I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For anyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)
Perhaps you have prayed for something and not had your prayer answered. If you are like me, you find yourself asking, “Why are someone else’s prayers answered while mine aren’t? Have I done something to offend God? Do I not have access to God’s ear like someone else? Didn’t Jesus say, ask, seek, and knock, and your prayers would be answered?”
As I mentioned in our last newsletter, our Friday evening Bible study has been reading Bryan Chapell’s, Praying Backwards. It is helpful to remember that Jesus is encouraging us to be persistent in prayer. Jesus had just told the parable of a man who bangs on his neighbor’s door late at night asking for bread because he had visitors arrive unexpectedly and didn’t have anything to feed them. (None of us relish the idea of being awakened from a sound sleep by a neighbor who hadn’t planned ahead) The neighbor reluctantly gives him some bread so he can get back to sleep.
It might seem God would get tired of us pestering him. Besides that, God is not hard of hearing, nor is his memory short. But the point that Jesus makes is not that God will relent to our wishes because he is tired of us pestering him, but that God, in contrast to the reluctant neighbor, actually delights in answering our prayer. But that begs the question, as Chapell asks, Why does the sovereign God, who is able to control all things, who miraculously answers prayer in Scripture, and who tells us we will receive whatever we ask in Jesus’ name, still want persistent prayer?
For one thing, what may seem like a good thing to us may not be as good as a better thing that God wants to reveal to us in the long run. For example, God could, convert millions in an hour, move mountains in a minute, provide rent money in a second, and heal before we ask as Chapell writes, so why does he require us to be persistent in prayer? The problem lies in what we think God ought to do. We identify the absence of difficulty as good when God’s greater good is to conform us to the likeness of his Son.
Tied closely tied to this is our propensity to distraction. Chapell says, If we could snap our fingers and get God to perform on cue, our prayers would promote self-indulgence rather than holiness. By feeding our appetites we would be all too easily distracted from God himself. As Chapell writes, The key to spiritual happiness is not the Midas touch, but trust in God. The fulfillment of the soul is not earthly gain but enjoyment of the Savior. Thus persistent prayer in all circumstances keeps these perspectives fresh and exercises the faith that keeps them strong. That’s why he says, persistent prayer makes us more Christlike by tempering our human selfishness and by strengthening our divine dependence.
Instead of discouraging us to persist, Jesus encourages us. If we understand prayer rightly, what we come to realize is that prayer actually has more to do with what God is doing in us, and our relationship with our him as our Heavenly Father, than it has to do with the things we pray for. Not that the things we pray for are not important, but what he really wants is for us to know him. After forty-five years as a Christian, this is something I feel like I’m just now beginning to understand.
Pastor Tom Bridgman
Note: Italicized quotes are from Bryan Chapell’s Praying Backwards (Baker Books)