“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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” - Matthew 7:7-8 ESV
This text dies the death of a thousand qualifications. When we hear the straightforward way that Jesus assures us of the certainty of answered prayer, we are immediately moved to begin qualifying his statements in order to explain the many reasons we do not see this as a reality in our lives. Of course there are qualifications. We must pray according to God’s will and it is only in the name of Jesus Christ that such certainty can be expected. However, when the biblical qualifications have been met, we should have a life full of clearly and specifically answered prayers. The text promises, “it will be given…you will find…it will be opened…everyone who asks receives…the one who seeks finds…to the one who knocks it will be opened.” The clear interpretation of this text should give the believer great optimism in their prayer lives. Yet Andrew Murray is exactly accurate when he writes of Christians, “One of the terrible marks of the diseased state of Christian life these days is that there are so many who are content without the distinct experience of answer to prayer. They pray daily, they ask many things, and they trust that some of them will be heard. But they know little of direct definite answer to prayer as the rule of daily life.” This is true in our day as well. I have experienced three things in my own journey that have caused my own uncertainty over the years.
1. My inadequate understanding of God’s sovereignty created paralysis in much of my spiritual life, including my prayer life. When I came to see the reformed/scriptural view of God’s sovereignty and providence over all things I went through a time of uncertainty about my role and responsibility in God’s plan. I was unsure how my activities affected the plan of God. I didn’t want to work in my own strength or contrary to God’s will, so I found myself subconsciously doing nothing. In my prayer life, I found myself qualifying every request with the statement, “If it be your will.” Obviously, we shouldn’t expect God to answer any request that is contrary to his will. However, we should be able to discern his will and pray accordingly, expecting an answer. As I’ve grown in my understanding of the mystery of the relationship between my work and God’s sovereignty or providence, as well as learning that God has ordained the means as well as the ends, I’ve grown in my expectancy in prayer.
2. My spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak. Quite simply, discerning the will of God and praying accordingly is hard work. In order to pray effectually the way the Bible teaches us, we must discipline ourselves for godliness. The transformation of our minds and wills does not come easily. We cannot pray according to the will of God without knowing the mind of God. Therefore, we must have a strong conviction that Bible study and prayer are two sides of the coin of communion with God. Much of what we say in our prayers is unbiblical and therefore contrary to the will of God. We must be educated prayers. Take the time to study the Word of God until you become convinced of the biblical validity of your prayers and then pray until they are answered. A word of warning. This is hard work.
3. Finally, I’m not always absolutely surrendered to the will of God. This is a major battle. George Muller was perhaps the greatest example of effectual prayer the world has ever known. His autobiography is filled with answers to prayer in almost mythical proportions. He teaches us that ninety nine percent of the battle in our prayer lives is to get our wills into such a state that we have no will of our own so can wait on the Lord to fill us with his will. As it is, our hearts are so full of the desires we have for our lives that there is little room for God to fill us with any of his. Everyone that reads Muller, admires him and longs to pray like him. Few long to live like him. Completely yielded to the will of God, often depending on him for his next meal.
We must learn to believe God’s Word and not disqualify his promises with our fleshly excuses. It is his will that we learn to pray and not give up, expecting our prayer lives to be a testimony to the faithfulness of God to his promises.