“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given 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.”
No doubt you have heard about the postal services’ “Dead Letter Department.” That’s the place where mail goes when it is not clearly addressed or has insufficient postage and the sender’s identity cannot be determined. There the letter is opened and its contents examined for clues to the sender’s identity. If the return address cannot be determined, the letter is destroyed. It never reaches its destination, and any requests made by the writer remain unanswered. How about you? Do you feel like your prayers end up in some kind of a dead letter department? Do you feel like your prayers never reach God? If you do then this text is for you! Here in Jesus Christ’s own words we are told how to address our prayers to God so that they will be received and answered.
Ask, and it Will Be Given You
First of all, Christ told us to ask in prayer. He said, “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given you.”
As one studies the New Testament accounts of Christ’s life, it becomes obvious that the Lord was not afraid to ask things of God. He asked for wine at a wedding party. He asked for more bread and fish to feed a crowd. He asked God to heal the blind, the lame, the mute, and the possessed. Jesus asked a lot from God. He did not feel like He was imposing. And here in the text Jesus is telling us to do the same. He is assuring us that we can ask much from God.
I know that in my own life I have often been reluctant to ask God for my needs. I used to think that perhaps God was too busy to be troubled over my affairs. I didn’t want to bother him. After all, I could not be very important to Him. But slowly I have begun to realize that I am a child of God. I am not some orphan. I am not a disinherited son. I am the child of the King of the Universe. And my Father has told me, “Ask, and it will be given you.”
Once in graduate school my wife and I were running very short of money. Inflation had taken a big bite out of our income. We had a new baby. Rent was going up. Gasoline had soared. And our electricity bill had more than doubled. For several weeks I worried and schemed and grew irritable. I could see no way out of our financial plight. During those weeks I am ashamed to say that I never once prayed about those things. I guess I sort of figured seminary students were supposed to be poor. My wife watched me quietly as I turned into a tyrant through worry. Finally she simply said, “Steve, why don’t we pray about it?” Well, I agreed, and together we told God all about it and asked for His help. Things began to happen!
That very afternoon the landlady stopped me while I was emptying the trash. She said, “Stephen for some time now I’ve been wanting to ask you to be the grounds keeper for this apartment complex. You can do the work between your studies. It’ll be good exercise for you. And we’ll pay you $25.00 a week for income.” And I was also getting some much needed exercise.
The next day Kathryn and I found an anonymous letter in our mail box. In it was a check for over $200.00. Someone had sent it just to help us out.
Well, I can assure you that our family was praising the Lord! He had indeed answered our prayers! But then it suddenly dawned on us. The letter was post marked two days before we had prayed for help. And the landlady had been thinking of offering me that job long before I had decided to pray. We began to doubt. Perhaps this new financial help was not an answer to prayer after all. Maybe it was all just a coincidence. But then it hit me. I remembered a promise of God from Isaiah 65:24. There the Lord says, “Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.” What the Lord had done was to go ahead and prepare the answer to our prayers, then He had also prompted our asking!
Now asking prayer works just this way. The Good Lord has something He wants done. He prepared all the resources that will be needed. Then He begins to prompt us mentally so we will ask Him to allow us to do the job. Thus our prayers become a simple asking for what God already is eager to do.
As you live the Christian life you will undoubtedly find God prompting you to ask for things. But whatever, do not be afraid to ask God for that which you feel prompted. You won’t bother Him. He cares about you. You won’t impoverish Him. The Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills. “Ask,” Jesus said. “Ask, and it shall be given you.”
Seek, and You Will Find
It is true that Christ did a lot of asking in prayer. He asked for bread, wine, healing and a host of other things. But Christ also prayed prayers of seeking. In the Garden of Gethsemane the Lord searched for God’s will. He said, “Lord, I ask in prayer that this cup pass from me. Let me not go to the cross, suffer and die. I ask for some other way!” But then Jesus began to seek in prayer. He said, “But Lord, if this is not your will, if I must die, then your will be done.” Here we find an example of Christ searching in prayer. He is looking for God’s will. He is trying to find out what the mind of God is so he can obey it.
Jesus told us to pray like this when He said, “Whatsoever you ask in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13). Now the key to this verse is the phrase, “in my name.” Jesus did not say, “Whatever you ask, I will do it.” He said, “Whatsoever you ask in my name, I will do it.” The Greek word used here for “In my name” means more than just a label. If you called on someone’s name in the Greek world you were calling on his actual presence. So Jesus was saying, “Whatsoever you ask in my presence, I will do it.”
