Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Taking Hold in Prayer

For everyone who asks takes hold. (Matthew 7:8 JVD)

Asking and receiving are connected. We think of asking as active, that is, something we do. And so it is. But we often think of receiving as passive, that is, something that happens to us or is done for us. For example, someone might say, “I received a blow to the head.” He did not seek it, did not want it, did not cause it; it was simply something that happened to him. He was passive, sitting quietly, minding his own business when, suddenly — wham! — he was hit on the head.

Jesus has something very important to teach is about prayer: “Everyone who asks receives.” He is not speaking of something active followed by something passive. No, both the asking and the receiving here are in the active voice. That is, they are both about something we do.

The Greek word for “receive” is lambano. It means to take or get hold of something, as if with the hand. Now, it does not mean to take something by force, as if to wrench it away from someone else. There is a different word for that. Rather, it is about things that belong to you or have been offered to you. And that is the case here. In Matthew 7:7, Jesus says, “Ask and it shall be given to you.” When we ask (active voice), something is given (passive voice). In other words, when we ask, something is offered to us, and that means we have a right to take hold of it.

A young man is working his way through college and needs a car. He goes to his father for help. Dad agrees (he’s a nice guy) and arranges to get him a sturdy little sedan. The son believes his father and now his expectation is that the car his father promised is his. He has received his father’s answer; that is, he has taken hold of it and the issue is now settled. There may be a brief time of waiting before the car arrives while the father works out the particulars, but the son has asked and has already received what he asked — he has taken hold of his father’s answer.

“Ask and it shall be given to you,” Jesus said, “for everyone who asks receives.” Asking and receiving work together. But when do we receive what we have asked? Jesus answered that on another occasion: “Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24). Notice He does not say, “Believe that you will receive them” (future tense), but “Believe that you receive them” (present tense). The NASB translates it as “Believe that you have received them” (past tense, completed action). In other words, the receiving comes at the time of asking, when you ask in faith.

Faith is very important when we pray. It is how we receive, or take hold of, what we are asking for. The author of Hebrews says that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for.” (Hebrews 11:1). The Greek word for “substance” is hypomone and refers to the underlying reality of a thing. In some ancient Greek documents, this word was used to refer to the title-deed of a piece of land. The word for “hope” speaks of expectation or anticipation. So faith is the underlying reality, the title-deed of what we are fully expecting to see.

Jesus says that when we ask, it will be given to us. “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11). Jesus does not lie; when He says the Father will give it to us, then the Father will give it to us. We can fully expect that we will have it. Indeed, by faith we possess the substance of it, the underlying reality, the title-deed for it.

Now let’s put this all together, with the understanding of what it means to receive and how we actually do it.
Ask and it shall be given to you, for everyone who asks takes hold. So whatever you ask when you pray, believe you take hold of it, and you will have it.