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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am Worship service, 2017-12-10

Text: Matthew 7:7-11

There was once a Christian mother who kept her daily quiet time with God very faithfully. She was doing well spiritually until a day when disaster struck – her 10 year old son was hit by a car and was sent to the hospital unconscious. After being under intensive care for two weeks, he died. The mother was devastated. She said, “What’s the use of praying? I prayed harder in those two weeks than in my whole life, but my son still died!”

 

A godly widow once shared with me that for a long time, she had been asking God to take her home, because she missed her husband so much. She asked, “Why has God had not answered my prayer?” Perhaps many of us have similar struggles. “I keep praying, but I get no answers. I have prayed so hard, but there are no results. Why are my prayers not answered? Is there a key to answered prayer?”

 

This morning we will be studying passage from our Lord’s sermon on the mount that addresses this question. You may recall that we had already studied an earlier section of this sermon where Jesus had given some teaching on prayer, which is 6:5-13. Why does Jesus now return to the subject of prayer? Well, to answer that question one must first observe that though these two parts of His sermon are on the same subject, the focus is quite different. In the earlier part, the focus was on the right and wrong manner of praying – Jesus was teaching us not to pray hypocritically, having an outward form without the inward reality, and not to emulate the repetitive chanting prayers of pagans. He corrected the manner of praying by giving a model prayer – the Lord’s Prayer.

 

But as we come now to this latter section on prayer in His sermon, we observe that the focus is no longer on the manner of praying, but on the assurance that God will answer prayer. Why is this assurance needed? Perhaps it is because it is already evident to the hearers of the whole Sermon on the Mount that many things are expected of those who follow Jesus. Some may be discouraged by this and think that they can never have all the virtues and qualities taught by Jesus in this Sermon. The Sermon on the Mount lays down the righteousness, sincerity, humility, purity, and love that is constantly expected from us. But what assurance do we have that we can meet all these expectations? The answer that our Lord Jesus gives is – through prayer. These wonderful virtues are within our reach if they sought through prayer. The emphasis here is therefore on the firm assurance that God will answer prayer.

Let us consider some of the ways in which God has answered prayer: Abraham’s prayer delivered Lot and his family from being destroyed in Sodom (Genesis 18:23-32). The prayer of his son Isaac enabled Rebecca, his barren wife of twenty years, to be blessed not just with one child but two – Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:21). Joshua’s prayer caused the sun and moon to stand still (Joshua 10:12,13). Joshua 10:14 tells us about the wonder of this short prayer: “And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the LORD hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the LORD fought for Israel.”

Hannah was distraught by her barren condition, but her silent but tearful prayer at the Tabernacle brought her a son who became one of Israel’s greatest prophets (1 Samuel 1:10,11). Samuel himself was a man of prayer. It is recorded in 1 Samuel 12:17-19 that one day while he rebuked the people for their many sins and asking for a king, he prayed for the Lord to send thunder and rain upon them, and when the Lord answered his prayer by making it rain and thunder in the usually dry harvest season, “all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel.” (v.18).

These few examples that we have seen are from the Bible. At our church prayer meeting on Tuesday night we often hear wonderful testimonies about how God has answered prayer. Answered prayer is truly a powerful testimony of God’s faithfulness. And the key to answered prayer is found in our Lord's words in this passage. This morning we will see that the key to answered prayer has three parts (It is like a combination lock that requires three numbers to open). Let us look at the first part.

  1. Resolve to Persist until God Answers (vv. 7, 8)

This is seen in verses 7-8 – “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” When our hearts are burdened with a need, we should ask God for it, and not only ask, but earnestly seek after it, and not only seek but keep knocking, until the door is opened. In the use of these three action words we learn that answered prayer belongs to those who are persistent in praying. James 5:16 teaches us the same truth – “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

Colossians 4:12 tells us how Epaphras prayed for his fellow church members: “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” The words ‘labouring fervently’ here literally means ‘agonising’. Epaphras was always agonizing in prayer for the Colossians.

One reason why many believers do not experience much by way of answered prayer, is that they are not fervent at all in their praying. They are not really serious in what they ask for. They don’t mean business in asking God for the things that are in His will for them to ask. Such half-hearted non-serious praying is typical of those who pray without any definite objects. They merely ramble in their prayers after this or after that, and get nothing – because they are not seriously desiring anything in particular.

