Keep On Asking

If you read through Luke 11 in The Holy Bible in Its Original Order, there’s an interesting footnote on verse nine. In this verse, Jesus says, “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” The footnote I mentioned reads, “The force of the Greek means: ask, and keep on asking; seek, and keep on seeking; knock, and keep on knocking.” So there’s more to this verse than first meets the eye, particularly when taken in the context of the preceding verses.

Ask, Seek, Knock

And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs. (Luke 11:5-8)

This doesn’t seem like a very good attitude, does it? The man in the house can’t be bothered to climb out of his nice warm bed for friendship’s sake, but eventually this guy outside became too annoying not to help him. What are we supposed to learn from this in the context of praying to God (which was the subject of verses 1-4 as well)?

Before we try to answer that question, let’s look at a very similar parable a few chapters later in Luke.

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’” (Luke 18:1-5)

Once again, this isn’t a commendable attitude — the judge is plainly described as unjust and unrighteous — the very opposite of a God-fearing man. Yet what does Jesus say?

Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.” (Luke 18:6-8)

It always puzzled me why God was compared to an unrighteous judge. But it’s not really a comparison at all, is it? It’s a contrast, meant to reassure us. Even unjust and lazy people respond to persistent asking, seeking, and knocking. How much more will our righteous God who “neither faints nor is weary” (Is. 40:28) listen to our petitions!

Why Do We Need Persistence?

These two parables don’t just tell us that God will most assuredly respond when we ask Him something. They also teach us how to ask. In both accounts, the petitioner refuses to give up. They have to “ask, and keep on asking” for help, to “knock, and keep on knocking” before they get an answer.

Anyone who’s ever asked God for something knows that the answer doesn’t always come immediately. We shouldn’t just give up praying about or seeking something after one request. Persistence, with the assurance of knowing we’ll eventually get an answer, does three main things I can think of:

  • teaches patience through delayed gratification
  • demonstrates our faith and hope
  • keeps us in communication with God

Why are these so important? Well, Hebrews 10:36 tells us that we “have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (KJV). And James 1:4 counsels, “let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” People who don’t have staying-power don’t make it into God’s kingdom.

As for faith and hope, they are two of the three things Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:13 would “abide” (the Greek word, meno, means to stand, continue, and endure). Hope is so important that Romans 8:24 says we are saved in hope, or “by hope” if you’re reading the King James. And hope is again linked to faith in Hebrews 11:1, which defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

We could look at several passages that point to the importance of searching the scriptures (Acts 17:11), studying God’s word (2 Tim. 2:15), and praying (1 Thes. 5:17). We have to keep in touch with God by praying and studying His communication to us — the Bible — in order to stay on track. And, unfortunately, if we didn’t have things we felt like we needed Him to supply, we probably wouldn’t spend as much time with Him.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

Never Give Up

I do want to touch on something Luke 11:9-10 is not telling us. It doesn’t say that if we pester God enough, He’ll give us whatever we want just to keep us from bothering Him. I doubt He likes nagging much more than my Dad does (as evidenced by how well the Israelites’ constant complaining was received).

So I say to you, 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 he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)

These verses tell us that God is listening, and that He will answer. He wants us to have enough faith in Him to keep asking, seeking, and knocking until we get an answer. Sometimes it’s not the answer we wanted, but it’s always going to be the answer we needed.

Take Paul for example. He tells us that to keep him from becoming prideful, “a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me” (2 Cor. 12:7). Obviously he didn’t want that — who would? — so he brought the problem to God.

Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 cor. 12:8-9)

Paul asked for his trial to be removed, and instead he received a personal promise of support from Jesus Christ Himself. Paul’s persistent asking was rewarded by an incredible response, though not the one he initially wanted. He thought he wanted something taken away, but instead he received the power of Christ inside him. Sounds like a good answer to me, and Paul said he would gladly endure trials if the result was Christ’s power dwelling in him.

There are also other promises we can look to when we need our persistence and our hope built up.

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in You! (Ps. 84:11-12)

This verse promises that God will give us good things if we follow Him, even if they aren’t something we’re asking for. This is the sort of promise fulfilled for Paul. There are also other promises that are equally encouraging, where God says He does indeed give His people the specific requests they ask of Him.

Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. (Ps. 37:4-5)

God doesn’t just ignore us. He knows our needs, and our desired as well. And He wants to give them to us, so long as they are good things that will actually be helpful instead of hurting us in the long-run. We just need to keep asking, and never give up on the One who will never give up on us.

 

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Thank You For Your Service

Dear Service men and women,

“Thank you” isn’t something I’m likely to tell you in person. I’m not someone who will walk up to you in a store or on the street and express my gratitude for your service to this country, but it’s not because I’m ungrateful. It’s because 1) I don’t usually even say “Hi” to people I recognize unless they see me first, and 2) I don’t like people striking up random conversations with me, so I assume in the absence of definite evidence to the contrary that you won’t either. My modus operandi is to smile (just to make sure you don’t think I’m one of those I-hate-you-because-you-wear-that-uniform people) and then let you go along uninterrupted with whatever brought you here.

