PRAYING CONSTANTLY WITH CONFIDENCE
5/25/2012 8:31:42 PM -
A woman by the name Jo M. Guerrero tells this life story: "When my daughter was five, she disobeyed me and had been sent to her room. After a few minutes, I went in to have a talk about why she was being punished. Teary-eyed, she asked, 'Why do we do wrong things?'
'Well,' I said, 'Sometimes the Devil tells us to do something wrong and we listen him. We need to learn to listen to God instead.' To which she sobbed, 'But God doesn't talk loud enough!'"
I would like to share with you on the subject, "Praying Constantly with Confidence."
I. BELIEVERS' ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE FATHER VV. 7-11
It is natural that our Lord Jesus should move on from our relationship with our fellow men and women to our relationship with our heavenly Father. This is vitally important because our Christian duty of discrimination not judging others, not casting pearls before pigs, and being helpful without being hypocritical is much too difficult for us without divine grace.
A. The Promises Jesus Makes for Believers
This passage is not the first instruction on prayer in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has already warned us against pharisaic hypocrisy and pagan formalism, and has given us His model for prayer. Now, however, Jesus actively encourages us to pray by giving us some gracious promises. For nothing would motivate us to pray more than the fact that the heavenly Father hears us when we pray. Jesus knows that we are timid and shy, that we feel unworthy and unfit to present our needs to God. We think that God is so great and we are so tiny that we do not dare to pray. That is why Christ wants to move us from such timid thoughts, cast away our doubts, and to have us pray with confidence and boldness.
The most important lesson you can learn is how to pray. Indeed, you must pray so that your prayer takes hold of God. Prayer is a voice that goes into God's ear, and it lives as long as God's ear is open to holy pleas, as long as God's heart is alive to holy things. It was E. M. Bounds who said, "The prayers of God's saints are the capital stock in heaven by which Christ carries on His great work upon the earth." The believer who is the most highly skilled in prayer will do the most for God. The strongest one in Christ's kingdom is the one who can knock the best, and the secret of success in Christ's kingdom is the ability to pray. Therefore, Jesus commands us to ask, seek, and knock. These are imperatival verbs given to us deliberately in an ascending scale of urgency. These imperatives indicate persistence with which you and I should make our request known to God. The promises are expressed in universal statement, "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened"(v. 8).
Jesus uses an illustration which His hearers were familiar with, namely a child coming to his father with a request. If the child asks for bread will he be given something which looks a bit like it but in fact, disastrously different, for instance, a stone instead of a loaf, or a snake instead of a fish? What Jesus is saying is that if the child asks for something wholesome to eat (bread, or fish), will he/she receive instead something unwholesome, either inedible (a stone) or positively harmful (a poisonous snake)? Of course not! Jesus says that parents even though are evil--that is selfish by nature, still love their children and give them only good gifts. Notice that here Jesus asserts and assumes the inherent sinfulness of human nature. However, Jesus does not deny that bad men are capable of doing good things. On the contrary, evil parents give good gifts to their children, for God drops into their hearts a portion of His goodness.
So the force of Jesus' illustration lies in a contrast than in a comparison between God and man. What Jesus is saying is that if human parents who are evil can give good things to their children, how much more will our heavenly Father who is not evil but absolutely righteous give good things to those who ask Him (v. 11)? The reason why many believers are reluctant or even refuse to pray consistently is that they don't understand the object of their prayer. When a Christian is praying he/she is not praying to someone who is far removed. When you pray to God you are not praying to a distant person. Prayer has to do with relationship. If many of you understand that in prayer you are coming to your "Abba, Father," who is infinitely good and kind this would transform your prayer life. In prayer you are not coming to your distant relative, but your heavenly Father. The teaching of Jesus that God is the Father of Christians is very revolutionary. Professor Joachim Jeremias, in his book The Prayers of Jesus, states that when he was writing this book with the help of his assistants they carefully examined the prayer literature of ancient Judah, a large, and rich literature, but in no place in this immense literature is this invocation of God as Abba found. Abba was a familiar word to the Jews, in fact, it was an everyday word, but no Jew dare address God as Abba. It was only Jesus who addressed God as Abba and also teaches us to address Him as Abba, Father. The term "Abba" literally means, "Daddy." So the truth of the matter is that if you belong to Christ, God is your Father, you are His children, and prayer is coming to your Father with your requests. In these words, Jesus reveals the heart of God the Father, God is not selfish, begrudging, or stingy. The children of God do not have to beg or grovel when we come to Him with our requests.
For many Christians the reason they don't pray is that it seems too simple, even simplistic. So in your sophistication you conclude that you cannot believe it, and in any case it does not square with your experience. So you turn away from Christ's prayer promises to your prayer problems. Let me share with some problems people raise regarding the command to pray.
B. The Problem People Raise
Confronted by the straightforward promises of Jesus, "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find," people raise several objections which we need to consider.
1. Prayer is unseemly
These people say, "This encouragement from Jesus to pray presents a false picture of God. They argue that this prayer implies that God needs to be told what we lack or be bullied into giving it, whereas Jesus Himself said earlier that our heavenly Father knows and cares for us anyway. Besides, God cannot be bothered with our petty problems. Why do we suppose that His gifts are dependent on our asking? Do human parents wait before supplying their children's need until they ask for them?"
