If someone offered you a blank check, how much would you ask for? I suppose the answer would depend on the person who owned the checkbook. If it was your elderly grandma who lived on social security and never did anything extravagant, you might only take a few dollars if any at all. If a real estate tycoon made the same offer, you would probably make the check out for considerably more.
Several places in the Bible reveal people’s natural hesitancy to ask or expect much of God.
Numbers chapter 11 records the people of Israel lamenting the lack of meat in the desert. Moses took their complaint to God. God responded by telling Moses they’d have meat the next day, the day after that, and for a full 30 days.
To Moses that seemed like a check written for five billion dollars that could never be cashed. Moses said to God, “‘Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, “I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!” Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?’
“The Lord answered Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you’” (Numbers 11:21-23).
Needless to say, the people ate meat.
When Jesus told Peter to let down his nets, Peter wasn’t convinced. He had fished all night with nothing to show for it. “But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5).
The blank check Peter was looking at seemed to have nothing but zeroes and empty promises, until the nets began to break.
Maybe you’ve given up on prayer because one too many prayers hasn’t been answered according to your expectations. Maybe you’ve been chided for asking God for things others see as insignificant, so you quit asking for anything.
Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7,8).
Years ago when I was teaching the book of Matthew, I came across this paragraph in a Bible commentary: “‘Ask . . . seek . . . knock’ are present imperatives in the Greek, so the precise meaning is that we are to keep on asking and seeking and knocking. We are to pray without ceasing, without giving up, and with increasing intensity. . . . Jesus does not promise that we will always get exactly what we ask for in prayer. He simply states that our prayers will be answered. When we ask, something will be given to us. When we seek, we’ll find something. When we knock, the door will be opened; God will let us come into his presence to present our requests, and he will give us a hearing and deal with us on the basis of our needs and his far greater wisdom and mercy.”*
That paragraph changed my idea of prayer. There is no such thing as a wasted or unheard prayer. Sometimes the greater question is: Are we willing to keep praying if we don’t see the answer immediately?
A few days before a good friend died of cancer, I finally conceded that as God’s will. Up until then I was still praying for total healing. I’ve always told my friends if I err, it will be in asking too much from God. I’ll ask for a banana split with extra whipped cream and cherries on top. If he chooses to give me a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, that’s his business, and I’ll be content. But at least I’ll have asked. I’d hate to know I could have had more strength or more open doors, could have been used to a larger degree, or seen more people changed through the gospel but didn’t . . . because I never asked.
* Albrecht, G. J. and Albrecht, M. J. Matthew of The People’s Bible series (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1996), p. 106.