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Learning To Pray The Bible Way

Do you ever wonder if you are praying the right way or praying for the right things? This six-tape audio series teaches you how to pray the Bible way, so that you may have confidence in prayers. Learn a pattern for prayer, and the significance of praying in Jesus' name. Dr. Stanley imparts practical understanding to prayer, a vital element in every believer's life. Deepen your relationship with your Heavenly Father as you grow in your prayer life.

[This is a transcript of the first tape in Dr. Charles Stanley's six tape audio cassette series "Learning To Pray The Bible Way." The entire six cassettes will help you build into your congregation a strong knowledge of what effective prayer is and how to pray effectively. The six tape audio cassette series is available for $33.00, online at: http://www.intouch.org or mail your order to: InTouch Ministries, P.O. Box 7900, Atlanta, Georgia, 30357-9979.]

"When you pray, do you do so with confidence and an assurance that God is going to hear and answer your prayer? Or rather are you harassed by such thoughts as "I'm so unworthy." "I feel so guilty for the past. Could God ever answer my prayer?"--full of doubts, full of anxiety, sense of unworthiness, frustration, and often times get up and walk away thinking "Well, what's the use of praying anyway?" In fact, on the scale of one to ten, how would you rate your prayer life as far as specific answers to prayer? And could you say that your prayers are specific or are sort of general?--"Lord, would you bless my mother, would you bless my husband, bless my children"--or do you ask for specific things, that when God answers them, you can say "God did that, he answered this prayer, and he's answered this one." And would you say that your prayer life is fruitful, is it satisfying, do you see God doing some unusual things in your life? Or would you say that your prayer life is really rather a sort of a haphazard response to needs and desires, rather than the nourishing of the life of Christ within you? Let me ask you that again. Would you say that your life, your prayer life, is rather a haphazard response to needs and desires, or is it the nourishing of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ within you. Because, you see, when you gave your life to Jesus Christ, he came into your life to live [cf. John 14, read it]. And it is in prayer that we nourish our relationship with him. And some of you are struggling in your prayer life. You ask, and nothing seems to happen much. In fact, you sort of wonder if God's even listening anymore. In fact, you really wonder if he even cares, because you've brought this to him and this, and this, and somehow nothing's really happened. You don't see anything going on and surely if God's the God he says he is, why doesn't he do something? Well, all of us have struggled at one point or the other in prayer, and I believe if you listen carefully today you're going to find a simple message that's going to help you in your faith in talking to God. The title of this message is "Learning To Pray The Bible Way". I want you to turn, if you will, to Matthew chapter 7, verses 7-11. One of the simplest passages on prayer in all the Bible, found in the Sermon on the Mount. I remember, it is the first passage on prayer that I ever memorized. I still know it by heart just like you know your favorite ones, and in the midst of the sermon on the mount Jesus said, beginning in verse 7, "Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened." Then he asks a question. "Or what man is there among you when his son shall ask him for a loaf of bread, will give him a stone. Or if he shall ask for a fish will he not give him a snake, will he? If ye being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask him?" Now there are three aspects of this passage that I want us to look at. It's a very simple passage, but it is profound in the fact that this is the Lord's teaching as to how to pray. And if I should ask you if you know how to pray, most of you would probably say "Why sure I do." Then if you looked at your score card on answers to prayer, then you would begin to say, "Well, I think I do." Because often times we spend a lot of time talking into the air, or talking to God without getting much result. And what you see in this passage is simply this, first of all, and that is, the requests that you and I have to make. He says, "Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you." Now prayer is more than simply asking and receiving. It is indeed more, but it is that. It is not only asking and receiving, but it's thanking the Lord God, it is adoring him, it is praising him. But if you'll notice in the chapter before what Jesus had been just talking about, in verse 25 of the 6th chapter, he begins to deal with a problem that all of us have at some time in our life, and that is anxiety. He says in verse 25, "For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you should eat or what you shall drink, nor for your bodies for what you shall put on. Is not life more than food and the body than clothing?" and that sounds all very simple and really unimportant to us because most of us have enough clothes to wear and enough food to eat and a place to live. But in those days, these were the crucial problems they had to face. You and I today face situations that are far more crucial to us in our life. But having simply dealt with these things that were on their mind, he said to them, 'Don't be anxious, don't be worried about these things. Your Father already knows your needs before you know them, and he's already beginning to take care of them before you even realize the needs are there.' And then he says, 'Here's the way you deal with them.' Verse 7 of chapter 7, 'You ask, and it shall be given you, you seek and you shall find, you knock and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.' Very simply, Jesus is teaching his followers here that here's the way you pray. You ask. You seek. You knock. That is the first three steps. Anything that a child could understand. And I would say to these students that are here today, especially, don't leave home until you have learned to pray. Because you will not take anything with you apart from the person of Jesus Christ that is a greater asset in your knowledge than having learned to talk to God--and to listen to him and to relate to him and to receive your needs and your desires in answer to your prayers to him.

