Asking, Receiving, and Responding

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We have come now to Jesus’ second portion of teaching on prayer in the sermon on the mount. We gleaned so much from the great section on the “Lord’s Prayer.” In that section, Jesus gave some excellent instruction on how to pray. It really was a pattern of prayer.
We broke that prayer up into four parts, and saw that a fully rounded prayer life will include prayer of exaltation, prayers for transformation, prayers for provision, prayers for remission, and prayers for salvation.
Exaltation is giving honor, glory, and thanks to God for who He is and His great character. Transformation is praying for God’s will to be done, his Kingdom to come, to see the effects of it here in our lives and our world. Provision, is asking for our daily bread. Not asking for wealth and abundance, but asking for enough. Remission is that right and continual going back to God for forgiveness, knowing that our Father forgives His children, and asks us to forgive as well. Salvation is not just initial salvation, but that ultimate deliverance from evil and the Evil One.
That is our pattern of prayer. If our prayers are all requests for provision, but never include prayers of forgiveness and exaltation, we are missing out. Likewise, if our prayers are simply praise, but we never approach our Heavenly Father for help, then we are missing out as well.
And that really ties in to our passage today, because if in the Lord’s Prayer Jesus was giving us a pattern of prayer, teaching us how to pray, then in this section He is doubling down and really teaching us the importance of prayer. And not just any prayer, but persistent, earnest, heartfelt prayer.
I ask a simple question by way of introduction this morning. Do we really sense the urgency and importance of prayer? Do we cling to it as a gift, and a weapon so powerful and magnificent, a gift from the loving Father to His children, to reach out, to enter in, to commune, to ask, to plead, to lay out our emotions and desires and needs and praises in such a childlike and honest sense? Do we see it as so important?
I was reading some of Charles Spurgeon’s writings on prayer this week, and I wanted to share with you some quotes. Charles Spurgeon is, of course, one of the more well-known pastors of the 19th century, perhaps London’s most famous minister, and his sermons are still being used by God to transform lives. Spurgeon has the nickname of the “Prince of Preachers” for his eloquence, skill, and success as a minister of the Word. But as good a preacher Spurgeon was, his personal conviction was that prayer was even more important than preaching.
“Anything is a blessing which makes us pray.”
“Prayer is not a hard requirement-it is the natural duty of a creature to its creator, the simplest homage that human need can pay to divine liberality.”
“Prayer and praise are the oars by which a man may row his boat into the deep waters of the knowledge of Christ.”
“I know of no better thermometer to your spiritual temperature than this, the measure of the intensity of your prayer.”
“I would rather teach one man to pray than ten men to preach.”
Many weeks in my study I am personally challenged and convicted by the scripture. And I have to ask myself this week, do I consider prayer such a gift, such an important treasure?
Jesus spent no small amount of time in prayer. Beyond the Lord’s Prayer, He is seen many times praying. Going alone to pray, praying that the Father would be glorified. One of the longest uninterrupted monologues of Jesus that we have is John 17, which is an entire prayer of Jesus for His disciples. Jesus prayed three times in the Garden of Gethsemane before His death. Jesus was no stranger to prayer.
I took a quick count, and Jesus is recorded as praying or is said to pray around 38 times in the Gospel Records. Now consider something significant. Jesus is known mostly for his teaching, and maybe more for his miracles. Do you know how many miracles of Jesus are recorded for us? I counted around 37. So 38 prayers, and 37 miracles. If i’m off by one or two on either number, that information is still incredible.
Jesus Christ, who is God in Human Flesh, spent as much time in prayer to the Father as He did performing miracles. Now, what does that tell us about our Spiritual lives? It should tell us that prayer is not just necessary, but critical. Absolutely critical.
You see, we all know that we should pray. After all, its one of those three spiritual disciplines that Jesus taught us in this sermon - giving, praying, fasting. We know we should pray, and we know the scriptures teach us that prayer works. And if we’re good Christians, we believe these things. But Jesus is calling His disciples to go beyond mere knowledge, and even mere mental belief, and take the step into practice.
Ask, Seek, Knock, he tells us. Its not enough to simply believe in prayer, or to believe it works, we must pray! We must pray.
And of course, as we will see, the reason that prayer works, and that we must pray, is because God our Father hears and answers prayer.

