As a young pastor on the outskirts of Philadelphia, God gave me the good fortune of having a godly seasoned pastor as my trusted associate. His name was Al Johnson, and he believed in the power of prayer. Frequently, when the church was facing some kind of dilemma, I would walk down the hall to his office and say, “Pastor Al, I think we need to pray about this matter.” In jest he would grab the edge of his desk and ask, “Has it come to that?” Al, of course, was letting me know in his not-so-subtle way that prayer should be our first course of action, not our last resort.
The Bible is clear that we “have not because we ask not” (James 4:3). Have you ever wondered why God makes us ask before giving us stuff? He knows already that we have need of it. So why, then, should we have to go through this preliminary round of asking? I think there are at least four basic reasons.
First, asking recognizes our position. Seven different Greek words are translated “ask” in the King James Version. The particular word used in Matthew 7:7 suggests that the one asking is in a lower position than the one who is being petitioned. It is used of the priests asking Pilate to crucify Jesus (Luke 23:23), of subjects asking peace from a king (Acts 12:20), and of a child asking something from a parent (Matthew 7:9-10). Thus, when we ask something of the Lord, we are implying that He is over us. God would like for us to recognize His authority, and thus we are asked to pray.
Second, asking recognizes our poverty. Obviously, we would not be asking unless we sensed our need. The very fact that we are asking implies that we have a need. We are a needy people. Humans frequently have a difficult time admitting that they have needs. But all of us need the Lord. God asks us to pray in order to remind us of our need of Him.
Third, asking develops our persistence. The verb tense used in Matthew 7:7 implies continuous action. Keep on asking. God wants us to be persistent in prayer. In Daniel 10, the prophet had been fasting for three weeks. God had sent the answer to Daniel’s prayer on the first day of his fasting, but the answer took three weeks to get there. God sometimes delays the answer to our prayers in order to teach us persistence.
And finally, asking demands some particulars. So often we pray in vague generalities. We ask God to “help us have a good day” or “bless the missionaries.” Of necessity, however, we must at times get specific with God. God longs for us to ask him for the little things in life like, for instance, a parking space when we go downtown. God wants us to include him in the little areas of life because as G. Campbell Morgan keenly observed, “Anything we take to God is little.” As Tony Evans says, “Some of us will never know if we have heard from God because we pray so vaguely.”
So let us never fail to remember what it cost God for us to have access into the throne room. Let us never cease to marvel at the irrationality of the fact that God wants to hear from us. Prayer should be as natural to the Christian as breathing. Our spiritual life depends upon it. It really has come to that.