Today, during bible study, we talked about a question that many Christians have, but it is something we too easily put aside and choose not to think about. But it is something that is essential to our walk as Christians. It is the topic of prayer.
Oswald Chambers said, “Prayer does not equip us for the greater work, Prayer is the greater work.”
If prayer is indeed the greater work, the let us do this greater work right. Let us pause for a moment and ponder what the word of God says about prayer, and let us pray – about prayer. And we need not be afraid that God will not answer our questions, for the word of God says, If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5 NKJV)
Let us start with this famous verse…
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8 NKJV)
Many of us know this verse by heart. We quote it in to other people, we write it on our walls… However, all of us (I can imagine) would have asked this question at some point or other: we have asked, but why, sometimes, do we not receive?
I can think of two answers for that.
Before anything, let us agree that the word of God is the truth, and there is no lie in it. Hence, when the word of God says that if we ask we shall receive, then when we ask we indeed shall receive. This is not twisting the word of God. It is taking the word of God for what it is and what it says. Do we have an agreement? Then I shall move on.
My first answer to that famous question is: many times, we know not what we ask. A lot of times, we ask for things that do not profit or deliver, and may even be harmful to us. Imagine a little boy asking his daddy for a real gun. Of course his daddy won’t give it to him!
Let’s go on to read the word of our heavenly daddy, what it says:
Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:9-11 NKJV)
What this verse is saying is that God will never give us something worse than what we ask. If we ask him for a fish, he will not give us a serpent! Likewise, if we ask for a gun, He will not give us a bomb. Instead, the word says that He is a good father. Indeed, He will not give us worse than what we ask for. Because He is a good father, He will give us even better than what we ask for, even though often we ourselves cannot see how this thing He gives us could possibly be better. if we go back to the example of the little boy, when he asks for the gun, perhaps his dad, being a responsible dad, would say: “don’t be silly! Here, have this book instead.” Would we say that the dad is a poor dad because he does not give his son what he wants? No, instead, we say he is a good dad, even a responsible dad, because he knows what is best for his children. Our Heavenly Father is just like that.
Hence, going back to the verse that says, “ask and you will receive”, it is certainly true. Whenever we ask, we shall surely receive. But one thing we must learn is that – in His will and in His time. sometimes our desires are legitimate but it’s just not the right time yet. Sometimes we unknowingly,as foolish children, ask for something harmful. Our father will not give us that, but he will give us something better, just that it may not look better at all to us in that point in time.
So, when the verse says “ask and you shall receive”, it is not saying that it if we ask for A, we will get A. But that if we ask for A, we will get something, perhaps, A, or perhaps B. But what we get is always better than what we ask for. And it is better not in our own terms, but in the terms of our Father who knows all things. So it is not that if I ask for a iPhone 5, He will give me an iPhone 6. Or that I ask for 10 iPhone 5s, He will give me 20. Let’s not think quantitatively and carnally, and take a thing of God and make it a thing of man.
I can just give a simple example. I very much wanted to go to the States for university. I even made this prayer, “even if I walk away from you, I still want to go overseas, because I want it so much!” Such was my rebellion, and such was my foolishness. Of course my Father would not have that, and I thank Him for His grace and kindness toward me. He closed the doors on all my applications, and kept me here in Singapore. Of course it didn’t feel good to me at all, all those rejections! And the feeling of my hopes crushed. But now I do see that it is good, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. He taught me to trust in Him, to depend on Him, to strengthen myself in Him. He has spoken to me His word, and taught me why He wants me to be here and the plans He has. He has given me wonderful people and a wonderful school and wonderful opportunities. For that, I can’t be more thankful. So sometimes, we really can’t help but be stupid, because we are people. But we can count on our Heavenly Father who will not give us that “gun” we ask for. He will not let us shoot ourselves in the head, though of course if we are really adamant to, He has no choice.
Sometimes, we do not know how to pray. But the spirit is praying in us and for us.
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 NKJV)
The above verse also tells me something else about the nature of my God! It says:
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
This tells me: Giving is part of God’s nature! Our God’s nature is to give. He gave His only begotten son. He gives us the nations for our inheritance. (Psalm 2:8) That’s why as we become more like Him, we start to become giving as well. We start to take on His nature when we learn to give, to God and to others!
Of course, Him being good does not mean we take advantage of it. Why would we? if we really understand His goodness, and the price He paid because of His love for us, we will never take advantage of it. In fact, His goodness makes us treasure Him even more. this is an example I read in “Jesus Is” by Judah Smith (thank you Anthea ♥️) imagine a man an his wife. The couple love each other very much. So when the man made a mistake, his wife forgave him. Does this mean he will go, “Hooray! Now I will go do whatever I want because I know my wife will forgive me.” No!!! Instead he will be even more committed to his wife and try even harder not to make any more mistakes, because of love.
