Something happened several years ago in my life; I remember exactly where I was when it happened. I can’t tell you the day, I can’t even tell you the month, but I remember exactly where I was and how it happened. I was in my office on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary when I was teaching there, and I was having a prayer and Bible study time. And after I had finished praying, and after I had closed my Bible, I looked out my window into the quad of our campus. It was a beautiful day; students were going up and down the sidewalks. And God began to bring two questions to my mind, and those two questions have changed my life.
The first questions was this: What would happen in my life if I prayed more and did other things less? I really believe the Lord just put that on my heart and my mind that day. What would happen if you prayed more and did other things less? Then I began to think about how that question could apply to different areas of my life: What if I prayed more and slept less? What if I prayed more, watched television less? What if I prayed more and read the newspaper or magazines less? I just began to ask, what would happen in my life if I did some other things less and started praying more?
That brought to my mind a second question, and that question was this: Is there any area of my life that would suffer if I prayed more? Now, think about that in your life. Is there any area of your life where you would be worse off if you prayed more? I began to think: Well, would I be less loving as a father if I prayed more? Would I be less effective as a preacher or a teacher or a student of God’s Word or a soul winner? Would I have less power to live my life for Jesus if I prayed more? Would I have less wisdom if I prayed more? Is there any area in my life that would suffer if I prayed more?
Of course, you know the answer. In every area of our life, in my life and yours, there’s no place in our life that would suffer–by the way, there’s no place in the life of our church that would suffer–if we prayed more. What would happen if I prayed more and did other things less? Is there any area of my life that would suffer if I prayed more?
As the Lord began just to sift those two questions through my heart, I made a commitment before God that day in my office, and that was to live my life by prayer. Not just to say, “Yes, I believe in prayer,” ’cause anybody would say that. Not just to pray from time to time, because most people do that. But instead, to become a man of prayer, to say, “Lord God, I want to live and move and have my being in an atmosphere that is saturated by prayer.” And I want to tell you something, and I don’t wa–I want to be absolutely transparent with you this morning: I know I’m not where God wants me to be in my prayer life, but I am so thankful that I’m not where I used to be in my prayer life, that He’s strengthening me and empowering me to pray.
God can transform the way you pray.
There was a power and a glory in the life of our Lord Jesus. You could see it in everything about Him. There was power in His life. He was untouched by sin and untouched by anything that would contaminate, a purity and a holiness in His life, power in His life. There was power in His touch. He could touch a lame man, and the lame man would walk. He could touch a blind man; the blind man would see. He would touch the deaf, and they could hear. There was even power in His voice. He could speak to the wind and the waves, and say, “Peace, be still,” and all of a sudden, His calm reigned over that lake. He could speak to those who were dead, and say, “Arise,” and the dead would come back to life. Power in the life and the ministry and the touch and the voice of our Lord Jesus.
But when His disciples came to Him on this day that we read about in Luke chapter 11, they did not come and say, “Lord, teach us to heal the sick.” They did not come and say, “Lord, teach us to calm the storms.” They did not come and say, “Lord, teach us to raise the dead.” They came to the Lord Jesus, and they said, “Lord, teach us to–” what? Pray. “Teach us to pray.” Because of all of the things they saw in the life of their Master that they wanted to imitate that day, they wanted to pray the way He prayed.
And so in Luke chapter 11, we see teaching from the Lord Jesus on prayer. At the beginning of this chapter, verses 1 through 4, Jesus gives us a pattern for prayer, what we often call the “Lord’s Prayer,” a model prayer to show us the things to pray for as we pray and how to approach the Lord in prayer. And then as we continue through this chapter, we see parables about prayer–and we’re gonna look at a couple of those as we go through today.
But I want you to look with me in verses 9 and 10 of Luke 11, because there, we find three very simple and yet life-changing principles for prayer. Stand with me as we read the Word of God together. Verses 9 and 10 of Luke chapter 11, the words of our Lord Jesus, who said this:
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.
Will you join me as we pray together? Father, thank You for sending Your Son Jesus to live a perfect life, to die upon the cross to pay for our sins, and then, Lord, to teach us how to live a life in fellowship with You. Lord, I pray that You would speak to us today and show us, Lord, how we can pray the way Jesus taught us to pray. We’ll give you glory and honor and praise for all that You do, Lord, for we pray this in Jesus’ name. And church, if you agree with that prayer, will you say amen? Amen. Thank you, and you may be seated.
