Christianity 201

May 31, 2019

Keep on Asking Means, Keep Up the Prayer Process

If you grew up in church, this KJV verse from the Sermon on the Mount is quite ingrained:

Matt. 7:7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

However, we’ve all heard sermons where preachers have stressed that this is a continuous imperative.

We previously looked at what that means:

Our pastor used the example of running a race or two versus being in regular training for running races that earn podium positions at the end. The example I’ve always used is a little simpler. Consider these two sentences:

  • “Shut the door.”
  • “Answer the phone.”

The first one is easy. Once you shut the door, it’s shut. Work done. But the second one has an implication that’s deeper; it really means:

  • “Answer the phone if it rings and take a message; and then, if it rings again, answer it and take a message; and then if it rings again, answer it…”

While translators are certainly aware of this, most of the newer ones seem inclined to continue to keep the verse in its more familiar form. But a few venture out to give us more of the sense of the original meaning:

7 “Keep asking, and it will be given to you; keep seeking, and you will find; keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. (CJB – Complete Jewish Bible)

7 “Be asking, and it will be given to you; be seeking, and you will find; be knocking, and it will be opened to you. (DNLT – Disciples Literal New Testament)

7 Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking [reverently] and [the door] will be opened to you. (AMP – Amplified Bible; NLT is similar)

7 “Continue to ask, and God will give to you. Continue to search, and you will find. Continue to knock, and the door will open for you. (ERV – Everyday Reading Version)

7 Just ask and it will be given to you; seek after it and you will find. Continue to knock and the door will be opened for you. (The Voice)

The reason for examining this topic today is that I have to confess that over the past 24 hours I’ve been realizing that my whole perspective on this verse has had to do with tenacity in prayer over a specific request. In other words, I’ve always felt the verse is telling us that if you’re in a situation, even if you don’t see the answer, keep bringing it before God.

While I think that’s a perfectly acceptable way of looking at things, I believe the verse offers us even more. I would suggest looking at it:

If you’re consistently in prayer over (a), (b), and (c) and not seeing results, and then situations (d) and (e) arise, don’t let this discourage you from bringing (d) and (e) before God.

In other words, I believe that God is telling us through this text, don’t lose heart and give up on the prayer process over what you see as a lack of past results. I know that’s something that I need to be reminded of. It’s easy to fall into pessimism, or to ask, but with what James 1:6 calls wavering.

Some of us grew up with a plaque in our homes that simply said, Prayer Changes Things, but then as we grew older we heard teaching that as we draw close to God the key thing about being in his presence is that prayer changes us. That is true, 100% of the time.

But I think we also need to have the perspective that God is positive disposed and favorably inclined to intervene in the affairs of his children, if he deems that best. He can and does step into the scene to orchestrate things “in ways thou knowest not.” (Jer. 33:3)

So today’s conclusion is don’t give up praying in whatever situation you find yourself, but also don’t give up on prayer.


More on today’s topic at C201:

May 23, 2015

Keep on Asking

If you grew up in church, this KJV verse from the Sermon on the Mount is quite ingrained:

Matt. 7:7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

However, we’ve all heard sermons where preachers have stressed that this is a continuous imperative.

We previously looked at what that means:

Our pastor used the example of running a race or two versus being in regular training for running races that earn podium positions at the end. The example I’ve always used is a little simpler. Consider these two sentences:

  • “Shut the door.”
  • “Answer the phone.”

The first one is easy.  Once you shut the door, it’s shut.  Work done.  But the second one has an implication that’s deeper; it really means:

  • “Answer the phone if it rings and take a message; and then, if it rings again, answer it and take a message; and then if it rings again, answer it…”

While translators are certainly aware of this, most of the newer ones seem inclined to continue to keep the verse in its more familiar form. But a few venture out to give us more of the sense of the original meaning:

“Keep asking, and it will be given to you; keep seeking, and you will find; keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. (CJB – Complete Jewish Bible)

“Be asking, and it will be given to you; be seeking, and you will find; be knocking, and it will be opened to you. (DNLT – Disciples Literal New Testament)

Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking [reverently] and [the door] will be opened to you. (AMP – Amplified Bible; NLT is similar)

“Continue to ask, and God will give to you. Continue to search, and you will find. Continue to knock, and the door will open for you. (ERV – Everyday Reading Version)

Just ask and it will be given to you; seek after it and you will find. Continue to knock and the door will be opened for you. (The Voice)

The reason for examining this topic today is that I have to confess that over the past 24 hours I’ve been realizing that my whole perspective on this verse has had to do with tenacity in prayer over a specific request. In other words, I’ve always felt the verse is telling us that if you’re in a situation, even if you don’t see the answer, keep bringing it before God.

While I think that’s a perfectly acceptable way of looking at things, I believe the verse offers us even more. I would suggest looking at it:

If you’re consistently in prayer over (a), (b), and (c) and not seeing results, and then situations (d) and (e) arise, don’t let this discourage you from bringing (d) and (e) before God.

In other words, I believe that God is telling us through this text, don’t lose heart and give up on the prayer process over what you see as a lack of past results. I know that’s something that I need to be reminded of. It’s easy to fall into pessimism, or to ask, but with what James 1:6 calls wavering.

Some of us grew up with a plaque in our homes that simply said, Prayer Changes Things, but then as we grew older we heard teaching that as we draw close to God the key thing about being in his presence is that prayer changes us. That is true, 100% of the time.

But I think we also need to have the perspective that God is positive disposed and favorably inclined to intervene in the affairs of his children, if he deems that best. He can and does step into the scene to orchestrate things “in ways thou knowest not.” (Jer. 33:3)

So today’s conclusion is don’t give up praying in whatever situation you find yourself, but also don’t give up on prayer.


More on today’s topic at C201:

 

August 18, 2014

When Your Prayer Request List is Too Long

Post 1600I know there are days in our household when the list of prayer requests seems to be balloon out in size, and we feel we must be exasperating God with so many requests. Additionally, as I type this, to even list the countries of the world that are hotspots right now would take some time, especially if you are aware of key groups or individuals that need an extra blessing from God.

After a person has been around the church for awhile, they are often instructed that prayer is so much more than just asking for things for ourselves or on behalf of others. Using the ACTS model (acknowledgement, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) that would mean that additionally prayer should include:

  • a point of entry into conversation with God that recognizes who He is, His sovereignty over all things, His immense power, His majesty in creation, His knowing of all things, His holiness.
  • a confession of our sin, both individually and corporately
  • spoken recognition of the good things that life brings us as part of the general grace given to all of us, appreciation for blessings that might seem to be extra or undeserved

But then we are back at requests. The list seems so long. Should we do some editing? Just pray for certain people on certain days?

Scripture would seem to suggest not to hold back.  In Ephesians 6:18 we read:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

The phrases I want to highlight today are all occasions, all kinds of…requests, always keep on.

Of course sometimes we do not really know what we ought to pray. Should we pray for Mike and Carrie’s relationship to be restored, or is it better that they break the engagement now before they end up in a marriage that may not succeed? Should we pray for Shelley to get the job in Ohio when really, she should look for employment closer to home so she can keep helping her sister who really needs her?

I don’t know, don’t ask me!!

In I Corinthians 14:15 Paul says,

So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding…

This verse bears on the subject of praying in tongues, which I know is controversial; but the Bible does suggest there are times when human words are inadequate. We see this again in Romans 8:26:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

The KJV uses, “groanings too deep for words.”

(We hear a lot about speaking in tongues, but not so much about ‘speaking in groans,’ though I’ve been in at least two churches where this was manifested.)

The key in these verses is where Paul says, “What shall I do?” (I Cor. passage) and “We do not know what…to pray for” (Romans passage).

Sometimes we just don’t know. We throw up our hands and surrender our total inadequacy to intercede in these situations.  Should we give up? I think a good place to resolve this is with our key verse again:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.

“Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”  (Matt 7:7 HCSB; all other ref.s NIV)

October 22, 2012

Unseen Warfare Going on Constantly

I spent less than 24 hours in Las Vegas nearly 30 years ago. The guy I was with wanted to visit the casinos. I heard the constant whirring of the machines, the bells announcing winners, the balls sliding around the roulette wheels.

And then we left. The drive home was several days, and I was back several weeks, when it occurred to me that back in Vegas, the machines were still humming, the coins were still dropping, the wheels were still clicking. The show plays out day after day even when you’re not there to see it.

Maybe you or someone you know has had a time in their life when they experienced online addiction to adult sites. I know I have. Every once in awhile it occurs to me that all those websites are still active, people are still clicking the images to see more, perhaps parting with their credit card number for the privilege. That world still exists even though I don’t return to visit.

In Ephesians 6 we read familiar words:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high [places]. (KJV)

The battle described earns the subtitle “A Fight to the Finish” in Eugene Peterson’s version:

10-12 And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

13-18 Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. (Message)

I’ve just finished reading a new Christian fiction title, Soul’s Gate by James Rubart that I won’t take time to review here except to say that it’s very similar to a landmark Christian novel of 25 years ago, This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti. This particular genre may not appeal to everyone, but it is a reminder — perhaps even a wake up call — to things taking place around us in the unseen realm of spiritual warfare.

Two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote about the dynamics of spiritual warfare in this post. I think it’s well written and it’s filled with scripture references, but it fails somewhat in that it looks at the collective warfare that we wage as aliens and strangers fighting on enemy territory, but is light on describing the individual warfare taking place more subtly for the souls of you, your family, your friends, your co-workers, your fellow students, your neighbors.

For that, you need to dig into the dynamics or spiritual warfare on a personal level, such as you find outlined in this article.  If you believe that there is an enemy fighting your soul, you may be looking out for attack, but missing the ways in which that attack can come.  It may involve something as innocuous-looking as discouragement as we saw in this study.

Furthermore, there are people reading this who believe in the “us versus them” aspect to spiritual battle, but would want to stop short of suggesting that there are actual demons involved.  However, to neglect that possibility is to ignore a significant amount of Biblical evidence, as we saw in this piece.

…In his earthly ministry, Jesus often taught in parables; and I believe a fiction story can be helpful in personifying the enemies (plural intentional) that are waiting to do battle with our souls. Seeing them and somewhat visualizing them through a novel helps us to be open to the possibility of recognizing them when they appear in real life.

Sadly, some have been conditioned through their denominational background or their personal preferences to cast aside notions of the demonic realm. But I found that reading Soul’s Gate really begs each reader to ask themselves, “How much of this are you going to consider fictional, and how much of this do you feel is real?” 

Because the warfare is still playing out even if you’re not presently experiencing it.

April 27, 2012

Praying, ‘Lord, Teach Me to Pray’

It’s hard to imagine anyone cruising the Christian blogosphere and not discovering  Canada’s Tim Challies. While his blog is among the top five Christian destinations available, many people assume it to be mostly links to other writers and breaking news stories, when in fact, he includes a good number of original pieces each week.  We’ve linked to him once before here, back in August 2011, but I thought you might want to take some extra time to meditate on this piece, which he titled Seven Ways to Pray for Your Prayer Life.

Here are seven ways that you can pray about your prayer life. These are seven items you can add to your prayer list as you consider your own prayer life or another person’s.

1) Pray that your prayers would be the expressions of a humble heart.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-6)

2) Pray that God would remind you that he doesn’t want or need your eloquent prayers.

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)

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. (Romans 8:26)

3) Pray that you would remember what the really important requests are.

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
(Matthew 6:9-13)

4) Pray that you would remember biblical examples of answered prayer.

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. … Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:13-14, 17-18)

5) Pray that God would give you confidence in his sovereign power.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

6) Pray that God would help you to persevere in your praying.

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.” (Luke 18:1-8)

7) Pray that God would encourage you that he is your loving Father and will give you only what is good.

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

~Tim Challies