Answers to Prayer

prayer, Faith

Let’s address the elephant in the room: Generally speaking we don’t pray not because we find it difficult; we don’t pray because we don’t believe anything will happen if we do! We say we believe but if we really did, we would be praying up a storm.

We all have a few stories of “answers to prayer” but nothing that makes us boldly and confidently enter into God’s presence. We yearn to connect with God but we wonder sometimes if He is really listening.

Jesus speaks to this issue today.

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

This is a bold promise. It is also a bold promise that is often misunderstood. Some believe this text teaches that if you just keep praying for something fervently enough and long enough, God will give it to you. That is not the promise of Scripture.

Before we look at what the promise says to us we must state something important: this is a promise only for believers. In other words it is only for true followers who have come to faith through Christ. God is not the Father of everyone! He is the CREATOR of everyone and the Father to those who have been born again through faith in Christ.

There are several things we are taught about prayer here.

We Should Pray Confidently

Confident of His Love. Jesus used an illustration. He says when a child asks for a loaf of bread (something reasonable to meet their needs). A father will be as responsive as they can be. If the parent can provide bread they will do so. Most parents work hard to provide for their children so they can play sports, be involved in extra-curricular activities, have clothing to wear and more. We do this because we love our children. Children can make requests of us knowing that our hearts are filled with love and therefore we want to meet their needs.

The point is that God is at least as loving as a good parent. His heart of love is such that we can come to Him confident that God wants to provide for our needs.

Confident of God’s Ability When we pray we can be confident that God can meet any need that we have. He can fill our emptiness, He can guide our path, He can forgive our sin, and He can help us get us back on our feet after we have fallen. We have no need to be tentative because we are asking too much.

God spoke to Abraham and asked a question we should ask ourselves, “Is anything too hard for God?” This was a rhetorical question. In other words the answer is obvious . . . there is nothing too hard for God. He can heal, He can cast out demonic forces, He can straighten out personality disorders, He can provide needed financial assistance, He can open closed doors, closed hearts, and closed minds.

When we turn to the Lord in prayer we do so with the confidence that we have come to the right spot. We have come to the One who can help us.

Confident of His Kindness. Jesus said a parent will not give their children something harmful in response to their request. They won’t give a stone instead of a loaf of bread; they won’t give them a snake instead of a fish. The reason? They know some things are not good for them!

Even though your children ask sincerely, you will not give them what will hurt them. For example you limit their sweets and encourage fruit and vegetables because you know that is what they need to eat. We set limits on our children not because we are mean (even though that is what our children might think) but because we love them and want to guide them in the way that is best for them.

By the same token the Lord is not going to give us something that will harm us. This is true even if we ask for it with great sincerity and urgency. The Lord knows what will be ultimately good for us and what will be bad for us. He will guard us from materialism, immortality, idolatry, arrogance and more. He will put obstacles up in relationships that will hurt us. When we ask for things to indulge our sinful appetites He will not give us what we ask for.

In James we read,

you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. (James 4:2-3)

In other words, some answered prayer is really not unanswered at all. God has said “No” because he didn’t want to reward selfish behavior. He wants us to mature in ways that are healthy.

We Should Pray Persistently

The more familiar part of this prayer is in the first part of our text,

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

I hope these words now make a little more sense because we have looked at the explanation (or qualification) first.

Persistent, seeking prayer is not the same thing as repetitious prayer. There is a notion among some that if we just keep praying the same prayer over and over (and if we can get some other people to agree that it is a good prayer) somehow God is obligated to give you what you ask for.

I have two responses for that. First, God is not obligated to anyone. Second, you do not want God to always give you what you ask for because sometimes what you are asking for is something stupid, or harmful, or corrupting.

The question we should ask is what is it that we are seeking? What are we supposed to be asking for? Why are we knocking?

A theological document written by a large council of men called the Westminster Shorter Catechism says this,

  1. What is Prayer?

Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, which confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.

I know this sounds complicated but if you listen closely it gives us a good answer to our question.

We are absolutely supposed to come to God with our needs. We should tell Him why we think these things are good and in accordance with His will for our lives. HOWEVER, we must always understand that sometimes we are shortsighted, and sometimes we are selfish. Therefore we are always praying with the thought: “Here’s what I want but if what I want is not what you know is best, then what I want is what you want for me.”

You might want to read this again. Powerful prayer, effective prayer, prayer that is sure to be answered, is a prayer that is asking, seeking and knocking after God’s own heart! We are to be honest about our needs and about our desires but we are also humble and aware of our limited knowledge and understanding.

So, contrary to what some people believe, the idea of saying, “If it is your will” is not our attempt to save face if God does not answer our prayer. It is not a way to “protect God” in unanswered prayer! Praying for things to be God’s will is the very heart of true prayer!! This is not a weak prayer. It is not meant to sound “spiritual”. It is the desire to submit our desires to Him.

