In this episode we will be exploring the topic of Vigilance, specifically persistence in prayer according to the will of God.
Yeshua stated it this way:
“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.” Matthew 7:7-8
In his saying here is an aspect of continual, persistent activity: always keep asking, knocking, and seeking in order to receive, have doors opened to you, and to find what you’re searching for.
Vigilance can be defined as concentrated focus over long periods of time during which one is continually striving toward a target objective. It is in this sense that Yeshua is explaining how continued and prolonged effort is required in pursuing the things of God, and in the practice of pursuing God himself in prayer.
Persistence in any endeavor will always provide the benefit sought for, but even more so when we continue in prayer for the things that God would have us pray for.
Now, admittedly, consistent and intentional prayer is something that many of us, including myself, struggle with on a regular basis. When I have listened to sermons on prayer or read about prayer life practices in general, most of the time the individual relays the personal struggles they face in the practice of prayer.
Why does it seem so difficult? For me at least it has been mostly because I haven’t understood the mechanics of prayer and how it works. Perhaps this is a similar challenge for some of you, as well. Our logical minds are fixated on pigeon-holing God into some sort of descriptive prison so that we can then know how to poke and prod at him to understand how he operates.
For example, if God is sovereign, and he already knows what we would pray for before we pray it, then why bother? Does he really need us to pray before he acts in any situation? Can we somehow change God’s mind by praying? All of these types of questions can flood the mind and make any attempt at prayer unfruitful.
Among believers there are several different views of God that can affect how we choose to approach him in prayer.
There is the “total control view” which sees God as knowing everything about everything everywhere, at all times. Every atom of every living or inert thing is positioned exactly as he desires at every instant. The path of each life is mapped out before it even starts, and it will not waver at any given time. If this is an individual’s perspective, then why pray if God already has everything planned out for all time?
At the opposite extreme there’s the “prayer controls everything” mindset which states essentially that God is unable to do anything unless and until his people pray for it. This, essentially, becomes and idolatrous view of prayer, where God is essentially inert in a situation until someone prays for his involvement in a specific way, then he can act. In this view, God is subservient to the person praying.
Another perspective perhaps midway between these extremes is the “dynamic involvement view” which holds that while God is in control of all things, he is still involved in all aspects of his continually unfolding creation, moving things here and there to modify his plan as it moves through time, ensuring that everything ends up where it needs to be in the end. In this view, prayer would seem to have more effect than in the total control scenario, because as situations are “live” and haven’t been cemented into place yet, there is still an opportunity to perhaps persuade God of a specific outcome.
These descriptions of God’s activities are all wide generalizations with differing emphases, when in reality I believe these views are more like definitions on a spectrum, with individual beliefs falling anywhere in between various aspects of these descriptions as far as what they believe about God. The reason this is possible is because Scripture can be called up to support each of these differing views to varying extents. So, in a sense, they are all kind of true while not being exclusively so.
So what are we to make of all of this messy theology?
What I’ve learned is that while God is definitely in control of all things, he allows us to be involved in the outworking of his creative actions. He has allowed man the privilege of co-ruling and co-reigning with him in his Creation; that’s what the story of Adam and Eve is all about. Somehow, and I don’t know how, and nobody can explain this fully, but somehow God is totally sovereign and in control of everything, yet he still allows us genuine free will, not imagined or illusory. He is is not in any way constrained or obligated by anything we say or do, yet he still chooses to be responsive to us and our needs on a personal level.
This has been a huge personal revelation for me, because it demonstrates that the sovereignty/free will issue is not an either/or proposition, but a both/and reality. God desires to have a real sense of intimacy with the individuals of his Creation, but he is in no way beholden to them. If he chooses to enter or create a covenant relationship, he is free to do so and he will be faithful to that. In a similar way, if we choose to believe him or not, we are free to so. Quite honestly, a relationship with God is the freest relationship we can ever experience.
Yeshua understood this type of relationship with God because he encouraged believers, in fact expected them, to be involved with God on an intimate level, just as he was. Yeshua was absolutely clear that God desires us to confide in him, to rely on him, to trust him, and to do so continually.
John 17:11, 21-22 I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one. … that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one –
That’s a level of intimacy that should be a common occurrence with all believers, especially since Yeshua prayed that that would be the case with his followers.
So with this understanding that God desires his people to pray, and with Yeshua’s clear directive for perseverance in prayer, let’s take a look at some other aspects of prayer that we can glean from Yeshua’s teaching in other contexts.
To further understand aspects of prayer, we might consider what Yeshua taught about it within the various contexts of his teaching.
Prayer is EXPECTED of God’s people
Matthew 6:5-7 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites…
“But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
“And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Luke 18:1 Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart…
Notice Yeshua mentions repeatedly, WHEN you pray. This is not an option for those who claim to believe in the one true God. He teaches that people should always pray and never give up. Yeshua assumes that prayer is a standard operating procedure for his followers, and he is simply guiding them in specifics. We should pray to the Father, we should pray privately, we should pray simply, and we should pray with perseverance.
If Yeshua taught that people should pray, then his view of God is one in which prayer is significant and has real value, and we should take that to heart as well.
Yeshua also taught that prayer CHANGES OUR VIEW OF OUR ENEMIES
Luke 6:28 “bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.”
I’ll be honest, those are the hardest people to pray for. Nobody enjoys having to deal with people who curse them or who use them and abuse them. Yet, Yeshua directs that those who are antagonistic or overtly hostile towards us are especially those whom we should be praying for. We should speak well of them (which is what blessing them is) and be kind to them, praying for their well-being. What? Why would this even be a thing that he asks of us?
