Summary: This message was preached near the beginning of the New Year on the topic of prayer to help our church see the importance of prayer and spiritual growth in the new year.

Living Large in 2016

“Learning to Pray Large”

Matthew 7:7-11

Let me start with a question this morning. What is the single biggest prayer request you have ever made? What is the biggest answer you have ever asked God for?

• Perhaps it was for healing for yourself or for another family member

• maybe it was to be delivered from a difficult decision or

• maybe it was for a big stash of money.

All of us have been in situations are places where we wanted to ask someone something and sometimes if were brave we would go ahead and we ask questions like:

• Hey boss, can I have a raise?

• Hey baby, will you marry me?

• Hey dad, can I borrow the car?

But for many of us we would just simply decide... Nope, I’m not asking. There are several things that keep us from making these requests.

[1] Fear of Rejection. We are simply afraid that the answer will be no. That we will be turned down flat. And here’s the thing... the greater the fear, the less likely we are to ask. Because no one likes to be rejected.

[2] Lack of faith or confidence. We see God at work in someone else’s life; we listen as they describe how God has answered their prayers and we think, I wish I had faith like that or I wish I could learn to pray like that.

[3] We think our request may not matter. Either it is such a small request and we think God has much bigger matters to tend to or it’s such a large request we think we don’t deserve it. Now if you have ever felt this way, if you have ever lifted a prayer to God and you felt like your prayer didn’t get any higher than the ceiling or you were afraid of being rejected or you felt you were important enough---then God has some words you need to hear. Listen.

Matthew 7:7-11.

There’s nothing that reveals more about a believer than his/her prayer life. How we approach God of what we’re willing to ask for shows how we view God. It is very similar to how a child will make a request on their father. So let me ask you this morning, how do you view God? Is He

• Gentle or harsh?

• Attentive or do you think he ignores you?

• Do you pray with assurance or with fear?

• Is he generous or is he a cheapskate?

• Does he show favoritism or does he treat all of us the same?

• Is he happy or is he angry?

There are three words here that become very important in this passage..... Everything is built around these three words. Ask. Seek. Knock. There is within this verse a suggested progression in prayer. Let me show you.

1st level. Asking. There’s some things that the need is so clear that we only need to ask for them. A man who has been stranded in the desert for a few days doesn’t beat around the bush... He says, “Can I have some water?” A man who hasn’t eaten in days simply says, “Can I have something to eat?” A man with pneumonia who cannot breathe simply says, “Can I have some oxygen?” When the need is this obvious, we know exactly what to ask for. So we do. We know our need and if we know someone who has what we need and if we believe that individual cares about us…then we ask. But there is also a second level.

2nd level. Seeking. Seeking is a deeper level of praying than just asking. Sometimes we doubt and James reminds us that is not the way to approach God. James 1:6-7. NIV. Paul also reminds us of a verse that has often helped me in my prayer life. “The Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groaning which cannot be uttered.” So when we do not know how to pray we say, “Holy Spirit, pray for me.” The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus lives forever to intercede for us….to pray for us.

I preach at funerals in our community; over 30 times a year for people I have never met. Often I tell those who attend a couple of things.

• Don’t ever tell someone that you know exactly what they are going through or feeling

• you are not those people

• no two circumstances are identical

However, we do need to recognize something here. There is someone who completely understands, someone who cares, someone who is patiently waiting for us to simply ask or look for his help. His name is Jesus. Seeking is a deeper level than asking. We’re not only asking, we are also actively looking for an answer.

3rd level. Knocking. Now we are asking, looking and we are pounding on the door... Because we want an answer to our request. When I was first learning to go out and share my faith door-to-door in my early 20s I was shy and afraid I would say the wrong thing, so I would kind of knock lightly on the door, you know the screen door, never use the doorbell, just tap lightly; the entire time saying to myself, “please don’t answer the door, please don’t answer the door.” That is not the kind of knocking he is referring to here. The word here is Kroo-o and means to strike, to beat the door with a stick to get in.

(beating on pulpit) Lord I have asked, I’ve looked, let me in Lord, I need an answer and I need it now. As I said, this is a deeper level of prayer and we need to learn to pray at this level. This level is very….

[1] Focused. Usually on one need. You’re not praying for all the lost people in the world---you’re praying for that one person who is lost and the burden you have for them just won’t let up. Because you want more than anything to see that individual come to Christ. Or you’re praying for healing for someone because you care so deeply about them. And when you go to God in prayer-it’s all you can think about. It’s focused.

[2] Persistent. This prayer doesn’t stop because it is not answered the first time. Or the second time. Or the third. This is when you’re basically saying, Lord, I just can’t take no for an answer. And I’m going to pound on the door until I get in. I’m going to push the door in if necessary. PUSH means to Pray Until Something Happens. If I don’t get in today, I’m coming back tomorrow. I’m going to pray until something happens.

Last summer when my mother became very ill I had gotten a call from family members----saying she had only a few hours to live. It was a Saturday. I said let’s do church tomorrow, then leave. And I prayed, Lord let me see her again. When we got there she had been moved out of ICU to a regular room. God answered my prayer. But it was painfully obvious she was very sick. Sickness unto death. It is hard to know how to pray. There’s a principle here that I have learned...

Prayer is not about getting what you want.

Prayer is about getting what God wants.

I knew in my heart her time was short. God was going to take her home. So I prayed, simply Lord, your will be done. Same prayer Jesus prayed the night before he was crucified. Take this pain away but whatever your will is let it be done! I was holding her when she took her last breath. Holding her as she stepped into heaven. When Jesus said if we ask anything in his name he will do it, this is what he meant-—once you learn to pray and ask for what I want to give you, I will do it every time! Prayer is not about getting what you want prayer is about getting what God wants.

[3] Prayer is confident. Now here’s where this confidence comes from. It comes from your theology. Your idea of who God is. Theology is simply how you think about God.

• Is he harsh or gentle?

• Does he pay attention?

• Is he generous?

• Is he good? The answer to all of these questions is yes. If I know those things for sure about him, that I can approach Him with confidence.

Look at verse 11.

A young man named Ben Hooper grew up in the mountains of Tennessee. His mother wasn’t married when he was born and that was a difficult matter at that time. Classmates made fun of him, called them terrible names. He said at school he would just go to recess by himself so they couldn’t pick on him. Said he felt like everyone felt that way about him. When he was 12, a new preacher came to his church. Ben would go in late and leave early so he wouldn’t have to talk to people. But one day the preacher prayed quickly and closed before he could get away and then he had to talk to them. The preacher said to them, who are you son? Whose boy are you? He said I felt this big, dark cloud weighing on me and I thought everyone is putting me down; now the preacher is to! But then the preacher looked down at him staring at him and began to smile and he said, wait a minute, I know who you are now! Yep, I see the family resemblance! You are a child of God. He put his arm around him and said you’ve got a great inheritance son. Now go out and claim it.

Ben Hooper said those were the most important words anybody ever spoke to him and he said I have never forgotten them. Ben Hooper grew up and he became the governor of Tennessee---he claimed what God had for him. You and I need to do the same. Pray. Don’t stop. Pray with confidence. Knock on heaven’s door until he answers. Pray knowing God will do what is best.