This sermon is number 20 in a series of 27
The Sermon On The Mount - Part 20
"Encouragement To Pray - Part 1"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2002 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Now we're turning in our Bibles to Matthew's gospel chapter 7 once again, Matthew's gospel chapter 7. We're beginning to read at verse 7 - now remember that these again, I keep reminding you but it's so important that you see where the ministry is coming from, it is coming from none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. These are His words again: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets".
Verses 7 and 8 encapsulate one of the greatest promises that we have in all of the word of God. What an amazing promise this is: 'Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you' - it is a staggering declaration from our Lord Jesus Christ. We do not marvel, therefore, that men said: 'Never man spake like this man'. When we read His words like these, we too marvel at His words - the common people in His day heard Him gladly, but when we hear promising words concerning prayer like this our ears are cocked, we listen carefully: 'Is this real? Can this possibly be so - that whatever we ask God gives us, whatever we seek after we find, whatever we knock God's door for, He opens the door and He gives these things to us?'.
Of course we shouldn't really marvel at these astounding words of the Lord Jesus, because He Himself - the Lord Jesus Christ - was and is the most astounding personality that this world has ever witnessed. As we read the Gospels He is continually astounding the crowds that followed Him. He's filling His followers with absolute amazement at the words that He speaks and the deeds that He does. There are always surprises for those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ. He was unpredictable in a divine way, because He was and is the God-man, God manifest in flesh. Of course, His miracles are still the talk of history. Men in theological and historical halls of the universities of our land and our world still debate what these miracles were: 'Were they folk-stories? Are they philosophical teachings, metaphors, and similes to convey the Lord Jesus Christ's teaching? Or were they real miracles?'. But yet today, still, they tantalise men and women and boys and girls.
Yet it's very interesting that those who followed the Lord Jesus Christ were never heard to ask: 'Lord, teach us to do wonders. Lord, teach us to raise the dead, teach us to cast out demons, teach us how to tell parables just like You tell them, teach us how to preach, teach us how to study doctrine'. No, what we hear from His disciples are these immortal words: 'Lord, teach us to pray'. Because as these twelve individuals witnessed the life of the Lord Jesus Christ it was not the miracles that were the outstanding feature, it wasn't even His words and His teaching, but it seems that it was the prayer life of the Lord Jesus Christ that struck them with such impact that they should resound: 'Lord, teach us to pray'. It was His prayer life that struck them!
I tried to imagine them this week, as they follow the Lord Jesus Christ. I want you to try and see it in your mind's eye, and as He goes a little further He gets down on His knees, and as He lifts His eyes heavenward and these twelve disciples witness the holy awe and face of the Lord Jesus Christ - a man in absolute communion with God! Can you see their hush as they witness it? It has never been witnessed before! So they say: 'Lord, teach us to pray'.
My friends listen, when the Lord teaches us to pray it's imperative that we listen. When He starts to tell us how we ought to pray, it's important that we stop and listen to what is in the Master's mind - the Master of prayer - what He says prayer really is. As you know, if you've been travelling through the Sermon on the Mount with us week after week, we have the Lord's prayer given in this great Sermon - already He has taught us how to pray, but now He closes this Sermon in chapter 7 and He's returning to the subject of prayer. Prayer is the only subject in the Sermon on the Mount that the Lord Jesus Christ repeats. It's of such importance, He holds it so important in His heart and His mind, that He brings it again to His disciples and to His children, and so He brings it again to us today.
Now the Sermon up until now has been an instruction of the precepts of the Kingdom of God. The Lord has been taking the law of God from the Old Testament and He has been re-expounding it in the light of His coming. We have been commanded and instructed to do so many things in the weeks that have gone by but now, as He closes this Sermon, He's not telling us what to do - now He's beginning to tell us how God gives us the power to do what He has commanded. Remember recently we were looking at judgement? Chapter 7 begins: 'Judge not, that ye be not judged', and we looked at how we ought not to judge others, and how we ought to judge others to help them. We looked last week at how we are not to cast our pearls before swine, or holy things to the dogs. I don't know about you, but I've felt very inadequate as I've been studying these verses because there's so much of a load on our shoulders to be able to judge who is a dog, who is a swine, and who is a sheep. We've been told to love our neighbours as ourselves, we've been told to love our enemies! We've been told not to murder or not to hate, not to commit adultery with our eyes, to be meek, to be humble, to be poor of spirit - I don't know about you, but as we've gone down these verses week after week after week, I'm becoming very poor in spirit as I realise my own inadequacies when it comes to the Lord Jesus Christ's Sermon. For that reason, after these three chapters as we find ourselves beside ourselves in knowing how to even begin walking in fellowship and in obedience to the Lord Jesus, the Lord tells us how it can be done.