Now what he's simply saying in this passage is that prayer is more than giving and receiving, but it is indeed that. And why did Jesus put the emphasis there? Because he knows that not only in that day, but in this day--and if we took a little survey right here, probably most people who pray spend the majority of that time doing what?--asking God for things for themselves or for other people. And so that's why he says here, when you ask, ask. He says seek and then he says knock. Now I want us to look at these three words, because he says it twice in a different sort of fashion. And they're all commands. He says "Ask, seek, knock" when you pray. That is, he says, 'I'm giving you directions as to how to pray.' You don't sort of wabble and just say, "Now Lord, you know I've got some needs, and want you to bless him and her and Lord the Bible says you already know what I have need of before I ask, so I'm gonna just trust you and just sort of, you know"--and we just sort of mosey along and we don't get down to business in prayer. Now one of the reasons Jesus has made this very clear and very specific in these steps he's given us, is because that prayer is not really all that simple when you begin to evaluate it, on the one hand. Secondly, prayer isn't just talking to God, prayer becomes work. And prayer demands diligence. And when he says "Ask, seek, knock" Jesus is saying there's a sequence of events. And there's something going on here more than just something verbal. Now why did he put it in that fashion? And why did he not simply say, "Pray, and you will receive"--period, and let that be it? Because he wants us to understand the true nature of prayer, that it is more than asking. Because there are times when you and I ask and we don't get exactly what we ask for. There are times when we ask when we don't get what we ask for. There are times when we ask and there's a delay. And so Jesus is teaching us here the very vital steps in an effective prayer life.

There's a second thing he's in the process of teaching us here when he says "Ask, seek and knock" and that is that there are two responsibilities in prayer, God's responsibility and our responsibility. That is, there is a human side in praying, but there is also a Divine side. And you cannot have one without the other, it isn't all Divine and it isn't all human. It is both human and Divine. I have a responsibility, God has a responsibility. Then there is a 3rd primary reason that I think Jesus took the time to explain to them the simple step of prayer, and that is this. That one of the most vital ingredients in prayer, and the one that most of us probably overlook and leave out above all the rest--and one of those that is probably the primary reason for the emptiness of our praying--and for the few specific answers that we receive--and one of the primary reasons that we see God doing so little--is that we leave out one vital ingredient in our prayer. And that vital ingredient is mentioned here, which we'll cover in just a moment. Now I want you to notice the intensity of the progression here. Now look at what he says. He didn't just say "Pray". He says, "Ask", then he says "Seek", and then he said "Knock." And what he's saying is that sometimes when you and I come to him there will be times when the only thing there is for us to do is to "ask him." We're helpless to do anything else. Let's say that some great tragedy strikes in some other nation, and there are many people who are suffering, and you and I sense a need to pray for them. That's the only thing we can do for them is to pray. On the other hand, there are times when that's all God wants us to do, be quiet, be still, pray and don't make any move. But these two are the exceptions to the rule. The times when the only thing we can do is pray is an exception. And the only times that God wants us to do nothing but pray is an exception. The general rule for prayer is you ask, you seek, and you knock. Now listen to how he puts it. He says, sometimes you ask God for something. And you and I know that's not sufficient. We're to become involved in the answer. Then we're to seek out the answer. And oftentimes in the seeking we will have to rap on the door of opportunity, or rap on the door that oftentimes looks, not like opportunity, but is a clear direction from God "knock on this door, walk in this direction--seek out the answer here." And so there is a progression. All of us would like to think that all prayer is, is just asking God--get on your knees, say, "Lord, this is what I need. Thank you, in Jesus name, Amen" and walk off. But you and I know that that's not the truth, that there's sometimes a struggle to know the will of God. And sometimes we're not sure exactly what to ask the Lord about certain things. And all of us have asked him for things...maybe in our ignorance at the time, all of us have asked for things that it's good God didn't give us. So we simply say, "Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened" and that we're to become involved in the answer.

