Charles Stanley — The Key to Answered Prayer
How often do you pray? Five minutes a day? Ten minutes. Maybe fifteen? Maybe twenty. Maybe you don't pray at all unless you get in trouble; unless you need something. And so, when I say how long do you pray or when do you pray and why do you pray. In other words, when you pray, what are you primarily talking to God about? Is it something that you need primarily?
And so, when I say how long, I'm not talking about what I call like BB gun prayers, bleep! Real short. Or a shotgun, where you just blast it all over the place. "God bless him, bless her, bless them. Gimme this, gimme that, gimme the other". In other words, nothing really specific, but somehow you sort of relieved your conscience by at least talking to somebody out there somewhere. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about talking to the Heavenly Father.
Have you ever thought about this? Have you ever thought about praying not because you wanted something, but because you wanted to fellowship with Him. Because you just wanted to be in His presence alone. Because you just wanted His attention in your life at that moment. You see, it isn't always just asking for this and asking for that. Because think about this: one of the primary reasons God answers prayer is not simply because we have needs. He's committed to that. One of the primary reasons He answers prayer is because He wants us to get to know Him. Think about this. What do you do in any given day of your life or week of your life that specifically you want to get to know Him better?
You say, "Well I come to church". Well that's, that's helpful. But what about between the two of you? You ever thought about just sitting and being quiet in the presence of God? Have you ever thought about just saying, "Lord, today I don't want anything, I just want You. I just want to understand You. I want to know You better. I want a deeper relationship with You". And all these things that you're concerned about, He will answer. He says, "Don't be anxious about anything and everything". And so therefore, God desires to answer our prayer.
What I want to talk about in this message is simply this. And that is when it comes to praying, there is a key. There is a key to answered prayer. Anybody can pray, but if you've never trusted Jesus, you won't be heard. Jesus said, "No one comes to the Father but by Me". Watch this, you cannot reject the Son of God and expect to be heard by God Himself. That's what the Word of God teaches. He's willing, He's ready. And so, I want you to turn if you will to this seventh chapter of Matthew and read along with me in this passage beginning in verse seven of this seventh chapter.
He says, "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. Or what man is there among you, who when his son asks for a loaf, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him"! So, now look at that verse. He says if you and I ask and seek and knock, He's going to answer our petitions.
Now if I say to you, "Well do you really and truly believe that's what He'll do"? The answer is, some of you would say, "Well, in my life, no". But I want you to listen carefully to this. In all the things that Jesus said about prayer and He said many things. Disciples on one occasion said, "Teach us to pray like John has taught his disciples to pray". So, he said many things about prayer. Here's one thing He never dealt with. Jesus never dealt with unanswered prayer. He never says, "Ask and you'll receive," but, if, except, and so forth. He never discusses unanswered prayer. It's all about answered prayer. And so why? Because it is the will of the Father, desire of the Father, the design of the Father to answer our petitions.
And so, when we come to say what's the key then, to answered prayer, there are two things. And a few of these things, they're on the back screen. The first one is this. If I really and truly want God to answer my prayer, I must learn to persevere. I must learn to persevere. Just praying and forgetting it and moving on, that's not going to get it. One of the primary reasons people don't get their prayers answered is they start and then they stop. If it doesn't happen today or tomorrow or next week at the latest, then I'm not going to pray anymore because God must not be interested in answering my prayer. He's very interested in answering your prayer. He says, "Ask, seek, knock". And he says the Father will answer your prayer. And notice He said not only that, but He'll give you something good.
Now when it comes to persevering I put a definition up here so we'd get it down. Continue firmly on some course or direction in spite of the obstacles or the difficulties. That is, you don't give up. When you persevere in something you keep moving, you keep going. It doesn't make any difference what the difficulty, the hardships, the obstacles are. You don't give up. And when He says, "Ask, and it shall be given you. Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened to you". That's what He means. So, when it comes to prayer, it means if I persevere, I'm going to keep asking. We'll keep asking and seeking and knocking until we have an answer. That's what He means by that.
And so, He knew that you and I would face those situations and circumstances whereby what we ask for would be the will of the Father. But He knows that it's human nature, we want it now. Or, we would ask for things that we could not get now for the simple reason what we ask for wouldn't be ready now. Or what we ask for we're not ready to receive it right now, we're not capable of receiving it now. God has to make some changes in our life, or changes in our circumstances in order to give us the very thing we ask for. And so, He says, "Ask and keep asking. And seek, keep seeking. And knock, and keep knocking".