Look there again with me in verse 9 of the text. Jesus says, “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.” Three very simple commands that Jesus gives us: ask, seek, and knock. You’ll notice they form an acronym: ASK–ask, seek, and knock. I have three points in my message today. Guess what they are. Ask, seek, and knock. I wish I could make it more complicated for you, but that’s all I can do. Ask, seek, and knock. I want to talk to you about each one of those commands because I believe, as you think about each one of those steps of prayer, that God can work in your life to transform the way you pray. So think with me about ask, seek, and knock.
Jesus commands us to ask.
First of all, Jesus commands us to ask. To ask means to pray with expectancy. Asking is praying and coming to God, knowing that He is your Heavenly Father, knowing that He loves you, knowing that He hears you, knowing that He cares about you, and simply coming to Him and presenting your request to Him. Jesus says, “I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you.” That word “ask” simply means to come to the Lord with your request. You don’t have to know King James English to pray. You don’t have to have a specialized vocabulary to pray. You don’t even have to know all that much to pray. All you have to know is that you have a relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ, that you’ve been saved, that God is your Father, that you are His child, and that you are coming to Him, asking, and asking with expectancy.
Look down in the verses that follow, in verses 11, 12, and 13. Jesus talks more about asking. Listen to what He says. He says:
If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!
And over in Matthew chapter 7, verse 11, there’s a parallel passage where Jesus says, “How much more will your Heavenly Father give good things when you ask Him!” You come to God asking, and He hears, and He answers.
So a little boy comes up to his daddy and says, “Daddy, can I have a piece of bread?” What does his daddy say? He might say, “No, son, you can’t have any bread; you’ll spoil your supper.” Or he might say, “Okay, son, here’s some bread.” Or he might say, “Son, wouldn’t you rather have a chocolate chip cookie?” He might say, “No,” he might say, “Yes,” he might say, “Hey, I’ve got something better for you,” but no loving father is going to look at his son, who’s asked him for bread, and hand him a round, brown stone that sort of looks like a piece of bread and say, “Here, kid, try sinking your teeth in this.” He might say, “Yes,” he might say, “No,” he might say, “I’ve got something better,” but he will never give him something evil when he asks for something good.
Jesus says, “If you then”–verse 13–“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children”–and by the way, all of us, compared to God and His holiness and His goodness, all of us are evil compared to Him, if we know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give to those who ask Him?
Can I just challenge you in your prayer life, learn to ask, just to come to the Lord and ask? And may I also tell you this? Don’t be afraid to ask big. Is there anything too big for you to ask God? Sometimes, we miss God’s best for our lives because we haven’t learned how to ask big.
A friend of mine, or a man that I know, by the name of Haddon Robinson learned what it meant to ask big. Dr. Robinson was serving as the president of Denver Theological Seminary, and he had been there for a short time, and they needed a new telephone system for the school. The one they had was just old and didn’t work well. So he went to meet with a businessman in town, somebody that knew him and knew the school, and had donated things in the past, and he went to him to see if he could get him to give some money for the telephone system.
And the man talked to Dr. Robinson and asked him, he said, “Well, how much is it gonna cost?” He says, “I think it’s gonna cost about twenty thousand dollars for the new system.” And the man said, “Well, how much do you want me to give?” Dr. Robinson said, “I’d like you to give a thousand dollars.” The man got out his checkbook, wrote a check for a thousand dollars, pushed it across the table to Dr. Robinson, and then looked at him and said, “You just insulted me.”
Dr. Robinson thought, “Oh, my goodness. I shouldn’t have asked for so much.” He said, “I’m sorry, it was too much; it was presumptuous. I shouldn’t — a thousand dollars is a lot of money. I really shouldn’t have come in here and just out of the blue asked you for a thousand dollars.” He said, “No, you needed twenty thousand dollars; you asked me for a thousand dollars.” He said, “Either you have underestimated where I am financially, and you’ve insulted me, or you have underestimated my generosity, and you insulted me.” He said, “You needed twenty thousand; you should have asked me for twenty thousand.”
