In our Genesis reading, Abraham takes the respectful posture of prayer with the LORD, “drawing nearer” and beginning his request that God should spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of the innocent people living there. We hear Abraham appeal to God’s mercy, since he must know that justice warrants the punishment of the towns. Abraham is deferential, but also persistent. This back and forth haggling is similar to the deal-making that Near Eastern people were comfortable with. But this familiarity is also a bit startling. 

Abraham knows he is speaking with the LORD, (the sacred name for God) who is just and merciful. The exchange is heartening because it shows us the intimacy that prayer can offer – “the LORD remained standing before Abraham,” who drew nearer to the LORD. Abraham is not scolded by his God for six repeated requests; the Lord is patient. God actually goes along with each entreaty, with each “ify” request!  Abraham whittles the number of righteous people down to 10; perhaps the number of people in his nephew Lot’s household? God promises to spare the towns to save the 10 But, we know the towns were destroyed, so finding the 10 innocents didn’t happen. However, Lot and his family escape. Ultimately, Abraham’s prayer was answered, but not as he envisioned.

In the Gospel, Luke takes up the theme of prayer. Jesus teaches us the Our Father – the prayer of the true disciple. This awesome prayer is respectful, deferential and yet so familial! We are encouraged to ask that our needs be met; so we must discern our needs from our wants. Daily bread reminds us to stay rooted in requesting what is pressing in the present moment. This petition assures that gifts and blessings aren’t stockpiled or hoarded. We beg for forgiveness, which means that we ask for a deepening awareness of our shortcomings and failures. When we see our lives more clearly, then we can reach out and forgive those who fail us. This kind of living assures that the kingdom is already on its way!

Jesus puts flesh on the prayer with the parable of the needy friend. The friend who goes knocking at midnight is in a terrible bind. Hospitality is a cultural must and he is empty handed in the face of accepting visitors. Our first reaction is like the householder in telling the guy – too bad, poor timing, not convenient, come back later! Aren’t we relieved that God doesn’t respond like that? No matter the time of day or night, no matter the circumstances, God is there for us. Of course, we need to persist – not in twisting God’s arm, but in learning humility in the asking.

Jesus underscores the importance of perseverance in prayer by saying that we must ask, seek, knock and the door will be opened. As we pursue our needs in prayer, the practice of seeking is part of the gift of prayer. We learn to see situations differently; we develop a deeper consciousness about the way God answers prayer. Our eyes and hearts are open to those good gifts that come from the Holy Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control. Fortified with these gifts we can become the answer to our prayer in many instances. We also can bring “good gifts’” to others as we pray and act in solidarity with all those in need of prayer.

We cry out with the psalmist, “Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.” God answers prayer in awesome and surprising ways. By persevering in prayer, not just the prayer of petition, but the prayer of praise and gratitude, even the prayer of lament and anguish, we draw nearer to the Holy One, who is always “standing before us” with the door wide open!