Now it's interesting, sort of stack those three together. He says, "Ask, but don't stop there. Seek, don't stop there. Knock". For example, sometimes people come through the line and they'll ask me different questions about things and things going on in their life. And oftentimes in the last couple of years, many people have said, "I lost my job. I say, "Well what are you doing"? Well sometime they'll say, "I'm praying or I'm looking, this, that and the other". But oftentimes a person will say, "Well I'm praying for God to give me another job". "So okay, well what else are you doing"? "Well, I'm just praying and asking Him to give me another job".
Well look, if you're praying according to the scripture, you pray and then you go see if you can find one. In other words, look. Prayer does not mean I just sit and do nothing and wait for God to, to just come to my rescue about everything. Ask and not only that, He said, "Seek". And He said, "Look". And not only that, He says, "Knock on the door". That is, there's activity that God involves us in and expects of us when we pray. Now sometimes you don't have to do the second and the third, but sometimes we do. And remember, when He says, "Seek and ask and knock," sometimes God is in the process of getting us ready for the answer. We're not always ready for the things we ask for. And so, there's something else happening during that time.
When you and I are asking and seeking and knocking, and the answer's not there quite when we want it, what happens is we naturally begin to look in ourselves and say, "Well God, what is there going on inside of me"? Or what's, or "What's happening inside of me? Is there something going on here that I need to look at myself? Is the reason for the lack of an answer something that's in my life"? Or, "Lord, is there something You want to change about me"? That is, in other words, if it's not there when He promised it, He said, "Ask, seek, knock". He says then something's going to happen. You can expect it. Now, therefore if it doesn't happen, then we have to ask ourselves the question "Why"? That is, we have a right, a privilege. We have a right to ask God, "Lord, You said if I ask, here's what You would do. I'm asking and I don't see it".
I have a right to ask Him and He has the right to withhold it till I'm ready. And if you and I will be honest about our praying and ask Him, "Lord, what is it, what's holding us back"? He'll show you. Because He wants to meet your need. He says, He knows what our needs are. He desires to meet them. And if they're not being met, there's a specific reason. So, what people usually do, they just say, "Well, you know what? I've been praying, I've been praying three months and God - forget it! He's not listening to me. If He were listening, He'd answer my prayer. I read the Bible, I pray, and I don't see any answer going on so why should I keep talking into air when nobody's listening"? You're not talking into air, you're talking to the Father who is very wise about what you're asking Him for.
And watch this. What you ask Him for may be almost the right thing. So, he's got to change some attitude. Now remember what He says in this passage later on, we're coming to it. He talks about giving us good things. Now all of us have asked for things that were not good for us. And sometime I say, "Thank You, Jesus, You didn't answer my prayer". Because we ask for things that are not His best for us. And so, when the answer is not there, I have a right to ask, but I must also be willing to make whatever change is necessary. Now when I look at this passage and I have to ask first of all, "What does this not mean"? When He says, "Ask, seek and knock". That does not mean that if I ask Him and I don't get it, I take another step. And I take another step.
So I knock and I knock, and knock and finally if I knock long enough, I'll override the will of God. No you won't. So it doesn't mean that if you knock or if you seek and you are asking, and nothing's happening, that if you keep on doing it you'll finally override the will of God and He'll say, "Okay". Nor does it mean if you ask and seek and knock, that finally He'll change His mind. No, He's not going to change His mind because remember. He said, "My Father knows before you ask Him what you need". So why is God going to change His mind? He's not going to change His mind because you pursue and you persevere till finally He gives in. That's not the way He operates. And remember there's a reason for His, not hesitation, but a reason for His withholding the answer at that time because something is not ready. Either we're not ready or the circumstance isn't ready.
So, you have to give God time. Listen, to arrange the circumstances to do the very thing you ask Him to do. And so, you decide, "I'm not going to wait any longer," and make a big mistake. So there's a reason. Now of course somebody says, "Well isn't that just like asking God to give you a blank check? Ask, knock, seek, finally I'll make it". No, that's not the way He operates. God is operating on the basis of what He said. And that is, if you ask and knock, seek and you knock, I'm going to answer your prayer. I'm going to answer your petition. But you can't make Me do it ahead of time. It's got to be My timing.
