Go To Your Room! ~ October 14, 2018 ~ Matthew 7:7-12
The world is soon going to come to an end – you do know this, right – because of plastic straws. So, get all your affairs in order, because plastic straws are going to be the bane of society. I just found it interesting that plastic straws are going to fill up our landfills and you know, cause the world to come to a quick and easy end, and yet I went to Burger King last week and got a ten piece nugget for $1.69 and a bottle of water, that’s it. And they gave me twenty napkins! I just kind of had to laugh! That’s like two napkins for every nugget! Straws are a real fear, but we can fill up our landfills with twenty napkins for nuggets. I just thought that was cute.
This month, we are in chapter 7 of the gospel of Matthew, which is the third chapter of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (that’s a fancy way of saying the Sermon on the Mount; Sermon on the Mount covers chapters 5, 6, and 7). Last week we talked about how we are not supposed to judge outsiders, non-believers. That is not the role of the church, that is God’s job. However, we are supposed to help each other, as brothers and sisters in Christ, by holding one another – inside the church, not outsiders – accountable. Accountable to the promise we all made when we became believers – to follow him and to be faithful to his word. So, we are supposed to love each other enough, care enough that when we see a brother and sister heading down the wrong path, or perhaps heading for a cliff, or heading for Niagara Falls, whatever it is, that we would say something. We would not just stand by and say, well, it’s his decision to make, it’s her decision to make, as we watch them slowly destroy themselves for whatever reason (maybe with an addiction, maybe with a poor decision in a relationship, whatever it is). We have signed on the bottom line as Christians to hold each other accountable. That’s not judging the person, that’s making a judgment on the behavior that they’re displaying at the moment, and you care enough about them to say something. Wouldn’t you say to a child if you’re going camping and there’s a little campfire, “Don’t get too close, don’t stick your hand in the fire, you may get burned?” Well, when we grow up, we still need that. So, that’s what we talked about last week.
This week we pick it up in verse 7. If you would, please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the word of God. Let us pray together.
Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
We begin in chapter 7, verse 7:
“Keep on asking [Jesus says], and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
Now, I think sometimes over the years we have misunderstood what Jesus is saying here (we do that a lot). We feel like as long as we are pests, as long as we continually ask for the same thing, we’ll eventually wear him down and we’ll get what we want. That’s not what Jesus is saying here. For instance, why does he tell us to keep on asking? You’ve all been in a supermarket checkout line, have you not? What is in the supermarket checkout line? Candy and gum! Why? Because kids like it! And you’ve seen a kid I’m sure (certainly not one of your own, but some other strange child) throw an absolute fit because they want a Zagnut Bar, or whatever. (That may date me a little). An Almond Joy! And oftentimes to not make a scene or to keep the temperature low, mom or dad will give in. So, we learn at a very early age, persistence pays off! That is not, I do not believe, why Jesus tells us to keep on asking.
Why does he tell us to keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking? I think it’s found in the next verses, verse 9:
“You parents – if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matthew 7:9-11)
You know, if you know how to treat your children, certainly God knows how to treat his. I mean, parents, look – even if you’re not a parent – you know candy before dinner is not a good idea, right? Look, I know we love our kids. I know we all do – some days more than others – but we do. We want the very best for them. We want them to have all the things that we didn’t have; all the advantages we didn’t get, all the stuff that our parents couldn’t afford to get us.
I mean, times have changed to such a great degree. Do you remember when “Go to your room!” was considered a punishment? Today, kids’ rooms are more like Epcot Center, between computers, and iPads, and iPhones, and high-speed internet, and the X-Box, and a 40 inch flat screen TV with surround sound… how is this punishment! I mean, when they get tired of playing Fortnight and Minecraft and wearing their 3D virtual reality goggles, they can binge-watch Peaky Blinders, The Handmaid’s Tale, or Jack Ryan on Netflix or Hulu. If they get bored they can text, or skype, or Facetime their friends. And if they need anything, apparently there’s this girl named Alexa you can just ask and she’ll send it to you! That doesn’t sound like punishment to me. Heavens to mergatroid! How did they get all that cool stuff? … oh, yeah, I remember now.
I understand, we want our children to have all the things we didn’t have, we don’t want them to have to struggle. We don’t want them to go without. Our parents didn’t want that for us, we don’t want that for our kids. We don’t even want our kids to experience pain or loss, or the pain of loss, meaning losing. We want to shield them from the agony of defeat. That’s why in so many places now we do not keep score at games anymore! We just want our children to have fun, just like it is every day in real life!
I do think this is going a little too far. Amongst this youngest generation, we have produced what some are terming “snowflakes,” meaning when a snowflake hits the tar, it just kind of melts. Now it seems like any adversity, any challenge, anything that doesn’t go their way, they completely melt down and they can’t handle it. Some young adults are shocked when they discover that after a lifetime of everybody getting a participation trophy, that real life is far different, and it overwhelms them. That’s mostly our fault. We wanted the very best for our children because we love them, but candy before dinner is still not a good idea, and sometimes no is the right answer.
