March 6, 2016
Parents need to use discretion when giving gifts to their children.1. Sometimes we give gifts that are beyond our children’s ability to handle. I’m sure you have seen these miniature automobiles that run on a battery. The child sits in the car and drives down the sidewalk. Well there is some power there and if the child is too young they might have an accident. Handle with care.
Today as we continue looking at grace gifts from Jesus to us, we are looking at one of those gifts that needs to be handled with care. The gift is appropriate for all ages, but it can be misused and so we need to understand this gift. I’m talking about the gift of prayer. Jesus has given his people the powerful gift of prayer.
I. NOTE THE CONDITIONS OF USE. Mt.6:9-10, 33; Jn.14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24
Today many gifts involving technology come with conditions of use. It’s important to read those conditions so that you don’t misuse the gift or render the gift inoperable. There are some conditions of use when it comes to prayer.
Now you may be thinking, “Wait, when you have a need you just pray. There are no conditions of use when it comes to prayer. Anybody can pray.” Are you sure about that? James talks about people who pray but they don’t receive what they pray for because they ask wrongly. Peter writes that if a husband does not live with his wife as an heir of grace, it will hinder his prayers. Prayer is a powerful gift but, in fact, there are some conditions of use. Let’s consider them
In Mt.6:9-10, Jesus is teaching the disciples about prayer. He gives them what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. The first two concerns of that prayer describe important attitudes on the part of the one praying. First, Jesus says, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” This phrase suggests that the person who seeks the Lord in prayer is someone who desires to see God honored for who he is. There is an ongoing recognition that God is worthy of our wholehearted worship. Heartfelt, ongoing worship of God is a condition for opening the gift of prayer.
In addition to this we see that if we are going to use this powerful gift we will want to see God’s will accomplished in all things. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Presumably we are praying about things taking place here on earth. I don’t know many people who pray about things going on in heaven. It is our life on earth that concerns us and so that’s what we pray about. Well, what is most important to us? Do we want to see God’s good purposes accomplished in our lives and circumstances, or are we more interested in seeing our will and our wants fulfilled?
This is reiterated by Jesus in Mt.6:33. There Jesus is teaching about the problem of anxiety and worry. We worry about so many things. Jesus says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” The antidote for worry is the pursuit of the kingdom of God the rule of God.
And we can look elsewhere to find similar conditions of use when it comes to opening the gift of prayer. For example, in Jn.14:13-14, Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” What does it mean to ask in Jesus’ name? Does it mean we must end our prayer with the words, “In Jesus name,” or else it’s not a proper prayer? No. Praying in Jesus name means that we pray on the basis of all that Jesus has accomplished through his life, death and resurrection and continues to do as he reigns in heaven and earth. So in prayer there is a recognition that it is because of Jesus and his authority that we have access to God in prayer. Again, in Jn.15:7 Jesus tells us that if his words abide in us we can ask whatever we wish. This doesn’t mean that as long as you read your Bible you can pray for whatever you want. It means that our prayers are shaped by the teachings and actions of Jesus.
O and one more thought. After Jesus teaches the Lord’s Prayer, he says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Those in the kingdom of God are learning to have a forgiving heart, just like Jesus and that has bearing on our prayers.
As you can see, the most important condition for using the powerful gift of prayer is a humble surrender to Jesus. David Fitch writes, “…that prayer to the Father, in Christ, through the Spirit is first and foremost about submitting our lives, circumstances, needs, wants, and struggles into God’s coming kingdom.” He says, “We release our egos, wants, and desires and instead submit to the King and pray for his purposes and righteousness to come right here in this place, whatever that might mean.”
You ask, “Well how do I do this?” Men and women, the way to meet the conditions of use is to daily surrender yourself to the Lord Jesus and have his word dwelling in you. It’s not complicated, but it does involve effort as we attend to Jesus and orient our life around him. If you are a follower of Jesus the Holy Spirit will help you do this, but he won’t do it for you.
II. FOLLOW THE OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS. Mt.7:7
In Mt.7:7, Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Here are the operating instructions for prayer. And they are simple to understand. Maybe prayer seems to be a hurdle for you. You hear others pray and they seem to use a special language or prayer seems to just flow from their lips. Some believers pray with what seems to be a special anointing and we begin to feel that we can’t do that.
Jesus makes prayer very accessible. He says that prayer is rooted in request, asking. Prayer is asking. When we pray we are asking God for things that are important to our lives and for things that are important to God. Is God interested in your life? He is. God has invested in your life and future by sending his Son, Jesus and by inviting you to receive his life. As we enter into life with Christ, we increasingly bring everything in our life to Jesus asking for his wisdom, guidance and provision. We bring these matters to Jesus because we want Jesus to order our steps. He is our King. This means that all our relationships, all our affiliations, all our obligations, and all our wants, desires, and needs we bring to Jesus in prayer. And let me quickly add, that we ask. We don’t command. We don’t tell God what he must do. After all, Jesus is the King who knows best what we need.
And then, Jesus says that prayer involves seeking. In other words there is an earnest sincerity in praying. We do not need to convince God or persuade God to hear our prayers. When it comes to prayer, it is not the case that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. When a first grader wants to answer the teacher’s question, he or she will strenuously raise their hand hoping the teacher will call on them. We don’t have to do that when we come to God in prayer. After all, God is right where you are. He is always attending to you. He is a good, good Father. But we do come with earnest sincerity. Do we really want or need the thing we are praying about? Sometimes our prayers are casual. “Lord bless us today.” That is a fine prayer, but it is a little different from, “Lord we need your wisdom as we try to discern what to do in this situation.” I have a prayer journal in which on the left page I have listed various prayer concerns. On the right page I update those concerns as things develop. We earnestly seek the Lord.
