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Sermon 4/20/08
Matthew 7:7-8 - A Cat Named Steve

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A Cat Named Steve

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 he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8)

We get together for prayer in our home each Sunday afternoon, but last week we went instead to Dennis Stinson’s home. Dennis has been unable to attend with us because of severe pain in his back that makes it next to impossible to sit upright in his wheelchair. He's been bedridden for over nine months. As our prayers concluded, our friend, Char, told us about something that happened to her grandson, Jacob, that week. She said that Jacob “got a fat lip” – his lips were swollen because of an injury. Char asked Jacob about it, and he replied by reminding her about the “trick” that his one-year old cat, Steve, could do.

Char told us Jacob had observed that “if you jump at Steve the cat, he will jump, too, doing a perfect back flip and landing on his feet every time.” Jacob likes to play with the cat a lot, perhaps “a little too aggressively,” his grandmother said. Jacob decided to trick Steve, and so, when he jumped at the cat, he grabbed the cat’s two front paws and held them in his hands so the cat could not move its paws. Steve could not jump and do the back flip, and Jacob asked with a smile, “Now, what’re you gonna’ do, buddy?” Steve the cat then proceeded to head butt Jacob in the mouth and that’s where Jacob’s “fat lip” came from.  Jacob had interfered with the process.

Do you have favorite authors? I do. One of mine is Kenneth Wuest (1893-1962), who was a New Testament Greek professor at Moody Bible Institute. He had a fine understanding of the Greek language used for most of the New Testament. There are other authors who help a lot with the languages of Scripture, but Wuest has provided nuances of understanding that are very important. One of his books was called, “Golden Nuggets from the Greek New Testament for the English Reader,” in which Wuest wrote about today’s Scripture. Here’s what he said:

In a section called “Praying Without Ceasing,” Wuest wrote, “The Greek language can say more in one word through the grammatical rules that pertain to it, than the English language can in half a dozen words.” Wuest mentioned “the imperative mode” in relation to Matthew 7:7-8, and he also mentioned the “indicative mode.” Now, there’s something almost magical about words like “imperative" and “indicative.” When most of us hear such words strung together in a sentence, it’s like somebody slipped a pill into our drink. Suddenly we’re not wide awake anymore – we need to take a nap!

Please note I would never risk putting you asleep unless it's important. It is! We need to understand these “modes” a little, in order to see what Jesus meant when He spoke the words in today’s verses. Wuest wrote, “we have the imperative… and the indicative mode, both used in the PRESENT tense, the former always speaking of CONTINUOUS action, the latter usually…” does. He continued, “there are two words for ‘knock’ in Greek, one which refers to unceremonious pounding, the other to a polite knock. The latter (the polite one) is used here.

And here’s he said these verses REALLY say - “KEEP ON asking, and it shall be given you; KEEP ON seeking and you shall find, KEEP ON reverently knocking, and it shall be opened unto you; for everyone that keeps on asking, keeps on receiving; and he that keeps on seeking, keeps on finding, and to him that keeps on reverently knocking, it shall be opened.”  Persistence in prayer produces answers to prayer.

Persisting! All too many people, perhaps you and me included, have prayed once for something and then we've been discouraged when the answer does not come. In the English translations, it is, “Ask and it will be given to you…” which sounds like if we ask once and then get it! But most are left feeling bad because it didn’t happen and we likely gave up. The reality is that those who “keep on (passionately) asking” are the ones who receive. Wuest continued, “The lessons we learn from this fuller translation are as follows: First… the Scriptures teach that if we do not receive answers to prayer at once, we should persevere… until we do, or until God shows us that the petition is not according to His will. Second… it takes… time to answer the petition (just like it) takes… time to grow a beautiful rose. Likewise, it takes… time to bring the granite-like heart of a sinner to bow in submissive faith to the Lord Jesus. Third, this text teaches that while we keep on praying, God keeps on working... Many a meager Christian experience is due to a meager prayer life. Fourth, we learn that we have no right to demand of God that He answer our prayer, but we may keep on reverently knocking with the hand of faith.

Steve the cat does something very well – he has consistently performed perfect back flips and lands precisely on his feet, each and every time. 14-year old Jacob interfered with that process by grabbing the cat’s feet. God Almighty does everything well, and one of the things He does with perfection is to respond to our prayers. His answers are higher than our thoughts, greater than what we think is needed, more significant than any situation we may ever encounter. And we interfere with the process when we give up before we are perfected in prayer. When WE are ready, He WILL answer.

Those who are written about in the Bible are real people, an integral and true part of human history. The stories about them are perfectly accurate, and yet they are also parables, given so we might understand our need of God and His work in our lives. Abraham was a parable of faith; Moses showed us faithful leadership, and so on.

When Jesus gave His disciples and the rest of humanity the parable of the “unjust judge,” Scripture commented, “men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1-8). As Wuest said about parables in the Bible, “the English... ‘parable’ is from a Greek word which means ‘to throw alongside.’ Thus (he said) a parable is an illustration thrown alongside a truth in order to explain it.” Jesus said something important about the Canaanite woman who kept demanding a healing for her daughter, even after the disciples said, “Send her away.” Jesus said to her, “Great is your faith” (Matthew 15:22-28). We need to become like that Canaanite woman. We need to be just as persistent in prayer as Steve the cat is in doing those back flips. We need to PRAY!

Lord, we have tried for so long to live life in our own strength and we are tired. Show us what it means to “keep on asking” and not get discouraged. Give us courage, give us faith and help us to pray. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Ron Beckham, Pastor
Friday Study Ministries

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"While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8)
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