Chapter OneFor the Asking
Once when my wife and I were traveling and had gone out to dinner with some friends, my cell phone rang in the middle of our meal. I answered it, and it was our grandson, David Todd, who was four years old at the time.
"Poppy," he said, "where are you?" I told him where we were.
"Poppy," he said, "could you bring home the shopping mall magazine from the airplane?"
Now that wasn't exactly a request I might have anticipated. But it happened to be a major concern at the time to David Todd.
I found out later (when his dad got on the phone) that on a long airplane flight home with his mother, my grandson had discovered that little magazine in the seat pocket of the airplane that shows pictures of all those wonderful and interesting products. (I think he's inherited some shopping genes from his grandmother.) He started paging through the magazine and looking at all those things, and then got excited to learn that when the flight was over he could actually take the magazine home with him.
However, he went to sleep during the flight, and when the plane landed and they got off, he forgot the magazine. When he remembered it too late, he was quite disappointed.
So I promised my grandson that I would bring him a copy of that magazine on our way home. He had asked me for it, and that's all he had to do. Why? Because he's my grandson, and anything he requests from me-if it's within my power, and it isn't harmful for him-I'm going to do for him.
I've learned in recent years that that's exactly how God is in His view toward us as we make our requests to Him. But this wasn't the perspective I always held on the matter.
Breaking Down God's Reluctance?
Before I first entered the hospital years ago for cancer treatment, I had the idea in the back of my mind that prayer was breaking down God's reluctance to do something for us. Maybe it was just my previous lack of attention to the Word of God or to those who taught it, but for some reason, this was my underlying attitude about it.
I don't mean that this thought was always consciously in mind whenever I prayed. Nor am I saying I no longer believe we should practice importunity and perseverance in how we pray.
But I've modified my thinking a little about all this, and what I've learned has changed my life. I've discovered that God is in no way dragging His feet about providing what we need. He isn't in heaven calculating whether we've done everything perfectly right so He can in turn do something good for us. Instead, He's waiting and more than willing to provide everything we require.
As He watches over you and me, I don't think He's sitting up in heaven thinking, If they'll just ask enough times, I'll grant their request. I think rather that He's in heaven wondering primarily why we don't ask more often.
So where did we get that idea that prayer is breaking down God's reluctance? Why do we tend to think we have to bash in the door of God's unwillingness?
The Bible doesn't teach that view. In fact, the Bible teaches just the opposite about God: He "gives to all liberally and without reproach" (James 1:5). When we're in need, it isn't because of God's reluctance to meet those needs, but because of our reluctance to ask: "You do not have because you do not ask" (James 4:2).
If we ask God for something that's good, and God sees that it's good for us, He'll give it to us, and we'll be able to joyfully affirm with James, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17).
Yet we often don't receive these good and perfect gifts that God so keenly wants to give us, because we simply don't ask for them.
An Open Door
There's a God in heaven who loves me more than I can ever know, and who's just waiting for me to come to Him with the needs and requests that are on my heart. And I'm especially reminded of that whenever I read the wonderful words Jesus said about prayer in Matthew 7.
They come near the end of His Sermon on the Mount. Remember what Jesus said there about asking and seeking and knocking?
"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.
"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 7:7-11
You've more than likely read those words before. But how fully and completely has it dawned upon you that almighty God, as your loving Father, is eagerly waiting to give you anything and everything you need and request? He has given us, in essence, an open door into His almighty presence and into His infinite storehouse of riches and blessings-for He "is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask" (Ephesians 3:20).
In this passage in Matthew, these three little words ask and seek and knock are all imperatives. They're commands from the Lord Jesus. He didn't say, "If you feel like asking, then ask." He didn't say, "If you get around to it, why don't you seek?" Or, "If you're in the mood, you may want to try knocking." No, Jesus was telling us, "This is My command to you: Ask, seek, and knock. If you want Me to act on your behalf, then that's how it works. My requirement is that you simply ask." Whatever we need, we must ask for it. And when we don't, we're disobedient to Jesus.
You may sometimes think, I probably shouldn't be wasting God's time by telling Him about my little problems. Or, I don't feel I have any right to ask Him, knowing what kind of person I am, and knowing who God is. But the fact is, the Lord has commanded you to ask Him. Whatever your problems, whatever your needs, whatever difficulties you're experiencing, if you haven't asked God about them, you're disobedient.