As Christians we believe in the presence of Christ. We believe Jesus is with us by the power of the Holy Spirit. In fact we believe that Jesus is so present with us that we can actually take on the mind of Christ. The New Testament Scriptures tell us that we should have in us the actual mind of Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:5).
Now right here is a great secret of prayer. When we pray we should ask in the mind of Christ. Jesus said, “Whatsoever you ask in my name or in my presence or rather, in my mind, I will do it.” Thus prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is taking hold of His willingness. It is not presenting your arguments in order to make God change His mind. Prayer is searching for the mind of Christ and then praying in it.
When confronted with a need it is not good to go right out and pray about it by telling God what you want. You may not know the mind of Christ in the matter. You may ask in the flesh and not in the Spirit. So, first ask the Lord to reveal to you His mind. Say, “Lord, here is a need. Teach me your mind. Teach me how to pray about this.”
Do you see how prayer is not getting God to see it your way, but getting you to see it God’s way? Let’s suppose that you are in a rowboat fifteen feet from the shore. You throw an anchor ashore and pull yourself to the dock. Now, what have you done? Did you pull the land to you or did you pull yourself to the land? Of course! The land did not budge. You did. You moved to the shore. Seeking prayer works like this as well. You throw out an anchor to God. You seek in prayer, in Scripture, in fellowship, in obedience, and you pull yourself to God’s mind and ask in it.
St. Paul knew how to seek in prayer. He said, “God, I am sick. I have this thorn in my flesh.” Three times Paul went to God and asked to be healed. And there in God’s presence Paul began to know the mind of Christ. He quit asking to be healed. He started asking for strength to bear the affliction for the Glory of God (2 Cor. 12).
In your own prayer life you too will want to learn seeking prayer. You will want to learn to pray in Christ’s name, in His presence and mind, and not in your name and in your mind. When you are facing a need take that problem directly to God. And do not limit God by telling Him what to do about it. Just envision God. Think of His presence. Meditate on His marvelous light, His love and power. Then lift the problem right up into God’s presence and leave it there. A little boy knelt down to say his bedtime prayers. His parents heard him reciting the alphabet in very reverent ones. When asked what he was doing he replied, “I’m saying my prayers, but I cannot think of the exact words tonight. So, I’m just saying all the letters. God knows what I need, and He’ll put all the words together for me.” Now, that is not far from a proper way to pray! In seeking prayer we are looking for Christ’s mind. We are not sure quite how to word our prayer. We ask Him to edit our prayers by cutting out the unnecessary, making corrections, and adding the necessities. We ask Him to take our minds and make them His. We ask the Holy Spirit to pray through us. And when we seek in prayer like that, Jesus assures us in the text, we shall find.
Knock, and it Shall Be Opened!
Moving along from asking and seeking prayers, we come to knocking prayer. Jesus, in the text said, “Knock and it will be opened to you.”
Here, we need to know that there is more involved in answering prayer than your will and God’s will. There are other such forces as hard hearts and God’s decision to give people a free will. You might be praying that God will save your son. But your son’s heart is stoney towards God. You want him saved. And there is nothing God would like better than to save him, but here is a barrier. God has given your son a free will. He will not violate it by forcing Himself on anyone. And your son’s cold, cold heart has chosen to leave God out.
There is also the barrier of the Satanic. The Bible says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). An example of how Satanic forces can hinder answers to prayer is found in Daniel 10. There the prophet prayed for more than twenty days without an answer. Finally an angel visited him and explained the reason for the delay. He said, “O Daniel, man greatly beloved, . . . from the first day that you set your mind to understand, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince . . . withstood me twenty-one days; but Michael . . . came to help me . . . so I . . . came.”
Here we are taught that Satanic powers hindered an answer to prayer. Here we come to Scripture with a sense of wonder. There is much about this world that we do not know. Our finite minds are so frail. Things like Satan, evil, and spiritual warfare boggle our minds. We cannot understand them completely. But God has revealed some of this in Scripture and we can accept it by faith. And by faith Scripture teaches that Satanic barriers can hinder prayer.
The Book of Job is perhaps the best place in Scripture to study knocking prayer. There, righteous Job is devastated. He loses his children, his friends, property and health. Satan has horribly afflicted him. His wife urges him to curse God and die. But instead job begins a knocking prayer.