So that first answer took a while.
My second answer to that question is: sometimes we do not ask in faith.
So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matthew 21:21-22 NKJV)
When we ask, we have to believe as well! He says it again and again.
But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:6-8 NKJV)
When we ask, we have to believe – that He loves us and knows the best for us, and He will give only the best to us.
So moving on. I feel that sometimes we run from the idea of “asking” as though it is a terrible thing! But it’s not. I have a few more points about why, many times, it is not wrong to ask God for our needs!
1. Asking is not limited to material needs or things like that. Those are not the only things we ask for. A lot of times, what we need most and ask for is – more of Him. more of His presence! To be like Him. To know Him more. To love Him more. To love His people more! To know His will for your life. These are good things, and there is nothing inherently bad to ask for Him.
2. We need His provision. And He is our Provider.
Living in this world, we often need more of His strength, because we are weak. We need more of His joy, because every day the things of the world try to steal our joy. We need more of His love, because as humans we are quite selfish, and are limited in our capacity to love others the way He wants us to love them. Just to be a good “ambassador of Christ”, we actually have many things we need, that we can ask from Him.
3. For Christians, it is a greater problem that we do not ask enough, rather than that we ask too much.
Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:24 NKJV)
Many times, we are so afraid to ask our Father for things. Here I feel that Jesus is trying to tell us – we don’t have to be afraid to ask! Can you imagine a son coming to his father, trembling, and saying with a quavering voice, “Daaad, caaan I have a pppppiece of bbbbread?” How sad will the Father feel, that the son is so afraid just to come to Him? It shows that the son is terrified of Him. If you see a child asking his dad a simple question like that in such a manner, it would not be surprising if you thought this child must be badly mistreated at home, that he dare not even ask for his daily bread. Let us not look at our Father in such a way. In fact, we are told to come boldly and confidently before Him with our needs.
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16 NKJV)
Let us not be afraid to let Him know our needs. The word says “Cast your cares on Him, for He cares for you.”
4. Often, we ask too much in some things and don’t ask enough for other things.
Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:24 NKJV)
For me, for quite many years I did not pray for the salvation of my family. And I feel He is telling me – “ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full!” Because it is His will that they should not perish but be saved! He wants to touch them and heal them. Why have I not asked?
5. Sometimes, we need to ask in order to bring our desires into the light, just to lift the burden off our weary souls.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV)
Even if we have incorrect desires, the right thing is not to suppress them and keep telling ourselves “stop desiring this!” and trying to overcome them by our own strength. It is only by bringing our desires into the light that whatever is wrong with them can be healed and redeemed.
Another question we can ask is: if the will of God is so set in stone, why do we have to pray? I see it this way.
1. Prayer does not change God, but it changes us.
As a young Christian, this is what I was taught. I remember my third bible study lesson about prayer, and it said “Prayer is not twisting the arm of God to make Him do what we want. Rather, prayer brings us into alignment with the will of God.
Also, our desires, even if they may be misplaced, tell us something about ourselves. A girl asking God to give her a boyfriend may not have found that emotional security God wants to give her. It is only when she dares to bring it before God that she will recognize how misplaced these desires are, and over time God will teach her to find that security in him.
2. God responds to our prayer.
Here are some quotes from powerful men of God.
“God does nothing but in answer to prayer; and even they who have been converted to God without praying for it themselves, (which is exceeding rare,) were not without the prayers of others. Every new victory which a soul gains is the effect of a new prayer.”- John Wesley
Prayer does not change the purpose of God. But prayer does change the action of God. – Chuck Smith
(I still think this is super paradoxical but I kind of get it…)
3. Gods glory is revealed in the fulfillment of prayers.
And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:13 NKJV)
It is always such a testimony to see how people have trusted in God in spite of the odds, and God came true for them.
4. Prayer flows out of our relationship with Him.
Prayer is part of the sweet communion we are supposed to have with God! How sweet and wonderful it is to be able to talk to someone, bring to Him your deepest worries and secret, knowing that He does not condemn you? He already knows everything! As long as we are willing to change, there is always room for forgiveness.
Our prayer should always flow out of a love relationship with Him. When we understand His nature, understand the position we have before Him in Christ, we will not be afraid to bring our troubles, requests, desires to the foot of the cross!
Let us not be so focused on the prayer we forget the Person behind the prayer. Only when we are talking to the right Person does our prayer have any meaning. He certainly does not discount our problems, and we should not to. Give your burdens to Him, and allow Him to lead you into that victory you have in Him!