For one thing, this type of perspective removes emotional animosity and allows us to endure strife, but it also has the ability to change their perspectives and their lives depending on how God chooses to. When you react to animosity and oppression in ways that are not expected, it can have a profound impact on those individuals. His kingdom is one in which all should be made to feel welcomed; in so doing, many hearts are changed.
Yeshua relates that prayer also helps us OVERCOME TEMPTATION
Matthew 26:41 “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed [is] willing, but the flesh [is] weak.”
Luke 22:46 Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”
This is real-time help when we need it, not some idealistic goal to hope to attain at some point in the future. Yeshua is relating that prayer provides real help in the very time and moments when we are tempted. If God is not involved in real-time, then Yeshua is relating a falsehood about the effectiveness of prayer. By viewing these characteristics of prayer, we can come to a better understanding of God, and how he chooses to work within his creation.
Prayer STRENGTHENS OUR FAITH IN GOD
Mark 11:22-24 NLT – Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, in all that you pray and ask for, believe that it is laid hold of; you will see it happen.
These verses are the favorites of the “name it and claim it” crowd, those who believe that as long as they have enough faith and believe strongly enough in their desire, it will come to pass. This is the error of the Secret, or the Law of Attraction crowd.
Generally speaking, they take this verse to essentially mean that whatever you truly believe in your heart, or whatever you “speak into the universe” will come to pass and be manifested in your life.
The problem with that is that meaning can only be true if you pull this passage completely out of its biblical context. I mean, you need to physically tear this passage completely out of the Bible and have it stand on its own to try and force that meaning into it. Nowhere else in the Bible is that type of mentality taught or instructed.
We know that can’t be the meaning of this passage, because it starts off with the words “have faith in God,” not “have faith in whatever you’re choosing to manifest.” Right there is an indication that something is off when this wrong interpretation is drawn from this passage.
To understand this passage correctly, this teaching has to be taken within the context of the Bible as a whole.
To have faith in God is to understand the nature of God from his word. And in his word, God is sovereign and his will is always accomplished.
1 John 5:14-15: “This is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he listens to us. And if we know that he listens to us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him.”
John’s teaching helps clarify this concept for us in a huge way. Essentially having faith in God, we understand his will from his word, and when we ask anything according to his will, of course it will come to pass. So these are the things that we should be believing for to come to pass in our lives and the lives of those around us: those things that are within the will of God.
Romans 8:26-28: “In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weaknesses, for we don’t know how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can’t be uttered. He who searches the hearts knows what is on the Spirit’s mind, because he makes intercession for the saints according to God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.”
The idea that prayer has real consequences again intimates that God is active within his Creation and desires us to exhibit faith in him when we pray. When those consequences come to pass, it strengthens our faith.
Most importantly, Yeshua teaches us about PERSEVERANCE IN PRAYER. When we persevere in asking God, we are more apt to be positioning ourselves within his will, because our continual focus is our dependence on, and fellowship with, him.
Yeshua highlights this through the famous “ask, seek, and knock” passage that we started off with here in Matthew 7:7-8
“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.”
So, what should we be asking for, what should we be seeking, and where should we be knocking?
Interestingly, Yeshua has provided those answers for us within the context of his teachings.
Matthew 6:8-13 …your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. So then, this is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
This is the primary thing we should be asking for, God‘s kingdom to come on earth. And of course he authorizes other things in your life that are according to God‘s will such as our daily provision, forgiveness, and avoidance of temptation.
We are to ask for his holy Spirit
Luke 11:13 KJV – If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall [your] heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
Praying for God‘s holy Spirit is really a prayer for his presence in our lives.
What about seeking?
Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.
Again, the kingdom of God should be front and center in all of our praying. And we should be seeking his righteousness, which is doing the right thing according to his word. I’m hoping through all of these examples you can see the pattern emerging how closely prayer is tied to understanding God‘s word.
So that’s the asking and seeking aspect that Yeshua teaches us about. What about knocking?
Now the knocking is a little more subtle and obscure, but where this word for knock is used in other passages, I think a beautiful picture about prayer emerges.
Luke 12:35-36 “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks.
Revelation 3:20 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.
Both of these images involve a knocking and a welcoming in when the door is opened. Both of them involve the guest coming in to a prepared meal or feast.
If the context of the ask seek and knock is all about prayer, then it’s as if Yeshua is saying that when we knock on God’s door in prayer, the door WILL be opened and we will be welcomed in to share a meal with him. And of course sharing a meal is the Hebraic equivalent of fellowship, and honestly intimate fellowship.
Putting this all together, when we ASK for God’s kingdom to come, when we SEEK God’s kingdom first, then when we KNOCK on God’s metaphorical door in prayer, we will be received with open arms and welcomed in to a bountiful table.
And when our prayer life is saturated with the kingdom mentality, it prevents us from asking amiss for our own selfish desires, as James relates:
James 4:2-3 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong–you want only what will give you pleasure.
The outline of persistent prayer that Yeshua gives us here in Matthew 7 ensures that our prayer life stays focused on the kingdom. All of the imperatives in this passage convey continuity and persistence: keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking. This vigilance in prayer will provide a continual stream of opportunity for aligning with and expanding God’s kingdom.
It is this process of constant pursuit of the kingdom that branches into new possibilities. These can then open up into unforeseen (by us) directions of God’s will, thereby achieving his purpose. Remaining static and hoping that God’s will drops into our lap is not the biblical way. It is only as we remain consistently searching and moving that we can then be drawn and directed into the areas of growth that God has for us according to his will.
Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. We need to keep in mind that many will pray and then do nothing more; true believers are expected to keep asking for the kingdom to be manifested, to keep searching for kingdom opportunities, and to keep close fellowship with God in prayer in hopeful anticipation of accomplishing God’s direction and purpose in this life.
If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.