And then he said, “Don’t ever be afraid to ask for the big thing, ’cause the worst that can happen is that you could get a no, and you may get what you’re asking for.” He said, “You needed twenty thousand; you should have asked me for twenty thousand.”
That day, Dr. Robinson walked out of that man’s office with a check in his pocket for guess how much money? One thousand dollars. He charged him nineteen thousand dollars to teach him a lesson that day.
Listen, God wants to teach us a lesson: to learn to ask big when we ask. There is nothing too great for Him. The Bible says, in the book of James, “You do not have, because you do not–” what? Ask. You come to God, and you ask Him. Too many times, we ask Him for crutches, when He wants to give us wings. We ask for little streams, and He wants to give us rivers. We ask Him for hills, when He wants to give us mountains. Don’t be afraid to come to Him and ask! Someone said, “You are coming to a King; large petitions with you bring, for His grace and power are such, none can ever ask too much.” There is simply nothing too big for you to bring to the Lord in prayer. Ask Him, and ask big.
And by the way, when I talk to you about asking big, I’m not talking about asking for a bigger house, or a better car, or a television screen that’s bigger, or a computer that’s faster, or a better job. I’m talking about bigger things than that. I’m talking about asking for God’s glory to be manifested in your life. I’m talking about asking for God to use you in a mighty way to make a difference for His kingdom. I’m talking about us, as a church, coming before the Lord God and saying, “God, give us the souls of lost men and women, and lost boys and girls, in this city and in this world, that we might glorify Your name.” We’re coming to God our Father, and we’re asking Him, so ask big. Pray with expectancy.
The Word of God tells us to seek.
Not only does the Bible tell us to ask: Secondly, the Word of God tells us to seek.
If asking is praying with expectancy, seeking means to pray with effort. When you seek, it means to pray with effort. Notice what Jesus says there in verse 9 again. He says, “Seek, and you will find.” Both of those words are effort words. Seek–that means to search for something. It means to hunt for something. It means to look for something and to pursue it until you find it. You know, God has not made us just to ask. He’s made us to seek, and seeking involves coming before the Lord with a simple question. Here’s the question: Lord, what can I do to be part of Your answer to my prayer? Some of you just need to write that down, because some of you are missing it at that point. You’ve been asking, but you haven’t been seeking. Seeking means saying, “Lord, what can I do to be part of Your answer to my prayer?”
Do you realize that nearly half of the bones in your body are found in your hands and your feet? God made us to act. He made us to do. He made us to seek and to find. Pray with effort. Seek–it’s the same word that Jesus uses over in Matthew, when He says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.” Seeking means coming to the Lord as you pray and saying, “Lord, what can I do to be part of Your answer to my prayer? Lord, I want my heart to be surrendered to You, and I want my life to be obedient to You, so that You can do in me what You want to do.” That’s a hard thing to do sometimes. Sometimes, we’ll ask and ask and ask, and yet we never truly seek.
Several years ago, when our son, Joshua, was just a little boy, we were in a toy store. And he saw this toy that he wanted–a little action figure–and for some reason, we couldn’t get it for him that day. He asked for it, and we said, “No, son, we can’t get it today, but we’ll come back and get it another day.” We came back, and that toy was gone. It was the only one, and it was gone. My son looked at me; he said, “Daddy, if we find that toy, do you promise you’ll get it for me?” I said, “Sure, I will.”
From that day, he was seeking that toy. Everywhere we went, he was seeking it. If we went to Target, he was seeking that toy. If we went to Toys R Us, he was seeking that toy. If we went to the Burlington Coat Factory Outlet–do you know they sold toys there? They do. He was seeking…that toy. But I noticed something: I noticed that he did not seek it everywhere.
Now, if you’ve ever been into a toy store, or the toy section of a store, you know that there are certain aisles–Joshua used to call them the “pink aisles.” They sell baby dolls and Barbie dolls on those aisles. Now, I want you to know, the toy that he was looking for was a very masculine toy; it was a macho toy, manly toy, would not ordinarily be found in the pink aisles, but I asked him, “Son, maybe, by mistake, they placed your toy in one of the pink aisles. Do you want to just go down the pink aisles and see if they might be there?” He looked at me, as though to say, “Oh, you silly man… You know a lot about many things, but you don’t know that a little, six-year-old boy will never go down one of the pink aisles. I will not be caught dead there.” And so we never did look on those aisles.