Now let's say, there is one of our High School students, and they're looking to know the Lord's will where they ought to go to college. And so...well, it's like next December, and Dad is saying "Son, are you or are you not going to college?" "Why sure I'm going." "Where are you going?" "Well, I'm just waiting on God." "I'm just waiting for God to give me an answer." Well, in finding out where you ought to go, you always begin with prayer. In fact, every request, every desire of our heart, and every need should begin with prayer. That's where it all begins--asking God for permission. "Is this good for me, before I ask him for my desire?"--seeking to know his will about that need in my life. But that's the beginning of prayer. Prayer's not passive, prayer is an active involvement of the person in their relationship with God. And because Jesus Christ has come into our life, and because he's now become our life, we have this relationship with him, we have the right and the authority to come to him and make a request. But the request is only the first step. And so here's the student desiring to make the right choice about college. And so what does he do? Now not only does he ask the Lord to give him direction, but he orders some catalogs, he talks to some counselors, and then he begins to apply to two or three, knocking on the door to see if he can get in--to see if his grades are good enough. That's what prayer involves. For example, someone says, "Well, what I want is a deeper knowledge of the Word of God--I want a deeper understanding of the Word of God." And so you lay your Bible down and you start praying, "Lord, give me a deep understanding of the Scriptures. God, I want to understand your Word." Well my friend, you can pray all you want to pray. The only way you're going to get a deeper understanding of this Word is not only to ask, but to seek by getting into the Word of God, and that's not enough--you're going to have to knock on the doors of some Scriptures that are going to be very difficult to understand. And so all of us who've been in the Word at all know that you ask for the Lord's wisdom and directions and understanding. You seek, the understanding of that passage by comparing passage with passage, and you knock on the door--"good, what does this mean?" And you begin to read and you begin to study and you seek to listen to others and so you're asking and you're seeking and you're knocking. And so this is the process we're to go through. Now he says the requests we're to make, we're to make it by asking, seeking, knocking. He says now, here is the response you can expect. And what he's doing in this passage is really simply assuring us that our heavenly Father desires to answer our prayer, and will answer our prayer.

