God Answers Prayer
Topic: Expository Passage: Matthew 7:7-11
It’s always heartbreaking to meet someone or hear about someone who lives a wicked life or who is antagonistic toward Christianity and to learn that they grew up in the church knowing basic Christian truths. However, they decided to reject it. Not just that, they despise everything about Christianity.
More than once, I’ve heard these kinds of people say that they stopped believing in God when they faced a terrible tragedy—like a parent enduring a terminal illness. They prayed and prayed that God would heal that parent, but heaven seemed silent, and mom died. So, they concluded that God’s not real. Oftentimes, you can hear the bitterness and pain in the individual’s voice as he rehearse his tragic tale.
Because of tragic stories like this and also because of how prosperity preachers push a “name it and claim it” theology of prayer, it’s easy for people like us who strongly believe in the sovereignty of God to be scared of emphasizing the power of prayer. We don’t want to be like those people, so we go to the other extreme.
Our prayers are filled bland requests and lots of qualifiers, and we don’t really expect anything to happen. And when we act as if prayer is largely useless, we lose interest in cultivating a strong prayer life. The end result is that we hardly pray at all.
Therefore, the title of my message is “God Answers Prayer.” I want us to see that prayer is effective, because God is good and faithful. To make this point, I’d like to consider Jesus’ own words regarding how we should pray (read). Jesus urges us to embrace a robust theology of prayer that leads to a robust life of prayer. Specifically, he urges us to pray for 2 basic reasons that we often struggle to believe. First, we must pray, because…
I. God answers prayer (vv. 7–8).
Verse 7 is built on 3 commands—ask, seek, and knock. Some commentators have speculated that the commands are progressively bolder so that asking is relatively gentle and knocking pictures someone as boldly demanding that the door be opened.
That’s possible, but I tend to believe that the 3 commands are basically synonymous and that all three describe bold petitions to the Lord. The reason Jesus repeats the command 3 times is to urge us to ask him for the things that we need. He’s saying, “Don’t fret over your problems; instead, ask your Heavenly Father for help.”
And Jesus heightens the appeal by including a divine promise with each command, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” God answers prayer! And in case we are still skeptical, Jesus drives it home in v. 8.
You can see that v. 8 repeats the same commands and the same promises as v. 7. The only major difference is that Jesus switches the first 2 promises, from the future tense to the present tense. So, it’s not just that down the road in some unknown place and time you will receive and find. Instead, the one who “asks receives,” and the one who “seeks finds.” God answers prayer, so we should pray expecting that he will answer our requests.
But if that’s true, how do we answer the bitter individual I mentioned earlier? We may also wonder if Jesus is affirming the “Name It and Claim It” theology of the prosperity gospel?” For example, Creflo Dollar is a well-known prosperity preacher, and he states, “When we pray believing that we have already received what we are praying, God has no choice but to make our prayers come to pass…It is a key to getting results as a Christian.”
He pretty much says that we are in charge, not God. And God will always give us what we want if our faith is strong enough. An example of this idea made national news just a few weeks ago. A family that is highly involved in Bethel Church in Redding CA had their 2-year-old daughter die suddenly. This tragic story made national headlines, because the church believed that if they had enough faith God must raise her from the dead. Of course, they didn’t get what they asked for. The little girl is still dead.
So, did these grieving parents understand Jesus’ words rightly? If so, is their girl dead because they didn’t have enough faith, or even worse, is Jesus a liar? I’m confident that the answer to both questions is, “Absolutely not.”
First, Jesus says in v. 11 that the Father does not give us whatever we want as long as we believe; instead, he gives “good gifts,” based on the fact, as he said in 6:32, that he already knows everything that we need.
Therefore, a big problem with the prosperity gospel is that it assumes that we know what is truly good. But in reality, we often don’t. One the one hand, God knows all things fully and completely. God sees everything with perfect wisdom and understanding. In comparison, it’s as if our eyes were 2” from a single object (demonstrate). Our perspective is so small.
So, yes, the sudden death of a 2-year-old is an awful tragedy. But we don’t have the perspective to declare that God should heal her.
Instead, we have to trust that his understanding is infinite, that he is always good, and he always does what is right even when we don’t understand why. Like Job, we must say, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (2:10). And “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed by the name of the Lord” (1:21b).
So, God doesn’t promise to give whatever we ask for; instead, he promises to give what is truly good. BTW, praise the Lord for that. If God had given me everything I have asked for over the years, I’d be in a world of hurt. And I know I would be a lot less godly without the hardships he has sent.
As a result, it’s important that we understand our text in light of an important prayer request Jesus included in the Lord’s Prayer, earlier in the Sermon on the Mount (6:10). Jesus states that godly people don’t primarily desire that God would give them what they want; instead, above all else they desire God’s will, which they know is based on perfect understand.