The life of the disciple is not easy, but if God is your Father, He provides and helps when you seek Him diligently. And since we have been helped, may we help as well.

1. Ask, Because We Need Help - Vs. 7-8

As we come to verse number 7, I think we really start to come to the summary and conclusion section of the Sermon on the Mount. There is a sense in which this is not just another teaching on prayer, but a teaching on prayer that backs up everything else that has been taught.
Think of where we started in the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew 5:2–6 ESV
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
One definite tie between those first four beatitudes is that they describe in great detail our need. Blessed are the Poor, Blessed are the Mourners, Blessed are the meek, Blessed are the hungry and thirsty.
Now, as we discussed those we noted that those are all primarily spiritual things, and spiritual needs. In terms of poorness, its to be poor in Spirit. In terms of mourning, its mourning the state of sin and unrighteousness. In terms of meekness, its not weakness but humility and gentleness. In terms of hunger and thirst, its a yearning for righteousness.
All of those things place us squarely in the place of “need.” Spiritual need, yes, but real need. And we saw that there is a sense in which we are blessed in our need - blessed meaning, to be congratulated. Why is that? Well, in our poorness of Spirit, in our mourning of sin, in our meekness, and in our hunger and thirst for righteousness, we know we are insufficient, we know we are lacking, we know our true condition and from that point we can reach out for the help that we need.
If you are dirt poor but deny it, you will hardly ask for help. If you do not mourn for sin, you will hardly sense its weight. If you are not week, you will certainly find yourself confident. And if you do not hunger and thirst for righteousness, you may find yourself satisfied with unrighteousness. But as disciples, we are poor in spirit - we are mourning - we are meek - we are hungry, so we know we need help!
In fact, the rest of the sermon on the mount goes on to tell us even more what a dread condition we are in spiritually without help.
We need help being salt and light.
We need help with our Anger
We need help with our Lust
We need help with marital faithfulness
We need help keeping our word
We need help with reconciliation
We need help with loving our enemies
We need help with our generosity
We need help with prayer
We need help with fasting
We need help with our priorities
We need help seeking the Kingdom first
We need help with our worries
We need help with our perspectives on others and our judgmental attitudes.
You see, all of the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount can pile up like stones on top of us if we do not have help. But here, we are called to ask, seek, and knock, because we need help!
I was reminded of Jesus’ teaching to His disciples in John 15.
John 15:1–5 ESV
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
If there is one thing that I can stress, it is that the teachings and the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount, the teachings and ethics of the Kingdom, are never to produce self-righteous individuals. If we adopt the ethics of Jesus but deny Him as our Master, Savior, and Lord, then we are not one stitch better off for our better living. The Scribes and Phariesses, whom Jesus denounces multiple times, prove to us what a life of self-righteousness looks like. The whole point of Christianity, the whole point of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is that we can do nothing without Him. We must abide in Him, He is the life-giving vine.
Jesus does not give these teachings and then send us to fend for ourselves and become depressed in our inability. He shows us what true righteousness looks like, and then tells us to seek it, and ask, seek, knock; for our Father will help us.
And, as much as this is true spiritually, we know it is true with our daily needs as well. He has already taught us not to worry, not to have anxiety, because of the goodness of our Father. So whatever the need is, may we ask, seek, and knock.
Now, what about those three terms? Are the differences between them significant? Do we see in them different kinds of prayer? Well, there may be some application to the differences, but they are more meant as synonyms, aids in stressing the point. Jesus, again, is showing the importance of bringing our needs up in prayer. There is persistence. And that persistence is a help to us because of who we are praying to.