It's like what James says: 'If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God'. The Lord Jesus is saying: 'If any of you lack these things that I have been teaching you about, it's time that you come and ask for them'! That's what this verse is talking about: 'Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you' - in its context it's specifically speaking of this life of the Kingdom that the Lord Jesus Christ has been teaching about, the virtues that He has just expounded in His great Sermon. Ask for these virtues, seek after God, knock on the door of the narrow road, and it will be opened unto you. God is saying: 'Ye shall seek me, when ye search for me with all your heart, then I will be found of you'.
Let's be honest with ourselves, let's take a moment out here and examine ourselves: how we fare in this Sermon. How have you fared so far with loving your enemies, and with judging people righteously and not unrighteously? How have you fared with adultery in the mind and in the heart, with murder, hate, slander? How have you fared with coming to the altar with your gift when you have aught against your brother? How do we fare when it comes to these things? We don't! We are sinners, and of all men most miserable - but what the Lord Jesus is saying is: 'Come today, come and ask for these things'. The tragedy in the church today is that these characteristics are not characteristic of Christians in our age - why? Why do people not love their enemies? Why do people judge people unrighteously, and then when they do judge people rightly they judge them not from a way of love - they see something wrong in their life, but it's not an arm round them, it's a fist to them! I'll tell you why: because the church of Jesus Christ is not characterised today by prayer! It does not ask for these things, so it does not have these things.
D. A. Carson, who is a very adept expositor of the word of God, has noticed this too in his writings. Listen: 'Our environment loves hustle and bustle, smooth organisation and powerful institutions, human self-confidence and human achievement, new opinions and novel schemes, and the church of Jesus Christ has conformed so thoroughly to this environment that it is often difficult to see how it differs in these matters from contemporary paganism'. The big test of how we fare in the Sermon on the Mount, believe it or not, is this test: what is your prayer life like, for your prayer life will determine how God gives you all these things in this great Sermon? If we have low spiritual vigour and blessing within the assembly, it is directly traced to our low prayer life. James says: 'Ye have not because ye ask not, and ye have not also because when ye ask ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts'. But the Lord says that if we pray - what's He saying? If we get to this stage at the end of this Sermon and we're taught all these things, and we're absolutely buried under all these obligations, and thinking: 'I'm a Christian, I can't even do one of these things let alone all the teaching of this Sermon' - the Lord is saying: 'Now, if you're in that position, that's great, but you've got to move on from that to ask God for these things'. Ask Him!
The Lord says that if we pray, there are certain promises that we can be absolutely sure of. That's the first thing that I want to leave with you, simply this: prayer works. That's a bit of a double meaning: prayer works - in other words, it does work, but also the other side of the coin is the works of prayer, the workings of prayer like the working of a clock; how prayer works. The Lord Jesus starts first of all by our side of prayer. He speaks of our asking, and He says: 'Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened unto you'. The first thing He says is: 'Ask - concerning the conduct expected of you within this Sermon, it will be given to you when you ask for it. Seek - seek after the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and only when you seek for it will you find it. Knock at the narrow gate, and it will be opened to you and you can enter into it'.
To ask is asking generally, but to seek is seeking specifically and to knock is knocking closely. I want you to see, as we ask, seek and knock, there is a progression in the movement of the Lord Jesus' words. He is saying that each action is a little step further on than the previous one. You ask, but then after asking you don't get what you're looking for; so then you seek, and if you continually seek and still don't get then you come closer to the door of God and you begin to knock - and you keep knocking until God gives you what you're asking for. Each step - ask, seek and knock - is a step on from the previous one. It is an increasing in earnestness, an increasing in eagerness, an increasing after God and after your answer - but the key that's starting it all, the whole process of prayer, is to ask.
If you take a casual look down these two verses, 7 and 8, you will count five times you find the word ask within this whole passage. We are to come as children, just simply as a child turns to a father in need. You know all the traits of a child - we could spend a whole series studying the word of God and what the Lord has to say about children and how we ought to behave like children - but the most simple picture that I have in my mind of a little child and a parent is the little hand in Daddy's hand. Walking down the street, he hasn't a care in the world, he doesn't realise he's in any danger if he is because his hand is in Daddy's hand. My friends, that is what the Lord is trying to communicate through these verses. There is a dependence in prayer, when you come to God in prayer it is an indication to God that you are utterly and absolutely dependent upon Him. You're acknowledging on your part your need, and acknowledging on God's part His ability to meet your need. So, if you're not a humble person forget about prayer - that's maybe why you don't pray.
