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Prayer

March 29, 2020


Over the course of the last couple months our church has been going through Jesus’s most famous sermon, The Sermon on the Mount, and this morning we’ll continue on in that series by picking up where we left off last week –

This is Matthew 7.7-11 -

“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who seeks finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!


This is the word of the Lord.


One of the things I learned early on about my mother in law Mary is what an incredible gift-giver she is. And I have so much respect and admiration for great gift givers like herself, because behind their remarkable gift giving ways is a deep understanding and knowledge of the person they’re getting the gift for. It requires great intentionality and curiosity, it requires that they know their likes and dislikes, their hobbies or interests, or maybe even making a mental note of something seemingly random or trivial that was said in a previous conversation.


A couple years ago my in laws returned from a trip to a foreign country and they brought home gifts for each family member. And so around the table we opened our gifts and my brother in law went first. He got a shirt. Then the next person opened their gift, yet another shirt. And at this point, I can see where this is going. I too am going to be gifted a shirt. But yet, here’s the thing – I don’t want a shirt. I already have plenty of shirts that I rotate through on a tight 10 day rotation. I don’t want or need another shirt. And I’m convinced it’s going to be yet another touristy shirt with another unseemly design and a crummy collar that itches like crazy. And so I’m mentally preparing myself as the gift comes my way, ‘just smile and say thank you, just smile and say thank you, that’s all you have to do.’ And then, finally, it’s my turn to the open my gift. And as I’m opening it, Mary looks at me and says, ‘Daniel, I knew you wouldn’t want a shirt. I thought you’d like this travel book instead.’


And my jaw just about dropped to the floor. I couldn’t believe it. Mary absolutely nailed it. Truth is, I couldn’t have cared less about the book. Rather, I was just so grateful and so impressed that she somehow knew not to give me a shirt.


And here’s what’s even better news, here’s what’s even more amazing – and that is, if that is the heart of a mother or father or even a mother in law for goodness sake – if they know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more does our Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?


After all, we have a Father in heaven who loves us and cares about us even more than any parent or in law ever could. We have a Father in heaven who sees us and knows us and understands us better than any mother or father possibly ever could.


If you have ever loved a baby or little kid, whether it be a kid of your own, or your niece or nephew, or the kid a close friend, you know just how astounding this truth is. Because you know that you want the best for that little one. You want to give them the world. You want them to thrive and flourish in every way. If they asked for bread, you wouldn’t give them a stone or if they asked for fish, you wouldn’t give them a snake. There’s no way. That would go against every parental instinct our desire you have.


And if you and I love like that, how much more does our Heavenly Father?


Jesus says, 11 If you then, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!


And so in light of that truth, Jesus instructs us in this way, saying,


“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who seeks finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.


Jesus says, ‘Ask, seek and knock.’ And while the word is never used in this passage, I imagine we probably have a good idea of what Jesus is talking about here, and that is, prayer. And he’s using these verbs, ask, seek and knock, to the highlight the way in which we should go about praying, and that is with greater and greater boldness and persistence.

You see, it’s one thing to call someone to ask them for something, it’s a whole other thing to go knock on their front door when they don’t pick up their phone.


Jesus is saying, you can have that level of boldness, that level of persistence in your prayers. For your Father in heaven knows you and loves even more than your parents do.

And even more, consider the relationship Jesus is highlighting here, it’s a parent-child kind of relationship. Think about how bold and persistent kids can sometimes be in their asking. They can be relentless, borderline obnoxious. Kids often lack the sheepishness that we adults often have. That feeling of, ‘Oh, I don’t want to bother them or inconvenience them.’ Kids, little kids especially, rarely, if ever, think that way.


And so Jesus is saying, ‘Have you seen the way a 4 year old goes about asking things from their parents? You can be that kind of bold, that persistent. You have that level of relationship.’


Jesus says, ‘Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.’


But wait, hold on, we might say. Aren’t those words too good to be true? Because, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve asked for things and they haven’t been given to me. I’ve searched and haven’t found a thing, I’ve knocked before and there’s no one to open that door.’