2. Ask, Because Our Father Will Help - Vs. 9-11

Why should we be persistent and faithful in prayer? Why should we treasure prayer as a gift and a trusted source of hope and help? Because of who our Father is.
Luke 18:1–8 ESV
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ ” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
In this parable Jesus used an illustration from life to show “how much more” God will give an answer to prayer than the unrighteous judge gave an answer to the persistent widow. The unrighteous judge neither feared God nor respected man, but he gave justice because of the widow’s persistence. And God, who is righteous, who is just, who does care for His children, will so much more give an answer to His elect, his people who cry to Him day and night.
And what was Jesus’ question to apply that parable? Will the son of Man find faith on the earth?
Will he find the people of God with this kind of faith, the kind of faith that asks, seeks, and knocks earnestly in prayer because God does hear and answer?
The idea in our text today is the same, only this time it is not the unjust judge, but an earthly father that is used as a point of comparison.
If a son is in need, if a son is hungry, will his father deceive him and give him something that is not food, something that is harmful? It is interesting that Jesus uses the stone to contrast bread here, because when Jesus was in the wilderness fasting and praying, what did Satan tempt him to do? To turn stones into bread. A round stone could look like a loaf of round bread, especially to the hungry. But it would not be food, it would only serve to embitter and strengthen the hunger.
The same with the fish. There are certainly eels and water snakes that swim in the water but are not good for food. Would an earthly father trick and harm their child with a gift like that?
Now, there are certainly some earthly fathers who are not worth their salt, who do harm their children, who do not provide and are selfish. But in the metaphor, Jesus is saying, would an average, regular, decent human being be this cruel to His child? And the answer is no, of course not.
And he says, if you who are evil, much like, the unjust judge who didn’t fear God or respect man. If you who are evil, evil in comparison to God’s perfect holiness and righteousness, if you who are evil will give good gifts to your children, then how much more will God who is not evil, who is not unjust, who hasn’t an ounce of selfishness in His being, how much will be provide?
Here, the request is in terms of need. God will provide His children everything they need when they ask Him. It is not in terms of dreams or desires, as we sometimes skew the terms. And also, this is a promise to those who have God as their Father. God certainly answers certain prayers of unbelievers, He answers the prayer of faith and repentance for certain. But by and large, the relationship and power of prayer is something that is not available to those who don’t believe in God.
But for those who have come in faith, believing, prayer is a powerful tool. It is a powerful tool because its power is the very power and providence of God Himself. Not that we are mighty, but that He is mighty and He is good!
1 John 5:13–14 ESV
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.
What is our confidence? That God hears us when we ask according to His will. That is a good qualifier, but it is a necessary qualifier. These verses can never teach us that if we simply keep asking for the same thing over and over again we will get it. Its not in terms of our dreams, and its certainly not in terms of unrighteous things - it is in terms of our need, and in terms of God’s will.
This is abused sometimes. Some seem to believe that anything they say will happen as long as they attach Jesus’ name to it. Declaring something “in Jesus name” is not a magic bullet that guarantees success. It must be according to God’s will, and often God’s will is not ours. Sometimes it is not God’s will for us to get what we want. Sometimes it is not God’s will for our loved one to be healed of their disease. Sometimes it is God’s will for us to suffer for a season. But prayer reveals that. Prayer points us to God’s will. Prayer places us on His lap of mercy, and asks, what will you do, Father? What is your plan?
James gives us some insight here as well.
James 4:2–3 ESV
You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
Two principles there.
One, we do not have because we do not ask. Simply, we are often prayerless. We say we believe in prayer, we say we know God hears and answers prayer, but we are prayerless.
And the second, we pray with the attitude of selfishness, the attitude of pride, rather than the attitude of God’s will be done.
We ought never to be conceited in prayer, assuming we can just speak things into happening by attaching Jesus’ name to it. But we ought also never to be prayerless. Jesus says ask, seek, knock.
Be persistent in prayer because God, our good Father, will help us. He will give good gifts. And, Scott pointed this out when he spoke last year, but in the parallel passage to this in Luke that was read earlier, the good gift that God promises to give is the Holy Spirit, who is called our helper.
We need that Holy Spirit, because sometimes not only are we helpless, but we don’t even know what to ask for.
Romans 8:26–27 ESV
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. 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. 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.
The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness, even in our prayerlessness. Some situations in life are so dire that we don’t even know what to ask for. We don’t even understand what we need. But we have help.
Do you know when I have found this promise from Romans 8 very helpful? Well, a couple weeks ago we learned the principle of “seeking first God’s Kingdom.” Now i have to be honest with you. There are some times when it is very clear what it means to seek God’s Kingdom, but there are other times when it is not obvious what God’s kingship and rulership would look like in a certain situation. This is a perfect time to rely on the Holy Spirit, who intercedes for us in ways that we cannot. When I do not know what it means to seek God’s Kingdom, I can still seek Him as I come in prayer.
And there is one big application of this text that is fitting for all of our talk about the kingdom. In the beginning of the sermon, Jesus told us that unless our righteousness is exceeding that of the Scribes and Pharisees, we will never enter the kingdom. In chapter 6, we were told to “seek” the kingdom. In the verses following this passage, Jesus speaks again about entering in to the kingdom by the narrow gate.
What are we asking for, seeking, and knocking on? We are asking for God’s help. We are seeking the kingdom, and entrance into it. We are knocking, not necessarily on a door - Jesus didn’t use the word door, but we can knock on a gate. Ask, Seek, Knock so that the Father will give us the good gift of the kingdom. Yes, our righteousness must be genuine, it must exceed the scribes and pharisees, and yes, it is humanly impossible to attain perfect righteousness. But Ask, Seek, Knock.
As a child of God, do you find yourself lacking? Pray! And not just a token prayer, not just a “get it done” prayer, but ask, seek, knock at the door of your Father. He does give good gifts to those who come in faith.
Do you find yourself weak in spiritual terms? Do you find the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount to be piling up on you? Pray! Ask, seek, knock at the door of the Father! He wants us to grow in righteousness, but we can never do it alone! Rather than be bitter about your failures, ask the Father! He will give you help.
And if you are a child of God, you have received that help.

