To Those Who Ask....
Have you ever been across the table from someone over coffee and they spill out their whole life to you? They tell you their struggles, their hardships, their battles and you're just like, “oh … I'll be praying for you … ” – but you actually don't. Or maybe you’re in a group chat and someone in the group spills out their day and asks for prayer. They ask for you to pray on their behalf, and you just reply, “Praying!” but you close the messages app and jump right back on Instagram. If you’re anything like me, maybe you don't even do THAT. Maybe you just throw in a prayer hands emoji, or, my personal worst, read the message and forget to respond.
I wonder, at what point did prayer become just words and not action? At what point did prayer just become something we say but don't really mean? At what point did prayer become something we do on Sundays when we come to church, but not a daily habit? At what point did prayer become just language with a desensitized meaning?
First, let’s go to the Bible to define prayer.
“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” - Luke 11:1-13
Before we talk about what prayer is – we have to talk about what prayer is not.
Prayer is not lustful. Prayer isn’t for your fleshly desires. It isn’t praying for something instead of to someone.
God isn’t a grocery list God, where you just waltz into his presence and pick what you would like God to do for you. (You know what they say, you pray for patience and you’re gonna get tested).
God is not the Verizon guy, where we think we need some sort of good connection. “Can you hear me now?”
Prayer is not transactional. God is not an “if you do ___, then I’ll be____.”
You see talking to God shouldn't be our last resort, it should be our first response.
Here are a few points I want to share with you:
GOD LISTENS. Prayer isn’t a monologue, it's a dialogue. You speak to God and he talks back to us. A lot of us think that we pray to God, ask things of Him, and expect Him to do things at the snap of a finger. But that is so far from the reality of our prayer lives. Prayer is in fact, communication. If you speak, God speaks back. Imagine if I only spoke to my wife when I wanted something. Or when I had something to say. I get home from work, tell her how my day was, and then ignore her the rest of the day. I wouldn’t make it very far until we had a problem.
Many people who maybe aren't familiar with prayer get stuck at the idea of, “God talks back? I’ve never heard Him”, and a lot of times it's through impressions and thoughts. Trust me, you know when you hear God when you spend time with Him. I actually encourage you guys to start spending more time in undistracted prayer for a couple of days or weeks in a row, and tell me that you don't actually hear God start to speak back to you. I think we too often fail to hear the voice of heaven when we’re too distracted by the noises of the world.
YOU CAN PRAY WITH CONFIDENCE. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” 1 John 5:14-15.
We can pray for anything. Pray big prayers. Bold prayers. Impossible prayers, and have confidence that God will do something about it. Prayer isn’t just believing that God CAN, it’s believing and trusting that God will.
Remember what scripture says:
“Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” -Luke 11:5-10
Quickly we see a few things that Jesus is saying here through this parable of the friend at midnight. I strongly believe that Jesus says, “You have to ask.” I strongly believe that the prayers that God doesn't answer are the ones that go unasked. Some of us right now need God to do something in our lives. We need God to do something in our workplaces or schools. Maybe we need God to do something in our relationships or families, even marriages, but we are not even asking Him.
If you’ve found yourself with a problem, start with a petition. Start asking. Start requesting. Bring it to God. He’s not bothered by your requests. After all, the Bible says in Matthew 6, “that your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” We can also see that Jesus says, “Never stop asking.”
HOW GOD ANSWERS PRAYER. God answers all prayers. It's just a matter of how, and there are three simple ways – Yes, no, and not right now.
God says “yes” way more than he says “no”. In fact, if you look around, he says yes so much that a lot of the things he says yes to, we stopped asking for a long time ago. It's called common grace. We didn’t ask God for the sun to come up this morning, it just did. We didn't ask God to wake us up this morning, He just did. We didn’t ask God to put breath in our lungs, He just did.
But then, God also says no… and we don't like “no”. Spiritual maturity is when you start to thank God for the “No’s” in your life. I think we ought to look back and go, “Thank God I didn’t get into that college. If I had gotten into that college, I wouldn’t have ended up at the college where I found my calling.” “Thank God that He removed me from that toxic relationship. If He had not told me no, I would have never met my now spouse.” “Thank God that I didn’t get that job. If He had given me that job, I would’ve never found the job that I have now.”
The third way God answers prayer is through a “not right now”. “No” doesn't mean “never”. I would say about 90% of the time, this is where we find ourselves. In the “NOT RIGHT NOW”. This is where we grow the most in our faith. What does God try to teach us in the “not right now”? Well, it's simple.
Many times God is preparing us for the promise. You have to ask yourself the question: Are you even preparing yourself for the prayers that you’re praying for? It would be irresponsible for a father to give you the keys to a new car, without ever being behind the wheel of a car. God has to prepare you, and that's why sometimes the prayer you’re praying doesn't feel like it’s being answered.
In the Bible, David has a dream to build the temple, and in his very last prayer, he prays over it, not knowing if he's going to see his work come to fruition. What a great example of someone who prayed a big bold prayer, but then also does the work. David does what he does in the season of preparation so that God can fulfill the promise.
“O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have prepared to build You a house for Your holy name is from Your hand, and is all Your own. …And give my son Solomon a loyal heart to keep Your commandments and Your testimonies and Your statutes, to do all these things, and to build the temple for which I have made provision.” -1 Chronicles 29: 16 & 19.
David dies after this prayer. David died, but his prayers didn’t. What we discover later is that the prayer David prayed before he died, God answered it. Solomon, for many theologians, is one of the wisest men ever to walk the earth because God gave him supernatural wisdom, and with that wisdom, Solomon was able to finish building the temple.
I'm thankful for someone like David that understood that God is not a 50-70 year type of God. That God is a never-ending, multigenerational, God. There's nothing too big to pray that God can't answer. I might not see it in my lifetime, but I’m going to pray so big, it's going to affect generations to come!
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