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Newtown Bible Church

Prayer and the Goodness of God, Pt. 1 (Matthew 7:7-12)

The topic to which the Lord will again direct our attention this morning is the matter of prayer. This is foundational to our relationship with God; foundational to our spiritual strength, joy, and growth in holiness. Too often the words of the old hymn writer are true of us: “Oh what peace we often forfeit, Oh what needles pain we bear; all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”

Neglect of prayer has too often been the cause of our spiritual immaturity, needless pain in trials, and usefulness in the kingdom.

It is interesting and significant to note that Jesus spends such a significant amount of time on the matter of prayer. 6:1-8 dealt with the sincerity of prayer; 9-12 the model, or pattern of prayer, and here 7:7-12 the persistence, and motivation of our prayer, which comes primarily from our view of God. But Christians have every encouragement to pray. The God of the universe is waiting, He is listening, and He is good. So, it is to the matter of prayer that the Lord will once again direct our attention this morning.

 

READ: Matthew 7:7-12.

 

We are to faithfully pursue God in prayer and humbly reflect His love in life, that we may know and display His glorious character to the world. So, Jesus is going to give us 2 encouragements to pray, with an exhortation to obey. But first let’s briefly notice the connection with the previous section.

 

Now, before we begin we must answer the question: How does this section (7-12) relate to the previous (1-6)? Likely, that having just set down such high and difficult commands, and knowing the great need for wisdom and right hearts, He now follows up with an encouragement to prayer and right attitudes toward others. Verse 12 fits very nicely with the whole of the Sermon, and particularly establishes a needed balance to the instructions of 1-6 regarding judging.

 

Two Encouragements to Pray

“Ask and it shall be given, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened” - the Lord is addressing the matter of prayer.

God promises to answer those who pursue Him

God commands us to pursue Him wholeheartedly

I want to begin by making 4 simple observations from the text:

Notice first that each of the terms (v.8) are imperatives, that is commands. There are approximately 48 imperatives in the Sermon, which is what we would expect from One who, “was teaching them as One having authority” (29)

“ask” -The term for ask is consistently (not exclusively) used in the context of an inferior to a superior, and has inherent in the concept of humility, that is the recognition of need; a sense of dependence. The lesser to the greater; the weaker to the stronger. “seek” - pursue diligently; “knock” - at the doors of heaven and grace. “Sin has shut and barred the door against us; by prayer we knock; Lord, Lord, open up to us” (M. Henry).

I find it interesting that God has to command us to pray, because it is a means of blessing and yet we so often neglect it. No one has to tell us to go eat something that sounds good when we are hungry; nor does anyone have to tell us to go lay down in a nice soft bed when we are tired. Yet, God has to tell us to come to Him in prayer to know the fullness of His supply of grace when we experience the various needs, joys, and issues of life. If we were to lay hold of the Lord’s teaching here, it would be harder to keep us from prayer than to get us there.

Second, the form of the verb speaks of continuous action, persistence, consistency: “keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.”

“ask” - repeatedly, constantly. Not “meaningless repetition” (6:7), but faithful persistence; the friend of LK. 11:8 “yet because of his persistence [lit. Shamelessness] he will get up and give him as much as he needs”; “seek” - pursue it as though you really want it; as though you ardently desire the thing your after. Seek as a priority of life; “knock” - and keep knocking, and knocking, until you have awakened everyone in the house and the gate is opened. Rev. 3:20 the risen Lord knocks at the door of disobedient church of _____, essentially inviting them to repentance; here the Lord commands us to knock at His door, essentially bringing the desire of our hearts before Him; seeking entrance into His gracious provision.

Jesus is not simply talking about praying before meals, or the occasional thought of God, nor the sporadic 5 minute prayer here and there, and even less the prayers that only come in times of an acute sense of desperation. No, He is talking about persistent, passionate, whole hearted pursuit of God in prayer. (1 Thess 5:17 “Pray without ceasing”). Fruit of regeneration, prayer is like breathing the air of heaven.