In Luke 18 Jesus tells this parable,

One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’ ”

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” (Luke 18:1-8)

Some people have wrongly concluded that this parable is saying, “If you bug God for long enough He will give you what you ask for.” That is a horrible caricature of what prayer is supposed to be.

The point of the story is actually the opposite of what some people think. We don’t need to bug God at all! The point of the parable is a contrast. If you are persistent with even a corrupt judge they will eventually do what is right just to get you to leave them alone. HOW MUCH MORE should we expect the Good and Faithful Lord of the Universe who loves us to do what is right toward us? God doesn’t have to be convinced to help us . . . that is exactly what He wants to do!

We are to pray persistently and confidently. We should pray confident that God will answer . . . confident that our prayer will make a difference in the area we are concerned about in our prayer.

Toward Greater Boldness in Prayer

If you remember, I began this message with a premise: the reason we don’t pray more is because we do not think prayer does any good.

What we have done this morning, I hope, is show that this is a foolish conclusion.

  • God is good
  • God loves us
  • God is equipped to solve any problem
  • God has promised that when we ask He will respond.

Therefore we should pray confidently.

But . . . why do so many prayers seem to go unanswered? Why do people we care about die? Why do children get diseases? Why do some people survive a tragic circumstance and others don’t? Why do some people “beat” cancer and others don’t?

I can’t answer all these questions. However, what the Bible tells us is this: God has his reasons for the things that happen. When prayer seems to go unanswered we need to ask some key questions:

  1. Is this prayer really unanswered or is it just not the answer we wanted? Think about something. Suppose you are praying for someone you love one way and they are praying a different way? I think about the time I pushed my dad to a window in the later stages of his Alzheimer’s disease. He looked out the window and pointed. I tried to guess what he was pointing to. I made several guesses and finally I realized he was pointing to the cemetery. Then dad spoke clearly. He said, “I want to go there”. In my mind, I was praying dad would be to be able to stave off further decay. In his mind healing was in death.
  2. Is it possible that the prayer is not answered yet because the timing is wrong? Often times many things need to happen before prayer is answered. For example, most of the time God will not bring growth to a church that is not ready to grow. Growth demands a certain mindset and focus by the leaders. Without this focus and mindset growth will be fleeting.
  3. Is it possible the prayer is unanswered because God is waiting for YOU to do something? We may pray for God to reach our neighbors for Christ. That is a good thing. However, isn’t it possible that you are the neighbor to these people so that God can do what you are asking Him to do? He already sent them a missionary . . . you! This prayer will not be answered until you do what He has called you to do. It is like saying, “O Lord, help me to write a book” but you never sit down to start writing. Whose fault is that unfulfilled dream? Matthew West has a song titled “Do Something” and the lyrics talk about our desire to see things happen. We question God and ask Him to do something and He responds, “that’s why I created you.”
  4. Is it possible that prayer is not being answered because you simply aren’t paying attention? It may be that prayer is being answered but you aren’t looking. We must keep our eyes and our minds open to see the hand of God at work.

One of the biggest reasons we don’t seem to be getting any answers to our prayers is because we aren’t actually asking for anything.

For example, we say, “God bless my marriage”. What exactly are we looking for here? How would you ever know if that prayer was answered? However, when you say Lord, help us to communicate more effectively. Help us to sit down and talk honestly about what is going on in our relationship, then that is a prayer you can recognize when it is answered.

When we ask God to bless our church, what are we asking? When we say, “Help me to live a healthy lifestyle” what does that mean? Or even, “Lord, send me someone to love.” That still isn’t very specific. If we want to see the answers to our prayers we have to pray for something specific.

Conclusions

Let conclude by suggesting some ways to deepen our prayer lives.

  1. Set aside time for prayer. It is annoying to talk to someone who is distracted and not paying attention.
  2. Write down your prayers. Be specific.
  3. Work on having the right attitude in prayer. Keep reminding yourself that God is Capable, God is willing, and God has promised answers to our prayers. Pray boldly but humbly recognizing that God’s wisdom is superior to our own.
  4. Trust the Holy Spirit to lead you in the right way and to fix any of your prayers that are way off target (Romans 8:26)
  5. Review often. Return to prayers you prayed and note all the answers that you can see.
  6. Make sure prayer is not formal and cold but is anchored deeply in a genuine relationship with God.

We need prayer warriors. We long for people who will pray for God to entrust us with new people to serve. We need to pray for those who worship with us through our website, our You Tube channel, and through our radio broadcasts. We need to pray because I have the feeling that we can’t even begin to imagine what God can do through us . . . if we’d only ask.

Scripture:

Matthew 7:7-11