September 29, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Matthew 7:7-12

Persistence. It makes for a great movie doesn’t it. People who are persistent and push through the hardship, and then it pays off...That is awesome to watch. The owners of Secretariat needed money...they believed Secretariat was a winning horse, and she persisted until Secretariat became the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years!

Persistence pays off.

Have you ever been trapped, alone, in a car with a young child who really understands the meaning of persistence?

Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...

Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...

Daddy...Daddy...Daddy...Daddy

WHAT!?!

And then, in the cutest possible voice, that is just about to cry because you yelled, you hear, “I love you.”

Then you feel like a jerk.

But her Persistence pays off.

A young mother gets a divorce from her husband, but can’t find a job. She moves back to be near her family. While living on public assistance, she attends school so she can get her teaching certificate and maybe find work as a teacher. She is depressed, and feels like the biggest failure ever! She even contemplates suicide, but never goes through with it because of her child.

But in the few small moments of free-time, she begins writing a fantasy novel for children. She had the idea for the book years earlier while waiting on a train, but hadn’t really worked on it until now. She would take her daughter out for walks, and write in a local coffee shop.

In 1995, after she finished writing the manuscript on an old typewriter, she submitted her novel to a publishing company, and was flat-out rejected. Then the next, and another rejection. Then the next, and another rejection. 12 publishing companies rejected her book. One right after another.

A year later, though, she was finally receives the go ahead from a small publisher that is just getting started. They accept the novel, but tell her, “You might want to continue looking for a day job because there isn’t much money in children’s novels.”

Within 5 years, J.K. Rowling is a multi-millionaire and is now considered one of Britain’s most influential women. After 7 books and 8 movies...J.K. Rowling knows that persistence pays off.

When it comes to prayer...persistence pays off too.

Today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount focuses on being persistent in prayer.

Let’s read today’s passage and then talk about it a bit.

Matthew 7:7-12 says,

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Taken at face value this sounds like we have just won the prayer lottery! Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you...All we have to do is ask and seek and knock and God will give us what we want! That sounds great!

I don’t know if you have done much praying lately, but I have never found this to be true. I have asked for all kinds of things, and they never just happened. So I would go back and ask God...why did you put this in here? Why say this if it isn’t true? I have asked, and I have seeked and I have knocked...and nothing.

That’s when I learned that something gets lost in translation here. There is more to this verse than just asking or seeking or knocking one time. The verb tense being used here would better be translated as an ongoing, persistence. Ask and keep on asking...Seek and keep on seeking...knock and keep on knocking.

God is looking for persistent and consistent prayers. He wants prayers that are persistent because when we pray for something with persistence...it reveals a lot about us. There is a lot to learn from God’s requirement of persistent prayers.

Let’s talk about a few things that are revealed when God makes us work through the process of persistent prayer...

God’s call to persistence reveals our passion.

When we are persistent in our prayers we reveal that we are passionate about what we are asking for...that it is important enough to us to keep asking.

There are many times that I will be out shopping with Bri. And as we walk through the store, she will see something. “Dad! I just have to have this! I have always wanted this!” I have never her say anything about it before now. I tell her no, and we keep shopping. There was one trip that I felt like leaving her at the store because every aisle was something new that she wanted or couldn’t live without. I think I said No about a thousand times.

But often my prayers are like that. I am going through each aisle and asking God for this or for that. Please give me this. Please give me that. Please take care of this. Please help that person...and I sound just like a little child being pushed in the shopping cart through a store.

When God says to Ask, and keep on asking. Seek, and keep on seeking. Knock, and keep on knocking...He is trying to find out whether this is something important to us...because if it isn’t important to us...we will stop asking...we will move on...we will give up praying for it.

All of those things that our children ask for as we are shopping seem to fade from memory as soon as we leave the store...or shortly there after. Why? Because they don’t really want them. They aren’t that important. It isn’t something they are passionate about. They saw it on the shelf and it caught their fancy for the moment.

And just as it is unwise to give my child everything she asks for when she asks for it because it isn’t good for her...so God isn’t going to give me everything I want when I want it because it isn’t good for me. He is looking for persistence that reveals my true passion.

Often my prayers are just things in the moment. I want them now, but I don’t really want them in the long run. They won’t really make a difference in my life or in the Kingdom of God. I don’t really need them. I am only asking for them because I just saw them sitting there on the shelf.

But...

If it is something really important or something I believe is important to the Kingdom...it will keep coming up. I will keep asking God for it...I will keep seeking to be heard...I will keep knocking on the door until I get an answer. I won’t give up. My persistence reveals that I am passionate about what I’m asking for.

If it isn’t worth it...I’m going to give up quickly. I will forget about it and move on. But if it is important...I will keep asking. We keep coming praying. It becomes a passionate desire.

And God is saying that for our prayers to matter...for our prayers to make a difference...they have to come from a place of passionate persistence. We have to really want what we are asking God for, and that is demonstrated most clearly in persistent prayer.

But wanting something, really wanting something isn’t enough...and when God asks for persistent prayer something else is revealed...

God’s call to persistence reveals our motives.

A few weeks ago we looked at the Lord’s Prayer, and as we looked at the prayer it became clear, almost painfully clear, that this prayer Jesus was teaching us stood in sharp contrast to the way many of us often pray. Most of the petitions in that prayer...most the things we are asking for in that prayer...have nothing to do with my individual life.

Jesus is teaching us how to pray, and the bulk of the prayer focuses on asking for God’s Kingdom to come and for His will to be done...rather than on me asking for stuff. Out of that entire prayer...our “stuff”...the time spent praying for things we need are wrapped up in just six words! Only six words. That’s all we get.