3. Help, Because We’ve Been Helped - Vs. 12

One last verse for today, and that is verse 12.
We know this teaching as the Golden Rule. And this really goes along with the teaching on prayer, because the Golden Rule is born out of who God is. Since God does these good things for us, may we do them for others.
It is interesting, because Jesus was not the first to state a principle like this. You can find statements like this from the Greek stoics, from Confuscious, within Buddhism, and you certainly can find statements like this in Judaism before the time of Christ. But the interesting thing about all these other statements, is that they are in the negative. They are “what you hate, do not do.”
“What you would not want your brother to do to you, do not do that.”
They are all statements of “do not do this.” But Jesus flips it around, he makes it a positive statement, a positive command and principle.
For example, Rabbis Shammai and Hillel, who were around just before Jesus’ time, were both asked a question. The person asked them, “can you summarize the law while I stand on one foot?” Rabbi Shammai said that was not possible.
But Rabbi Hillel said this. “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the law, the rest is commentary.”
Now, that is really interesting because Jesus was asked a very similar question, wasn’t he?
Matthew 22:34–40 ESV
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Isn’t that interesting, that both there with that question, and here with the statement of the Golden Rule, that Jesus states in the positive what every other teacher stated in the negative?
Now, is there significance in that? I think there is! Because if you think of it in the negative term, just simply “don’t do harm. Don’t do evil. what you hate, do not do.” then that is pretty easy. We can fulfill that mostly by just not doing anything. We can fulfill that by avoiding others, but being a recluse, by being alone.
But in Jesus’ teaching, it requires not just a lack of bad behavior, but it requires a forward and positive action toward others. It requires us to initiate righteous behavior.
James stated something very similar.
James 4:17 ESV
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
To love God and love our neighbor sums up the whole law and prophets. And i would say here that Jesus’ positive statement of the Golden rule also sums up His teachings as well.
That is why it is never enough to simply avoid unrighteousness. It is not enough to know “what not to do.” God does not want a mere “lack of unrighteousness.” He doesn’t want a merely “clean slate.” He wants to produce in us His righteousness, and His righteousness is a righteousness that seeks, reaches out, and helps.
And, again, that is why we need His help! Because it is one thing to not do evil to our brothers, but it is another thing entirely to love them and always seeking to help them. That is why we need the Holy Spirit, that is why we need His Grace.
So, when you find yourself this week trying to apply this golden rule, trying to treat others as you would want to be treated, to reach out in mercy, to reach out in help, and when you find it difficult, then pray! Ask, seek, and knock, because your Father helps you.
God desires His children to not just come to Him in faith once for salvation, once in a profession of faith, but He desires us to grow, and we do that by His help. Just as God saves us by His grace, He helps us as well by His grace.

The life of the disciple is not easy, but if God is your Father, He provides and helps when you seek Him diligently. And since we have been helped, may we help as well.

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