Jesus’ great Sermon on the Mount covers a variety of topics. From anger to lust, divorce to retaliation, just to name a few, Jesus sets forth the standard of behavior he that He expects from His people. One of the topics which Christ addresses more than once is prayer. This should alert us as to the value and importance the Lord places upon this particular discipline. He first speaks about prayer when referring to the hypocritical Pharisees when He said:
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:5-8).
Immediately following these words, Christ instructs us concerning the manner of our prayers. This prayer, traditionally known as The Lord’s Prayer, was a model; it was not meant to be simply memorized and recited in liturgical or “religious” occasions.
3 Ways to Approach Prayer
In Christ’s next reference to prayer, He begins a brand new discussion on the power and practicality of prayer. He states:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).
Just what do these specific words mean? In their immediate context, I believe first of all that these words are a call to boldness. We should not be shy, lax or apprehensive concerning the bringing of our needs to the Lord. The Lord desires us to enter into His presence, bringing with us any weight or burden that we may be carrying. We are to cast all our burdens upon Him:
“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Next, I believe these words are a call to perseverance. As we engage in prayer, concerning any matter, we are not to give up. Christ even related a parable with this very same truth in mind. We read:
“Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: ‘There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me’” (Luke 18:1-5).
Because prayer brings us into the supernatural, we are to expect that Satan and his forces will do all they can within their limited sphere of power to force doubt, deception and discouragement into our lives as we pray. But no matter what it looks like, in prayer, we are to stay the course.
Can We Pray for Anything?
As Christ continues speaking about prayer, we can see God’s desire to give us those things that we need. We read:
“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 7:9-11).
Should we expect the Lord to give us something other than what we have asked for? And while each case varies, the answer is no. Also, in Christ’s entire discourse on prayer here, there is another question that inevitably arises. Are Christ’s words found in Matthew 7:7 an open-ended invitation to pray for whatever it is that we need?
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As we pray, we should not expect the Lord to humbly submit to our every whim and desire. God is not a genie or a magic lamp that we can run to when we want something. Here is where we must be able to differentiate a need from a desire. James gives us great insight on this when he says under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit:
“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:1-3).
The scriptures are clear: we don’t receive because we ask with entirely wrong motives. In these cases, we are asking, seeking, and knocking, all for the wrong reasons. In such cases, God is not obligated by any means to comply.
The ever-popular, but error-laden Word of Faith movement, seizes upon the lie that God remains compliant to whatever we need, because He owns “the cattle upon a thousand hills,” and by right, whatever is His mine, because I am His child. Conveniently using Philippians 4:19 to support this view, which states that “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus,” they dive headlong into a faulty and destructive lifestyle, concluding that every “answered prayer” is evidence of God’s favor. However, it is not as simple as that. As we pray, we must be mindful of our hearts and remember that out it flows the issues of life. Jesus also stated:
“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly” (Luke 21:34).
Be Mindful of Your Heart and Desires
And while the clear call here is to the need to ready when He comes, the principle is just as clear: we are to watch our hearts, and be mindful of the direction it follows. This will play a great part in how we pray, and what we pray for. If our hearts are weighed down with worldly and earthly things, then what do you suppose will be the trajectory of our prayers? Rather we should pray in alignment with the Spirit of God:
“Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, 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 the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14-15).
Herein lies the key to asking, seeking, and knocking. When we pray according to His will then things will turn, as Jesus spoke following His statement in Matthew:
“For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:8).
In order to avoid frustration, and accusing God of not hearing us, let us remain faithful to Him by seeking those things which are above and not on the earth (Colossians 3:1). It is then that we will understand that He is absolutely sovereign, and that He does what is best for us, and will give us that which we need, at all times, in His time.
“Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).
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Michael Jakes is an Associate Pastor, Bible teacher, and writer. He is co-founder of That’s The Word! Ministries, a distinctly Cross-centered outreach. He hosts several live weekly podcasts, including "The Bible Speaks Live," and "The Cutting It Right Bible Study." Michael is also the author of two books, The Lights In The Windows, and Churchified Or Sanctified? He and his wife Eddye have been married for over 40 years, and reside in New York. You can follow him on Facebook and Youtube and listen to his podcasts on Spreaker.