And I wonder if there might be some area of your life, some aisle of your life, and you’ve said, “Lord, now I’m asking You and I’m asking You to pray–I’m asking You in prayer to answer me, and I’m expecting You to answer me. But Lord God, now there are some aisles I won’t go down.” By the way, for some of you, that’s really literal. Some of you literally won’t walk down one of these aisles and just commit yourself to follow Jesus and to be a part of the fellowship of this church. And my prayer is that right now, that God is working in your heart just to take down those barriers, that you would say, “Yes, Lord, today I’ll come, and I’ll follow You.”
But for many of us here, there are other aisles of obedience that God is calling us to, and we’re saying, “Lord, I want You to answer this prayer, and I’m really asking You, but Lord, I’m not willing to go down those aisles.” “Lord, I want you to bless my marriage…but I’m not gonna forgive my husband. Lord, I’m asking You to put things back together, but I’m not gonna submit to his leadership.” Or, “Lord, I want You to protect my children, but I’m not willing to really lead them spiritually.” Or, “Lord, I want you to prosper me financially and take care of my needs, but I’m not interested in giving You the tithe, as You’ve commanded in Your Word.” Or, “Lord, I want to make an ‘A’ on this test…but I’m not gonna study.”
And until we step out in obedience, we’re really not seeking. If there’s some aisle, some area, some avenue of your life that you’re saying, “Lord, I’m asking You, but I won’t go down that aisle,” that one thing may be what’s keeping God from answering that prayer in your life. So Jesus tells us to ask, to pray expecting. He tells us to seek, to pray with effort.
He tells us to knock.
Then thirdly, Jesus tells us this: He tells us to knock.
Knocking means praying with endurance. Look with me again in verse 9 of the text. In the original language, every one of these commands is a continual command. In other words, Jesus is saying, “I say to you, keep on asking, and it will be given to you. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you.” Every one of them, continual action: Don’t just do it once; keep on doing it. But you know, the word “knock” gets that idea of continuing more than just about anything else, because when you knock, you don’t just do like that. You keep on knocking. You keep on knocking–at least if you want somebody to come to the door, you keep on knocking.
I was in New Hampshire several years ago with a group of students, and I was there with another professor. We were leading them to help start a new church in that area. We were going door to door, and we spent about eight hours or nine hours a day, for about eight days, just going door to door, all day long. And you knock on some doors, and they are mad that you have even come and knocked on their door. And you knock on some doors, and they’ll listen to you politely and then not express any interest. And you’ll knock on some doors, and they are thrilled to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. But you never know what’s on the other side of that door when you knock.
And so I’m going out with one of our students that morning, and as we’ve gone out, I’ve been sort of taking the lead. But we come up to a house, and I said, “Brother, I want you to be in charge on this one. You take the lead.” He goes up to the door, and he knocks. He said, “I don’t think anybody’s home.” Is that how you knock on something? Is there anything you can find to knock on? Just knock on something. Show me how you knock. And if you know somebody’s on the other side of that door, you keep on knocking. I would go and visit my 86-year-old grandmother, before she went to heaven, and I’d come to her door, and I’d knock. I know she’s in there. I am her only grandson. If I leave without her seeing me, she’s gonna be disappointed. And I just kept on knocking until she came.
Now listen, God is not arthritic. God is not hard of hearing. He could come to the door the instant you do that, or even before. But sometimes, in His wisdom, in His providence, in His love, and in His grace, He leaves us…standing at the door, knocking.
Some of you are here today, and you’ve been knocking about something for weeks, months, or even years. “Lord, my husband needs to get saved. Lord, save him.” “Lord, my wife is sick, and every morning, she’s suffering.” “Lord, I’ve got this teenage daughter, and she is so far away from where she needs to be today.” And the Devil will come and whisper in your ear when you’ve been knocking and say, “Why don’t you quit? Every time you come to Sunday school class, it’s the same request, week after week after week. They are tired of hearing it. Why don’t you quit?” Aren’t you glad Jesus says, “Keep on knocking”? Just keep on knocking. Just keep on knocking. Some of you have given up praying about someone or something today, and right now Jesus is just speaking to your heart and saying, “Keep on knocking.”