Sometimes (a) God gives a request immediately, even before we ask: Is. 65:24 [speaking of life in the kingdom] “It will come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.” (b) Often God withholds the thing we seek at first, in order to prepare our hearts and make them ready to receive the thing requested, for we are often humbled and learn through the labour of faithfully persevering in prayer - Joseph might be an example here (Gen. 35-50); Or David as he waited all those years to be king of Israel.

Third, notice that God views prayer as active and not passive. Remember, these are verbs, they speak of action.

This is not Keswick “Let go and let God” theology, just the opposite. It is pray, then diligently pursue the thing prayed for trusting God to provide. But so often we tend to err on the other side, of a lot of activity, but with very little prayer and humble reliance on God.

We need to pursue the thing we pursuing from God. E.G. (a) if you want spiritual growth, greater knowledge of God’s Word you need to ask God to open your eyes and then study diligently. (b) if it is provisions you are after, you need to ask God for them, and then work hard at your job, or to find a job - and so on. This is the idea.

Fourth, notice that there is a progressive intensity to the commands: from asking to the more active seeking the more aggressive knocking.

One has said it like this: “a child, if his mother is near and visible, asks; if she is neither, he seeks; while if she is inaccessible in her room, he knocks.” That may come near to what the Lord is saying here.

Through it all the idea is don’t give up; press on in faith.

Point: Prayer, and the pursuit of God, needs to be an active, diligent, consistent part of your life. How do you view prayer? How much time have you spent watching T.V., or some other activity compared with how much time you have spent on your knees before God communing with Him in prayer? How significant to you is prayer when you are facing trials - do they cast down on your knees before God in prayer, to seek His face? Do you spend more time talking to other people about your trials than you do to the God who created you, sustains you, and redeemed you? Our answer to these tell us how much we really believe the Lord’s teaching here.

(So, the first part of God’s encouragement and promise to answer prayer, is that we need to obey the command to pursue Him diligently and wholeheartedly. The 2nd part of this is encouragement is to realize that …

 

God delights in granting the request of those who pursue Him

(7-8) “he who asks receives … seeks finds … knocks shall be opened” - Basic point: God answers prayers. God uses the means of our prayers to fulfill His will and accomplish His purposes.

(a) Prayer moves the hand of God. A sampling: Gen. 20:17; 24:12-15, 45; 1 Sam. 1:27; Acts 10:31; 12:5-11). - in each of these cases God accomplished His purposes through the prayers of His people).

Now some say that all prayer really does is align our hearts with God’s, but does not affect what He does in our life.

Well, in one sense that is true, our hearts our aligned with God’s and we better see things from His perspective; and our prayers do not change His ultimate, sovereign, or decretive will by which He has ordained all things to bring Him glory. But, it is also true to say that prayer moves the hand of God, as the previous illustrations show, and which is behind the Lord’s teaching here.

Now, I can’t answer every question regarding the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. The decree of God and the prayers of men, but somehow they work together and it can rightly be said that there are things we do not receive because we do not pray; and there are things we do receive because we do pray.

This is a paradox and not a contradiction. Scripture clearly states that God is sovereign over all things and accomplishes His will down to the details. Scripture also teaches that our prayers matter and moves and acts in response to them. The prayers of God’s people are somehow, in the infinite mind and capacity and wisdom of God, encompassed in His ultimate will; for our lives and the lives of others.

It is true that our “Father knows what we need before we ask Him” - yet He has ordained that we ask Him in order to receive these from Him. Maybe God: “waits until we recognize our need and turn to Him in humility,” comes close.

There really isn’t much more we can say beyond that; we must stick tightly to the simply and clear statements of Scripture, such as the Lord’s teaching here: “The one who asks receives, the one who seeks finds, the one who knocks, it will be opened.”

God answers prayer. It is a a matter of faith and taking God at His Word.