And I think it’s worth emphasizing just how a godly heart will reshape your desires and your prayer requests. Psalm 37:4 states, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” God is not saying that if you love me, I will satisfy every materialistic desire. Rather, delighting in God radically transforms our desires, and God is happy to satisfy godly desires. To sum it all up, take a look at 1 John 5:14–15. God hears when we ask “according to his will.” And God answers prayer when we do so. So, with all of that being said, what does Jesus want us to learn from vv. 7–8? First…
We must pray boldly. Look again at the commands Jesus gives—“ask,” “seek,” and “knock.” Christ doesn’t want our first impulse to be to try to fix everything ourselves. No, Philippians 4:6 commands us to pray about anything that causes anxiety. So if you are worried, Jesus says to ask.
As well, have you ever been slow to ask a friend for something, because you are worried you may be asking too much? Similarly, we are often nervous about asking God for big things. We don’t want to ask for too much or be too bold. But Jesus doesn’t include any qualifiers. He invites us to ask.
Don’t ever think, “This is too small to bother God, or it’s so small that I can handle it.” And don’t ever think, “This is too big or too bold.” If to the best of your knowledge it fits God’s will, then ask for it.
Now, I do want to note that in context, Jesus is probably especially concerned for asking God to give you wisdom in relationships. Verses 1–6 mention a couple of very challenging relational issues, and v. 12 closes out the section with the Golden Rule, which has to do with relationships. Since our text is in between, I believe Jesus is especially inviting us to ask for wisdom when we don’t know how to respond to people.
So, Jesus is saying, “Don’t just try to figure it out yourself.” Instead, James 1:5 promises, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach.” And the principle of our text applies to every other challenge. Don’t be afraid to ask boldly. Second…
We must pray persistently. Notice that all 3 commands in v. 7 and the 3 parallel verbs in v. 8 are in the present tense, and they describe habitual, persistent prayer. So, Jesus is urging us to be always asking, always seeking, and always knocking. We must “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).
God has really been challenging me about this area, because I’m pretty good about sitting down and spending scheduled time in prayer. But I’m not very good about impromptu prayer when a need suddenly arises or a burden begins to weigh on my heart. But Jesus says that I need to be always asking as I go into meetings, as I struggle through problems, and when I need wisdom right now. I need to be a persistent “asker.” Third…
We must believe that God answers prayer. I think it would do our souls well, to just hear Jesus again in vv. 7–8 while focusing on the promise he repeats six times (read). Jesus couldn’t be any clearer. God answers prayer. Of course, there are some important qualifiers we have to remember. God is sovereign, not us so, we don’t pray to change the perfect will of God or to convince him to do something better than he was planning to do.
But Jesus is also clear that God works through the prayers of his children, so we should pray to our sovereign God, believing that he hears and answers.
So, we need to learn to pray like people who believe in the power of prayer. First and foremost, pray for spiritual needs. The great Baptist preacher John Broadus once said, “One may be a truly industrious man, and yet poor in temporal things; but one cannot be a truly praying man, and yet poor in spiritual things.” Prayer will change your walk with God. But then pray about everything else, because you believe God answers prayer. So, the first major reason why we must be devoted to prayer is because God answers prayer. The 2nd major reason is…
II. God only gives good things (vv. 9–11).
In these verses, Jesus uses an argument from the lesser to the greater (a fortiori). The lesser argument comes in vv. 9–10 where Jesus points out that…
Sinful fathers give good things to their children (vv. 9–10). Jesus does this by describing 2 absurd scenarios. First, it’s been a long day of hard work, and the family comes in for dinner. Let’s say a child has been working hard tending the garden—pulling weeds and working the soil.
When they come inside, the child says, “I’m exhausted and hungry from all my hard work. Dad, please give me some bread.” Jesus points out that no sane father responds by handing his son a plate full of rocks.
What makes this scenario especially absurd is the fact that the small loaves of bread the Israelites served looked like round stones. Therefore, the hungry child may quickly throw the stone in his mouth and take a bite. It’s cruel, and it’s contrary to the nature of a parent.
Then v. 10 adds a similarly absurd illustration. Most people believe that Jesus is thinking of an eel-like fish that was common in the Sea of Galilee. It looks a lot like a snake, so a child could easily mistake a snake for this fish. But when he bites in, he is severely disappointed.
Jesus’ point with both illustrations is that such antics are contrary to the nature of human fathers. Jesus says that even depraved sinners want to give their sons good things.
Now, I have to admit that Jesus is making me nervous here, because I may occasionally get a little pleasure out of messing with my kids’ minds. The day after the Fall Festival, I might have told them that I ate all their candy after they went to bed, just to see how they would react.
I’ve also had someone play a similar trick on me to what Jesus mentions. When I was in 2nd or 3rd grade, my Sunday School teacher handed me a full Pepsi bottle. I was excited, and I took a huge swig, only to realize it was cold coffee. I don’t remember what the object lesson was, but I remember the shocking disappointment.
