Summary: Jesus tells it like it is in the world of prayer, and in so doing He complicates things, and forces us to wrestle with the conditions for answered prayer.
The story is told of a Russian scientist who was found guilty of a
crime against the state. He was sentenced to a prison in the middle of a
desert. His cell mate was another scientist. He was determined to
escape, and he urged his cell mate to join him, but he refused. After
much planning he did finally escape, but the heat of the desert was
unbearable, and the lack of food and water plus in the inability to
locate another human being almost drove him mad. He was forced to
return to the prison. He reported his terrible ordeal to his cell mate,
and he responded, "Yes, I know. I escaped and failed for the same
reason." The scientist was beside himself with frustration and said,
"Why in heaven's name didn't you tell me what it was like out there?"
His cell mate replied, "I didn't want to be a negative thinker."
For lack of negative thinkers, that is people who will tell it like it is,
even when what is is not what we want it to be, there are masses of
people who, if they do not die in the desert of despair, survive with
weakened faith, and scars on their soul. The more I study, the more I
realize how absolutely vital it is that we listen to our Lord. He told it
like it was, and like it is, and like it shall ever be. Jesus tells us in all
honesty that there is a desert out there. He warns us of the dangers,
and does not shy away from being a negative thinker.
"Be careful," he warns as he opens this chapter. There are all kinds
of ways you can lose out and damage your relationship to God. The
paradox is that all of the areas of danger are good things. They are
things like giving, prayer, and fasting. You can do all these good things
in such a wrong way that they drive you from God rather than draw
you near to Him. This is not a pleasant reality for Jesus to lay on us,
but thank God for one who tells us of the dangers, and gives warning so
we can avoid them.
Most godly men will not give us such warnings, for they are fearful
of being negative thinkers. Jesus makes it clear that it is the truth that
sets us free, and truth covers a lot of territory, and it includes the dark
side as well as the light side. Only the whole truth will make us free. S.
D. Gordon was right when he said, "It is always bad to have the truth
hid from our eyes." This means that if there is a negative side to an
issue, it is bad not to think about it and be a negative thinker. I want to
focus on the negative truth Jesus tells us about prayer. There are
many books on prayer that will not tell you what Jesus tells you,
because they do not want to be negative thinkers. They hope by
avoiding the negative they will protect you from that side of reality.
But what they do is force you to learn about the negative the hard way,
and risk permanent damage to your faith.
Jesus will not do this, and that is why we must listen to Him, and test
all others by the light of His Word. You will have to read far and wide
on prayer to find anyone who comes close to Jesus in telling the
negative side of prayer. I see three major reasons why prayer is not
answered in the teaching of Jesus in verses 5 through 14.
1. First is the matter of motivation. You can pray for the wrong
reason, and when you do your prayer never reaches heaven at all. It is
a bird without wings.
2. There is the matter of misconception. You think that quantity is
what impressed God, and so by vain repetition you hope to storm the
gates of heaven. Jesus says forget it, for prayer is not magic, and God
is no machine.
3. There is the matter of missing mutuality. If you do not have the
same spirit as God does in forgiving others, do not expect Him to
answer your prayer for forgiveness. God's love is like electricity; it
will not flow in where it cannot flow out. You can't receive what you
will not give. Jesus promises us that if we refuse to forgive our prayer
for forgiveness will not be answered.
So Jesus tells it like it is in the world of prayer, and in so doing He
complicates things, and forces us to wrestle with the conditions for
answered prayer. What happens when we do not want to wrestle with