The majority of the prayer we are taught as a model for our prayers is focused around God’s Kingdom...but often our prayers are centered on what I want more than on what God wants. I can be persistent. But I’m persistent because I really want it for me, and not because I want to see God’s Kingdom expanded.

When God challenges us to persistent prayer...He is giving time for our true motives to surface, and He is giving us the opportunity to confess them and realign them in accordance with His will.

If I’m not careful my prayers are often more about me and what I want than about God and what he wants. I can take 20 minutes on my six words of wants and spend only a few seconds on the rest of that prayer.

When God challenges us to not ask for stuff for us, it isn’t because He doesn’t care. It is because He has already promised that when we seek after His Kingdom first, He will take care of everything else that we really need.

When it comes to God waiting to answer our prayers...our persistence in prayer is meant to act like a refining fire that boils out all the impurities. He waits, and as we pray we realize...I don’t really want or need that...it isn’t important so we stop praying for it. But when we find something to pray persistently about...sometimes our motives need to be challenged. God wants us to have an honest view of why we are asking for what we are asking for.

Do we want it for the right reasons?

We ask God to give us that promotion or that raise at work...not so we can be generous and use our excess to serve and expand His Kingdom, but because we want to have more things or more security or more comfort.

We ask God to give us health...not so we can better sacrifice and serve His Kingdom, but because we just don’t want to be in pain.

We ask God for a lot of things that are simply for our benefit...and God is asking us to prayer, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”

God says to “seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be given to you as well”...and persistent prayer will root out our true motives for asking.

God will use our time of persistent prayers to boil the impurity of selfishness out of us...to challenge our motives in asking.

Now there is a note of warning that needs to be given here...Sometimes God gives us what we ask for in spite of our bad motives. Sometimes we will get that raise or we will get healthy or we will get whatever it is we are asking for even though we have completely selfish motives. We will hear people say, “God gave me this!” And God gave it to them despite their selfish motives, but God’s expectation is still that all His gifts are meant to be used in service of His Kingdom. He allows us to have it, hoping we will use it in a way that expands the Kingdom’s influence.

God’s call to persistent prayer is a valuable tool. It reveals or real passions and it reveals our motives...It answers the Do we really want what we say we want question, and it answers the why do we really want this question.

Ask and keep on asking...seek and keep on seeking...knock and keep on knocking because persistence pays off. It will either change what we are asking for or it will change why we are asking for it.

But it is also important to know that...

How we respond to God’s call for persistent prayer reveals our understanding of God’s character.

It is interesting to note that Matthew has to include a statement about God’s goodness in this section.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Why would Matthew include this here?

Because when we don’t get what we want, when we want it, we will often turn and start blaming God and the enemy will use it to gain a foothold in our lives...

God isn’t good to me...he never answers my prayers.

God doesn’t love me...that’s why He didn’t give it to me.

I must not be spiritual enough...that is why He didn’t give it to me.

I must not be good enough...God never does anything for me...My prayers are never answered...

The list could go on and on...and even in the spiritually mature, the enemy will try to get a foothold in our thinking...he will try to sidetrack us...by trying to convince us that God’s delay means we are not good enough or spiritual enough or that He is never going answer this prayer.

So Matthew wants to remind us that God is not only good...He is more good than any earthly father ever has or will be!

If an earthly father, who is tainted by sinfulness, knows how to give good things to children when asked...How much more does our Father in Heaven, in His infinite love and goodness, know how to give us good gifts?

God’s delay in answering is not a sign of reluctance. He is simply waiting...testing...challenging us to grow...Is this really important and do we want this because of the Kingdom?

Sometimes God will give us what we ask for...sometimes He will make us wait, and when we are waiting, our persistence will reveal whether we really want it and whether we want it for the right reasons.

Conclusion

For us as a church, persistence means that we are going to keep praying and moving toward the goal that God has given us to reach and care for the people of Huber Heights and the surrounding area. To help each person who walks through our doors to take their next step closer to God. We are going to keep persistently praying that God opens the doors of people’s heart, that He transforms lives, that He causes us to grow in our discipleship.

As disciples, it means that we keep on asking, and keep on seeking, and keep on knocking...knowing that God’s delay is not a sign of reluctance. He loves to give good things to His children. His delay is meant as a time of growth and testing.

When we are praying and not seeing the results of the prayer we start by asking ourselves two very important questions:

1. Is this REALLY important to me or am I just acting like a selfish child?
2. Do I want this for the right reason? Do I really want this so that I can seek and honor God’s Kingdom?

This morning, maybe you have been praying for something for a long time. You have felt like giving up, but you have persisted...you have kept going...you are waiting on an answer that has not yet come...I urge you to keep persisting in your prayers. Maybe you have asked those questions and feel like you can answer them correctly. Yes, I want this, and yes it will expand the Kingdom of God.

Then keep praying.

Maybe you prayed for something for a long time...but you gave up because you didn’t understand what God was trying to do. Take up that prayer again.

I find the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth in Luke 1 very interesting. Zechariah and Elizabeth are relatives of Mary the mother of Jesus, and they spent most of their lives praying that God would give them a child. Now in their old age, they have given up hope. But when the Angel appears to Zechariah and announces, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.”
Zechariah and Elizabeth probably had prayed that prayer a thousand times...but more than likely, they had given up praying about it by now. They were old. If human nature stands the test of time, there is no way they had prayed that prayer in years, but the angel announces it as though they had just prayed the prayer.

We don’t know when or how God will answer our prayers...but we know that He is constantly working, even when we don’t see or understand. And even when the answer is no...as painful as it may be, we learn to trust that God is good and knows how to give good gifts to those who ask Him.

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