TRA 25th May, 2003
The Promise of Answered Prayer
Matthew 7: 7-11
A young boy phoned the recorded service, "Dial-a-Prayer." During the call, the phone went dead. He said to me, "God hung up on me!" Many have thought that God has hung up on them. They have called God, but He has not answered. The prayer has gone but the heavenly telephone line has gone dead.
Alexander Solzhenistsyn, in his great book, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," tells us that Ivan experienced a terrible time of suffering in Siberia. Ivan said, "All my prayers that I sent to God has scrawled against them, 'Rejected.'" Father Gerard Manley Hopkins, the English Jesuit poet said, "All my prayers met a brazen heaven and fell and scattered away." There are times when we feel God has hung up on us.
A young student prays about his exams, but his exam marks came as he feared they would. A businessman struggled with a cash flow problem and prayed but he could not find a way through. A wife prayed about her alcoholic husband but found only difficulties. Their prayers were not answered. It was as though God had hung up on them. How should we respond at times like these? There is nothing that gives us so much encouragement as answered prayer. The answer that comes may be a surprise. Sometimes prayers are answered so wonderfully that we can hardly believe it. We may be forced to exclaim, "There you are, God, you have done it again!" There is nothing that confirms our faith so effectively as answered prayer. Now we have the problem! If we know that answered prayer confirms faith, why is it that sometimes God seems to hang up on us?
We are examining the promises of Jesus and one promise is that prayer will be heard and answered.
1. THE EFFORT REQUIRED
Effort is required for prayer. Jesus said, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." Matthew 7:7 Notice the progression. You ask for something and you get it. If you do not get it, you seek it out. That requires more effort. If you get it you are satisfied. If not, still more effort is required, you have to knock! Prayer always starts with an awareness of personal need. We cannot pray effectively unless we really know what it is we are seeking. So often we pray for what we want. Jesus never promises that we will be given something simply because we would like to have it. He promises to give us what we need. That is an important difference. We may be praying for pizza, we'd like that! - but God gives us bread - what we need!
God will answer us according to our needs, and that implies persistence. Jesus illustrates this in a story about a widow and a judge. The widow had been unjustly treated and she took her case to a judge. But she had no influence, no protector to use his influence, and no money to offer as a bribe. She was an easy victim to exploit or one whom it would be easy to ignore. The judge "neither feared God nor cared about man," a scoundrel who would be unlikely to give justice. The woman kept coming to him to plead for her rights. At last the judge said, "because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!"
Jesus continued: If a corrupt judge will respond to persistence, "will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly." Luke 18:1-8 Jesus wants persistence. "Everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." Matthew 7:8 How is it, then, that God seems to hang up on us, if this is the promise of Jesus? God can supply what we need. Paul advises us that we should pray: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. … And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6,19
Scripture is consistent. James picks up the same theme: "Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord." James 1:5-8 Know what you need. Ask God persistently: asking, seeking, knocking. Jesus said, "You have not, because you ask not."
2. THE CONDITIONS INVOLVED
We turn now to the conditions upon which our prayers are to be answered. Conditions? What conditions? Is there not a clear and open statement by Jesus, 'if you ask, you will receive?'" It could not be put more strongly, "Everyone who asks will receive."
That is an open promise! But it must be understood in the context in which the promise is contained. We must read those verses in the light of the total message of Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount is a great statement of the principles of the Kingdom of God. Jesus said there are certain things required of us. In doing them, we shall be led to the place where all we need to do is ask and we shall receive, seek and find, knock and the door will open. The promise is unconditional once you have fulfilled the conditions! That is not a contradiction.
It applies in other areas. I have a seed which will grow if I follow the conditions for growth. If I plant the seed in concrete it will never grow. There are laws of nature. Human beings cannot fly. If I put my hand on a hot stove I will be burned. The stars and planets move according to certain laws. Objects drop at certain and predictable speeds. There are laws also governing the spiritual universe, and they apply to our prayer requests.