And so how exactly do we make sense of Jesus’s words and the promise that he seems to be making here? Well, here are a couple things that help me make sense of this, and the first is that I have to believe that it’s by design that these words from Jesus come towards the very end of his sermon rather than near the beginning. You see, in many ways, this whole sermon has been answering the question, ‘What does it look like to be a follower of Jesus or a citizen of the kingdom of heaven? What would our character look like, what kind of influence would we have, what would we be motivated by, what would our ambitions look like?’ You see, the more and more this sermon and scripture overall take root in our heart, the more likely it will be that you and I will ask for those things and seek after those things that are consistent with scripture itself. And so Jesus makes this promise with the assumption that you and I will ask for things and seek after things that are consistent with God’s character and God’s promises.


Even more, consider how kids, in their limited wisdom and maturity, often ask for things that are ultimately not for their good, whether it’s a 3rd helping of dessert or to go to bed at midnight. As a parent, you probably say no to those things most of the time. Or to go back to Jesus’s core argument, if your child asks for a snake, would you give them a snake? Yeah, probably not. Our Father in heaven gives us good things, and truth is he knows better than we do what’s truly ‘good’ for us and what’s not. Or in some cases, it just may not be the good, or rather, right time.


Jesus says, ‘Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.’


And, friends, I imagine in this season, in light of the coronavirus, many of us are praying big, big prayers and rightfully so. Maybe you’re praying for healing for all those who are sick and those who have been affected by this virus. Maybe you’re praying for strength and stamina for doctors and nurses and all those who are risking their lives caring for those in need. Maybe you’re praying for researchers to have a breakthrough moment and find a vaccine. Or maybe you’re praying for the elderly, the widows, shut ins, all those who are feeling lonely and isolated, alone in this season.


All of those are good, good prayers. All of those are good things to ask for. To ask for any and all of those things is consistent with God’s character and promises that we read about in scripture.


And so maybe you’re wondering in this season, ‘Okay, so if all of that is true, if Jesus’s promise here is true and if what I’m praying for is good and right, then why are people suffering right here, right now? If our Heavenly Father gives good gifts and he is truly good in every way, then why hasn’t he put a stop to all of this already?


I know I sometimes wrestle with those questions and maybe you are as well in this season. And I’ll be honest with you, I’ve just asked a series of questions that I can’t fully answer in 15 minutes or less, but for now, here’s what gives me hope in seasons such as this –


And that is, as followers of Jesus, you and I can anticipate and look forward to a day and to a world where there will be no more suffering, no more death, no more viruses, no more pain. And that truth alone should give us hope in this very moment. And yet there’s more – the reason you and I can have this kind of future hope is because Jesus himself suffered for us and with us, by dying on a cross, only then to rise from the grave some three days later, defeating sin, death and the Devil himself. And so we worship a God, Jesus himself, who knows what it’s like to suffer himself, who can sympathize with us in every way, who sees us in our suffering and can say to us, ‘Me too. I’ve been there too.’


So friends, are you feeling lonely and isolated in this season of ‘social distancing,’ sheltered in place? Jesus looks at our loneliness and says to us, ‘Me too. I’ve been there too.’ Where in his moment of greatest need, Jesus was rejected and let down by his disciples, his closest friends and followers, left all alone as he headed towards his death.


You all, do you feel abandoned by God, do you feel like you’re being neglected, that your most urgent prayers are going unanswered? Friends, Jesus looks at us in our feelings of abandonment and says to us, ‘Me too. I’ve been there too.’ For on the cross, Jesus cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ You see, even Jesus himself knows what it’s like to feel abandoned by God.


So you all, go to God in prayer. In a season where it is so easy and tempting to be consumed by the news and all that is new, take time, find a quiet place, away from the TV, away from the kids, and share with him all your anxieties and fears, your worries and concerns. In a season where so much is out of your control, go to the one who is control of it all. And as you pray, may you experience more of his presence, more of his power, and more of his peace.


And as for whatever is on your heart, ask boldly and persistently, for he’s a good, good Father who longs to give good gifts to his children. Ask boldly and persistently, even though you may not get what you ask for, for it may not be for your long term good or may simply not be the right time. Ask boldly and persistently, knowing that even in your doubts and fears, struggle and pain, Jesus can sympathize with us in every way. And above all, ask boldly and persistently, because no matter what he gives us, never forget that the heart of the giver is good.


Amen.

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