And of course, this leads to knocking. We ask, we seek and we knock. To knock is to be persistent and diligent in prayer. The things in my prayer journal are things I am pursuing in prayer. Now recently a Facebook friend I knew when I lived in New Jersey, but have not seen since, asked me to pray for her because she has been diagnosed with bone cancer. Well I pray for her as she comes to mind. But the things in my prayer journal I am praying for regularly.
There are times when the need is urgent and very serious. In those times we pray with fervency. The Greek word for fervent means to boil, to be hot. It is interesting to see that this word for fervent is not used to refer to prayer in the New Testament. The one place where we read about fervent prayer is in James 5. James 5:17 refers to the prayer of Elijah. Most translations say, “He prayed fervently”. It literally says, “with prayer he prayed.” Well, the urgency of our prayers will reflect the depth of our need. If you are a follower of Christ I want to encourage you to regularly turn to the Lord in prayer. You can pray throughout the day, even when you are at work. You see, the Lord is working all around us. Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and in earth. As a follower of Christ you have the Holy Spirit in you and you are a visible expression of Jesus and his kingdom. Seek to bring everything under his good rule through prayer.
As you can see, the operating instructions for the gift of prayer are not difficult to follow. But of course, they should not be ignored either. In this verse Jesus is inviting us to become full participants in his kingdom work and we will need to pray in order to do this.
III. TRUST THE GUARANTEE. Mt.7:8-11
Gifts that involve technology usually come with some kind of guarantee. In Christmas of 2014 we were given a Samsung tablet. It is a cool gift. It came with a one or two year guarantee. Well, about 6 months in the tablet began to overheat and I had to send it away to get it fixed, and now it seems to be working well. Sometimes with these guarantees you wonder if the company will try to find a way to squirm out of keeping their end of the bargain. In these verses Jesus gives a guarantee when it comes to prayer.
You can see it in black and white. Everyone who asks receives. Everyone who seeks finds. To everyone who knocks it will be opened. We could look at other verses in John where Jesus pretty much says the same thing. In Rm.8 Paul tells us that God is working all things together for good to them who love God and are called according to his purpose. This is the guarantee. And there are any number of reasons why you may not actually believe what Jesus says here.
The reason why a person does not believe the guarantee is because they have prayed for things and their prayers have seemingly been ignored. Has that ever happened to you? And maybe these prayers were very important. Maybe you were praying for healing for a loved one. Or perhaps you were praying for a son or daughter who was headed for deep trouble. Maybe you were at your wits end, needing a job. You prayed and prayed but the answer did not come, or you did not receive what you prayed for. After a while one begins to question, “Why should I pray? God doesn’t seem to answer my prayers.”
Now let me say that God always answers the prayers of committed followers of Christ. He does not always answer our prayers as we think he ought. Some people think, “Well, why should I pray? God is going to do what God is going to do.” Or “Why should I pray? Whatever happens is God’s will.” I do not believe this is how prayer works with God. I do not believe that whatever happens is God’s will. I believe that our prayers do have effect on God. God can change his mind. We see examples of this in Scripture. We pray for what we believe is best, and we seek to do what we believe God would have us do, but we leave the answer in the hands of our good God and we trust him.
Do you need a job? Well, it is important to be looking for a job and praying about it. We need to put feet to our prayers. Where we are able to act, we need to act. Sometimes we cannot act. We must pray and wait. So it all comes down to trust. How long can you wait? How long will you trust in God? And if your request is not met, will you continue to trust in God?
We must be careful how we think about God. Ravi Zacharias tells a story about a man whose horse ran away. His neighbor came by and said, “Bad luck. Your horse ran away. The man said, “What do I know about these things?” The next day the man’s horse returned with 20 wild horses. The neighbor said, “Good luck, you have 20 more horses.” The man said, what do I know about such things?” The next day as the man’s son was feeding the horses, he got kicked by a horse and his leg was broken. The neighbor said, “Bad luck, your son’s leg is broken. The man said, “What do I know about bad luck and good luck? The next day some thugs were going through the village taking young men to be in their gang. When they came to the man’s son and saw that his leg was broken they said, “We can’t use this boy. Let’s move on.” The neighbor said, “Good luck, your son was spared because of his broken leg” At the end of the day, who can ultimately discern the ways of God. We must trust in him and his love for us and others. What we know is that because God sent his son, Jesus, he has only good in his heart towards you. In Rm.8:32, Paul writes, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”
The way of Christ is the way of the cross. We bring our concerns and cares to the Lord as we die to ourselves. We entrust our lives to the Lord because he is our gracious King who has all authority in heaven and earth. Do you believe that God hears and answers your prayers? Jesus says that He does, indeed answer our prayer.
Now perhaps you are one who has been deeply disappointed with God because he has not come through for you. I’ve been there. I understand. I also know that God is faithful. God knows what he is doing and he knows what we need. William Cowper wrote the hymn, God Moves In a Mysterious Way. Listen to the second and third stanzas. “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread Are big with mercy and shall break In blessings on your head. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.”
Do not stop engaging the Lord in prayer. Surrender yourself and your will to God and his will. Earnest ask the Lord with persistence for what you need and rest in his guarantee that he will answer according to his loving kindness. Amen