First "You must ask for the glory of God," said Jesus. If we ask for something that is not for God's glory, He will not answer that prayer. When my children were small, they would ask for things I would not give them. "Dad, let me have a rifle?" I would reply, "I know, son, that you would like to have a rifle, but the answer is 'no.' A rifle would not be good for you." There are times when our answer to a child's request is "Yes," sometimes it is "No," and sometimes it is "Not yet. Wait until you grow some more and are more mature." God will answer our prayers. Sometimes the answer is "No," sometimes it is "Yes,' and sometimes it is, "Wait until you are more mature." But He always answers.
Second prayer must be asked in the name of Jesus. This means that our prayer is offered with His thought, His principles, His way of life, and with His attitudes in mind. He said, "When that day comes, you will not ask Me for anything. I am telling you the truth: the Father will give you whatever you ask of Him in My name." John 16:23 Prayer must be for the glory of God in the name of Jesus.
Third prayer must be offered according to God's will. It may be that God will say "No.' Or that He will say, "Wait a little while, my son or daughter." Perhaps He will say "Yes" now. Whatever God's answer, we ask according to God's will and are ready to accept it.
Fourth, prayer must be asked with intense desire. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus heard Jesus was passing by. He began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David! Have mercy on me!" Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." The beggar threw off his cloak, jumped up, and came to Jesus. "What do you want me to do for you," Jesus asked. "Teacher, I want to see." Jesus answered his great desire. "Go your faith has healed you." This man's intense desire for his need was answered. Mark 10:46-52
Fifth, we must ask in faith, believing. James said, "When you pray, you must believe and not doubt at all." James1:6 Jesus says we must pray with expectation. "When you pray and ask for something, believe that you have received it, and you will be given whatever you ask for." Mark 11:24 These are the laws, the conditions for prayer. If you want your prayers answered, do not ignore them: observe them, ask, then seek; if you do not find, then knock. Eventually, the door will be opened to you.
3. THE PROMISE ASSURED
Jesus adds to His promise an assurance. He said, "Would any of you who are fathers give your son a stone when he asks for bread? Or would you give him a snake when he asks for a fish? As bad as you are you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" Matthew 7:9-11 That is assurance! My wife and I have found that our prayers were answered by God, sometimes in ways unexpected, and through people who did not know they were instruments of God. God's promise is sure. Our prayers were answered.
By 1977, our church at Cheltenham, Victoria, had expanded greatly. As the congregations increased, we needed more property. In an intensely built area we had to buy houses. Our frontage went from 100 feet to 1400 feet! New buildings went up. We owned all the properties nearby, except one! Two lovely, elderly ladies lived there and I said, "Some day, when you are ready to sell, we would like to buy because we need the property to complete our development plans." They promised they would sell to us. I walked along the street, looking at the house and land and I said, "I believe, God, that You want us to have this property so that we can minister to the needs of the people in this area." Next thing, there was a ring on our doorbell! A wealthy builder, who lived in the next street, said, "I better tell you that I have bought No. 1 at the end of Pine Street." I said, "I don't believe it." He said, "I have. I knew that you were after it and that I had to act quickly. I went round last night and paid a deposit. I have bought it!" I said, "Bill, you will regret this. Why did you do it?"
He said, "My daughter is getting married, and we thought it would be good if she lived near us, just over the back fence." Bill left, and the property, which I felt God had promised to us, for which I had asked in prayer, in His name and for the needs of His people, had gone to someone else. I married the young couple but they told their parents, "We don't want to live next door to you. We think it is important to live in our own house." Bill, then, had to get tenants. Every lot of tenants seemed like the tenants from Hell! Then Bill said to me, "Do you want that property? I'll do a deal with you. If you give me the contract to put up the building, I will give you a fair price that is competitive. I need work for my tradesmen right now. I'll build whatever you want, and when the building is finished I will give you, free, the titles to the property." So it was. Seven months afterwards, "Pine Lodge" was built on the very land we had prayed for, and we never paid a cent for it! You will understand when I say that we have confidence in God because of answered prayer.
John wrote "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of Him." 1 John 5:13-14 That is the promise of God. If you ask in His name, for His glory, according to His will, for the blessing of others, and then wait patiently, the word from the Lord is, "Your heavenly Father who loves you will give you…." That is the promise. "Therefore, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you." That is the promise! Pray, believing! He hears your every prayer!
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