So, here’s a long overdue “Thank you” presented in the best way I know how — writing. Thank you to the people throughout our nation’s history who died for our freedom and for the freedom of people in other countries, like my grandpa’s brother who didn’t come home from WWII. To the people who did come home like my great Uncle Bob, who never called himself a war hero and most people didn’t know until his obituary that he was awarded the Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster and five bronze stars. To my Grandpa, who’s latest reminiscence about his exciting Navy life was about being disciplined for letting himself get sunburned. To the families who are praying for their dear ones overseas, and for the families who have lost someone they love. To the children who Skype with Mommy and Daddy because it will be months before they see them in person. To those currently serving overseas and those who are about to ship-out, like my family’s newly-wed friend whose wife cannot accompany him to South Korea. And to those of you here, who I walk past with a smile. We are praying for you, and we thank you.

Praying For You

I’ve written about prayer before, but I want to shift the focus this time from praying for everyone (1 Tim. 2:1, 8) to praying for our brethren. There are numerous examples of praying for those close to us and who share our faith. Jesus prayed for His disciples and “for them also which shall believe on Me through their word” (John 17:20). Paul mentions that he prays for the brethren (Rom. 1:9; 2 Cor. 13:7; Eph. 1:16; Php. 1:4, 9; Col. 1:3, 9; 1 Thes. 1:2, 3:10; 2 Thes. 1:11; 2 Tim 1:3; Phm. 1:4 ) and instructs his readers to pray for each other, for him, and for others in ministry (Rom. 15:30; 2 Cor. 1:11; Eph. 6:18; Col. 4:2-3, 12; 1 Thes. 5:25; 2 Thes. 3:1; Heb. 13:18). James tells us to “pray one for another, that ye may be healed” (Jas. 5:16).

Each time Paul says that he is praying for the brethren, he mentions specific things he is praying. In Romans, it is that he will be able to visit them shortly. In 2 Corinthians, he prays that they would “do no evil.” In Ephesians, he asks “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him”. Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, and Philemon record general requests made on someone’s behalf.

In Colossians and 2 Thessalonians, Paul gives more extensive lists of specific things he was praying for. These can serve as a model when we are praying for each other. The focus is on spiritual matters, praying for a person to increase in knowledge and develop a closer relationship with God.

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness (Col 1:9-11)

Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power: that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thes. 1:11-12)

Jas 5:16  Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.  Jas 5:17  Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.  Jas 5:18  And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit. From James 5:16, we know that “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Prayer is one of the most helpful things we can do for another person. We should never feel like, “I just don’t know what I can do to help” as long as we are able to pray.

I’m going to end this post with a lovely prayer recorded in Psalm 20 as translated in The Holy Bible in its Original Order. Usually I prefer the King James for Psalms, but the translation for this psalm makes the prayer seem more personal, and God’s help nearer.

May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble, the name of the God of Jacob set you on high, may He send you help from the sanctuary, and strengthen you out of Zion. May He remember all your offerings and accept your burnt sacrifice. Selah. May He grant you according to your own heart and fulfill all your plans.

We will shout for joy in your victory, and in the name of our God we will set up banners; may the Lord fulfill all your prayers. Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God. They are brought down and fallen, but we have risen and stand upright. Save, O Lord; let the King hear us when we call.

Praying For Others

pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17Is there anyone we are not supposed to pray for? I recently heard a sermon on prayer, and one of the points discussed was “Who should we pray for?” From reading James 5, the speaker came to the conclusion that we should pray for people when they ask for prayer and when they are righteous (though he admitted there were a few exceptions: Acts 28:8). When I read James 5, however, that’s not exactly what I see.

Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? 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: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (James 5:13-16)

It is a sick person’s responsibility to ask for anointing, but there is nothing to hinder us from praying for one another unless specifically asked. In fact, there are numerous verses that give a clear instruction to pray for people who would not be asking for your prayers.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (Mat. 5:44-45)

Jesus Christ did this when He was hanging on the cross and asked forgiveness for His murderers (Luke 23:34). Stephen did much the same thing, praying “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” as he was being stoned (Acts 7:60). I’d be tempted to say just from looking at these examples that we can, and should, pray for anyone who seems to need it. However, there are a very few verses that talk about not praying.

If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. (1 John 5:16)

I’m assuming this refers to a deliberate turning away from God as described in Hebrews 10:26-31. It’s probably a similar state to that of the nation of Israel when God told Jeremiah not to pray for His wicked people. (These are the only verses I’ve found that instruct someone not to pray. If you know of any others, please let me know.)

 Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee. (Jer 7:16)

Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up a cry or prayer for them: for I will not hear them in the time that they cry unto me for their trouble. (Jer. 11:14)

Then said the LORD unto me, Pray not for this people for their good. (Jer 14:11)

Choosing not to pray for someone definitely seems to be the exception rather than the rule, however. We are to pray for those who are friendly to us and for those who persecute and despise us. We pray when we’re asked for prayer, and we’re not hindered from praying when not asked. In fact, not praying can be a sin. Even after Israel sinned by asking for a king, the prophet Samuel said, “God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you” (1 Sam. 12:23).

Christians are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17) and Paul makes it clear that such prayer is not limited to praying for fellow Christians.

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Now, this doesn’t mean we need to pray everyone’s hopes and dreams come true and they prosper in every endeavor. In some cases, particularly when praying for those who are in authority and “them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”, that could mean praying against ourselves or our fellow Christians. But I think we can pray that God’s will be done, that He would work things out for good and hold people back from doing evil, and that He would open a person’s eyes so they might turn from wickedness. That seems like the kind of thing to pray if you love (agape) someone. What do you think?