Invitation to Pray
Why is it so difficult to pray? I know most of you have a hard time praying consistently. I experience that same problem with prayer. I have a daily prayer list, but every day I find myself struggling to say my prayers. Even after all these years as a Christian, prayer does not come easily.
You would think as Christians that we would be praying all the time. After all, God has promised us that we can pray anytime because Jesus took care of our sin problem. Jesus opened up heaven for us on the cross. We know that God desires that we pray, yet we still find prayer difficult.
There are some Christians who find it very easy to pray. These Christians are often confused why the rest of us find prayer so difficult. What these Christians may not realize is that God gifts certain people with strong faith; these Christians are able to pray and trust God very easily. If you have this gift, please use it. We need your prayers.
In some ways it is much easier for an unbeliever to pray than it is for a Christian. Prayer is easy when you have a low view of God and a high view of yourself. To some, God is there only to help them and make their life better. They do not need to give any weight to God’s holiness, or his call for exclusive devotion. Some pray for what they want without giving any thought to who God actually is, or what he has actually said.
But as Christians, you have come to know the God of the Bible. There are certain tensions that come with being in a relationship with the true God.
For example, it is difficult to know what to pray for. The God of the Bible does not promise to give us health, wealth and happiness all the days of our lives. The God of the Bible tells us to expect suffering. The true God doesn’t always answer prayers the way we would like him to. This introduces a tension in our prayers. How do we pray for people? How do we pray for ourselves? Do we ask for things we want?
This tension is healthy. This tension shows you are trying to do justice to what the Bible teaches about God. This tension is why Christians throughout the centuries have prefaced their prayers with the words, “if it is your will.” Lord, heal him from his sickness, if it is your will. Lord, help me find a better job, if it is your will. With this recognition of God’s sovereignty, you can pray for what you want without taking God lightly.
Another reason we have a difficult time praying is because we do not usually see the results of our prayers quickly. God works mysteriously; he works slowly; he works in the inner man in ways we cannot usually discern. Because we do not always see quick answers, we lose heart that our prayers are not reaching God.
But most of all, we find it difficult to pray because we still have a difficult time accepting the gospel. We stay away from prayer because deep down we know we are not very spiritual. We still have this lingering belief that we are in a works relationship with God. We still have that lingering belief that we must prove ourselves to God before we can pray.
Yes, I know intellectually that Jesus paid for all of my sins, yet that fact does not always register in my emotions. I still feel I must keep some distance from God because I am not a very good Christian. Our fear of prayer reveals our struggle to accept the gospel. Our struggle with prayer reveals that we still struggle believing that Jesus has forever made us right with God.
This brings us to our passage. It is important to see where our passage fits in to the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. In Matt 6:19, Jesus commanded you not to love money, but to lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. Our Lord made some very strong statements about the impossibility of serving both God and riches.
In the next section Jesus comforted you with the promise of God’s material provision. Do not be anxious for your life, for your heavenly Father knows what you need. When the Lord gives a command that seems very difficult, he tempers that command with encouragement and promises.
That same pattern is followed in chapter 7. Our Lord begins with a rather strong command; do not judge, lest you be judged. God calls you to humility, to love, to forgo your pride; to live out the Christian life by helping others and not judging them.
Like the command to not love money, this command seems very difficult to follow. We are naturally prideful; we are naturally judgmental; we do not know how to love. That command calls for a Christ-likeness that we do not find in ourselves.
So in vv. 7-11, the Lord tempers his command with encouragement. Do not worry; what I have commanded I will also provide the strength to do. You are not left to your own resources. The encouragement in chapter 6 was a promise of physical provision; the encouragement in chapter 7 is a promise of spiritual provision.
Do you need strength to obey God’s commands; strength to be a good Christian? V. 7; Ask, and it will be given unto you; seek, and you shall find, knock, and it will be opened unto you. For everyone who asks, receives, he who seeks, finds, to the one who knocks it will be opened.
Sometimes the Lord gives truth that is very easy to remember. We have a difficult time praying and trusting God, so these sayings easily come to your mind when you need them; seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened unto you.
You see in the Bible how a Christian should live, but you find yourself falling so short of what you see. What should you do? Ask. Jesus Christ broke down the barrier that kept you from God. Heaven is open now. Ask. God does not command anything that he will not give you the strength to do. When you need strength to be a Christian, ask and it shall be given.
Every spiritual grace comes from above. You have no resources in yourself to do anything for God. Jesus says, ask, and I will supply it. You do not think you can love others and resist temptation; ask. God promises to supply what you need.
Now remember, you believe in the God of the Bible. The Bible teaches you how God answers those prayers. God has chosen to work slowly, and through means. Do not think you can ask, and at the moment you ask you will be supernaturally filled with all strength, or love, or patience. God chooses to use people, and life’s lessons, to answer those prayers.
We do not like correction, we do not like suffering, and we do not like learning life’s difficult lessons. But God has chosen to use these means to make us stronger Christians. When I look back at my life, it was the corrections, or the suffering, or the consequences of my sin that have helped me grow the most.
What this means is that you cannot pray that God will make you a strong Christian, and then ignore the admonitions you hear from this pulpit each Sunday. You cannot ask God for strength and then ignore others when they offer correction or rebuke. These are how God answers those prayers. God will answer your prayers, but he will do so on his terms, in his way.
Now rest assured that you will look back one day and see all the ways the Lord answered every prayer for spiritual grace; answers that came in very ordinary ways through ordinary people, and often through very difficult circumstances. But our Lord wants you to be assured that God will provide all you need to be a fruitful Christian all the days of your life.
In v. 9, our Lord uses the illustration of fathers and sons to assure you of God’s provision. You can pray to God with confidence because the Lord loves you more than any earthly father could love his children.
Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a scorpion? Of course the listeners would be horrified at the thought of a father giving a three year old boy a stone because the father doesn’t want to give away any of his bread. Even more horrifying is the thought of a father giving his son a poisonous snake when his son asks for food.
As the listeners were repelled at the thought of such a horrible father, Jesus emphatically drives the point home. If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?
If it is horrible to think of an earthly father ignoring his child’s plea for food, and even responding with evil, why would you think God would not answer your prayers for spiritual growth, or for forgiveness? If you, who are born with a sin nature, still love your children enough to provide what they need, how much more will your heavenly Father, who never lies, and who loves you more than any earthly father could, provide you with what you need to be a Christian?
You may say; but I do pray, but God doesn’t answer. My response; you are here in church, are you not? Where would you be if the Lord had stopped answering years ago? What sins could you have fallen into; what type of person could you have turned into had God let you go your own way? You may not see it, but God has answered every one of your prayers for spiritual strength.
If you are a Christian, God is your heavenly Father. He loves you and loves when you pray. He does not answer your prayers because you have impressed him. He answers your prayers because your Savior impressed him in your place. Jesus is your righteousness, he is your sin-bearer; he paid the full price so you could have this relationship with God based on grace.
Pray often. Keep these phrases close to your heart, he who asks, receives, he who seeks finds, he who knocks, it will be opened to him.
Children, begin praying every day to God if you can. Ask him for what you need. Pray for your parents, and for other people. You adults, who are children of God also, trust your heavenly Father. Do not look to yourself or within yourself for strength. Come to him daily for what you need spiritually; whether forgiveness or spiritual growth. He has promised to hear and answer. Amen