September 4, 2011
Pastor Joe Wittwer
The Jesus Revolution
Part 18: Confidence with God
ILL: One night as we were putting the kids to bed, I was teaching them that God can do anything. After talking about it, I asked them, “Since God can do anything, is there anything that you want to ask Him to do?” Amy (age 8) thought and then said, “I want Him to help me to get a good report card, to do well in school and not fight with the other kids.” She paused, and I assumed she was done, and she said, “Oh yeah! I want Him to help me learn how to whistle!”
The next evening, Amy was emitting some high-pitched whistles, and she asked me, “Did I whistle?”
“Yep!” I said.
And she smiled and said, “We asked Jesus to help me whistle last night, and He did it! He can do anything!”
Did you know you can pray about whistling? Ask and you will receive. Today we’re going to talk about Jesus’ amazing promises about prayer.
This is the Jesus Revolution. We are working our way through Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, widely considered the greatest ethical teaching ever. But we’ve been saying that Jesus is not just giving us a new and higher ethic; he is calling us to a new relationship. “Follow me, and I will make you into a new person.” And that new person is described here in the Sermon on the Mount. So each week we’ve been saying, “Follow Jesus and He will change you.” One of the changes Jesus wants to make in us is to give us confidence in our relationship with God—confidence to ask God and know that He will answer, confidence to seek God and know that we will find Him. In fact, would you circle the word “confidence” in the title on your outline? I want you to leave here with confidence before God. Here is what He said:
Matthew 7:7-11 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil,
know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Last Sunday, Matt did a great job of explaining the first six verses of this chapter, which were about not judging others. Do any of you ever struggle with being judgmental toward others? Being critical of others, or just disliking some people? It is hard to love people…especially some people! We need God’s help! How do we get it? Ask!
The first six verses in Matthew 7 were about our relationships with each other. In these verses, Jesus shifts the emphasis to our relationship with God. If I’m going to love people and not be judgmental toward them, I’m going to need God’s help. So Jesus says, “Ask.” The two most important things in life are loving God and loving people, and these two relationships are connected. If you are struggling to love someone, ask God for help. If your relationships with people aren’t working, seek God for help. Ask.
The Big Idea: God wants us to ask. 7:7-11
God wants us to ask. I believe that Jesus said these words to inspire us to pray and to give us confidence before God—confidence to pray honestly and boldly about anything. Two weeks ago, we read 1 John in our Bible reading plan; we read this:
1 John 5:14–15 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
I underlined two things: “confidence” and “according to his will”. The first thing we notice is that John has put a condition upon prayer: God will give us whatever we ask if it is according to his will. Ask for whatever you want, and God will give you what He wants, what He knows is good or best for you. Does this idea of God’s will ever make you hesitant when you pray? “I don’t know if this is God’s will, so I don’t know if I should ask for it.” Ask! Ask, and you will discover if it is God’s will!
ILL: My grandkids don’t worry or wonder about my will; they ask. They never sit and stew and wonder, “Is it Grandpa’s will that I have an M&M?” They simply ask, “Grandpa, can I have an M&M?” And they discover my will: sure, but don’t tell your mom.
How do they discover my will? They ask. And how are we to ask? Confidently.
Notice the phrase, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God.” The word “confidence” translates the Greek word parresia, which means “openness, frankness, plainness, outspokenness; courage, confidence, boldness, fearlessness.” We approach God with confidence and we ask plainly, openly, boldly. We don’t hesitate and wonder or worry; we confidently ask and know that God will do what’s best.
This is illustrated in a story Jesus told in Luke 11. In this passage, the disciples have asked Jesus to teach them to pray. He gives them the Lord’s prayer, then tells this story, and then follows it with the same verses we’re reading today: ask, seek, knock. Here’s the story:
Luke 11:5-8 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
If you get a call from a friend at midnight asking you for help, what do you do? Help! You don’t roll over and go back to sleep, or ignore the pounding on your door or ringing of your phone. You help. Why? Because he asked. You assume it is important because he had the “shameless audacity” to wake you up in the middle of the night! You do it because he boldly asked.
Then Jesus says, “So I say to you, ask.” Jesus is telling us to come to God confidently, boldly, with shameless audacity, and ask. Ask for what? Whatever you want, or need, or think or feel. Anything! Everything! Ask and let God sift it out.
Martin Luther wrote this about our text: “He knows that we are timid and shy, that we feel unworthy and unfit to present our needs to God … We think that God is so great and we are so tiny that we do not dare to pray … That is why Christ wants to lure us away from such timid thoughts, to remove our doubts, and to have us go ahead confidently and boldly.” (Q. by John Stott, Christian Counter-culture, pg. 184)
Jesus wants you to ask…confidently. So let’s take a closer look at what he said:
The command: keep on asking.