I think that many of us have to admit that we have been doing that in most of our praying: We chatter about many subjects, but the soul does not concentrate itself upon any one object. We pray without thinking beforehand what we mean to ask God for. We utter our requests as a matter of habit, but without any motion of the heart. For instance, if you are a Sunday School teacher don’t simply ask God to bless all your students, but bring each student by name before the Most High. Tell Him what you hope for each student and how earnestly you desire it.

Now, we should of course be careful not to impose our wills on God when we pray, but always pray that His will be done and His glory and honour will be magnified through our prayer. But we should not because of this, then go to the other extreme of becoming so modest in making our requests before God that we do not dare to ask, seek and knock even for the things we should be asking for. Remember that the exhortation in Hebrews 4:16 tells us “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

So let us inject our prayers with this boldness to come and make requests before God. We do this not to impose our wills upon Him, but to be dead serious about what we ask of Him. Now asking, seeking and knocking does not mean that our prayers need to be very, very long and repetitious. Jesus already said that we should not “use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” (Matthew 6:7) The publican’s short prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13) had greater fervency than many other prayers.

Asking, seeking and knocking also does not mean that we have to shout our prayers out loudly to God, for Hannah poured out her soul to God even though she made no sound at all (1 Samuel 1:13 – “…she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard”). Prayer is the work of the soul, and not merely of the mind or the mouth. And we must be prepared to get involved in much soul-work! The attitude of our soul in prayer is not to insist, but to persist.

Jesus gave an illustration of this in Luke 11:5-8 – “Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.”

This man was sleeping soundly in the comfort of his own home. All of a sudden his sleep was rudely disturbed at midnight by the noise of someone knocking urgently on his door. He heard someone calling out his name. He recognized it to be the voice of his friend. What was the matter? Was it a very urgent matter? No. He just wanted  three loaves of bread. Now, I do not think you would be happy to be woken up in the middle of the night just for a request like this.

But he did get up to provide what was requested. He gave his friend as many loaves as he needed. This suggests that he had a good supply of bread, and probably could have given more than just 3 loaves, if needed. He did not have to say, “I am sorry but I can only spare you 1 or 2 loaves.” Perhaps he was a baker. But what does this teach us? I think it is a wonderful picture of how abundant God's supply is. God is able to meet every need, and every request. No matter how great the need may be, God’s supply will always be sufficient to meet the need.

Let us always remember this when we pray. We are making our requests to the Almighty God whose supply far exceeds every need. One mistake we often make in prayer is to focus our attention on the magnitude of our own problems. We get so discouraged when we see how unsolvable our problems are. This only results in prayers that are actually complaints of self-pity.

We should let our eyes be fixed upon God rather than upon our problems when we pray! Only then can we pray effectively, for only then is faith in God being exercised. In comparison to God’s inexhaustible supply, all the needs of this world are merely like a drop in the ocean.

Have you been troubled lately because of difficult problems that you cannot solve at your workplace? Are you facing a tremendous crisis at home and do not know what to do? Is your workload of study and CCA at school overwhelming you and you cannot cope no matter how hard you try? Seek the Lord in prayer then, and fix your eyes upon Him and on His ability to provide. And then keep on asking, seeking and knocking. Don’t give up. God’s delays are not God’s denials. You need patience to persist in praying until He answers.

This is what the friend in the parable did. He kept calling to the one inside the house to lend him three loaves of bread. He refused to go away. Finally his persistence paid off when the friend inside finally opened the door and gave him what he asked for. And so through his persistence, the friend outside was able to feed his tired and hungry guest at home. Thus the first part of the key to answered prayer is to persist in praying until God answers. Let us go on now to look at the second part of the key to answered prayer:

  1. Recognize what is Permissible for Us to Ask (vv. 9, 10)

Let us look at verses 9-10 – “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?  Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?”  The son in this example asked his father for something that is good and necessary. If he had requested something that is harmful (such as a stone or a serpent), it would have been evil of his father to grant it. Here is one reason why our prayers are sometimes not answered – because we ask God for the wrong things. We ask for things that may even be selfish and sinful. As James 4:3 says “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”

 

There was once a boy who asked someone in our church: “When I am playing a computer game, can I ask God to help me to get on to the next level?” A football fan may ask a similar question: “When I watch the world cup series, can I pray that God will make my favourite team win the game?” It is quite futile to make such prayers. They will not be answered. They only encourage us to think of God as vending machine or a fairy godmother who can be used to make all our dreams and wishes come true.

Whatever we ask for in prayer must therefore be within God’s will for us to have. If it is not God’s will, then it is not permissible to pray for it. This truth is found in 1 John 5:14-15 – “And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us: And if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.”

