A while back, I was browsing on Amazon.com and landed on C.S. Lewis book, “Mere Christianity.” As you all know, that’s one of the most read books among Christians, and naturally, you see thousands of raving five-star reviews.
I saw a one-star negative review that drew my attention. The review was short, and it said, “Christianity is a myth, and there’s no God.” So, I wrote a reply to his review, asking him if he cared to elaborate.
He said, he grew up in church, went through Sunday School, and was taught that “Ask, and it will be given to you.” However, he had asked, but he was never given, so he stopped believing in Christianity just because of this verse proven to be untrue to him.
I said you couldn’t take this verse out of context. He said, “Same old, same old! You Christians always try to explain what is unexplainable using the context as an excuse and trying to defend God with some made-up logic. This verse is black and white; it’s not arguable. It’s either true, or the Bible is a sham.”
After going back and forth for a long debate, I found out that he was angry at God because his father passed away when he was only 12 years old. When his father was dying from cancer, he asked God to heal him and keep him alive, but his prayer was not answered the way he wished. So, ever since his father died, he had abandoned God.
I could empathize with him, but it might sound insensitive to continue the debate, so I ended by saying, “I’m sorry about your experience. I’ll be praying for you. I hope you will be able to reconcile with God.”
I believe he had not completely abandoned God since he would come to a Christian book page and write a comment about it. A person who has really abandoned God would not even bother to look at a Christian book. I hope he eventually was able to reconcile with God.
It’s easy to understand why God doesn’t make us rich, solve our trivial problems, or make our church overflowing with members, but when the man asked God to heal his dying father so that he could grow up with him, it’s hard to understand why such prayer is not answered, especially after we are given a promise like this, “Ask, and it will be given to you.”
What do you think about this passage? Do you have any personal struggle with this teaching about prayer? How many of you growing up wondered how you might crack the code of these two verses?
In these two verses, Jesus made a bold promise, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (v.9-10).
Let us look at this scripture lesson to learn how to pray better, and how to pray the prayer God answers.
There is a principle we must understand when we interpret the Bible: “With every promise, there is a premise.” We cannot take Jesus word out of context. One of the reasons our government leaders are fighting furiously against one another as we see on the TV these days is because they take each other’s word out of context.
Jesus made a bold promise in this passage, “Ask, and it will be given to you.” Then what is the premise? The premise is laid out in the very first verse of this teaching, “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.” When we get this part right, we know how to pray the prayer God answers. This part addresses three idolatrous behavior that we must overcome to pray the prayer God answers.
The first premise of the prayer God answers is that we must Pray Relationally, instead of ritually.
1. Pray Relationally
Some people pray to God as if they are praying to a genie. They treat prayer as a rub on Aladdin’s Lamp expecting God to come out saying, “Your wish is my command!” Would you think God would answer the payer that treat him like a genie?
Even though Jesus exemplified a Servant God, he would have done a disservice to let us treat him with disrespect because we would have become a bunch of spoiled brats. God does care more about our character than our comfort.
The number one problem with our prayer is that we pray to God as an idol. We all know that God doesn’t like idolatry, and the Ten Commandments prohibit us to create any image of him for worship. However, all over the world, we see idol worshiping practices everywhere.
Idolatry destroys civilization. Just look at history of the nations around the world.
The passage began with the disciples asking, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and this his how Jesus taught them, “When you pray, say: Father …”
Instead of teaching them to begin by saying, “Dear God,” or something like that, Jesus used a relational term “Father.” In Matthew’s version, it’s “Our Father in heaven.” To address God as Father in prayer was unusual to the Hebrews in the first century because they believed God is holy and we are sinners, and therefore it’s a blasphemy to call God, “Father.”
At one point, they were ready to stone Jesus to death because Jesus called God, “Father.” For them, God should be addressed as “The Holy One.”
However, if you understand the context of Jesus entire ministry, it’s all about relationships—relationship with God and relationship with people. The Great Commandment says, love God and love people, nothing more and nothing less.
I understand some people are not comfortable with the word “father” because they had a bad experience with their earthly father, or they think it’s politically incorrect to use the male figure for God. However, Jesus wants us to imagine a Heavenly Father, different from the earthly father, and that God is the perfect father we all deserve to have.