Matthew 7:7 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
The mood of these verbs is imperative—they are a command: Ask! Seek! Knock! Jesus is commanding us to ask! Jesus wants us to ask!
And the tense of these verbs is the present tense: “Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.” Why would Jesus command us to keep on asking? Some people mistakenly think this means that we have to pester God to get anything from him, that God has some reluctance we need to overcome, or is stingy and tight-fisted and we must coerce some favor from Him!
But God is not reluctant; He is eager to help you. He is more ready to answer than you are to ask; He is more willing to give than you are to receive. There is no reluctance in God that we need to overcome. To the contrary, God commands us to ask! I think this suggests that the reluctance is more on our part than His. The biggest barrier to prayer is not God’s reluctance to give, but ours to ask. It is our reluctance, not God’s, that we desperately need to overcome; so He says “Ask, and keep on asking! Don’t worry that you’ll offend me, or that I’ll weary of hearing you. I want you to ask Me!”
Why does God command us to ask? Why are we reluctant?
Our pride keeps us from asking. We want to do it on our own. We don’t want to admit that we need help. We all want to be self-made people. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. What do your kids say when they are struggling to do something and you offer to help? “I can do it myself.” And that’s what we feel too. Our pride keeps us from asking God for what we need.
Our fear keeps us from asking. We are afraid that God will say no. When you were a child what kept you from asking your parents for a favor? The fear that they would say no. Sometimes it was easier to get forgiveness than permission! And that fear, the fear of disappointment keeps many from asking God.
Our propriety keeps us from asking. We have a misinformed sense of propriety. We think God is busy running the universe, dealing with big problems, so let’s not trouble Him with our little things, like learning to whistle. We think God probably gets tired of us always asking for something. But there is no power shortage in heaven. You can ask God for anything; God can answer your small prayer and still have plenty of attention and power to give to others.
Jesus commands us to keep asking because He knows that the biggest obstacle to prayer is not God’s reluctance to answer, but our reluctance to ask.
ILL: Bruce Wilkinson, author of The Prayer of Jabez writes:
I used to teach at a Christian college. One Monday a very discouraged senior came to my office. She was a straight-A student, a cheerleader, well liked and serious about her relationship with the Lord. But she confessed to being lonely and depressed. It took a while for us to get to the sore point: her social life. She hadn’t had a date since the previous semester.
“Julie, do you pray?” I asked.
Being a good Bible college student, she was startled. “Of course, I pray. I’m required to pray!”
I pressed further. “What do you pray about?” She started running down her list—missionaries, friends, unsaved family members, sick people. “But do you ever pray for yourself?” I asked.
“Sure, I pray that I’ll be a stronger Christian and be more faithful about—“
I interrupted. “Julie, have you asked God for a date?”
“Oh, Dr. Wilkinson! She said, rolling her eyes. “God doesn’t set up dates!”
“But wait,” I said. “You’ve read the Old Testament. He sent wives wives, didn’t He? He even provided a second husband for Ruth.”
Julie sat there stunned. A God who could be that good didn’t seem realistic. Still, by the time she had left my office, we had made an agreement. We would both pray every day that God would bring her a date, and that He would do so by that Friday night.
I probably looked confident as Julie left that day, but as soon as she was gone, I anxiously phoned home. “Darlene, you’d better start praying!” I said. And I told her about my agreement with Julie.
The next day, a tall senior named Ed walked into my office (you can tell where this story is going!) Ed was very unhappy. He’d asked a girl to marry him, and she’d said no—a definite, please-don’t-ask-again no. Ed knew that he’d never be happy again and was thinking of dropping out of school. I thought only briefly about what to say.
“Ed, you need to date other people as soon as possible,” I said. “In fact, you need to ask someone out for this Friday night.” In one of the more daring acts of faith in my life, I did not mention Julie.
At first the jilted senior balked. But by the time he’d left my office, we also shared an agreement. Ed would try to find a date for Friday.
The rest of that week, Darlene and I prayed. Julie prayed. Ed turned his thoughts away from his disappointment and toward Friday night. And God worked.
The next Monday morning on my way across campus, I saw Julie running toward me. Her feet seemed to barely touch the ground. The first thing she wanted to tell me about was her terrific Friday evening date…with a guy named Ed. “You know Ed, don’t you?” she asked.
“A little bit,” I said, trying not to burst out laughing.
