Teach Us to Pray (9): Great Expectations
March 15, 2015
Intro – (Read Luke 11:9-13). In our study of vv. 5-13 we have seen that altho He never really is reluctant, sometimes God appears to be reluctant. When answers to prayer are delayed God seems apathetic or on vacation. Our natural reaction is to give up – get disillusioned. Jesus instructs differently. In the face of silence He advises two things – Persist and Expect. Don’t give up. Last week we saw how we persist (vv. 5-9). Today how to expect (9-13).
The key is how we view God. If we view God, as many have been taught, as a Magic Dispenser Machine, we are doomed to disappointment because that is not who He is. Many have isolated the ask, seek, and knock portion of this passage and said, “See, there you have it. Just ask, and God’s obligated to deliver.” If it doesn’t happen, inevitably you will be told it’s your fault – not enough faith. God was willing; you didn’t believe. This is the God as Santa Claus approach to prayer. But that approach does irreparable damage to vv. 8-9. It rips them out of the context leaving jagged edges of misinterpretation.
Ask, seek and knock (the “how”) of prayer, are defined by vv.1-4 which show the “what” of prayer to be God-centered, need (as opposed to desire) driven and spiritually prioritized. Ask, seek and knock explain how to pray THAT kind of prayer – not my Christmas wish list. This is not depicting God as the Magic Genie in the sky granting carte blanc wishes. Expectant prayer views God not as sugar daddy, but as Father. Jesus’ model prayer addresses Him as “Father” in v. 2. Further vv. 11-13 use the concept of Father to illustrate how this all works. Seeing God as Father is key to this passage.
A good father loves to do for his kids. But we know that all requests must be filtered through the father’s GREATER wisdom, right? A loving father often does not give exactly what is requested. He sees danger the child does not see. And he sees opportunity the child does not see. [repeat]. Thus when a 2-year-old asks for a butcher knife, Dad says No. And when a 16-year-old wants to marry the first guy who pays attention, Mom and Dad say, “Wait.” Parents see danger where the child does not and they see opportunity where the child does not. That simple premise will greatly inform expectations in our prayer life, Beloved. We’re not petitioning a magician, but a Father. Tim Keller says it beautifully: “Your father gives you what you would have asked for if you knew everything He knows.” There is a truth to live by!
But while we pay lip service to God as Father, we don’t really believe it. Not really. We doubt; we waver; we worry; we insist on our own way; and consequently we live messy lives; we don’t trust or obey. So how can we change? Faced with seeming reluctance, what do we do?
I. Expect An Answer
V. 10: “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Great verse, right? Wonderful verse. But we know it has qualifiers. David says in Psa 119:67, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Unconfessed sin stops prayer in its tracks. And Jas 4:3 says if we ask wrongly “to spend it on your passions” the Lord will not hear. Our prayers must align with Jesus’ example which confesses sin and is God-centered rather than me-centered.
But if our heart is pure then, we can pray expectantly. V. 9 urges us to pray persistently and v. 10 tells why. Because an answer is coming. In fact, note v. 9 commands – ask, seek, knock – all present tense, indicating continuous action. It’s not ask once and sit back and wait for an answer, it’s keep on asking. The lesson teaches a lifestyle of dependence. But look at v. 10. Two out of three promises are also present tense. “For everyone who [always] asks, receives (present tense, is now receiving), and the one who seeks, finds (pres), and to the one who knocks it will be opened (future).” This is a lifestyle, a process, not a one-time event.
In some ways, prayer is like an iceberg. What you see above water is only about 10% of the whole thing, right? Prayer is like that. We pray; nothing happens. Sometimes not for years, but when the answer comes we see how little pieces were coming together the whole time to make the answer. Patty and I have found it helpful when we are praying about certain things to thank the Lord for what He is already doing with regard to that request that we just don’t see yet. That’s praying expectantly in the face of seeming silence.
