The Certainty of an Answer to Prayer
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7–8
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives. James 4:3
Our Lord returns to speak of prayer again in the Sermon on the Mount. The first time he told about the Father who is to be found in secret and rewards openly and gave us the pattern prayer (Matthew 6:5–15). Here He wants to teach us what all Scripture considers the most important thing in prayer: that it be heard and answered. He uses words that mean almost the same thing, and each time He repeats the promise distinctly: ‘‘It will be given to you; you will find; the door will be opened to you.’’ Then he gives the law of the kingdom as the basis for such assurance: ‘‘For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.’’ In all this repetition, we can see that He wants to implant in our minds the truth that we may— and must—confidently expect an answer to our prayer. Next to the revelation of the Father’s love, there is no more important lesson in the whole school of prayer than this: Everyone that asks receives.
A difference of meaning has been sought in the three words ask, seek, and knock. The first, ask, refers to the gifts we pray for. But I may ask for and receive a gift without the Giver. Seek is the word Scripture uses when speaking of looking for God himself. Christ assures me that I can find God. But it is not enough to find God in a time of need without also coming into an abiding fellowship with Him. Knock speaks of being admitted to dwell with Him and in Him. Asking and receiving the gift thus leads to seeking and finding the Giver. This again leads to the knocking and opening of the door to the Father’s home and to His love. One thing is sure: the Lord wants us to believe with certainty that asking, seeking, and knocking will not be in vain. Receiving an answer, finding God, the opened heart and home of God, are the certain fruit of prayer.
It is significant that the Lord thought it necessary to repeat the truth in so many forms. It proves that He knows our hearts, how doubt and distrust toward God are natural to us, and how easily we are inclined to rest in prayer as a religious duty without expecting an answer. He knows too how, even when we believe that God hears our prayer, we still may feel believing prayer that claims God’s promise to answer is something very spiritual, too high and difficult for the halfhearted disciple. So at the very outset of His instruction on prayer, He seeks to lodge this truth deep into their hearts: Prayer does accomplish much. Ask and you will receive; everyone that asks receives. This is the fixed eternal law of the kingdom. So if you ask and do not receive, it must be because there is something wrong or lacking in your prayer.
Persevere; let the Word and the Spirit teach you to pray in the right way and do not let go of the confidence He seeks to impart that everyone who asks receives an answer.
Christ has no greater stimulus to persevering prayer in His school than this. As a child has to prove a mathematical sum correct, so the proof that we have prayed correctly is our answer. If we have asked and not received, it is because we have not learned to pray in the right way. Let every learner in the school of Christ, therefore, believe the Master’s promises to answer in all simplicity. He had good reasons for speaking so unconditionally. Let us beware of weakening the Word with our human wisdom. When He tells us heavenly things, let us believe Him. His Word will explain itself to him who believes it fully. If questions and difficulties arise, let us not seek to have them settled before we accept the Word. Rather let us entrust them all to Him. It is His work to solve them. Our work is to accept and hold fast His promise.
According to the Master’s teaching, prayer has two sides: human and divine. The human side is the asking, the divine is the giving. Or to look at both from the human side, there is the asking and the receiving—the two halves that make up a whole. He tells us that we are not to rest without an answer, because it is the will of God—the rule in the Father’s family— that every childlike believing petition is granted. If no answer comes, we are not to sit down in resignation and suppose that it is not God’s will to give an answer. Something in the prayer must not be as God would have it: childlike and believing. We must seek for grace to pray in such a way that the answer comes. It is far easier for the flesh to submit without the answer than to yield itself to be searched and purified by the Spirit until it has learned to pray the prayer of faith.
One of the marks of the weakened state of the Christian life these days is that there are so many who rest content without specific answers to prayer. They pray daily, they ask many things, and trust that some of them will be heard, but know little of direct, definite answers to prayer as the rule of daily life. But this is what the Father wills. He seeks daily interaction with His children in listening to and granting their petitions. He wills that I should come to Him day by day with specific requests; He wills day-by-day to do for me what I ask. The saints of old learned to know God as the Living One by His answers to prayer and were stirred to praise and love (Psalms 34; 66; 19; 116:1). Our Teacher waits to imprint upon our minds that prayer and its answer—the child asking and the father giving—are inseparably linked.
Sometimes the answer is a refusal because the request is not according to God’s Word, just as when Moses asked to enter Canaan. But there was an answer. God did not leave His servant in uncertainty as to His will. The gods of the heathen are dumb and cannot speak. Our Father lets His child know when He will not give him what he asks. Then the child can withdraw his petition, just as the Son did in Gethsemane. Both Moses the servant and Christ the Son knew that what they asked was not according to what the Lord had spoken; their prayers were humble supplications as to whether it was possible for the decision to be reversed. By His Word and Spirit, God will teach those who are teachable; give Him time and He will show them whether or not their request is according to His will. Let us withdraw the request if it is not according to God’s mind. If it is, let us persevere until the answer comes. Prayer is appointed to us to obtain an answer. In prayer and its answer the interchange of love between the Father and His child takes place.
How deep the estrangement of our heart from God must be that we find it so difficult to grasp these promises. Although we may accept the words and believe their truth, the faith of the heart that fully trusts and rejoices in them comes slowly. Because our spiritual life is weak and our capacity for thinking God’s thoughts frail, let us look to Jesus to teach us as only He can. If we take His words at face value and trust Him by His Spirit, He will make them life and power to us.
Let us decide to learn this lesson well and take these words as they were spoken. Do not let human reason weaken them. In due time Jesus will help us to understand them fully. Let us begin by believing them implicitly. Do not allow the experiences of your unbelief to be the measure of what your faith expects. In every situation let us hold to the joyful assurance that man’s prayer on earth and God’s answer from heaven are meant for each other. Trust Jesus to teach you to pray, so that the answer comes. He will do it if we believe His words: ‘‘Ask and it will be given to you.’’
Lord Jesus, teach me to understand and believe what you have promised. You know how my heart seeks to satisfy itself when no answer comes. Is my prayer in harmony with the Father’s secret counsel? Is there something better you would give me? Is prayer as fellowship with you blessing enough without expecting an answer? But, Lord, I find in your teaching on prayer that you did not say these things; rather you said plainly that prayer may and must expect an answer. You have assured us that the child asks and the Father gives.
Lord, your words are faithful and true. If I do not receive, I must be praying with wrong motives. Perhaps I live too little in the Spirit, so that my prayer is too little of the Spirit, and the power for the prayer of faith is lacking.
Lord Jesus, teach me to pray in faith. Amen.