I think most of us have something we want to ask God for–a healed body, renewed mind, refreshed spirit, or reconciled relationship to name a few. But sometimes we wonder if we are praying properly. It is reassuring that even the disciples of Jesus asked him for instructions on how to pray. Jesus not only gave the disciples instructions on how to pray, but he also demonstrated the Father’s response to our prayers.
There is much we can learn about prayer from the story of a leper who asked Jesus for healing.
“While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ And immediately the leprosy left him.
Then Jesus ordered him, ‘Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’ Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:12-16
It says the man was covered with leprosy, and notice that this man meets Jesus in a city. Leviticus 13 (part of the Jewish Law) says that the person who had leprosy had to yell, “Unclean! Unclean!” to protect others, any time they were in a public place. This meant that lepers often stayed away from people to avoid such a shameful experience.
Look at this man’s courage and his boldness, knowing that wherever he went, people would be disgusted by him. He was unlovable and untouchable; yet he comes straight to Jesus. Everyone would step back as he went by. Probably a gasp would be heard, “What is this man doing? Who does he think he is? Does he not know the law? You are not to show yourself in the city. And, certainly, you are not to show yourself to Jesus!”
He comes to Jesus, and he doesn’t ask Jesus to heal him. Notice that he says, “If you are willing, make me clean.” He was asking for something more than just physical healing. It’s as though he was expressing, “Jesus, you know the process the priests are supposed to go through so I can be loved, so that I can be with people who I love and who love me. I want to come into the city and participate in community. Connect me with others. Make me right.” That would have been an outrageous, bold request.
He shows Jesus respect and with humility and boldness says, “Are you willing?” Do you care? Do you see my pain? Are you willing to make this right? Jesus responds, “I am willing.”
In Mark’s account of this story, it says Jesus became indignant. When you see an injustice, doesn’t that make you a little bit indignant? You’re angry at the injustice, but filled with compassion. Jesus was filled with compassion for this man, and out of that compassion he says, “I am willing.”
Oftentimes we’re afraid to pray big prayers because we think God’s not willing. We think maybe what we ask for is something God is not willing to give us.
After Jesus heals him, Jesus commands the leper to publicly show himself to be clean, but first to the priests. Jesus demonstrated the power and willingness of the Heavenly Father to heal the sick. Every time the leper told his story, he was also telling God’s story.
We also have to tell our story. We have to tell others what God has done for us and how he’s worked in our lives. Every time God works in your life it’s a miracle. When he changes your hard heart, it’s a miracle. When he heals your disease, it’s a miracle. When he restores relationship, it’s a miracle. When God enters into this world and changes anything, it’s a miracle. It doesn’t matter how big or little it is. His very presence is something we should be praising him for!
I know God is at work in your story, even when you might not sense it. He is at work because He is powerful and merciful, and he cares for you.
So, let’s ask boldly.
In Matthew, Jesus’ own words tell us to ask, and ask in boldness.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8
Later in Matthew it says, “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father…” And again: “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask [in my name].” In John, Jesus says, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
Ask. Seek. Knock. If Jesus said it once, that would be one thing, but he says it again and again.
It’s OK to ask. In fact, it’s expected that we ask our Father boldly. Of course, the leper came with the right heart, and worshiped Jesus first. He left it up to God to answer that prayer or not, asking in humility. James tells us, “You don’t have because you don’t ask God. When you ask, you don’t receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you have on your pleasures.” (James 4:2b-3) Indeed, we must ask God in humility. We must surrender ourselves before him when we ask, but make no mistake, we are to ask boldly.
Jesus modeled praying with such boldness when he was at the garden of Gethsemane. With his face on the ground he prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken for me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) His is a prayer that includes both full surrender and boldness.
After we ask boldly, all we can do is surrender and watch to see how God works in response to our prayers.
I used to work at CHOC (Children’s Hospital of Orange County) as a chaplain. One day, I heard about a young boy named Edwin who was struggling for his life. It was urgent that I go be with the family right then. I looked pretty professional, walking quickly through the hospital with my badge on to go meet this family, but in my mind I was terrified. I prayed these jumbled prayers, asking God to show up, to speak through me, to help me know what to say and how to pray.
I got to the room and around this little teeny incubator was a whole team of people working. You could see the worry in their faces as they’re trying to save this child’s life. The mom saw me and said, “I want her to pray for my son.” I stepped forward, my heart pounding, but before I could open my mouth, the mom started to pray. I still remember her prayer. She said, “Lord, thank you for my son. He’s perfect, he’s everything I dreamed of. I want to see my son grow up. I want to see him smile and play and run. I want to see him married one day. I want to see his quirks and his flaws and his gifts. I want to be with my son, but he’s yours, and I give him to you, and I put him in your hands. Lord, you decide. You decide what’s going to happen with him. I trust you.”
After she prayed, I prayed, although God must have given me words because I don’t remember what I said. Edwin is alive today. Of course, there were many other times I prayed and yet I’ve seen children die at that hospital. I don’t know why that happens sometimes and not others. But I do know that when we’re praying, Jesus invites us to ask boldly.
It would be easy for me to say little Edwin is alive today because the medicine worked, because the doctors were amazing. Medicine is good and is powerful and can do amazing things, but the true healer is God himself. Edwin is alive because it is God’s will.
Jesus loves you. Jesus is willing. He is willing to heal, to renew, to redeem and to make whole. He doesn’t always answer when or how we expect or want him to, but we must ask boldly and humbly. He will answer in accordance to God’s will, and all along the way, he will love us through whatever challenge we might face.
What do you need to ask God for today? Ask boldly, and watch for his answer.
Has God answered your prayers? What story do you need to share with others so that they might see Jesus at work in you.