Why don’t we expect answers? Sometimes because we feel we don’t deserve them. Well, guess what, we don’t! If answered prayed went by who deserved it, it wouldn’t happen. At our best, God owes us nothing. But Heb 4:15, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace.” Why can we do that? Because we deserve it? No – because of Heb 4:14: “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” Jesus represents us to the Father who doesn’t answer because we deserve it but because He deserves it! We expect in Him.
A 17-year-old girl was seeking her first job. She asked her uncle if he’d be a reference. He agreed. A few days later she called and asked if he could meet her at the restaurant. “Why?” He asked. “The manager wants me to come in for an interview, and she told me to bring my references!” So that was a bit of overkill, but she had the right idea. Bring your references. That’s the only reason we can come bold to God’s throne. Not because of what we’ve done, but because of what He’s done! We come with great expectations because His blood compels an answer. So come bold. Come expecting an answer.
II. Expect a Good Answer
So, expect an answer, but here’s the kicker! The answer may not look like you think. Why? Because it will be a good answer. You say, “Well, surely what I am praying for would be good.” So we think! But we don’t know all the circumstances. God does. We don’t know the true needs of our heart. God does. We don’t know what might be. God does. We don’t know the end from the beginning. God does. Taking all that into account – God crafts the perfect answer. That may look exactly like we ask, or it may not look at all like we ask. But it will be what we need, not necessarily what we want.
V. 11-12, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” Mt adds in 7:9, “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?” Fish, eggs and bread -- common food in Palestine. And the key to interpreting the passage is to see that a serpent might look like a fish, a coiled up scorpion might look like an egg; a stone might look like a loaf of bread. Jesus’ point is if a child mistakes a stone for bread and says, “Give me that loaf,” Dad’s not going to do that. Now will God. God doesn’t play tricks.
I was walking in a homeless section of SF one night. A young man came along, dug into a bag he was carrying and tossed some coins to one of the people. The man caught the coins and began to shriek bloody murder. The coins were red hot, a practical joke. But God doesn’t do that to His children. He doesn’t give scorpions as a joke! Or if a child sees a scorpion coiled in the corner and says, “Dad, I want that egg.” Will Dad give it to him? Of course, not. He sees danger the child does not see; and He sees opportunity the child does not see. He answers according to His greater wisdom and goodness.
“For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” The prosperity gospel preachers love this passage. Taken out of context it makes no qualifications. So the name it and claim it guys say, “You want a Maserati? Just ask.” When you come next week and say, “But Pastor Benny, I didn’t get my Maserati,” the answer is, “Oh, you didn’t have enough faith. If you believed, you’d get your car.” That’s how those charlatans work. But that is not at all what Jesus means. He is urging us to persist in prayer. And to expect an answer. But expect an answer in keeping with the Father’s greater wisdom and goodness!
That’s the point of the illustrations. God would never give us something that would be bad even tho we ask! His greatest gift is to give what we need rather than what we want. Do you see? We’re like children at the checkout: “Mom, please. I need 10 boxes of Dove bars.” Mom loves the kids so she gets them, right? No! Because she loves them, she doesn’t get all those Dove bars. Parents filter requests. So does our heavenly Father. That’s why we must see God as Father – so when the answer isn’t what we asked for, we know it’s actually better! Get your arms around that! Think this way. God either gives what we ask for or something better! His answers are always good, even when it doesn’t look like it.
Calvin says it this way, “God does not answer our prayers as we pray them, but as we would pray them if we were wiser.” In fact, this is exactly what happens when we pray. Paul tells us in Rom 8:26 ff: “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” So – when we pray and it doesn’t come back the way we expected, what has happened? Our request has gone through the HS filter! He retrofits our request to conform to the Father’s will and then passes it on.
