How To Pray
Scripture: Matthew 7:7-11
In the culture of today's Church, we often lack instruction on prayer. I have been involved in churches that have done little in the way of teaching Christians how to pray, as though they were expected to just know how they should. I have also been in churches that have been better in this regard. If you are not in a church where prayer is being taught and modeled, then consider whether you are supposed to be the one to teach and model it in your church. If not, perhaps you can find a mentor who will help teach you how to pray and have a more meaningful prayer life. Whatever the case, make sure that you pray in a biblical way. The problem with most interpretations of the passage in front of us today is that they are misunderstood, so that when people look at this passage, they often miss the point that Jesus was trying to say. So what was Jesus trying to say? Let's take a closer look and find out.
Jesus opens this section by stating that we should ask, and we will receive what we ask for. We should seek, and we will find what we seek. We should knock, and the door we are knocking on will be opened. As with the opening phrase of Matthew 7:1, many often stop here. As a result, many take this as a blanket statement that God will provide whatever they ask for or whatever they seek, regardless of what it is. This ultimately turns God into a giant genie whose sole job is to grant our wishes. However, this is not only in contradiction to the context of this passage, but it is also in contradiction to the nature of God as we see in the rest of Scripture. Even earlier, Jesus commanded his disciples to seek the Kingdom of God first and not to serve two masters (Matthew 6:19-24, 33). This passage must be understood in light of Jesus' earlier commands to his disciples. Our prayers should be focused on the will of God, because these are the kinds of prayers that God answers. We should not expect to ask for something contrary to God's will and expect God to answer such a prayer.
Jesus also specifies the kind of thing that we should pray for. Jesus does this by making an allusion to the kinds of gifts that fathers give their children. In the same way that fathers want to give good gifts to their children, so does God want to give good gifts to the disciples of Christ. This is despite the fact that mankind is evil because of the effects of original sin. God is good, so what God gives is far better than anything that any human being could give, and God delights in giving us good things. God does not delight in giving us anything that is not good for us. Thus, it is contrary to the will of God for us to ask for such things. We should never expect God to give us something that is not ultimately for our good. This leaves good things as the things that we should be asking for. But good by what standard? It seems to me that we should pray for what is good based on the only perfect standard of goodness--God himself. Understanding this passage in this way is also in line with other passages where Jesus teaches that we are to pray in accordance with the will of God. When we pray in accordance with God's will, we will be praying for good, and it delights God to grant such requests. Something is good when it accords with the will of God, and something is not good when it contradicts the will of God. God's goodness is inherent in him, and therefore everything that he wills is good.
All of this should be understood as a rebuke of those who think of God as a genie who grants (or should grant) every prayer request. If a parent would not give their child bad gifts, why should we expect God to? If we don't see our prayer answered in a particular situation, it should never be assumed that it is because God does not care. Rather, we should understand God's withholding of our request as a sign that he wants better for us than we want for ourselves. God is not in the business of withholding good from his children. He is in the business of giving them good things and keeping them from evil.
So, how should we pray? The short answer: In accordance with God's will. At that point, we will always be praying for good, and God will take care of the rest.