What I want you to see is don't ever be discouraged because it's not happening when you expect it to happen. Because remember, He knows you perfectly. He knows exactly what you need. He knows exactly what is good for you. And so, I would ask you: do you want God to give you something that's not good for you? No, you don't. Do you want God to give you something that you're not ready for and cannot handle at this point in your life? Not really. Do you want God's best? Yes. Are you willing to wait for God's best? "Well, uh that waiting business bothers me". Well if you want God's best you've got to trust Him to know when is the best time and what is best for you. So when He says, "Ask, seek and knock," He wants us to keep on. Because while we're asking, seeking and knocking, He's working.
And you may look around you and you say, "Well I don't see anything going on". Well that's the wonderful thing about God. He can just work up a storm, shall we say, and we don't see anything going on and all of a sudden there it is. He says, "You ask and keep on asking. You seek and you keep on seeking. You knock and keep on knocking. The answer is coming". You say, "Well does that mean that, or whatever I've asked, I'm going to get it"? Well let's look at it this way. We're talking to our Heavenly Father who knows everything. We're talking to Heavenly Father who's promised to meet all of our needs. We're talking to a Heavenly Father who's promised to give us good things and only good things.
So we have a right to anticipate, to expect, but He has a right to decide when the time is. And we're coming to Him passionately. That is, this isn't well I'm going to pray once-in-a-while. When you're asking and you've gotten up to the knocking part, you are passionately talking to God about something that is of major importance to you. Is He listening? Yes, He's listening. Does He want to answer your prayer? He will answer your prayer. Oh, what will His answers be? They will be "Yes". What's the next one? "Wait". And what's the next one? "I've got something better for you". Now that's the way I personally look at it. I look at it this way. God says, "Yes, wait, I've got something better".
Now you say, "Well He could say 'No.' Well He could say, 'No.'" But let me ask you this: if He's your lovingly Heavenly Father, and He wants the best for you and He says He's got good things for us. Then is He not answering by simply saying, He could just say, "No". End of story. But if He says, "I've got something better for you". Then I'm going to keep on praying. If God says "No," then I think, "Okay, all right so I messed up. I was asking for the wrong thing". Sometimes we're not asking for the wrong thing. We're asking for the right thing but we're asking on our schedule. And so, people get discouraged.
And that's why the whole issue here is persevering in prayer. I keep praying because I know that my Father wants the best for me. I know He's provided the best. I know He is going to give me the best. And therefore, I must keep praying, while God is working on me or the circumstance in order to get me ready for His best. You don't give up and quit because you don't get what you're looking for when you're looking for it. And there are many, many experiences in all of our lives, probably if we look back and really and truly we're honest about our prayer life, we'd have to say, "Yeah, all of us have asked for things that we probably shouldn't have asked for". Or we ask in, in sincerity but later discovered, thank God, He didn't answer that prayer. Or, sometimes people give up and quit.
And they say, "Well, it must not have been the right thing". Yes, it could have been the right thing, but you just didn't give God the time to do it. You say, "Why do you keep saying that"? Because it is a major issue. It's a major issue among Christians. We want to give up and quit because it doesn't happen on our schedule. So, when He says here, "Ask". He says, "Seek, knock. I'm going to do it". It's not something passive. In other words, if you really, if you're seeking something from God and you pray today, then you wait three or four days and you bring it up again and three or four days you're not passionate about it. In other words, it must not be all that important. But, if a close member of your family were sick unto death, you'd get passionate. In other words, what's our motivation?
And you see, if I have to be motivated only because I have a need, if that's the only thing that gets me to praying, then God may send you a whole bunch of needs to get your attention. God knows how to get our attention. And one of the ways He gets our attention, listen, it isn't sending difficulty, hardship and pain. One of the ways He gets our attention is sending us good things, something that is good for us. And when you have asked and you have waited and trusted Him and He sends something good, what happens? You get motivated to pray some more. And when God heals this person, you get motivated to pray for somebody else. Or when God meets a particular need in someone's life, you, listen, then you get excited. What do you do? You call your friends and you say, "You know, we prayed for so-and-so and look what God did in their life. We've been praying for so-and-so to get saved; they got saved. Now who are we going after next"? God answers prayer not because we're so desperate. He answers prayer for us because He loves us. He wants us to understand who He is, what He's like, what He's about. It's what we started off in the very beginning of the message. He wants us to know Him.
And one of the ways we get to know Him is the way He responds to our requests. We learn what He thinks is good. We learn about His timing. We learn about His love. We learn about His silent times. And we learn how to live the Christian life in a much more exciting fashion. That's who He is. He's an awesome God who loves us. So when He says, "Ask and seek," and He says, "Knock and here's what's going to happen". Then we have to ask ourselves the question: Why isn't God answering my prayer? Everybody has prayed and felt like God didn't answer their prayer. Why isn't God answering my prayer? And I want to say again the place you look first is within yourself. "God, is there something going on inside of me that should not be there? Is there something You want to change? Is my outlook, is my motive wrong"?
