Most people these days think prayer is instinctive. People believe that every person can or must find his or her own way of communing with the Almighty. Wrong.
Prayer is a spiritual discipline, and like any such discipline it can be taught and must be learned to be practiced effectively. God hears everything, but I am not sure God listens to most of the drivel that passes for prayer in our day. The disciples knew they needed to learn how to pray—they needed to be taught, and don’t tell me all these people today know better than the disciples.
What is striking here is the way the disciples ask to be taught.
My son asked me to play Halo with him. He knows outside of the occasional hand of free cell, I don’t indulge in video games. Nothing against the games, but I felt for me it would be best not to ever start down that road. So he tried this: “All the other dads play Halo. Alex’s dad plays with him all the time.” Of course, my son knew the answer before he asked, and he was not disappointed when shortly his brother finished what he was doing and the two went off happily to shoot each other.
The disciples did something like that. “All the other prophets teach their disciples to pray. John taught his disciples…” Curiously, I think the disciples also knew the answer in advance—and that the answer would be yes. But they were shy about it and hesitant in asking.
Jesus gave them a few words on which I may do a study at some point; but then he gave them a lesson or two in the subject of prayer and he began by gently scolding them in their shyness with a little story about waking your neighbor in the night. The way they asked deserved the answer, “It is late. I’m tired. Forget it.” They should have been bold in asking for the things of God. Call that lesson number one.
Now, lesson number two: the infamous ask, seek, knock. It is possible there is no passage in scripture that has been taken out of context more than this one. First, let me be clear: it does not have anything to do with the things of this world. It has nothing (directly) to do with health, wealth, or anything else related to life on earth. Persistent asking for the winning lottery ticket, or for Aunt Mildred to be healed, or for the mansion and the yacht would certainly annoy me. I can only imagine how God hears such things. No.
Persistent asking, seeking and knocking has ONLY to do with asking for the things of God, as in this instance, learning to pray! Ask for faith. Seek the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy peace. Knock on the door of Heaven. Stop banging on the door of this earth. Demanding earthly blessings shows a decided lack of trust in the Lord.
So we understand these lessons to say, when you pray, get your asker focused on the right things. Come boldly before God and ask, and God will not give you snakes and scorpions in answer.
Indeed, he will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. No, this is not just a tacked on appendage. It is the summary of the teaching. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of prayer itself. Paul tries to explain this in a couple of places. The Holy Spirit Prays for us in our weakness. The Holy Spirit instructs and guides our prayer life and directs us to pray for what really matters in that moment.
I could go on, but let us just call this lesson number three: Boldly come before the throne of God and persistently ask, seek, knock for the things of God, above all to be filled with the Holy Spirit who will remind you of all things needful—if you take the time to listen—and teach you and help you in your prayers so they reach not only the ears of God but the heart of God and so they don’t sound like all the other drivel we poor souls send heavenward these days.