Ole Hallesby begins his book, Prayer, with definition. Chapter 1: ‘What Prayer Is’. For this he calls upon Revelation 3:20, that famous verse much used of young evangelists:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
It is a springboard for what the author later writes:
To pray is nothing more than to open the door, giving Jesus access to our needs and permitting him to exercise his own power in dealing with them. (Prayer, p.10)
It is a helpful chapter, full of quotable statements about prayer, powerful and evocative. Focussing in on the attitude of heart that God recognises as prayer, Hallesby lands on the subheadings of Helplessness and Faith. A useful meditation.
However, it got me thinking about Revelation 3:14-22 some more. It is the last of the seven messages from the glorified Jesus to the churches in Asia Minor, this to the church in Laodicea.
Jesus had a problem with that church, but it is interesting that it was not a problem the church saw itself. In fact the passage presents two diametrically opposed views of the church in Laodicea. The church sees itself in this way: “I am rich, I have prospered and I need nothing” (v17a). Pretty comfortable and self-sufficient. Things are ticking along nicely. It is clear they are involved in “works” (v15). Perhaps they were busy doing all the churchy stuff, money was not a problem. Everyone seems pretty happy.
On the other hand, Jesus sees the church like this: “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (v17b). And Jesus has a different view of the works because they show the church to be lukewarm. Rather like a forgotten, undrunk cup of coffee – take a sip, and the taste causes a gag reflex. Jesus calls for some heat – a restoration of zeal (v19).
It is hard to imagine that there could be such opposite perspectives on the same body, but there it is. Is my church like that? Is your church like that? Are you like that? You think you are rich materially (perhaps) and spiritually (certainly!). You pray for others, but – it’s alright – no one need pray for you. You help others, you pray for others, you do some “works”.
Jesus says, “I know your works”. He knows what they are really like! He knows the state of the heart that drives them. So he sees the self-sufficiency, the comfortableness, and, yes, the spiritual pride. Isn’t that warning for us about our hearts?
Jesus’ counsel to these Christians (this passage is not principally addressed to non-Christians) is this: come to him and buy. For me, this reminds me of Isaiah 55:1 “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!” This is the call of the Servant who freely gives to any who will come – even to Christians – especially to Christians.
What he offers directly meets the needs that he has already identified in v17: gold for poverty, white garments for nakedness and shame, salve for bind eyes.
This brings us to the point of prayer. Prayer is about going to the Lord with our needs. But of course, they have to be needs we actually have. Only the ascended, reigning Jesus sees objectively. He sees the needs that really must be addressed. He will answer prayer about them. What about the person who is pretty comfortable with life and has no real needs (as he sees it)? His prayers, if he prays at all, will be perfunctory, flat, empty, heartless, faithless. At the same time they may be outwardly impressive. But in reality nothing is achieved because he has not come for what he really needs.
We must ask for what we really need, and we need first of all to see what we really need.
This is why we need to be with Jesus. Hence the metaphor of the door in v20. It is an alarming picture of Jesus on the outside of a person’s life (it is singular). But see the love of Jesus: Jesus disciplines (v19) (“the Lord disciplines the one he loves“, Hebrews 12:6); Jesus is not aloof because of this pride, but is ready to enter into the closed life (v20); Jesus is not miserly with his gifts, but will grant the reward of sitting with him (v21).
O the deep, deep love of Jesus! When he is with us, when we eat with him, commune with him, we appreciate him more deeply, and we see our need more clearly too.
Then, I think, we will really begin to pray.