So, to have a fatalistic attitude toward prayer, or view of life is unbiblical and not true. To say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter if I pray, God is going to do what He is going to do anyway,” is a flat denial of the Lord’s teaching in this passage.

(b) Prayer is, by its very nature an expression of faith; “He who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Jesus said, “Anything you ask believing …” *Must believe that God is both able and willing!

This is a strong encouragement, for all would soon lose heart if they thought their efforts were in vain. But, to the know the end of persistence, the fruit of labor, and the result of prayer is to gain the thing asked for, then what tremendous encouragement there is to press on in faith and not lose heart (Lk. 18:1-8; Gal. 6:9; 2 Cor. 4:16).

If someone is always defeated, or expects to be defeated, then there is little motivation to press on, but the one who has tasted of joy of victory and pleasure of discovery is encouraged to seek it all the more. And in times of struggle and darkness when the thing sought after seems so far away, or hidden from sight, the memories of past success, and the glory and desire for the thing sought will prompt us to press on.

 

God satisfies those who are pursing the right things

What things are His people to ask for? What exactly are the things that God promises to give to those who ask? If we are going to obey the Lord here, it is important to know what we should be asking, seeking, and knocking for!

The context would emphasize that God’s people are to seek Him for wisdom in the matter of judging and help in loving one another - and that is certainly key. However, the terms and the instructions themselves are general and not limited to just one or two items.

Repeatedly we are taught to bring everything to Him in prayer (John 14:14; 1 John 5). There really are no limitations on prayer, Jesus opens up to us the floodgates of heaven!

If there is any problem with our prayers it is not that we ask for too much, but for too little! We expect far too little from God.

Now, that doesn’t mean that there are no restrictions on what we are to pray for; He is not encouraging prayer for our own selfish desires! He is not encouraging prayer for the superficial and vain things of life! (cf.**James 4:2).

Now some say that the evidence of God’s blessing, and how God glorifies Himself is through giving you material blessing - that is a lie from pit! Then, first of all, we would have to say Jesus, Paul, and all those mentioned in Heb. 11 did not have enough faith, or the right kind of prayer.

Now, there is a lot more wrong than that, but lets move on by noting:

God has put some qualifiers on our prayers! They are to be done with an eye toward God’s glory: Matt. 6:9 “Our Father … make Your Name holy” - John 14:13 “Whatever you ask in My Name that the Father may be glorified” - This is, asking consistent with the will, character, holiness of Christ as revealed in Scripture. (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31 - this certainly includes the goal of our prayers!).

What are the things that God says we will receive? First, the thing asked for, which covers the whole gamut of life. And specifically He has promised that we will receive: “[His] joy”; “wisdom”; illumination by the Holy Spirit; “knowledge of His will”; grace to endure trials; “forgiveness of sins”

With that in mind, let me briefly note 2 prerequisites to our prayer, and then I will note 3 general areas which we should pray:

(1) [prerequisite] Our prayers should be primarily for the spiritual and not the temporal.

God did teach us to prayer for “daily bread” (6:11), but that came after He taught us to pray for God’s holiness to be manifested, His Kingdom to come, and His will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” It is not as though He would not give us bread if we didn’t ask (He gives us things all the time that we don’t ask for), but it is that as His children we are to express our dependence upon Him in all things, and acknowledge His glory and provision when He supplies them. So, even in the temporal / practical there is a focus on the eternal / spiritual significance behind the request.

God cares about broken legs, and sickness, and the general difficulties of life, but we need to quickly get past such superficial things.

So for example, its not wrong to pray for a broken leg, but we look beyond that, to pray for God’s Name to be glorified in how we trust Him through it, for His will to be done through the difficulty, for us to do His will in the midst of it, to have a righteous attitude, etc.

Paul prayed for a situation to be removed, God said, “No, you need this difficulty.” So, Paul was fine with that because it helped remain humble, he was far more concerned about what the trial produced in him spiritually than that God remove it. Same idea in 1 Cor. 10:13 (1 Thess. 1:2-3; Col. 4:2; Eph. 6:18f).