So yes, people in general and dads in particular like to play practical jokes, but Jesus’ point still stands. He says in v. 11, “Evil (fathers) know how to give good gifts to (their) children.” Even though we are sinners, human fathers (and mothers) have an incredible love for their children and they want to give good things.
If you have kids, you know just how intense that love truly is. Sometimes it gets weird. Your kid gets a big hit in pee-wee baseball, and you are jumping up and down like you won the lottery. He gets a good report card, and you are more excited than he is. You bawl your eyes out on the first day of school, while your child is pleading with you to get back in the car and stop embarrassing him.
And if anyone ever messes with your child, it takes all your strength not to say or do something foolish. You love your kids, and you desperately want their good. And Jesus takes this incredible picture of a father’s love, and he uses it to make a powerful point. He argues that…
Our Heavenly Father gives even better gifts (v. 11). This is a wonderfully encouraging verse. Jesus says that our Heavenly Father loves us with the same kind of passion and care as our human fathers. So, imagine the incredible love you have for your kids or that your dad has for you. If your dad was absent, think of the very best dad you’ve ever been around, and then just ponder the fact that God loves us the same way.
Psalm 103:13 states, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” And mothers, lest you feel left out, Isaiah 49:15 states, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you.” If you are God’s child, and he loves you with the intense love and care of a father or mother. Praise the Lord!
Now, before we go on, I want to emphasize that this fatherly care is rooted in the gospel. God doesn’t love us this way, because we are so wonderful and so deserving of love. Instead, we are wretched, unlovable sinners. But Romans 5:6 states, “When we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” He loved us in our weakness and sin. So, we can’t take any credit. All we can do is stand in awe at the incredible love of our Heavenly Father.
Of course, this also means that God is not the Father of all people. Our sin creates a wall between us and God that stops most people from enjoying the prayer privileges our text describes. They cannot pray to a Heavenly Father, because their sin stands between them and God.
So, maybe you have always assumed that God is everyone’s Father. But that’s not actually true. Psalm 66:18 states, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Or maybe you have lived your whole life trying to earn the kind of love from God that is described in this passage. You do this good deed and that religious work, and you are always hoping that you can do enough to get God’s favor and the kinds of answers this passage promises.
I pray that you will see that Christ alone makes it possible for us to be adopted into God’s family so that we can relate to God as our Father. Galatians 4:4–5 state, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” 1 Peter 3:18 adds, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.”
The Scriptures promise that Jesus can bring you to God through is death and resurrection and you can be adopted into his family. So, repent of your sin and believe on him today. Jesus will become your Savior, and you can enjoy the incredible security of knowing God as your Father.
And with this security, we can enjoy the promise of v. 11, “How much more…” First, Jesus is assuring us that our heavenly Father loves us even more than our human fathers. If you have a good earthly father, that’s hard to comprehend, but it’s true. And if he is absent and apathetic, what a comfort to know that you have a Father in heaven who cares beyond your greatest imaginations. He is good, and he longs to give you good things.
But what really sets him apart from our human fathers is that he perfectly knows what is good, and he is always able to deliver. What a comforting, marvelous gift.
In light of this assurance, I’d like to pull everything we’ve seen today together into 4 applications.
See the love of your Father. If you are a Christian, you have a Father in heaven who loves you perfectly. We know that based on the gift of Christ. So, he doesn’t look down on you like some deadbeat dad who doesn’t care or only cares a little bit. No, his heart is full of compassion and love. He always wants what is good and right.
Yes, sometimes he puts us through terribly painful circumstances, but it’s always for our good. So, see the love of your Heavenly Father. Be secure in that love. Trust his love. As a result, my second application is…
Pray about everything. Your Father wants to hear from you. Jesus commands you to ask, because the Father wants to give good things. Don’t be that stubborn child who wants to do everything myself or that fearful child who doesn’t want to bother dad. No, rest in the love of the Father and then come to him freely and boldly believing that you will, “Obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). Third…
Pray humbly. Where the prosperity guys (and even the kid who prays for a terminally ill parent) get it wrong is that they assume they KNOW what is best. So, they come to God demanding that he bend to their will. They don’t see God as their Heavenly Father; they see him as an uninterested genie who has to be convinced by their faith and pleading.
I’m so thankful that I don’t to pray with that kind of pressure. Instead, I can come to someone with perfect love and perfect knowledge. I can comfortably make my case for what I believe is right, but then I can rest in the fact that he will give what is good. 1 Peter 5:7 says I can cast all my cares on Him, knowing “He cares for (me).” Pray humbly. Fourth…
Pray expectantly. Jesus couldn’t be clearer. God answers prayer. Jesus promises, “everyone who asks…” (v. 8). So, don’t view prayer merely as a Christian duty or a monotonous routine. I pray that as a church, we never view prayer as merely a comfortable way to transition from one part of the service to another. No, God answers prayer, so we must devote ourselves to prayer and pray boldly and persistently, expecting good things from our Heavenly Father.