Look with me, up in verses 5 and 6 and 7 and 8 of this same chapter; Jesus tells a parable about knocking. He says:
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”?
Jesus says, “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.”
Jesus promises to answer when we pray.
This is a strange parable that the Lord told. Three characters in it: One character I call the “weary traveler.” He’s been traveling all afternoon. Now it’s midnight; he comes to the home of someone he knows, and that person opens the door. And here we meet the second character: I call him “the persistent friend.” When the persistent friend sees the weary traveler, he knows that he’s supposed to bring him in the house, give him a bed to sleep in, and give him some food to eat before he goes to sleep. That’s what custom and culture and everything else says he’s supposed to do. And so he has no trouble giving him a place to sleep, but he doesn’t have any bread to give him. And so he goes, maybe next door, maybe two doors down. He goes to somebody else in the village, and he knocks on the door.
And here we meet the third character, and I call this character “the grumpy neighbor.” The grumpy neighbor is asleep inside his house; it’s midnight. It’s a little two-level house. There’s a lower level where they live and the kitchen is and all that stuff, and then there’s an upper level. There’s a little fireplace there, and he and his wife and kids are all lying on the ground, sleeping around that fireplace. And he hears the persistent friend knocking, and he says, “Go away, man. It’s the middle of the night. We’re asleep in here.” And the persistent friend says…and the grumpy neighbor says, “Man, you’re gonna wake up everybody in town. You’re gonna wake up all my family. Will you please go away?” And the persistent friend says… And so what does the grumpy neighbor do? He gets up out of bed. He tiptoes around his wife and kids. He goes into the kitchen area, grabs some loaves of bread, walks over to the door, lifts up the latch, sticks the bread out, and says to the persistent friend, “Here, take your bread. Go away. Leave me alone.” End of the parable.
Here’s my question: in that parable, who represents God? And the answer is the grumpy neighbor. Look in that parable again. They grumpy neighbor represents God, and the persistent friend is that guy who just keeps on knocking. Now, God is not telling us that He is like some grumpy old guy, and you have to badger Him to death to get Him to do anything for you. But here’s what Jesus is saying: if a grumpy old guy, in the middle of the night, will give his neighbor some bread because he keeps on knocking, then how much more will your Father in heaven, Who loves you with all of the love of His heart, how much more will He answer when you persist, and you endure, and you keep praying? Pray with endurance. Don’t give up. Keep on knocking.
Ask–that’s praying with expectancy. Seek–that’s praying with effort. “Lord, what do You want me to do, so that I can be a part of Your answer to my prayer?” Knock–that means keep on. Keep on. Keep on praying; don’t give up. And when you do that, Jesus promises an answer. Look with me again in verse 10. The Lord Jesus says, “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Our Lord Jesus promises to answer when we pray.
There was a grandfather playing a game with his granddaughter. He said, “Honey, I’ve got a quarter hidden in my hand. If you can find it, you can have it.” His granddaughter said, “Well, show it to me.” He said, “No, you find it.” And so he took one hand and held it out, and he had his hand in as tight a fist as he could make. And she said, “Well, open it.” He said, “No, you open it.” And so she began to peel back each one of his fingers, every finger. He made it just as tight as he could…no quarter in that hand. And he held out his other hand, and she began to peel open each one of those fingers. And there, tucked between his thumb and his index finger, was that quarter, and he gave it to his granddaughter.
Why did he do that? I mean he was going to give her the quarter anyway; why did he hide it from her and make her go through so much effort to get it? Well, there are a number of answers. Maybe he wanted to see if she would listen to his instructions. Or maybe he wanted to see if she trusted him enough to keep looking. But really, neither of those are the real answer. The reason he hid that quarter in his hand and made her open each finger was because he wanted his granddaughter to hold his hand.
There are a lot of reasons that God tarries in answering a prayer. Sometimes, He’s teaching us to appreciate the answer more. Sometimes, He is changing our prayer, so that our heart lines up with His heart. Sometimes, He is seeing if we will obey Him and trust Him as we pray. But every time you pray, God is teaching you how to hold on to His hand and to walk through your life with Him. Ask, seek, and knock.
Stephen Rummage is Senior Pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Florida