When she was through talking about her weekend, I asked, “Julie, how do you feel about God?”
She quieted and then began to shake her head in amazement. “You know, I’ve always believed that God loves me, but for the first time, I feel that God really likes me.”
Julie hadn’t asked. It is our reluctance, not God’s, which must be overcome when we pray.
What is the biggest single reason for unanswered prayer? I think the biggest single cause of unanswered prayer is un-asked prayer; we never prayed in the first place. Our first and biggest problem in prayer is that we don’t pray! How many times have you gotten neck-deep in some problem and it dawns on you that you haven’t prayed yet? You’ve thought, worried, planned, schemed, talked with others, cried, gotten angry, threatened and grumbled…but you haven’t prayed yet! I’ve done it lots of times. Meanwhile, God watches and pleads: “Please ask Me!” James 4:2 says “You do not have because you do not ask God.” The biggest cause of unanswered prayer is un-asked prayer. God wants you to ask!
ILL: Yogi Berra was behind the plate for the Yankees in a 2-2 tie game, with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth. The batter from the opposing team stepped up and made the sign of the cross in the dust on home plate with his bat. Yogi wiped off the plate with his glove and said, “Why don’t we just let God watch this game?” That may be good theology for a ball game, but it is lousy theology for your life. Lots of people subscribe to Yogi’s theology for their lives; they think God is too busy or they are too unimportant to bother him.
Don’t let God just watch your life! Invite Him to be involved! God wants you to ask! So ask! Keep asking! Keep seeking! Keep knocking! God is able and willing, and commands you to ask!
So when Jesus says, “Ask…keep on asking”, he is addressing our reluctance to ask, not God’s reluctance to answer. He is commanding us to ask. He is saying, “Keep asking. Make prayer the habit of your life. Ask often; you won’t offend God or wear Him out.” This is what Paul means when he says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 “pray without ceasing”. He doesn’t mean that you pray 24 hours a day; that’s impossible. He means that you pray every day, that prayer is the habit of your life, that you ask often and regularly and confidently.
But Jesus does more than command us to ask; He promises that God will answer.
2. The promise: God will answer.
Matthew 7:8 “For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
God answers prayer. Everyone who asks, receives; everyone who seeks Him, finds Him.
For lots of us, our first thought is, “Wait a minute; God doesn’t answer every prayer.” How many of you have prayers that have seemed to go unanswered? I’ve prayed lots of prayers that weren’t answered as I hoped. I don’t always receive what I ask for. And I can’t always explain why. There have been times I’ve asked for something that seems to me to be good, to be right, and yet I didn’t receive the answer I’d hoped for. There is some mystery here. So here’s my best shot at explaining this. There is a balance, or a tension, that needs to be maintained.
Let’s be clear that here, Jesus says that God answers prayer. In fact, he says it in a pretty universal way: everyone who asks, receives! The promise is staggering! And these words of Jesus were meant to inspire us to pray, to give us confidence to come to God and ask.
But are they a blank check? Is Jesus saying that you will receive whatever you ask every time? Even though it sounds like it, reason says, “no”. If these words were a blank check, and God was obligated to give you everything you ask for, it would be a disaster! It would make you god, and turn God into your servant, your genie who had to fulfill your every wish. It would turn prayer into magic, an “open sesame” that opened every door, or a magic lamp with the genie inside ready to do your bidding. And think of the burden it would put on you: you would have to be sure that you always asked for the right thing, the best thing, in every situation for everyone involved. Do you have that kind of wisdom? If God is pledged to do whatever we ask, I would be reluctant to ask because I know that I lack the wisdom to know what’s best in every situation.
So, how are we to understand Jesus’ words? He wants us to ask, and He promises God will answer. But it is not always the answer we hoped for. And you ought to be thankful for that! God, like a wise Father, doesn’t give us everything we ask for. Jesus said that our Father gives good gifts to us.
ILL: I love to give my kids and grandkids whatever I can, but there are some things they ask for that would be harmful, or not in their best interests.
When Andy was 10, he asked almost every day if Laina and I would go out and let him babysit the other children. He probably would have done quite well, but there were some concerns we had that made us say “wait…not yet”. Could he get the kids out of the house in case of a fire? What would he do if a stranger came to the door? What if one of the children threw a wild fit? Could he manage his siblings in a fair fashion, or would he get stoked and beat one up? Sometimes God says, “Wait, not now.”
All of our kids asked to stay up late when they were little. We almost always said no; we knew that they needed their sleep…and that we needed their sleep too! By the way, isn’t it amazing how kids want to stay up late, and parents are dying to get to bed early? Sometimes God says, “No.”