 

How then can we know if what we ask is according to God’s will? Here are seven guidelines: What we ask for cannot be something that God has commanded us not to do. It cannot be something that will lead ourselves or others to sin. If it helps us to obey God's commands, then it is according to God’s will. If it glorifies God, it is according to God's will.

 

If it brings people to Jesus Christ it is according to God's will. It is not against God's will for us to pray for help in the midst of trouble, when we are striving to live lives that are fully submitted to Him (e.g. Christ, when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane prayed that if it is possible, He could be spared the cup of agonizing pain, but He immediately added, “…nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42). Similarly, it is not against God’s will to ask Him for blessings when we are striving to live lives that are fully submitted to Him, because this would mean that what we desire for ourselves would be in full harmony with what God desires for us.

 

And this is what we see in our text– We see a son asking his father for bread and for fish. Why does he ask for these things? He is obviously hungry and needs food to eat. The good father will surely want his son to be healthy and not deprived of the food he needs. So both their desires are in full harmony. Let us always desire those things that our heavenly Father Himself desires for us – then what we ask for will not be amiss.

 

This will also prevent us from asking for things that are extravagant, things that are far beyond what we need. Remember that the petition that we make in the Lord’s Prayer is not, “Give us this day our daily banquet.”Some people think they can make a deal with God. They pray, “Lord, if You will give me everything that I could wish for, I promise that I will be a good Christian and serve You much more than before.” We must never make our obedience and service conditional upon God’s answering our prayers. If our desires are fully aligned with God’s we should pray, “Lord, I trust that You know what is best for me. That is all I ask for.” We must always trust that whatever provisions God gives to us is always good for us. This brings us now to the third part to the key to answered prayer:

  1. Rely on the Provision of Our Heavenly Father (v. 11)

Let us look at verse 11 – “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” This verse presents a picture of a loving father who is most willing to grant his children whatever they ask of him, for their welfare. Those of us who are parents can understand this a little better. How do you feel when your child comes to you for help to do the things that he cannot do on his own? How would you feel if your little child should one day stop asking you for help, and look instead to someone else for the help that you can provide? I am sure you would feel quite sad, and even upset if he does this.

 

However, the point in this verse is not merely the parents’ willingness to give to their children, but their willingness to give them gifts that are good – even though they themselves are evil. Human parents are evil in the sense that they are intrinsically self-centered rather than God-centered. This taints everything that they do. Nevertheless they are still able to give good gifts to their children. How much more then, will our heavenly Father, who is nothing but pure goodness, give good gifts to us when we ask of Him?

 

From all this we will realise that the best course of action for us to take when we pray is to ask, seek and knock, and then leave the outcome of our praying entirely to God. He knows whether or not it is in our best interest to grant our petitions. We should not question why He gives more to some of us, and less to others. God gives according to His wise counsel, knowing how much each of us can handle. And what He finally gives to us in answer to our prayers may not be what we asked, but it is actually even better than what we had asked from Him. And so we must rely on Him to give what is best to each one of us.

This morning we have learned about the key to answered prayer. We have seen that it consists of three parts: (1) Resolve to persist in prayer until God answers, (2) Recognize what is permissible for us to ask, and (3) Rely on the provision of the Father. Using this key will open the windows of heaven to release all His greatest blessings!

Now that you have this key, you must make good use of it. Don’t neglect your prayer life. As J.C. Ryle once said, “Prayer is the most important subject in Practical Religion. All other subjects are second to it. Reading the Bible, keeping the Sabbath, hearing sermons, attending public worship, going to the Lord’s Table – all these are very weighty matters. But none of them are so important as private prayer.”

Do you forget to pray, especially when you are too caught up with your work and with facing the new challenges that each day brings into your life? I must confess that there have been times when I got so involved in the busyness of life, and of the ministry that I forgot to pray. I got so carried away running around, with activity after activity in serving the Lord that I forget to pray.

Perhaps you are experiencing this too. Perhaps you always find yourself forgetting to pray, because it just does not occur to you to do so at the moment. How often have you faced a problem, and instead of praying and seeking God’s help first, you tried to use some other means to solve it and it failed? And then you turned to prayer only as your last resort?

So please don’t forget to pray. Make full use of the key to answered prayer. And may the Lord be glorified as we spend more time coming boldly to His throne of grace.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

January 7 & 14 - The Power of Faith

And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. Matthew 21:22