The prayer formula that really works!

photo: wikimediacommons.com

We are “formula” seekers instead of God-seekers much of the time, and we need to admit it.

In all of life we want “10 steps to this” and “5 simple methods for that.”  We want things spelled out, nice and neat, guaranteed, and ready for us to plug in so we can watch, whiz-bang, as the benefits come gushing out for us to greedily consume.

I know – that’s a pretty pessimistic perspective on humanity.  But isn’t that what sin has done to us?  Even those of us who are taking part in God’s “extreme makeover: individual edition” through our faith in Christ?  We want things of eternal value, but only if it’s easy.  Reminds me of the “God in a paper sack” story from Tim Hansel

In search of a prayer formula that really works

Our prayer life gets burdened down with this sort of mentality as well.  We think that if we do certain things, in certain ways, with particular words, and certain emphasis, tacking “in Jesus’ name” on the end, then God will open wide the doors of heaven and out comes the blessing.

I’ve been working through the book of Matthew verse by verse, and this morning I hit this passage:

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. 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 7:7-11

Sounds pretty simple, even formulaic, doesn’t it?  Ask and receive.  Seek and find.  Knock and the door is opened.  Do this… and this will happen.  Could this be the formula our sinful hearts are longing for?

But it’s not that easy… at least not for me.  This passage gives me problems exactly because it’s so simple.  It’s got the sound of a “too good to be true” promise and  I found myself being skeptical, even as I read it this morning in the quiet of my kitchen.  I tend to wonder what the “catch” is, where to find the “small print” that I need to read and understand in order for it to REALLY be true for me.

What’s made me so cynical and suspicious about prayer?  Maybe it’s that I have asked and have not received.  Maybe it’s that I have sought and have not found.  Maybe it’s that I have knocked, until my spiritual knuckles were bleeding, and never heard even a whisper of God stirring behind what seemed like a firmly bolted door.  Maybe that’s it… and maybe I’m not the only one who’s had such experiences.

So my skeptical heart tries to figure it out.  I wonder if I’m supposed to ask only for certain things.  I wonder if I’m supposed to figure out God’s will first, so I can ask for the right things the first time.  I wonder if….

I’m trying to calculate the formula again, only this time its fueled by my skepticism.  Stupid skepticism.

I’m deeply bothered by the skepticism I discovered in my heart this morning.  I don’t like feeling skeptical about scripture.  I don’t believe it’s right or honoring to my LORD to be so.  It’s not trusting Him to be good, as Jesus says He is.  I am embarrassed and ashamed.  But thankfully God is long-suffering and patient, and as I labored and prayed over the passage, I began to hear Jesus’ words in a new way.  I began to see that there is more to the passage than “ask, seek, knock.”  There’s an explanation and expansion that follows it to drive home the main point… and that’s where I found salvation from my own skepticism.

A word picture from my world…

To explain what He means, Jesus uses a word-picture that relates directly to me… an earthly parent and an earthly child.  I’ve got 5 kids, so it hits me in a very tender place.  When my son, Caleb asks me if he can have “computer time,” he’s asking for something specific, hoping for a certain outcome.  He wants to play computer.  If I tell him, “OK” – that would be equivalent to what we call “answered prayer” for Caleb.  It wasn’t wrong for him to ask for something he wanted.  In fact, it’s honoring to me because he is believing me to be a Dad who wants to do good things for him.

That’s Jesus’ main point.  We are to pray with the belief that our heavenly Father is good, and will give us good things when we ask.

But there are times when Caleb asks for something like computer time, and I tell him “No.”  Is this our equivalent to “unanswered prayer?”  Maybe so.  Does it mean that I’m not a good Dad because I said, “No?”  No, it may be proof that I am a good Dad.  I’m responsible to discern from the moment, the circumstance, and the history surrounding his request (both past and future) whether or not a “yes” answer would indeed be good for him.  If it is… I say “Yes.”  If it is not… I say “No.”

That’s Jesus’ main point.  We are to pray with the belief that our heavenly Father is good, and will give us good things when we ask… and if He says “no,” it’s because what we asked for was not the “good thing” He wanted us to have.

If Caleb throws a fit like a spoiled brat anytime I say “No” to his request, he’s dishonoring me and disrespecting the responsibility I have from God to do what is best for him.  If he says, “But I asked you nicely (or with great feeling, or with perfect verbiage, or with a ‘Daddy dearest‘ at the end, etc.) then he’s wrongly assuming that formulas “work” with parents, and our answers have nothing to do with what is truly best for our children.

But if he submits to my answer, even if he doesn’t understand or like it, he’s honoring me by trusting that I have said “No” for his good.

That’s Jesus’ main point.  We are to pray with the belief that our heavenly Father is good, and will give us good things when we ask… and trust that He is doing exactly that, even when our desired outcome is not what we receive.

Our focus should not be on the “ask, seek, knock” except to know that we should never be hesitant to ask, seek, or knock, because the God we are asking, seeking from, and whose door we are knocking upon, is a lavishly good Father to us.

That’s Jesus’ main point.  We are to pray with the belief that our heavenly Father is good, and will give us good things when we ask.

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One thought on “The prayer formula that really works!

  1. I’ve been going through a lot of the same lately. I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer and taking a deep look at the condition of my heart. Like you say towards the end, it ultimately comes down to my view of God’s goodness. God won’t give me a snake if I ask for a fish, but he won’t give me a snake if I ask for a snake either. Believing that is easy to say, but tough to do when trials, troubles, and pain are staring us right in the face.

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