Sometimes no is the right answer, and that’s – I believe – why Jesus tells us to keep on asking. Because on occasion, we act like that child in the supermarket. My mentor (he’s passed away now, Reverend Carlson) was famous for saying, “you know what, there’s no difference between children and adults whatsoever, they both want the same thing – their own way.” And that’s true. The truth is, sometimes with our prayers as well, no is the right answer. Not the one we want to hear, but there are only three ways to answer a prayer, and God answers all prayer: no, yes, not yet. And if it’s not yet, there’s a reason for it. Something we have to learn.
Have you ever thought that maybe the reason that Jesus isn’t answering us right away is because we’re no longer children, and we need to learn something. Perhaps the more we question, the more we learn that we’re not asking for the right thing. It says here, ask and you shall receive, keep on seeking, keep on knocking, we’re at that door and Jesus isn’t answering it, because there’s something on the other side of that door that we have yet to learn, that we have yet to figure out; and once we do, he’ll answer the door, open the door and let us in.
Upon reflection, personally, I can confess that over the years I have prayed for a lot of juvenile things, when I wasn’t a juvenile, because there is no difference between children and adults. We just both want our own way. Adam and Eve, they had it all. It wasn’t enough. They wanted an Almond Joy, or an apple, or whatever fruit it was. Abraham and Sarah – sometimes I feel bad for Abraham and Sarah, because man, they waited a long time – God promised Abraham he would have a son, and all of a sudden Abraham wakes up one day and he’s a hundred, and he’s got no kids. When our prayers don’t get answered the way we want, as quickly as we want, sometimes we fall into the sin of rationalization. We’ll start figuring it out ourselves. And that’s what Abraham and Sarah did, he said, “Well maybe God is going to give us our son by me sleeping with the handmaiden, Hagar! Yeah! That’s it, let’s do that! Let’s give God some help!” God doesn’t need any help, ok? Eventually Sarah gets pregnant and has the son Isaac that he promised. So, I do cut Abraham and Sarah some slack, that was a long time. But the reality is, we want our own way. God was having them wait, for whatever reason, a hundred years, because they weren’t asking for the right thing.
How did Jesus pray? Well, remember when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed. Matthew 26:39 says this:
“My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me…”
Jesus didn’t want to get tortured. He didn’t want to get whipped. He didn’t want to get nailed to a cross. Who does? So he asks, Lord, if there’s any way besides this that this can happen, I’m all in. However, he ends his prayer:
“Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:39)
And that’s the key. That is sometimes what we forget. Our prayers need to be more like that. Lord, I really want (fill in the blank), or I really need (fill in the blank), but I trust in you. I believe in you. I recognize that you are sovereign. You are omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent. You are God almighty, and I understand that if sinful people like me know how to give good gifts to my children, how much more will you, my heavenly Father, give gifts to those who ask you. I’ll get it. I’ll get there eventually. I’ll get to a point where I’ll be asking for the right things. It may take a while, but I’m working on it. That’s not my default setting yet. I, like everybody else, tend to treat God like Santa Claus. I make this list of things that I want, and then I hope that I’m not on the naughty list, but that I’m on the nice list. And I think that as long as I’m on the nice list, he’ll bring everything that I want and he’ll put it under my tree. God is not Santa Claus. There are some conditions around answering prayer. We’re going to talk about those in a minute. I don’t get it completely, Lord, but when I do get it, when I do finally understand what I’m supposed to be praying for, how I’m supposed to be praying, I know that you will answer me, fully understanding that even when I ask for the right thing, sometimes the answer is still no. I have to trust you. I have to believe that if you said no, there’s a reason for it.
How many times do we say no to our children, and then we try to come up with a reason? No, because… Then finally we use the words I swore I would never use as a father: “Because I said so!” I promised I was never going to do that to my kids! I’ll explain to them every single time! That didn’t last very long at all. As soon as they got into the why stage. Why? Why? Why? And eventually you say, “Because I said so!” Well, you know what? I need to trust that sometimes God says, “Just because. You wouldn’t understand it. You don’t have the capability to get it. You’re not going to figure it out for another ten years, but the answer is no. Trust me.” We want our children to trust us, we need to trust our Father as his children.
Now, I personally do not think it was accidental – I don’t think anything in Scripture is accidental – but I specifically don’t think it was accidental that right after all this talk about prayer… he’s preaching about prayer. Remember, this is about Matthew. Matthew was a tax collector, which means he has that gift of shorthand. He is writing down word for word like a transcription in a courtroom of the words Jesus is preaching here in the Sermon on the Mount. Right after he talks about prayer, he heads into verse 12:
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
We know that as the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Why does he talk about that right after he’s talking about prayer? Wild! It’s as if Jesus is saying, “I’m not even going to listen to the prayers of a hypocrite.” That stands to reason. I mean, Jesus says in the previous chapter:
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14)
What right do we have to expect the Lord to forgive us when we are unwilling to forgive those who have sinned against us? Because how often have we sinned against him, and yet we still expect him to forgive us. But we won’t forgive others with the same love? That’s hypocritical! We’re supposed to do unto others as we would want them to do unto us. If we are not doing unto others as we would want them to do unto us, maybe he’s not listening.