Jesus said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (v. 13). It doesn’t mean that all earthly fathers are evil, but it means we are flawed. The word “evil” is sometimes used in the Bible to indicate “being less than perfect,” “being less than holy,” or “missing the mark.”
In any case, Jesus wants you to remember your relationship with God when you pray. God answers the prayer that is based on our relationship with God as a Heavenly Father.
The second premise of the prayer God answers is that we must Pray Selflessly:
2. Pray Selflessly
Another problem with the way we pray is that we tend to pray to satisfy our own ego, overtly or covertly. This is the second form of idolatry that we must overcome—the idolatry of Self.
To address this problem, Jesus taught us to say, “hallowed be your name.” That means, “To God, be the glory!” Jesus has given us a blank check here, “Ask and it will be given to you.” If we use this blank check to satisfy our ego, or for personal glory, we are headed for destruction.
The prayer God answers is the kind of prayer that is selfless. God doesn’t need us to glorify him. Paraphrasing what he said when he entered Jerusalem, Jesus said that if we don’t glorify him, God could make the stones to glorify him, meaning God could make the entire nature to glorify him.
God doesn’t need us to glorify him, but we need to glorify him because by doing so, we take our ego out of the throne—we refuse the idolatry of ego—and thus our prayer becomes well aligned.
The first question and answer in the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “What’s the chief end of men? The chief end of men is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” It means the main purpose of the human being is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.
Why do we have to glorify God? The short answer is that we are created for that purpose. St. Augustine of Hippo wrote this 1600 years ago, and it still rings true to us today, “You (God) have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in you.”
As a young man, St. Augustine was a playboy fooling around with women and living a promiscuous life. But one day it dawned on him that everything he had been doing as a playboy did not really give him true satisfaction and joy.
He summarized his conversion in this prayer, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in you.” We are created to glorify God. Therefore, we are never satisfied until God is glorified.
The prayer God answers is the prayer that treasures the relationship with God as our Heavenly Father and the prayer that is selfless. So, Pray Relationally, and Pray Selflessly.
The third premise for the prayer God answers is that we must Pray Harmoniously.
3. Pray Harmoniously
The third idol we must destroy is the hardest. It’s the idolatry of life itself. You might ask if we give up life, what’s left? It’s a little deep and mysterious.
Jesus said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25). You have to lose your life to have life, what does it mean? The first life is about earthly life and the second is eternal life. Eternal life is not just something we will enter into in the future after we die, but eternal life can be experienced right here and right now if we see beyond this earthly life.
For prayer, here’s the solution Jesus gave us, instead of asking God to bless what we do, do what God is already
How do we know what God is already blessing? Seek God’s kingdom. So, Jesus stated the third premise for the prayer God answers, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
What is God’s kingdom? It’s the spiritual realm. When Jesus was in front of the Pontius Pilate, he said, “My kingdom is not of this earth.” It’s a spiritual realm that if you knock on its door, it will be opened for you. Some ancient manuscripts read, “Your Holy Spirit come” instead of “Your kingdom come.” So the kingdom is the reign of the Holy Spirit which spans from the eternal past to the eternal future, which includes now.
In verse 13, Jesus said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” (v.13). Based on the way Jesus concluded this passage, we discovered that he was talking about asking, seeking, knocking for the Holy Spirit to come upon us.
The Holy Spirit is what brings us into harmony with God. I’ve mentioned to you before that life is not a journey but a piece of music. If life is a journey, we should hurry to the destination; the faster, the better. However, it is not a journey but a piece of music.
Therefore, the only way to enjoy life is to be in harmony with the great orchestra conducted by God and to enjoy every moment, every beat, every phrase, and every verse. You can’t rush a piece of music, or you will miss the beauty of it.
To pray harmoniously is to be in tune with God instead of asking God to play our tune. The Holy Spirit is like the music of God, and when we join that cosmic music in harmony, we know exactly how to pray the prayer God answers because we are in alignment with God’s will.
So, instead of asking God to bless what we do, let’s seek to do what God has already been blessing. Instead of asking God to join our tune, let’s seek to join the tune God has already been playing. So, when we pray, “Thy will be done …,” it means “Let your music be played on earth as it is in heaven.”
There you have it. To pray the prayer God answers,
- Pray Relationally
- Pray Selflessly
- Pray Harmoniously
May God bless all of you and may your prayers be answered. Amen!