There was a moment the summer after my freshman year of college that completely transformed the way I perceived my prayer life. The occasion was a small prayer meeting for our city of Fort Wayne. Towards the end of the meeting, one of the young ladies in the circle prayed for us to grow in having a heart for the lowly, the looked down upon, and the poor. A great prayer. Yet I remember having a revelation as she continued praying. How often do I pray for something only to be absent in acting upon the very thing I prayed for?
In other words, it is very easy for me to pray and ask God to give me a heart for the the lowly in our community, yet not actually place myself in a homeless shelter to enact this prayer request. I want the heart for the lowly and the poor, but I don’t want to place myself in those places until I’ve received this new heart. But what if God’s economy in prayer is just the opposite? What if God grants me a heart for the outsider by placing myself among them in a soup kitchen? What if my prayers have a strong relationship with my own pursuit to act upon these same prayers?
Let us think of prayer like rain and our actions like seeds. We would observe that when the seeds are scattered across a field and the rains come, within time the same field bursts forth in an array of tulips, roses, lilacs, petunias, daisies, and daffodils. However, we would also observe that if we were to not sow seeds, the field would simply remain an open plain of dirt, even when the rains come. Over time grass may grow and some wild bushes may rear their heads, but the splendor of a field swelling with flowers will never amass. Just a patch of land that looks more like a backyard in Ohio, and those are not pleasing to the eye.
May it be that in praying for that which we do not put effort towards, we are expecting the rain to sprout that which we have not sown seeds in?
Let me be clear that I am not offering a works-based methodology of prayer. Any idea that our efforts, actions, or works hold the power or efficacy for prayer is contrary to Scripture. Our actions, like seeds, remain incapable of producing fruit unless the rains come and enable the seeds to sprout. Apart from the rain, the seed is as potent as a grain of sand. The seeds’ fruitfulness is dependent upon the rains; our actions’ fruitfulness is dependent upon prayer, for prayer places the power in God’s hands, not ours.
Let us now examine this claim in light of Christ’s teaching on prayer in Scripture.
Jesus on Prayer
In Matthew 7, Jesus is in the thick of his Sermon on the Mount and transitions to a short discourse on prayer, stating:
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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
Ask, seek, and knock. A staple passage on prayer, but has our familiarity with the text given us blindness to what Christ actually means by these three terms?
During the first three years of my Christian life, I assumed that Christ’s exhortation for us to ask, seek, and knock were simply three synonymous terms communicating the same core truth: we need to get before God in prayer and make our requests known to him. After all, he is a good God who, like a good father, loves to give good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:9-11). But I would argue that this is not a complete picture of Christ’s teaching, but a partial truth. For in understanding Christ’s counsel to ask, seek, and knock as merely three identical terms, we really only practice the first action Christ exhorted: asking.
If we begin to consider these three terms (ask, seek, and knock) as three distinct terms, the passage takes on a different perspective. Rather than reading Christ’s teaching to ask, seek, and knock as merely ask, ask, ask, we begin to perceive that Christ is teaching us to ask in prayer, to then seek God’s will, and finally knock in action.
The gospel is the framework by which we pray. Our prayers and actions are not divorced from one another, they’re married to one another. In Ephesians 2, Paul concludes that we who used to be dead in sin have been saved by faith in Christ and now walk in the good works that Christ has prepared for us. Paul compares our former life of sin and ruin to the new life in Christ by faith which results in good works. The dead man at the bottom of the lake of sin has since been resuscitated by Christ and now sprints about like a child through a field.
When we perceive the beauty of the gospel and Christ’s command to ask, seek, and knock, we begin to see that our prayers are the rain God sends upon the seeds of our actions.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised when we do not see much growth in that which we pray for when we don’t act upon the prayer in our own life. Take patience. It seems that God doesn’t just token me with a patient heart but rather places me in aggravating circumstances so that he can teach me to have a patient heart.
So if we’re praying for the salvation of our friend, let us pray and then go and share the gospel with them. Let us sow the seed of the gospel in their life and pray that the Lord would bring forth a rain to bring the seed to life.
May we marry our prayers with acting upon them. For our actions do not contain the power, but, like the seed, are enabled to sprout from the steady rains of God’s grace in prayer.