Surprised by Failure
What surprises you? A surprise is something unexpected, unplanned or unprepared for. In the matter of prayer or talking to God, the question is, are we surprised by failure or success?
The answer to this question gives you a good idea where your faith is at today.
- If I were to ask God earnestly for something, would I be surprised if it happened?
- If I were to pray for you and you were healed, would it surprise you or me?
- If God makes a promise and he keeps it, does that surprise you?
These questions address the issues of faith and prayer. To be surprised by an answered prayer is to say, I never really thought it would happen, I just kind of hoped. I remember reading a few lines in one of Dutch Sheets’ books about a small girl who was taught to pray for the missionaries who were from their church. She sent the missionary a letter, which said, “We are praying for you, but we really don’t expect anything to happen.” She may have been more honest than most.
As I have meditated on this issue of prayer and the prayerlessness of most of us, I wonder why this is such a great struggle – to pray. I do know that Satan and every demon in hell resist your prayer life. However, does it have something to do with what we believe?
It is this matter of faith. We do not believe it works. At a core level, we do not believe in prayer. Maybe, it’s because we don’t understand most of it.
For three weeks, I have been speaking about prayer. Yet even though I speak of it, read of it and study the Bible, I still have questions for which I do not have all the answers. Likely, I never will. You will too. Questions have always existed and will continue.
- Why do some prayers take a long time to get answered?
- Should I pray for pre-Christians to be saved? How much and how often?
- Spiritual warfare, I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Exactly how do you do that?
- Is everything in life the will of God?
- How much difference can I really make by praying?
E.M. Bounds, probably the most prolific writer on prayer, who wrote 10 books or more on prayer says:
God shapes the world through prayer. The more praying there is in the world, the better the world will be, the mightier the forces against evil… the prayers of God’s saints are the capital stock of heaven by which God carries on his great work upon the earth. God conditions the very life and prosperity of His cause on prayer.
I’ve quoted this one many times, by John Wesley:
God does nothing on the earth save in answer to believing prayer.
If something has happened or God has worked, someone prayed for it- knowingly or unknowingly. Prayer is not some religious exercise – it is a human necessity.
Let’s approach this scripture today as if we believe it. I know that may be a stretch for us, but let’s assume it is true.
Now Jesus said 3 things that based upon context, are all about prayer: Ask, Seek and Knock. These are not three unrelated verbs. They define 3 types of prayer. There are asking prayers, seeking prayers and knocking prayers. They follow Jesus’ parable about the friend at midnight. They are connected. The friend is caught in a bad spot, so he goes and asks. We are encouraged to do this, even if the issue is your fault. “I forgot to get bread”, but you can still pray about it. Some struggle with this. “It’s my fault, how can I ask God to help when I did it to myself?” We are encouraged to always approach God.
If we turn ASK into an acronym, it is A-SK S-EEK K-NOCK. The first is sincere praying, the second earnest prayer and the third desperate prayers.
First we look at the word “ask”.
Before you ever ask God for anything, consider what kind of God we are approaching. The Jews used to say many wonderful things about prayer to God.
“God is as near to his creatures as the ear is to the mouth.”
My neighbor has what I need. God certainly has what I need. There are his “riches in glory”. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, as the Psalmist wrote.
There are several words found in the Bible that are translated into the word “ask”.
Meanings vary: To speak out, to ask for something to be done, to pray to God, to want or need, to appeal to and this one means, to ask for something to be given. It is a subordinate asking a superior.
I am sincerely approaching the Lord who I understand has the authority and ability to give what I have asked for. This is my sincere request before God. Will I be surprised by success or failure?
Then we consider the meaning of “seek”. Prayer has moved up a notch here to “earnest prayers”. The matter is becoming more serious. More time is given. It is more serious to us. It is a command to do something in the future.
To seek for an answer is to become earnest about it. Anytime, when associated with God, “seeking” only has value when it is done with your whole heart. Put your heart into this. I do not mean your emotions. I mean fervently, strongly and purposefully.
Lastly we come to “knock”. Desperation has come to the prayers.
This is not done in the east. Before the door is opened, the one on the outside is questioned. Jesus says when your prayers get some desperation, some intercession, some burden attached to them – the door will be opened.
There are two kinds of knocking in the Bible: the pounding at the door and the respectful knock, which is the one used here. Never in persistence do we ever forget that it is the Lord, the Father. We approach Him with reverence. This would be understood in Jewish culture because the father was always highly respected. Not so today. People do not always respect their fathers, but to approach God the Father was to always hold Him in reverence, but nonetheless persistently. Intercession is focused, burdened prayer.
Remember, answers to prayer come both quickly and slowly, but they come. Something instant is called a miracle. Not all answers to prayers are miracles. Some things God answers over time and it is still an answer. If God shows you the way and you have to walk down that road, he has answered, but you have to walk that road to see His fulfillment.
In a microwave age where quick cook and faster Internet are the norm, we cannot wait for God. God show me beauty, show me now. But it takes God time to grow a rose. It takes God time to make something beautiful out of your life. When you pray for change, remember that change takes place in the span of time. Growth required time. Sometimes a prayer is answered by growth. At other times, it is a miracle.
Each verb found here is a continuous and repeated action.
- Ask and keep on asking.
- Seek and keep on seeking.
- Knock and keep on knocking.
Should I ever stop praying? Never, until you have heard God speak. If God wants to say “no”, he will say “no”. If God does not seem to answer, then keep on asking and keep on seeking and keep on knocking. There is one time when you may stop praying for something and it may be the right thing to do.
There was a young man who had been saved and was concerned about his alcoholic father. He used to come to early morning prayers. I would pray with him as we prayed for others. One day he said to me, “Can you pray for my dad? I’m really concerned about him.”
So we joined hands and prayed. Some kind of faith connection took place. We knew God had heard and the matter was taken care of. We had great peace! Neither of us ever prayed for his dad again. About 2 months later, one Sunday morning, his father who never attended church, walked into church. He sat down and at the end of the service came forward and was saved. We had an answer 2 months ago. The father lived a few more years and died, but he died a born again committed Christian.
When you make a faith connection – something happens that makes you sure that the answer, though you do not see it, is on the way. Then it’s time to rejoice, be at peace and praise the Lord. However, until that happens, you will ask, seek and knock.
Here are a few promises by the Lord to us:
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
As I read these promises, am I surprised if they work quickly or surprised if they work slowly?
Whatever you are dealing with – worries, struggles, temptations, job matters and problems at work, difficulties in business, issues with your staff or boss, have you prayed about it? We are told to place everything before God in prayer and thus eliminate worry, fear, frustration and discouragement.
Each promise may have to be asked for, sought for and maybe, knocked for.
However, according to the words of Jesus, pay attention to verse 10.
For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Faith is surprised by failure and never by the answer.