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Three Steps to Answered Prayer
Matthew 7:7-8

by Robert L. Cobb
-Administrator, News For Christians Dot Com

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.   Mat. 7:7-8

What makes a prayer really a prayer?  The saying of it?  Or the hearing of it?  Or is it the answering of it?  Most Christians pray superficial and shallow prayers.  We pray like children in a sandbox throwing up sand toward the sky.  Our prayers today may be exactly the opposite tomorrow.  The lyrics to a country song: Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers; Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs; That just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care; Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.

Sadly, those song lyrics are true for many Christians.  Something is wrong with our prayers.  Please do not think that this message is like Bruce Wilkinson's book, The Prayer of Jabez, saying essentially that our prayers will unlock the vaults of Heaven and give us prosperity and health.  Prayer is not a mystical gift which binds the hands of God to do as we wish.  Prayer is the communication between a Father and  His child.  Jesus Himself prayed constantly as an illustration to us. And He taught on prayer to help us understand and answer our questions.We know these verses well; most of us can quote them.  But, in our familiarity, we may overlook important concepts.  I believe, in these verses, Christ revealed three elements to real prayer.  Each of these elements must be active for the prayer to reach fruition.

I.  THE PRINCIPLE OF ASKING   Ask, and it shall be given you...
The principle of asking seems to be elementary.  But there are many kinds of asking. We may ask for a glass of tea, knowing that our host will gladly supply it.  We may ask our dentist, "will it hurt?" though we already know it probably will.  We may ask the policeman, "Do you really have to give me a ticket?" knowing that he won't change his mind. The Greek word for "ask" is "aiteo" and it means to beg or to crave.  This kind of asking is serious, humble and dependent.  It is respectful and honoring to the one asked.

In verse 9 and 10 of our present passage we see the child's humble asking.  He asks his father for bread and fish.  The child knows his father can provide and has confidence that he will do so.  Jeremiah 33:3 says Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.  Psalm 2:8 says Ask of me, and I shall give thee...  Psalm 145:18, The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth.

This is not the superficial asking of a customer in a store who would like to examine the merchandise.  Prayer is not shopping for an answer, prayer is asking expectantly for an answer. Jesus taught us to ask, Give us this day our daily bread...  The blind man called out to Jesus by the way, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.  When Jesus asked him his need, he said, Lord, that I might receive my sight... Peter, when sinking beneath the waves, said Lord, save me.

One would think that this principle would be a simple one.  But alas, ye have not, because ye ask not.  (James 4:2)  How many times have you heard someone say, "Why didn't you just say so?"  Sometimes it's hard to get to the point. The rider who hails a cab must tell the driver where he wants to go!  The lady who walks in the grocery store has a list.  The Christian who would communicate with His Heavenly Father must ASK!  Our prayers must not be like political speeches, with flowery language but saying nothing.  They must not be like poetry, with rhythm, eloquence and beauty. 

The first great principle of answered prayer is to ask.

II.  THE PRINCIPLE OF ABIDING    seek, and ye shall find
The second great principle of answered prayer is to seek. This word, "zete", means to seek in order to find out by thinking, meditating,and reasoning; to inquire into.  God continually calls on His people to seek Him in His fullness.

  Mat. 6:33 
But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
  Psa. 27:8; 
8 When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; My heart said unto thee, Thy face, Jehovah, will I seek.
  Psa. 119:2; 
2 Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, That seek him with the whole heart.
  Pro. 8:17; 
17 I love them that love me; And those that seek me diligently shall find me.
  Isa. 55:6; 
6 Seek ye Jehovah while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near:
  Jer. 29:13; 
13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
  Heb. 11:6
...that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him.

Jesus expounded on this condition of continual seeking in the Gospel of John. He called it "abiding."

  John 15:4-7
4  Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
5  I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
6  If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
7  If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

To abide in the Vine (in Christ) is a threefold proposition.  We abide in Him in relationship to place, time and condition.  We abide with Him wherever He is, all the time, and in whatever condition we find ourselves. This is the fullness of the Christian life!  This is the ultimate of Christian living!  This is the place where we find answers to our prayers!  There is a living connection between the vine and the branch.  The life and fruitfulness comes from the vine to the branches.  Jesus says Without me ye can do nothing.  We can be successful only by Christ dwelling and abiding in us.  We can be pleasing to Him only by abiding.  Notice especially verse 7: If ye abide in me and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.  Contrast this verse with James 4:3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.  One commentator called this the "absence of holy desire," and surely it is. There is no "asking amiss" when we abide in Him, for His desires and blessings flow from the vine to the branches.  We are one in our prayers!

III.  THE PRINCIPLE OF ANTICIPATING   knock, and it shall be opened unto you
Our last principle deals with "knocking."  It means to literally knock on a door.  It is the same word, krouo, used in Revelation 3:20 when Jesus says Behold, I stand at the door and knock...  To knock on a door is to anticipate an answer.  We knock because we seek entry; we have a desire to have dealings with someone inside.  There is a sense of expectation, or anticipating, in knocking.  Simply, there is faith.  Jesus commanded us to have faith in God.  He constantly chided the disciples, How is it that you have no faith?

  1 Joh. 5:14, 15;
14 And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:
15  And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.

  Joh. 14:13, 14;
13  And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
14  If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

  Mar. 11:24;
Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

Our heart's reply to those verses is "if only it were that easy."  But it is that easy, if we have faith!  Jesus said, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.  But remember the order of the principles: ask, abide, and lastly, anticipate.  Are you abiding in Him?  Is your request pleasing unto Him?  Are you sure you are asking "according to His will"?  If so, then have faith in God!

We have let the devil has bound both our left hand and right hand in prayer.  If we pray for the salvation of a loved one or that God might revive our church, he tells us that God is not willing, and so we lack faith in Him.  If we do not abide in Christ, we ask amiss for things that are not pleasing to Him.  Then we seem to have faith, and are disappointed when we do not receive the object of our lust.  We have obscured the concept of Biblical prayer.  James warns us in James 1, If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. 6  But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. 7  For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.

In Acts 12, Peter was in prison but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. (v. 5)  In answer to their prayers, God sent an angel to release Peter.  He went to the house where the prayers were being made and knocked on the door of the gate.  A little girl came to the door to find Peter there.  She went back and told the prayer meeting crowd that Peter was at the door. Thou are mad!, they told her.  Meanwhile, Peter kept knocking.  The Bible tells us that when they finally let him in, they were astonished.  While the prayer meeting crowd is an example of how NOT to pray, Peter's patient knocking is an illustration of how to pray!

Hudson Taylor would become a great missionary to China.  But before setting out for God, he had to learn some lessons of faith.  He had read about George Muller, the great missionary to the orphans in England.  He resolved to have this kind of faith.  He was working for a doctor as a dispenser, a job not unlike our present day nurses.  The doctor was sporadic in paying Taylor.  He resolved that he would never ask the doctor for payment, he would pray to God only.  Through much suffering and turmoil, his faith increased until he could trust God alone to meet his needs.  It is then that God opened the door to China.  While there, he prayed in hundreds of more missionaries to help him, praying for each of them that God would take care of them and meet every need.

Conclusion:  I'm afraid that many times our attempts at prayer are no more real praying than a parakeet is akin to an eagle.  We try everything before we ask God.  Then we ask, but where is the seeking and knocking?  Answered prayer  comes from asking, abiding in Him and anticipating that God will answer our requests.

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