And James warns us about that in the fourth chapter. He says, "You ask not. You don't have it". And he says, "When you do ask, you ask amiss, that is, for your own lust". That is, you're asking for something that's not necessarily of God. But you're asking for something that's displeasing to God. You don't have it. So, we're to persevere in prayer because our Heavenly Father, who loves us unconditionally, who wants to meet our needs, and even our desires, who desires to give us good things, that's what Jesus said. Because that's who He is.
And as I talk to Him and get to know Him, here's what'll happen. The more you get to know Him, the less things you will ask for. And you know what else will happen? That's just only part of the sentence. But the more things He'll give you. For the simple reason He wants us to talk to Him and fellowship with Him, not because we always want something, but just because we love Him.
So I'd ask you this question. You don't owe me any answers. I'd ask you this question: when is the last time you just sat, knelt or lay down, whatever it might be and said, "Lord, I really and truly do want to get to know You. I don't want You to give me anything today or tonight. I just want to get to know You. I would love to hear You speak to me. I would love to hear what You want to say to me". So first of all, if I'm really going to get answers to prayer I've got to persevere. I don't give up and quit because it's tough, because there's a delay, because I'm going to talk about the delay right now. There's a reason.
So, that's the first key. The second one is this. And that is confidence. That is confidence that He's going to answer my prayer. If I don't have any confidence, what I'm saying is I'm asking but I don't really believe it. And you know when you pray whether you have confidence in God or not that He's going to hear and answer your prayer. You know whether you do or not. Because the more confidence you have, listen, the stronger you'll pray. The more confidence you have, the longer you'll pray. The more confidence you have, the more you'll pray. The more confidence you have, the more effective is going to be your prayer. In other words, something happens when we begin to pray in that fashion. Now, what Jesus said here, and confidence is belief in the trustworthiness of God, that we believe He'll do what He says.
And so I want us to look at this passage, and listen to how He said it. Because He said this in order to strengthen our confidence. Look. He said, "Now I'm saying, 'Ask, seek and knock.'" Now, if you'll notice again the passage we read while ago, "What man is there among you, when his son asks for a loaf, will he give him a stone"? And those stones around the Sea of Galilee were sort of round shaped, sort of like their bread was shaped, and so the same color of their bread. He said, "Will he give him a stone"? And he says, "Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a snake, will he"?
More than likely it was an eel out of the water there. He said, "Will he, will he do that"? None of us would treat our children that way. So He says, "If you then being evil, being a sinner know how to give good gifts to your children," now here's the key word, "how much more, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him"! Now think about this. He says, "How would we treat our children"? Here's what He says, "If you'll do good things for your children, you haven't seen anything yet". If you'll wait for Me and trust Me and keep praying. You may have to keep praying and keep waiting, but you keep praying and you keep waiting, watch what I do. You'll never be disappointed. Amen?
Father, how grateful we are this morning for Your love for us. There are not disappointments in You. There are tests, there are trials, there are hardships, difficulties, things we don't understand. But then there's that awesome love and provision and blessing that's far beyond our comprehension. Thank You for Your love for us and I pray that every person who hears this message today will not just listen and move on. But will listen and grasp it and apply it and trust You and watch You work in their life. For I know there are no disappointments in You. And for that we are very grateful, in Jesus' name, amen.
You say, "Well I'm not even a Christian". Well, you can't claim anything that I've talked about. He spoke that to His followers. You see, now watch this. Remember who we are praying to, our Heavenly Father. Listen, Jesus was the incarnate Son of God. If you bypass Him, you cannot expect God the Father to answer your petition. He and the Father are one. To reject Jesus is to reject the Father. And I encourage you to ask the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive you of your sins. Surrender your life to Him, that's when life really begins. And I trust that you're willing to ask Him to do that. On the basis of what He did at Calvary, lay down His life, shed His blood, paid the debt for your sin. And if you're willing to ask Him to forgive you and to cleanse you, He'll do it. Or you can reject Him and live the rest of your life on your own, doing your own thing. Ending up in your life one of these days wondering, "I wonder what would have happened to my life over these years if I'd a just trusted Jesus and walked with Him". Can you beat this? Walking with Jesus every day of your life? No, you cannot. It is foolish to live your life apart from Him. I trust that you'll trust Him.