There is dependence that is needed. Now, the tense - this is technical, but it's very very interesting - the tense in the verbs used in this verse justifies this rendering, listen to this: 'Keep on asking, keep on seeking'. The Greek is literally: 'Keep on knocking'! Now if you go into Revelation 3 and verse 20 you have a similar tense, but this time it's on the part of the Lord Jesus Christ. He says: 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock', but literally in the Greek it is this: 'Behold, I keep on standing at the door, and I keep on knocking at the door' - what a poignant picture. Perhaps the Lord has been knocking, Christian, at your heart's door for a very long time to have communion with you, and to come into you and sup with you and you with Him. What a poignant picture: the Lord Jesus knocking with His nail-printed hand continually, keeping on coming and keeping on asking, but the Lord says you've got to have that attitude when you come in prayer too! Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking!
It's not only an expression of dependence, but it is also an expression of persistence - persistent prayer. Ask God, and if you keep on asking then seek God; and if you keep on seeking and nothing comes then knock right on God's door - but keep going until you get what you're asking for! If you think of it like this: you go round to your next door neighbour perhaps for a bottle of milk, or a cup of sugar, and you don't go round you just shout over the fence: 'So and so, would you give me a cup of sugar?'. They don't come to the window, so you shout again: 'Give me a cup of sugar!'. No response, so you go out the driveway and go up their driveway and you seek them - you look to see if they're out gardening in the back garden, if they're fiddling in the garage with the car. But you're looking for them and you still can't find them, and when you can't find them after seeking eventually you go to the front door and you knock - and you keep knocking until they come. Now my friends, that is simply what the Lord Jesus is saying: 'Ask, if you don't get, seek; if you can't get seeking, then knock'.
The big question that baffles us all is: why doesn't He just come when we ask? Why does He make us seek? Why does He make us knock? Why did the friend not come out right away when he was just asked to come? My friend, this is a very important question I want to spend a bit of time - even if I don't get through it this morning. There could be a number of reasons, and I know that some of you are sitting here saying: 'I know these verses, I've known them since I was a youth, but in my own personal experience what I ask for I don't get, what I seek after I don't find, and when I knock God just shuts the door in my face!'. Can I ask you first of all: are you losing contact with God? Is there sin in your life, yet you're still expecting answered prayer? You have a bitter spirit, there's something wrong with you, you've something against your brother, you're dabbling in sin in the dark places - nobody knows about it, it's in your mind, wherever it may be: but if the Lord sees iniquity in our heart He will not hear us. Maybe that's why this verse is not working for you. Let me say to you that when Mary and Joseph lost the boy, the Lord Jesus Christ, it was three days before they found Him. They only lost Him in one day, but it took them three days till they found Him again. When we lose contact in prayer with the Lord Jesus it can be harder to get back into that fellowship after we've left Him. I would urge you today that if you're not knowing answered prayer in your life it could be that there is iniquity between you and your God, and He's not hearing you.
It could be sin, secondly it could be this lack of persistence - that you're only asking God, but when He doesn't give you what you want or what you're looking for you walk away and you say: 'Well, God didn't hear me', but you don't go to the next stage and seek, you don't go to the next stage and knock. Is persistence lacking? At times what the Lord is testing us on is whether we really want the thing or not, whether we're just content to come and ask God for it, or whether we're content to hold on like old Jacob that we were studying recently, and say: 'Lord, I will not let You go until You bless me'. Persistence: asking, then seeking, and then knocking.
Now let me say this: if it's not those two things, if it's not sin in your life and it's not a lack of importunity, persistence and insistence in prayer, you're either one of three types of Christians. The first type of Christian is the one that doesn't esteem prayer at all, the one who doesn't value it - in other words, the one who thinks he has need of nothing or she has need of nothing, and so they don't come in prayer. They maybe just, deep down in their heart, don't believe that it works, and they don't believe that this verse really answers prayer. Then there is the second type of person who believes this verse but fumbles at it. They do pray but they seem to not get what they're asking for, it seems that God is letting them down - they're fulfilling their obligation: they're dependent, they're persistent, but God has not yet answered their prayer. Then thirdly there are those who are actively proving the promises of God day by day in their individual experiences - and just because there aren't too many of them around, don't think there aren't some, there are some!