So I want to ask you again about your own prayer life, and if you had to rate your score one to ten, how would you come out on real genuine specific answers from God? One, one and a half, what about two?--three?--four?--seven?--eight? Nobody can say ten. That is, God does not answer every single thing the day we expect. (I'm going to come back to that in a few moments.) Though it's interesting, as best I read the gospels, nowhere in the gospels does Jesus ever discuss unanswered prayer. It's always answered prayer--"Ask and ye shall receive--if you should ask anything in my name I will do it."--"Ye shall ask anything in my name." And so Jesus in discussing prayer always alluded to answered prayer, because that is what he desires to do. And what he is teaching us here is this, the heavenly Father is ready to answer your prayer. And it's all very, very positive. You say, "Well, wait a minute. Is this a blank check that the Lord has given me, and simply said, 'Now all you have to do is ask--fill it in, and I'm going to answer it'--when he says "ask and it shall be given"? No, that's not what it means. But I want you to notice what he says here. What is the response you and I can expect? Notice that in both of these verses, he underscores the assurance of an answer. Now look, "Ask, and it shall be given you." That's a promise of Christ. "Seek, ye shall find." "Knock, it shall be opened to you." Then he turns right around in verse 8 and in a different fashion--all through those words in the first verse, are all commands in the imperative. In the 8th verse all participles, that is, he says, "Everyone who is asking is receiving, and seeking finding and to him who is knocking it is being opened. That is, God is in the process of answering prayer. That is his purpose. That's what all of this is about, to assure us that he will indeed answer our prayer. Now when he says "everyone" someone says "Well, what about every one?" Does that mean that anybody and everybody can ask, seek, knock and find? No. Because the whole entire Sermon on the Mount is addressed to the believers and followers of Christ. What he said about fasting and praying and meeting your brother at the altar and not being anxious and being happy about persecution, no unbeliever's going to understand that. That's totally oblivious to their whole way of life. That's totally foreign to their thinking. He's talking about his own children. And what he's simply saying is that when you and I ask, what happens? Something begins to happen when we ask and seek and knock. That is, there is a vital element in prayer that most people overlook. And what is that element? What he says in that 8th verse, he says (really the 7th verse likewise) "Ask, and keep on asking. Seek, and keep on seeking. Knock, and keep on knocking." That is, there is a continuation, there is a persistence, there is an endurance here. Now we don't just ask, and because things look difficult we stop and hang it up and we lay it down and we say, "Well Lord, I've asked you, you don't seem to be very interested, you don't seem to be listening, you don't seem to care. I've asked you for a whole month, nothing's going on, why should I keep on praying.?" That's why he puts it in these terms 'Ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking.' He is talking about steadfastness in prayer. And if you and I were honest today, more than likely, most of us would have to admit it is very difficult to bring something before the Lord that you believe that he wants you to do or he wants you to have, or some need, and you ask, and God is silent. And you ask, and look around and you don't see anything happen. This goes on for days, then it gets in for weeks, then it goes on for months. You say, "Why in the world would anybody want to keep on talking to God about something when you've asked him day after day, week after week, month after month and nothing has happened? Now, let's put it this way. You may not see anything happening. But Jesus said, "Ask, and it shall be given you." "Seek and ye shall find." "Knock and it shall be opened to you." Either Jesus Christ tells the truth or he doesn't. And you and I know that he does. And just because there is a lapse of time, a delay in time of our asking and our receiving does not mean that God isn't doing something or that he's not answering our prayer. So what you and I may ask is this. Why this emphasis on perseverance? Why does he say 'Ask and keep on asking?' 'Seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking'? Why this emphasis on perseverance here? Well, because God has built in, he has designed delays in the answer. So, because there is the delay in your receiving the answer you're looking for doesn't mean that God's up there scratching his head trying to figure out what to do. Nor does God sense some reluctance, that is, God isn't reluctant to answer prayer. 'Ask and keep on asking?' 'Seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking'? Why this emphasis on perseverance here? Well, because God has built in, he has designed delays in the answer. So, because there is the delay in your receiving the answer you're looking for doesn't mean that God's up there scratching his head trying to figure out what to do. Nor does God sense some reluctance, that is, God isn't reluctant to answer prayer, God desires to answer prayer! What does he say, "Ask, Seek, Knock." He says, "it will be given to you." "You will find it." "It will be opened to you. Just keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking, don't give up, don't stop, don't lay it down because the going gets rough, and your friends say to you 'Well, look, if God were going to answer your prayers he should have answered them by now--must not be his will.'" Now all of us have had to face that. We pray for a season, we don't see anything happening, so our conclusion is--must not be God's will. My friend, often times it is God's will, but there are built-in delays. Now why does God delay? One of the reasons he delays in answer to our prayers, something that would be evident to all of us, and that is--if God sees within us attitudes, if he sees in our lifestyle habits, if he sees within us those attitudes of disobedience, the spirit of rebellion or bitterness or unforgiveness or whatever it might be--what does God do? Does he just shut it all down? No. But he delays the answer for a certain while, because he's a good God and he knows that in order for you to become the person he wants you to be, you may need exactly what you're asking for. He may alredy have it on the rail, ready to send your way, but he cannot and he will not, until you are in a position spiritually to receive it. So one of the reasons he causes a delay is in order to get us to surface things in our life that are not right, to deal with them so that you and I can enjoy what God wants to give us. There are some things that I believe all of us ask for in life that God delays because he knows if he gave them at that specific time in our frame of mind, we would make the biggest mess of things imaginable, so he delays.

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