When the boys were little, they watched me shave and wanted to do it. I said no; I wouldn’t let them use my razor. I didn’t want them to slice those beautiful faces to ribbons! But I did provide an alternative: I lathered their faces up and let them use a table knife to scrape away the shaving cream. Sometimes God says, “This would be better.”
You get the idea. Our parents often said “no” or “wait” or “try this instead” when we asked for things that weren’t appropriate. And God is a wise Father and doesn’t give us everything we ask for; you can be grateful for that. Jesus said that He “gives good gifts to those who ask Him.” He gives what is good for us. The illustration I just used is the same one Jesus used here in our text.
Matthew 7:9-11 Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Prayer is simply a child talking to his or her father. How do kids approach their parents? Confidently. They ask confidently, knowing that their parents will give them good gifts, what is best for them. So a child asks for bread, or fish, knowing his father will give him what is good. When Jesus wanted to explain how God feels about prayer, he used the picture of a father responding to his child.
Is there a mom or dad in the room who, when your child asks for bread, you give him a rock? “Here: sink your teeth in this sweetie. Ha, ha, ha!”
Or if your child asked you for fish sticks, would you give him a rattlesnake? “Mommy got you a McFishwich Happy Meal, sweetie.” “What’s the rattling noise, mommy?” “Oh that’s just the free toy. Ha, ha, ha.”
You would never do that; you don’t give your kids harmful gifts, but good ones. And you do it willingly because you love them, even though you have an evil streak in you. “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
HOW MUCH MORE will God, who is perfectly good, give what is good to His children. I love that phrase HOW MUCH MORE. If you ever wonder about God’s willingness or generosity, here is the answer: wouldn’t you do anything and everything good that you possibly could for your children? Of course! HOW MUCH MORE will God do anything and everything good that He possibly can for you! He loves you!
Prayer is simply a child talking to his or her father. Every prayer is answered. Sometimes the answer is a loving “no”. Sometimes the answer is “wait”. Sometimes the answer is a better alternative, “This is better.” And sometimes the answer is “yes.” But every prayer is answered; God never ignores us.
Don’t hesitate to ask God for what you need. Keep on asking; God will answer. Keep on seeking and you will find. Keep on knocking and the door will open. God will give you what is best for you. Jesus said these words to inspire you to pray, to give you confidence to approach God with anything and everything, and know that a loving Father will process your request.
3. The practice: Pray confidently and pray first.
So pray! Pray confidently and pray first.
Pray confidently. Throw aside your reluctance and ask God. He invites you to ask—more than that, he commands you to ask. He wants you to ask. And like a father, he will hear your request and do what is best for you. Come boldly!
And pray first. What do I mean by that? Make prayer your first response to each situation. Pray first.
Pray first thing in the day. Start your day by talking with the Lord and getting marching orders from Him. “What do you want to do with my life today, Lord?” Pray first.
Pray first when you’re making plans. Ask God for wisdom and direction; listen for His leadings.
Pray first when you’re in trouble. What is usually your first reaction to trouble? Panic? Scheming? Resignation? Try this next time trouble comes: pray first.
ILL: Do you know the story of King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20? His military scouts told him that a huge multi-national army was advancing on Jerusalem from the south, and were only a day away. Jehoshaphat’s tiny kingdom was in mortal danger; what did he do? He prayed! V. 3 “Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord.” He prayed first.
“God, we’re facing overwhelming odds here. We have no power against an enemy of this size. We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” He prayed first. He didn’t panic, or scheme, or give up—he prayed!
And what did God do? He answered. He sent a prophet who told the king, “Chill out, dude! I’ve got everything under control. This isn’t your fight, it’s mine. All you need to do is watch! Go out to the battle field tomorrow and watch; I’ll take care of the whole thing.”
So the next morning, the army got dressed and ready to go. But Jehoshaphat was so confident that God would do the fighting that he sent the choir out ahead of the army, singing, “The Lord is good, and His love lasts forever!” If you’re going into a battle, that’s not a smart thing to do—unless you’ve got a really bad choir and you’re hoping to get rid of them. But if you’re going to a victory party, it makes sense. When the choir and the army got to the battlefield, sure enough, the enemy armies were all dead; God had made them fight each other! All that was left to do was pick up the booty, and there was so much that it took three days to cart it all back home!
I wish every story in our lives had such a great ending; not every battle turns out quite so well. But perhaps more of them would if we followed Jehoshaphat’s example and prayed first!
What are you facing right now? What’s your big battle? Have you prayed about it? Let’s take some time to pray right now.