I imagine a lot of you are in the second category, and you say: 'David, I do seek, I do ask before I seek, and then if I don't get what I'm looking for when I'm seeking then I go knocking - but nothing seems to happen!'. I have people come to me in a pastoral capacity for counselling and they say to me: 'David, God is not answering my prayers! He's not! I've a child that needs to be saved, and I'm praying, I'm weeping, I'm breaking my heart - I've a need in my life financially, with my job...' - whatever it may be, there are people and they come to the conclusion that God is not and will not answer their prayer. My friend, listen: if you are in that second category, it may not be sin that is your problem, it may not be a lack of persistence that is your problem, but it may be a fundamental misunderstanding with these two verses that is your problem.
Let me elaborate on that for a few moments. One author writing upon this verse says that it has a deceptive simplicity. Now that doesn't mean in any way that our Lord was deceptive, He could not be deceptive, but the sense is that this verse on its own - if you take it out of the context of the Sermon on the Mount, and if you divorce it from the context of everything else that the word of God teaches on prayer, you will misunderstand it. Let me say: it is not a blank cheque, it is not coming to God and asking Him for absolutely anything, it is not a magic wand that you can just quote, like 'Abracadabra', and put over your situation and everything's right and God makes everything hunky-dory. This verse, and indeed all verses in the word of God with regards to faith and prayer, must be understood in their biblical context - in chapter 7 of Matthew's gospel, and also in the wider context of the word of God.
It would do you well, if you're in the second category today, to go home and make a list of all of the teachings and instructions in the word of God with regards to prayer, and then start to ask is God answering prayer or not. It's very instructive, let me list a few them for you very quickly. Matthew 7:11, where we're reading, says that you've to ask for good gifts - good gifts. We don't have time today to look at what that means, but we will in the next week that we come to this. In chapter 2 and verse 21 we find that to do with collective prayer, where two agree together on the one thing. You go further in the word of God, Mark chapter 11, the Lord says if you ask and do not doubt - don't doubt. There the opposite is faith, and He says if you ask believing that you shall receive the things. So first of all we've got asking for good things, there's to be no doubt in your heart or in your mind, you're to believe that you will receive - Luke chapter 17 verse 6, faith as a grain of mustard seed. We find further that you're to ask in the name of the Lord Jesus, in other words asking as if the Lord Jesus Christ were asking. You've to ask with the right motive, in other words - John chapter 14 - that the Father may be glorified in the Son. John chapter 15, you're to abide in Christ, having fellowship with Christ, and His words are to abide in you - and then you shall ask and you shall receive. In verse 15 of John 15, the same passage on fruit and the vine, you're to ask in order to bring forth lasting fruit. Again the motivation: what are you asking these things for? Is it to bring forth lasting fruit? James 4, you're not to ask amiss, selfishly. James 5, you're to ask as a righteous man, the prayers of a righteous man avail much. You're to keep His commandments and to do those things that are pleasing in His sight, 1 John 3. You're to ask according to the will of God, 1 John 5:14.
Boy, what a list! I could go on, there are many other things - so don't just detract from this verse all that's in it without the rest of the word of God and the rest of this context. You may be experiencing at this moment unanswered prayer because, simply, of the ignorance of these other teachings in the word of God. But a common misunderstanding - and we don't have time to deal with it today - a common misunderstanding whereby people believe their prayers are not answered is not a misunderstanding about the works of prayer, but a misunderstanding about the God being prayed to. We'll leave that for the next week.
Let's bow our heads together. Maybe you're here and you've been praying and praying and praying for something, maybe you're here and there's sin between you and God and that's why God's not answering your prayers. Maybe it's a lack of persistence - I think I've said this to you before, I imagine if I could see a video clip of my life from God's perspective there have been times were I have almost been there in asking and getting what I've been seeking for, and I've just given up just that moment too early. Are you persisting? It may be that you're doing all those things - well, between now and the next fortnight of me doing the next stage, look in the word of God and search concerning what is said about prayer, but more than that: search concerning what is said about the God answering prayer. Look at verses 7 to 11 again, and then come back and we'll finish it off.
Father, help us - in fact, teach us to pray. We feel so inadequate when it comes to this great Sermon of our Lord's, and it was the only one that we have recorded really that He preached - apart from the parables and so on. Yet it's enough to keep us going right into eternity, and we wonder how we could ever manage. But Lord, it is not in our power, but it is coming dependently and persistently in prayer and asking for these things, and asking for Thy help, and asking for the good things that Thou hast instructed us to do. Help those, Father, that are confused about prayer, and as they search the Scriptures we pray that Thy Holy Spirit will guide them and teach them and instruct them, even before they come back again to see what a great prayer-answering God Thou art. For we pray in the Saviour's precious name, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twentieth tape in his 'Sermon On The Mount' series, titled "Encouragement To Pray - Part 1" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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