But it's also much more than a matter of obedience or disobedience. Our Father in heaven wants to hear You express to Him all the things that you feel you truly want and need.
As I read the words of Jesus in that passage, I can't sniff even a particle of guilt anywhere in it (unlike some of the books I've read on prayer, those that seem to be little more than guilt-ridden tirades on why we don't pray and why we should pray more). Jesus doesn't want to goad us into praying as much as He desires to entice us into it.
It's almost as if He says, "Come, partake of My banquet. It's free! Do you see the freshly baked bread piled high on one table? It's for you. Can you smell the delicious aroma of the roasted main course, the sweet fragrance of the pastries and pies and cakes, the wholesome fragrance of newly picked vegetables and fruits? It's all yours! I've provided all you need. I have enough for everyone, and there's no need to fear I'll run out of anything. I'm inviting you to My feast-your place at My table is reserved. All I require is that you ask My Father to give you what you need. That's it! That's the only thing lacking."
Those three little words in Matthew 7:7 are not only imperatives, but in their original Greek tense they have a kind of continuing action connected with them. Jesus is saying keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking. Don't ever stop; just keep doing it. Always, whatever you need-just ask.
We could learn a lot from children on that score, couldn't we? I remember hearing a story about a little boy who was at home with his father while the mother was away for the evening. The father (who wasn't as familiar with the boy's bedtime routine as the mother was) was trying to get the boy to sleep. Shortly after tucking his son into bed for the night, he was reading his newspaper when he heard a little voice calling out from the bedroom: "Daddy? I need a drink of water."
The father went upstairs and brought him a drink of water, and of course a short time later the boy called out to say he had to go to the bathroom. Repeatedly the boy kept calling his father to come up and take care of this or that-locating a lost teddy bear, turning on a night light, shutting a closet door.
Finally the exasperated dad reached the limit of his patience. "No more. Young man, you're fine, so get quiet! If I hear another sound from you, I'll come up and give you a spanking!"
For several moments, all was silent. Then the little voice drifted downstairs once more: "Daddy, when you come up here to spank me, could you bring me another drink of water?"
That's how children are. They never quit. It doesn't matter how many times you say no, they keep coming back. They keep asking. They ask and ask and ask.
A, S, K
These commands in Matthew 7:7 come in a certain kind of progression, with each one a little more intense than the one preceding it. Ask is strong enough, but seek is stronger, and knock is even more intense. Sometimes God wants us to turn up the heat in our prayers for something we're asking from Him.
But the basic thrust of the passage is simply that we're to ask. And just so we don't miss its importance, Jesus uses that little word a total of five times in this brief passage on prayer.
In case you're ever explaining this passage to your children or someone else, and they don't seem to be grasping the main point of what Jesus is saying, tell them you'll show it to them in a special code. Have them write down those three basic commands in Matthew 7:7 in a list:
Then take a closer look at the first letters of each word in the list. And there you have it! Simple as that: Just ask!
People often come to me, as a pastor, and ask for my advice on some opportunity or decision or difficulty they're facing. Sometimes I'll say, "Have you asked God about it?" And more often than not the reply will be, "Well ... no, I guess I haven't."
Let me tell you, asking God about it is always the best place to start, no matter what issue or opportunity you're facing. He needs to be our first resort, not our last. Why would anyone come to David Jeremiah before they approach the Creator of the universe? God has entire worlds in His back pocket; what do I have in comparison to that?
"We pray when there's nothing else we can do," writes Oswald Chambers in Prayer: A Holy Occupation, "but Jesus wants us to pray before we do anything at all."
So ask your Father in heaven for whatever it is you need. Ask for provision of your daily necessities. Ask for protection when you're threatened or afraid. Ask Him to show you the right priorities in how you spend your time and money and energy. Ask Him for special guidance when your circumstances call for it.
Make sure you've learned the lesson Grace L. Naessens learned:
I woke up one morning and rushed into the day. So much to accomplish! No time to pray!
Problems tumbled in; heavier came each task. Why doesn't God help me? He answered, "You didn't ask."
I wanted joy and beauty but all was gray and bleak. Why doesn't God cheer me? He answered, "You didn't seek."
So I approached His door, trying all my keys in the lock. And God lovingly chided me: "My child, You didn't knock."
I woke up this morning, and thought about the day. So much to accomplish! So I took time to pray.