God says through Peter, specifically to husbands:
You husbands must give honor to your wives… she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should…
… so your prayers will not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)
So, if we do not treat our spouses as they should be treated, God’s going, no no no no no. Don’t talk to me yet. You’re not ready. You’ve got something you need to straighten out. You have something you need to fix.
Yes, I would say that what we do to others is directly connected to the effectiveness of our prayers. The Golden Rule, how we treat others – especially him – matters. A couple of examples. When Judah broke their covenant with the Lord in Jeremiah 11:14-15, God says to Jeremiah:
“Pray no more for these people, Jeremiah. Do not weep or pray for them, for I will not listen to them when they cry out to me in distress.”
“What right do my beloved people have to come to my Temple, when they have done so many immoral things?”
“Can their vows and sacrifices…”
Which was their worship. Can they come to church, worship, sing songs, do all these wonderful things? Can that –
“… prevent their destruction? They actually rejoice in doing evil!” (Jeremiah 11:14-15)
So, until they figure that out, don’t bother. Might as well keep your mouth shut, because I ain’t listening.
Similarly, he says in Isaiah:
“When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen…”
“… for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.” (Isaiah 1:15-17)
Yeah! I would say the Golden Rule is pretty important when it comes to having our prayers answered. And it’s one of the teachings of Jesus that I have never heard anybody disagree with. I don’t care what faith tradition you’re in, or what religion you practice. When you hit them with, “You know, I think I should do unto others as I would have them do unto me,” everyone says yeah, that sounds like a good plan. But do we do it? We preach it, but do we do it?
Just because we’re making a scene in a supermarket checkout line, asking again and again and again, and falling face down on the floor, and prostrating before the Lord and using all these fancy words does not mean we’re going to get our Almond Joy. First of all, sometimes the answer is no. And sometimes, yeah, we should keep on asking, we should keep on seeking, we should keep on knocking, but if we’re not getting anywhere, if God is silent, our first instinct like a lot of people, should not be to blame him. “Where were you, God, when…” such and such happened. Because if you haven’t forgiven those who have sinned against you, we’ve got to go straighten that out first. If we’re not treating our spouses the way they should be treated, don’t be surprised when there are consequences! The consequences might not be a paddle, it might not be soap, but what’s worse than both of those things? Our heavenly Father going “Talk to the hand.” I’d much rather have a paddle.
We’re supposed to be doing to others as you would have them do to you. But maybe there’s even more. When he doesn’t answer my prayers the way I want him to, as quickly as I want him to, in the way I would want him to, maybe there’s even more. Maybe I’m supposed to learn something. Remember when you had training wheels on your bicycle? Why do you have training wheels on your bicycle? Because it’s a heck of a lot easier to ride your bicycle with training wheels! So, why did your parents take them off? They didn’t need to come off. You could have ridden your bicycle like that forever! But your parents took them off. Why? Because they were trying to teach you independence. They wanted you to discover your potential. They wanted you to see what you were made of, the amazing things that you could accomplish. That’s why everybody getting a trophy and not keeping score, I believe, hurts our children. How can you teach the concept of hard work, potential, and accomplishment when everyone wins? When everyone’s the same? Our parents also knew life doesn’t come with training wheels. So, they were preparing you for life.
Sometimes, when we find ourselves in a tough situation, and it seems that our prayers are being met with silence, it could be that God is sending us to our room. Could be, as he did Judah. Could be that maybe I am still asking for my will to be done, not his. Could be that I’m still holding a grudge against someone, and I will refuse to forgive them. Could be that I’m treating someone badly, especially someone I vowed I would love and cherish until death do us part. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been in church, or spent any time with God whatsoever in a very long while, and I’m just calling on him now because I need something. I need you to get me out of this mess! (Which more than likely was of my own doing, but that’s beside the point.) How would you respond? How many times have you said, “You made your bed…” There’s wisdom in that. Sometimes, God says the same thing. You made your bed, you lie in it. Because the lessons you will learn in dealing with the situation you find yourself in are going to be amazing. I know – I’m God! I already know the other side of this! It’s going to be worth it, so no, I’m not going to answer your prayer the way that you want this time, because I know the blessing that’s coming.
God sometimes does the same thing. His silence could be doing the same thing. God has taken off our training wheels and he’s now cheering us on, he’s running beside us saying, “Go, Go! You can do it! I believe in you!” Don’t worry. If things truly get out of control in your life, don’t worry. They are never out of control for him. And if we sinful people know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will our heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
Think of it this way: The Bible says in Genesis chapter 1 that God made us in his image. In his image, male and female, he made us. So, when you find yourself in a tough situation, maybe he wants you to see what you’re made of. You can do it! With him, all things are possible! He’s not always going to pull your fanny out of the fire, because there is something that you’re going to learn in that circumstance that is going to be invaluable to you. Something you can pass on to others. It will be a blessing for who knows how many people. He believes in you, and he will never leave you or forsake you, because he loves you. And all God’s people said, AMEN!