(2) Our prayers should be God-Centered:

So in the Sermon, we are to seek God’s “Kingdom and His righteousness” and God’s kingdom is not to be thought of apart from the King, but it is intimately and inextricably tied to the very Person and nature of God Himself - the Lord Jesus Christ. To love righteousness is to love God; to love His kingdom, is to love Him, to delight in righteousness is to delight yourself in Him and then He will give me the desires of my heart.

The error of those in 7:21-23 is that they sought kingdom realities, and loved external kingdom blessings, but the did not love Christ the King and they did not love, from their heart, the Kings righteousness.

They surely have the thought that they are asking, seeking, knocking for the right things, but they are not.

Lk. 11:13, in a parallel context, it is God the Holy Spirit that is to be asked for, thus, the Lord is concerned with those request bound up the spiritual realities of salvation, the kingdom, and the pursuit of righteousness.

Jeremiah 29:12-13. Note, He repeats “Me” 4x in this one verse: call, come, pray, seek, search, with all of your heart. It is the Lord we seek, not simply His blessings, but Him. It is longing after the nearness of God, seeking the glory of God, hungering for the knowledge of God. It is God whom I am to seek.

We are not just pursuing His blessings, but Him; and even in those blessings it is the experience of His nearness that satisfies; the joy of His being glorified; the experience of His grace and mercy. So, even in the blessing of God it is the satisfaction of knowing and experiencing Christ that we are after.

So then, with these two priorities in mind ([1] eternal not temporal; [2] God-centered not self) what is it that we should be praying for? Let me suggest three basic categories of prayer that the Lord has in mind here: 1) Salvation 2) Sanctification 3) Supply

1) Salvation - Now, I need to first note, this is not the Lord’s primary point here, it is not primarily a call to salvation, but an encouragement to those in the kingdom. However, it is also not true that this is nowhere at all in His thinking. He has already dealt with this, everything He has said up to this point has been to address the true and the false (*5:20). He will deal with this immediately in the following section (*7:21f). He is manifesting the heart of God, of the Savior, who will later say, “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (11:28).

So if you are not in the kingdom, but under God’s wrath, then know that Christ bids you to turn from your sin and come to Him, for why will you die in your sin when such an offer of grace, from such a gracious God is offered to you? (Is. 55 “Seek Me all the ends of the earth …”; **Rom. 10:12-13).

2) Sanctification - (being made more and more like Christ) Let me ask, “Do you pray for that?” The two most important realities in life are that we be saved and sanctified (Heb. 10 “without sanctification no one will see the Lord”; 1 Thess 5 “This is the will of God for your life, your sanctification”).

Now the Lord has been dealing with this since 5:21, hasn’t He? He has just finished saying that we are to seek God’s righteousness as a priority of life, and the whole sermon is about the true evidence and manifestation of the righteousness of the kingdom of God.

The very beginning of the Sermon and the very entrance into the kingdom is the recognition of our utter dependence upon God, certainly only a proud person not yet broken by their sin would think they could obey everything the Lord has instructed us in by their own strength. That was the very indictment against the self-righteous Pharisees (5:20).

Jesus also notes that a manifestation of having been made righteous is to “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” again the very righteousness He has been explaining. So, with a sense of your sinfulness, a humble brokenness and desire to pursue righteousness, we ask, seek, and knock on the door of heaven that He would sanctify us, give us the grace to walk in righteousness.

3) Supply [He just finished dealing with this twice in the last chapter, and extensively at the end of chapter 6; He promises “everything necessary for life and godliness”] and we are to seek these from Him

God is our Father and limitless in the abundance of His goodness, willingness, and desire to glorify Himself in supplying our needs. He bids us here to ask. To pursue Him in prayer. What more can He say to us to encourage us to this endeavor than: “ask and it shall be given, seek and you shall find; for the one who ask receives, the one who seeks finds, and the one who knocks it shall be opened.”

 

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