“Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips.”—Proverbs 25:19 (ESV)
I love how picturesque the proverbs are in describing truth in simple terms. The above proverb became very real to me recently when my wife twisted her knee when she slipped. As we walked back to the car from a trip to the hospital, her knee buckled and she was in great pain. For several weeks after that accident, she had to wear a brace to prevent her knee from giving out.
The sinfulness of man requires the power of God to overcome our nature, bringing us to Christ and setting us free from our sins, removing us from the kingdom of darkness and placing us into the kingdom of God, adopting us as sons of God and joint heirs with Christ, establishing both our ability to stand before the righteous throne of Almighty God as well as establishing our right to do so by virtue of Christ’s perfect righteousness imputed to our account.
““Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.“For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.“Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?“Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?“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 what is good to those who ask Him!”
(Matthew 7:7–11, NASB95)
I suspect that we all have struggled at times to be consistent in our prayer times. In Matthew 7:7-11 (quoted above), Jesus is in the middle of his great Sermon on the Mount. In chapter six, the Lord gave an amazing lesson on prayer. But as you listen to what Jesus is teaching in the Sermon on the Mount the more you see that radical dependence that you and I need in prayer.
We need prayer because he calls us to forgive our enemies (Matt. 6:14-15).
We need prayer because he says when we fast, it is to be with a humble heart (Matt. 6:16-18).
We need prayer because he warns us of the lure of material possessions and how they can steal away our affection for the Lord (Matt. 6:19-24).
We need prayer because Jesus told us that we aren’t supposed to get anxious, that he would provide for all of our needs (Matt. 6:25-34).
We need prayer because we aren’t supposed to unfairly judge others, but rather we need to examine our hearts to find healing and forgiveness for our sins first (Matt. 7:1-5).
We need prayer because we need to discern when those we preach the gospel to are so hard-hearted or against our efforts that we need to move on, all while keeping our own hearts tender and hoping that they will come to repentance (Matt. 7:6).
So, coming to chapter 7, it should be very clear to the reader how much prayer is needed. So, as Jesus begins to teach on the need to take every request to the Lord who is good and gives to his children, we see three ways in which we need to be persistent in prayer:
1. “Ask” your heavenly Father.
Every one of these five verses speaks about asking, and all of them point to the fact that if we ask our heavenly Father, he will answer our needs. Implied in asking is the need for humility. We ask when we do not have. Those who are self-sustained and have no need for God will not pray. And those who say they need God but do not pray, show by their lack of prayer that they do not truly believe that they need God. The prideful take care of themselves. The humble submit to the Lord’s will as they go to him in prayer.
2. “Seek” the Father’s will.
This reminds us of Matt. 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
The desire to be dependent upon God progresses from asking God in humble dependence to growing in prayer while seeking God’s will. Seeking gives us a visual picture of looking for something that is not clearly before us.
“We are seeking to uphold the world [in prayer], to save it from the curse of God, to protect the creation, to attain the ends of Christ’s death, to save ourselves and others from damnation, to overcome the devil, and demolish his kingdom, to set up the kingdom of Christ, and to attain and help others to the kingdom of glory. And are these works to be done with a careless mind or lazy hand? O, see, then, that this work [of prayer] be done with all your might!” – Richard Baxter in The Reformed Pastor
“Those that are about to undertake this work [of prayer] should do it with the greatest seriousness and consideration of the vast importance of the work, how great a thing it is to have the care of precious souls committed to them, and with a suitable concern upon their minds, considering the great difficulties, dangers, and temptations that do accompany it. It [prayer] is compared to going to warfare.” –Jonathan Edwards in The Salvation of Souls
3. “Knock” with persistence.
The verbs in verse 7, “ask”, “seek” and “knock” are all present imperatives. That means that they are commands that we are to continue to do, not just once, but persistently. That is why “knocking” is such a good picture of our need to be persistent. Jesus calls us to knock on prayer’s door persistently.
Some of you might ask “why?” If God hears our prayers, and we pray once, why doesn’t he just answer? Why does he make us pray so many times? It isn’t because he didn’t hear us the first time, or that he isn’t able to answer us the first time. He often doesn’t answer immediately for our benefit:
By praying persistently, God teaches us dependence. A person who prays once or twice and then tries to fix it themselves shows that they do not depend upon God. Delayed answers cause us to grow in dependence.
By praying persistently, God teaches us to seek his will and not our own. Sometimes we pray selfish prayers. When we pray over and over, we are forced to think about whether what we are praying for is truly God’s will. If not, we may change our prayers, or we may humble ourselves and submit to God’s will even if it is not ours.
By praying persistently, God teaches us patience. God is not on our clock, yet his timing is perfect. He hears us, but the timing of our answer to prayer is not so important to him as teaching us patient dependence upon him.
Persistent prayer requires greater faith and a focused sense of need. Have you found that your prayers are short-lived? Is it because you move on to do it in your own strength? Do you see how often that has made matters worse? Commit yourself to go to the Lord for all your needs, waiting patiently for him to answer you.
Maybe you have found that your prayers are short-sighted. You pray, but not for the great things God has called us all to do. You haven’t prayed for a great harvest of souls. You haven’t prayed for the salvation of your family member whom you believe will never get saved. You haven’t prayed for that obstacle to faith to be removed. You’ve prayed short-range, short-sighted, “safe” prayers. My friend—we have a big God. Pray big prayers. Don’t lose sight of what is eternal.