition that says to God “unto my salvation.” Because whether you raise the chalice to receive Communion as the priests do, or whether you receive like a layperson, the prayer when any of us receives ends with “unto remission of sins and life everlasting.” Indeed, the humble heart leads us to Christ, and Christ leads us to salvation. Make sure you meet Christ in church this Christmas with a humbled and contrite heart, and as you receive Communion, may it be with the prayer that whatever life throws at you, may it be to your salvation.
Heaven called the Magi by a star, and thus it brought the first-fruits of the Gentiles to You, the infant lying in the manger. And they were amazed, not by scepters and thrones, but by the utter poverty. For what is more shabby than a cave? And what is more humble than swaddling clothes? But it was through these that the riches of your divinity shone forth. Lord, glory to You! (Hypakoe, Orthros of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: What does this verse tell us about persistence?