Audacious Prayer (Matthew 7:7-8)
When he got the invitation to Alaska, he didn’t even have to think or pray about it. His son loved to fish, and had always dreamed of traveling to Alaska to fish there. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make his son’s dream come true at next to no cost.
You know how these kinds of stories go. They got to Alaska, he spoke at the conference, and finally, it was time to go fishing. They traveled to the lake, and discovered that the boats were a little more than they had planned for – $300 U.S. There was no way they could afford the rental. They decided instead to wade into the lake and fish there. They didn’t have the right poles, they certainly weren’t in the right spot, but it was about the best that could be done under the circumstances.
His son had prayed that they would catch a big, huge fish. The father knew that this was a moment of truth. As a Bible teacher, he would have to explain to his son that God doesn’t always answer prayers the way that we think he will. It’s childlike, even audacious, to pray a prayer and expect God to answer it. How do you explain to a child why God doesn’t always answer our prayers?
Don’t you sometimes wish that Jesus hadn’t been so clear when he taught about prayer? He should have qualified his language more, been a bit more careful. The problem is that some people read what Jesus said about prayer and take him at his word. For instance:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)
“You didn’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I assure you, even if you had faith as small as a mustard seed you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” (Matthew 17:20-21)
“Yes, ask anything in my name, and I will do it!” (John 14:14)
Some people read what Jesus taught about prayer and really believe that he meant it. And preachers like me come along and try to explain that Jesus couldn’t possibly have meant that, that prayer isn’t that simple. Eventually we come to the place that prayer is more than asking, seeking, knocking, believing with simple faith. That’s why prayer services like today can become hard and tough, because we no longer believe what Jesus taught about prayer.
But maybe the boy is right. If we could get rid of two barriers to prayer, maybe we would begin to experience something closer to what the Father really intends. The first is that we made prayer about GUILT. I talked to a friend this week who’s just come out with a book on prayer. He said, “My goal was to write a book about prayer that doesn’t make the reader feel guilty.” What a great concept. A lot of times, we find prayer tough because we feel guilty about prayer. That’s a tragedy – to take something that the Father gave us as a privilege, as a way of growing into relationship with him, and to turn it into a source of guilt in our lives. If I ever get up and preach a message about prayer that makes you feel guilty, you ought to shoot me. Prayer isn’t about guilt, it’s about privilege.
The other barrier to prayer is that we’ve become TOO CAREFUL, too reserved, too safe. We no longer believe what Jesus says about asking. Without knowing it, we’ve reduced our prayers to what we think is safe. We’ve stopped really believing, so we make our prayers so small that even if God didn’t answer, it wouldn’t make a difference. We’re so scared of going out on a limb in our prayers that we only ask what’s under our control anyway. We shudder whenever anyone asks for anything audacious. We don’t feel free to be honest in our prayers.
I’m not here today to talk about why God doesn’t always answer prayers the way that we expect. That’s a different sermon. I am here today to say that we’ve somehow let prayer become too guilt-based and too careful, too safe for our own good. I’m here today to encourage you to make your prayers in the rest of the service become prayers of freedom, prayers of honesty, and prayers of faith.
Why? Because that’s how God invites you to pray. He wants you to come to him today, not because you feel guilty or obligated, but because he’s invited you. He wants you to experience the freedom and joy of a relationship with him.
He wants you to come with complete honesty. Why? Because God can handle your honesty. He can handle you right where you are. What kind of God is asking us to come to him in prayer? He’s the kind of God who gives us the example of a lifetime-liar wrestling with him, refusing to let God go until he receives a blessing. He’s the kind of God who included a songbook in the Bible containing brutally honest prayers. David was able to come to God and tell God exactly how he was feeling, to question God, even to challenge God. He’s the kind of God who included an entire book of the Bible – Habakkuk – about one of his prophets complaining and questioning God. He’s the kind of God who can handle you coming to him today in plain language, who can handle your questions, your doubts, your honesty. He invites you to come today just as you are.
He also invites you to come with faith. He invites you to come with big prayers, prayers that are beyond what you can do. He welcomes prayers from kids about fish, prayers that we would consider audacious.
I should tell you how the story ends. They continued to fish just off the shore, and of course, they didn’t have to catch fish. The father was trying to find a way to explain to his son why God doesn’t answer prayer, why his request wasn’t realistic. Just then, a boat appeared. The man in the boat invited them into the boat, and they were given real poles and were taken to the spot in the lake where the fish really did bite – a spot they would never have found by themselves if they had rented a boat. The boy did catch a huge fish, and better yet, the father was able to talk to the man about the kind of God they served – a God who heard the prayers of a kid and helped him catch a fish. When they returned home, he corresponded with that fisherman about God. God was able to take a kid’s simple request and turn it into an opportunity to change a life forever.
Today as you came in, you should have received a card. I want you to stick it in your wallet or purse, and pull it out occasionally to remind yourself what kind of God you’re praying to. “Ask when there is something you need. Seek when there is something you can’t find. Knock when there is something closed to you.” And I invite you today to join me in praying guilt-free, honest, even audacious prayers. Remember these words, written long ago:
Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For his grace and power are such
None can ever ask too much.