“Oh, that I know where I might find him,
that I might come even to His seat!
I would lay my case before Him
And fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn what He would answer me.”
Thus Job begins to knock in prayer. He blindly gropes for God. He patiently and sometimes impatiently yearns for deliverance. Again and again Job reaches for God in prayer. Though his body is wasting away, though all seems lost, though he cannot understand, Job has faith in God. His heart is filled with hope and he says,
“For I know that my redeemer lives,
And at last he will stand upon the earth;
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then from my flesh I shall see God.”
Thus with hope, faith, and persistence Job continues to knock in prayer. Finally God comes to him. Though the Lord does not explain the affliction, He does heal Job. He restores his fortune and gives him more children than ever before. As Jesus promised, it will be opened to those that knock. And Job triumphantly says to God, “I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted . . . I had heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees Thee.” (Job 42).
Perhaps Jesus was thinking of Job when He told the parable of the friend at midnight. “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’. And he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs” (Luke 11). Here Jesus teaches us the value of persistent prayer. When confronted with closed doors, hard hearts, and Satanic barriers it becomes necessary to knock in prayer. Now a knock does not mean one rap on the door. A knock is a loud and repeated rapping sound. And so must our knocking prayers be repetitious.
The question might arise in your mind as to why we must occasionally pray repetitiously. Do we do so to beg God into helping us? Do we do so in order to force Him into changing His mind? No! Repetitious prayer is better seen as unleashing spiritual power. Have you ever tried to open a rusty water valve? It is frozen stiff with corrosion. You strain and strain at it but little progress is made. So you rest awhile then try again. With all your might you grip the handle and twist. It budges a bit. You rest again then return for another try. Slight progress is made and a trickle of water begins to flow. After yet another rest you have at it again. More progress. And so you persist until the valve is wide open and the water full on. Repetitious prayer works like this as well. To persist in prayer is to open more and more the spiritual channels through which the power of God can flow. Closed doors, heard hearts and Satanic obstacles give way to the relentless pressure applied by both God and the kneeling Christian.
The Bible gives us numerous accounts of knocking prayer. Moses, during a battle, lifted up his hands and prayed continuously until the sun went down and victory was won (Ex. 17:6-16). Daniel engaged in earnest supplication for 21 days (Dan. 10). And in Acts we are told that the Church prayed all evening for Peter’s release from prison (Acts 12). Even now many people are praying and knocking on God’s door for many things. Some of them have been praying for months, years, even lifetimes! Missionary societies have been praying for years that China will reopen for the Church. Saints are praying persistently for a real revival to wake up the western Church. Mothers are praying for erring children and women are knocking for their husbands. In each case things all but appear hopeless. Hearts seem too cold. Barriers seem too large. But the power will begin to trickle! Who knows if even one more twist will not open things up all the way!
Day by Day Seeking, Asking, and Knocking!
The young people have written a rock opera called Godspell. In this musical there is a song called “Day by Day” that expresses so well what our attitude and practice in prayer should be. The words say,
“Day by day, O Lord, three things I pray,
To see Thee more clearly,
To love Thee more dearly,
To follow Thee more dearly
Day by day . . . day by day by day . . . ”
The music is new but few realize that the prayer has been around for over 700 years! Richard of Chichester in the thirteenth century prayed, “O most merciful Friend, Brother and Redeemer; may I know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, and follow Thee more nearly.” “Day by Day” is just an old prayer put to new music! And in the text today we have an old saying of Jesus that needs to be made new and up-to-date in your life. What the world needs now is more Christians who will seek, ask, and knock. Jesus did not say we should sit around and wait for things to fall into our mouths like a ripe grape. He said seek! He said ask! He said knock! And when you seek and keep on seeking you find. When you ask and keep on asking you receive. And when you knock and keep on knocking, the door is opened.
Thus all our praying needs to be a day by day by day experience. It needs to be an asking experience wherein we see God more clearly, a seeking experience in which we love God more dearly, and a knocking experience wherein we follow the Lord more nearly. All this day by day by day and Jesus’ promises of prayers come true.
Jesus, teach me how to pray. I have many needs, there is much I want to discuss with you concerning others and myself. Teach me how to pray with God, simply, directly, forcefully. And teach me the habits of listening and relaxing in your presence. For Christ’s sake. Amen.