Here’s an example. Jacob, had a dysfunctional family. Too many wives; too many kids and too much favoritism. He loved Joseph best. Gen 37:4 says, “But when [Joseph’s] brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.” Joseph loved the Lord, so likely he prayed for peace in the house. We’re not told that, but I suppose he did. In any case, God did bring peace. But not the way you would expect. Joseph didn’t just wake up one morning to find that everyone suddenly loved him. Instead, his brothers tried to kill him, then sold him into slavery in Egypt. Years later came the famine came that eventually drove his brothers to come to Egypt for food, little knowing Joseph was in charge of the whole thing. When Joseph finally revealed himself to his brothers we’re told in Gen 45:2-3, “he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. 4 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near.” Is that the way you would have answered Joseph’s prayer for family harmony? Me neither. But God’s ways are not our ways, are they? No – but His ways are best – always good, always right, always perfect for what we really need. Our Father gives us what we would have asked for if we knew everything He knows. Expect good answers.
III. Expect a Divine Answer
V. 13, “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!” Matt’s account says, “how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Mt 7:11). This is an argument from the lesser to the greater, common in Jesus’ time. If you who are less than perfect, still protect and give good gifts to your children, how much more will your perfect heavenly Father give to you good things, the best of which is the HS. In other words, when we ask in good faith for something, God ultimately gives not just the gift but the Giver – not just the blessing, but the Blesser. What we don’t see is that anything we are asking for is ultimately a desire for God Himself. The only thing that can ultimately fill our heart’s desire is not something, but someone. It is God Himself.
Psa 37 4) “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This verse is so often misunderstood. It is taught if you just delight in the Lord, you can get any other thing you want. But that’s not what it means at all. It means if you delight in the Lord, He will give you what you delight in – Himself.
Remember Jacob’s wife, Leah. Always looking for love. Her husband loved his other wife Rachel better and Leah knew it. But Rachel was barren; Leah saw children as a way to win her husband’s love. Gen 29:32, “And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben (“see, a son”), for she said, “Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” 33 She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon (“heard”). 34 Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi (attached).” Her hopes were always dashed until she got the message: 35 “And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” Therefore she called his name Judah [Praise, the Lord be praised]. Then she ceased bearing.” That’s what God wants, Beloved. That we desire Him above all. And that’s exactly what she got because guess what? It was thru the line of Judah that Messiah came – not from the beloved Rachel, but through the unwanted one, the unloved one. When she began to desire God above her husband’s love, God gave her Himself in a powerful way.
Conc – Some see prayer as Aladdin’s lamp. But imagine that power in the hands of your 5-year-old. “Here, Jamie, make any three wishes and they are yours, good or bad, smart or stupid.” With that scenario, all you know for sure is that disaster looms, right? Well, prayer has that kind of power. It does. But fortunately, it is addressed to a heavenly Father who applies a safety valve – a foolishness filter because we are toddlers. He sees danger we don’t see, and opportunity we don’t see and answers in light of His greater wisdom and goodness. If prayer were Aladdin’s lamp without the filter, we’d all be dead. We’d have killed ourselves long ago.
A pastor tells of his daughter, Jackie, who became close friends in high school with Matt, a drummer in the worship band she sang with. They became close and began to plan attending college together, but then Matt was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. Jackie says, “I had great faith that God would heal Matt. He had such a passion to be a pastor, teaching others. I knew God wouldn’t take his life because Matt could make such a difference in this world.” She prayer urgently for his healing. But in September of her senior year, Matt died. Jackie responded with anger and disbelief. She said, “Initially I blamed God. Later I blamed myself, thought I didn’t pray hard enough, or maybe I accidentally missed praying one day.”
After graduation, Jackie went to a Christian college where she began to release the pain and grief locked inside her. She said, “Once I actually voiced my suffering, the healing began, and I experienced God’s love again.” Matt taught the family that he valued his eternal relationship with God more than any temporary life on earth. They prayed for Matt to live and God answered “Yes,” – not in the way they expected – life on earth – but an infinitely better life with Him. Meantime, in college, Jackie met Michael, another young man who loved the Lord, became a Bible teacher – and plays in the backup band when Jackie sings. Why Mike and not Matthew? God knows – but that’s the point – God knows. Trust Him. He’ll give you what you would ask for if you knew as much as He does. And that’s a great thing. Let’s pray.