The answer to these valid questions regarding the reason why God's giving depends on our asking is neither because He is ignorant until we inform Him, nor because He is reluctant until we persuade Him. The reason has to do with us, not with Him. The question is not whether He is ready to give, but whether we are ready to receive. So in prayer we do not prevail on God, but rather prevail on ourselves to submit to God. Admittedly, the language of "prevailing on God" is often used in regard to prayer, but it is an accommodation to human weakness. Even when Jacob "prevailed on God," what really happened is that God prevailed over him, bringing him to the point of surrender when he was able to receive the blessing, which God had all the time been longing to give him. The truth is that the heavenly Father never spoils His children. He does not shower us with gifts whether we like them or not, whether we are ready for them or not. Instead, He waits until we recognize our needs and turn to Him in humility. This is why He says, "Ask, and it will be given you," and James adds, "You do not have because you do not ask" (James 4:2). Therefore, prayer is not unseemly; rather it is the very way God has chosen for us to express our conscious need of Him and our humble dependence on Him.
2. Prayer is Unnecessary
This second objection arises more from experience than from theology. Thoughtful Christians look around them and see many people getting on well without prayer. Indeed they seem to receive without prayer the very same things that we receive with it. They get what they need by working for it, not by praying for it. The farmer gets a good crop by labor, not prayer. The mother gets her baby by medical skill, not prayer. The family balances its budget by the salary of dad and perhaps others, not by prayer. Surely, you may be tempted to say, "This proves that prayer doesn't make an ounce of difference; it is so much wasted breath."
But wait a minute! In thinking about this question, we need to distinguish between gifts of God as Creator and His gifts as Father. We also need to distinguish between His creative gifts and His redemptive gifts. It is perfectly true that God gives certain gifts (harvests, babies, food, life) whether people pray or not, whether they believe or not. He gives to all life and breath. He sends rain from heaven and fruitful seasons to all. He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good alike (Matt. 5:45). He visits a mother when she conceives and later gives birth. None of these gifts is dependent on whether people acknowledge their Creator or pray to Him.
However, God's redemptive gifts are different. God does not bestow salvation on all alike, but bestows His riches upon all who call on Him. "For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved" (Rom. 10:12-13). The same applies to post-salvation blessings, "the good things" which Jesus says the Father gives His children. It is not material blessings only which Jesus is referring to here, but also and most importantly spiritual blessings, such as daily forgiveness, deliverance from evil, peace, the increase of faith, hope and love, in fact, the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit as the comprehensive blessing of God, which is how Luke renders "good things" (Luke 11:13). For these gifts we must certainly pray. As believers we pray for daily bread not because we fear we will starve to death, since millions get their daily bread without ever praying for it or saying grace before meals, but because as His children it is appropriate to acknowledge regularly our physical dependence on Him. We pray for forgiveness and deliverance, because these gifts are given only in answer to prayer and because without them we will be lost. Therefore, prayer is not unnecessary. On the contrary, prayer is vitally essential.
3. Prayer is unproductive
The third problem is similar to the second. People argue that prayer is unnecessary because God gives to many who do not ask, and that it is unproductive because He fails to give to many who do. Someone may say, "I prayed to pass an exam, but failed it. I prayed to be healed of an illness, and it got worse. I prayed for peace, but the world is filled with violence and the sound of war. Prayer doesn't work!" This is the familiar problem of unanswered prayer.
The best way to approach this problem is to remember that the promises of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are not unconditional. It is absurd to think that the promises "Ask and it shall be given you" is an absolute pledge with no strings attached; that "Knock and it will be open to you" is on "Open Sesame" to every closed door without exception; and that by the waving of the prayer wand any wish will be granted and every dream will come true. This idea is ridiculous. It will turn prayer into magic, the person who prays into a magician like Houdinin, and God into a servant who appears instantly to do our bidding like Aladdin's genie every time we rub our little prayer lamp. In addition, this concept of prayer will place an impossible strain on every sensitive Christian if he knew that he was certain to get whatever he asked. As humans though Christians, God knows that at times what we request in prayer are not good for us. But God being the good Father that He is, He gives only good gifts to His children. Being wise as well, He knows which gifts are good and which are not. Our heavenly Father in His divine wisdom and benevolence will never give us something that is harmful, even if we ask for it urgently and repeatedly. The reason is that the Father gives only good things to His children. Therefore, if we ask for good things the Father grants them; if we ask for things that are not good, He denies them; and only He knows the difference.
Therefore, thank God He answers prayer. But thank God He also sometimes refuses our requests. From hindsight aren't you glad that God did not answer some of your prayer requests? Prayer sounds very simple when Jesus teaches about it. However, much lies behind the command to ask, seek, and knock. First, prayer presupposes knowledge. Since God gives gifts that accord His will, you and I have to take pains to discover His will. This implies that we have to study Scripture, and to have a Christian mind that is schooled by meditation of Scripture. Second, prayer presupposes faith. It is one thing to know God's will; it is another to humble yourself before Him by expressing your confidence that He is able to cause His will to be done. Third, prayer presupposes desire. You may know God's will and believe He can perform it, and still not desire it. Prayer is the cardinal means God has ordained by which you and I are to express our deepest desires (Rom. 10:1).
In this text Jesus has taught us that God the Father is willing to give us good gifts. The question is why then are our prayers not answered? This is a question for you to ponder.