I wrote previously about fear and how God’s perfect love casts out all fear. The followers of Jesus all feared when he was taken away by the Romans in the garden. They continued to fear while he was being mocked and beaten and hung on the cross. After he was dead and buried, they hunkered down in fear, meeting behind blocked closed doors for fear of the Jews. (John 20:19)
Even after Jesus appeared to them, risen from the dead in the flesh, the apostles continued to live in fear. It was not until they were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of the Pentecost that they emerged out of their funk from behind locked, closed doors to preach the Gospel boldly in the crowded streets of Jerusalem.
As I continue to read through the Bible, now in the book of Acts, I see something else that I hadn’t seen before. In Acts 3 & 4, we see Peter and John healing a lame man and being hauled in front of the Sanhedrin and instructed to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. After Peter and John left, they gathered together again with the fellow believers in Jerusalem and prayed for boldness to keep speaking the gospel in the name of Jesus!
I previously observed that this change from fearful believers hiding behind closed doors to bold proclaimers of the Gospel on the crowded city streets happened only after they were filled with the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t Jesus appearing to them, risen from the dead, that overcame their fear; it was the Holy Spirit! But there is more.
And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 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!” (Luke 11:5-13)
Reading through Luke recently this passage impressed in a way that hadn’t occurred to me previously. We often remember things out context, but context often provides a perspective that is lost when verses are read or remembered alone.
It seems that the ask, seek and knock passage is often remembered for the proposition that God will give us the good things for which we ask, seek and knock because a father doesn’t withhold the good things his children ask for. This seems certainly to be true, but there is much more going on here. If that is all we get out of this passage, we are missing the bigger picture and larger truth.
When I read back through the entire passage, I see a progression of intimacy that I had not seen before.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:6-7
Verse 5 ends with the statement, “The Lord is near.” Then, it continues with, “Be anxious for nothing….” The Greek word translated “anxious” means to be literally drawn in opposite directions. It conveys the idea of being divided, pulled apart and distracted which is what worry does. Worry distracts us from faith and trust in God and His promises.
The word translated, “anxious,” is in the present imperative, meaning to stop (right now!) being anxious. Stop being divided in your affections. Stop being distracted and pulled in different directions. Stop it, right now! Stop, being distracted by worry and fear.
Jesus began the prayer that He taught us to pray by addressing God the Father who is in heaven (literally, the heavens (plural)[i], while asking just a few phrases later for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven[ii] (singular). (Matt. 6:10) Our English translations use “heaven” (singular) in both places, and the nuance of the Greek word (in the singular) is used is lost, literally, in the translation.[iii]