Prayer to receive something from God is one of the most common and frequent prayers. It seems simple:
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who is asking receives, and he who is seeking finds, and to him who is knocking it will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)
If we think about what Jesus told us there are a number of places to focus our effort in successfully praying to receive.
All too often what we do is focus on persuading God to give what we asked for instead of what we need to do to receive. We equate God giving with our receiving, but that isn’t how it really works.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:5-7)
James tells us that God gives generously to everyone who asks, but those who doubt are unable to receive what God gives them. The person who doubts doesn’t need to focus their effort on persuading God to give, they need to focus their effort on overcoming doubt.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:3)
Those who ask with wrong motives do not receive. God gives to all who ask, but those who ask with a wrong motive do not receive. Again the prayer’s focus needs to be on correct motive, not persuading God to give.
Focus of our effort in prayer to receive should never be on persuading God to give, rather it should be on the standard we have used in giving and overcoming the forces that keep us from receiving.
Daniel 10 tells us of a prayer where Daniel asked to receive understanding. He continued in prayer for twenty one days before an angel appeared to him with the understanding Daniel had asked for. What the angel said is revealing. God gave the understanding Daniel asked for the instant he asked. He sent the angel to deliver it to Daniel, but an evil spiritual power fought against him and held up the delivery. Daniel asked and God gave him what he asked for, but for twenty one days Daniel still hadn’t received what God gave. Daniel received as soon as the force withholding what God had given was overcome.
We overcome with love, faith, patience, and authority - all of which we must receive from God. Love, faith, and patience are produced by his word bearing fruit in our hearts. He gives us authority over opposing spiritual forces when we submit ourselves completely to him.
Principles of receiving
Like giving, receiving works according to righteous judgment satisfying spiritual law. Just like in giving, we receive according to the standard of measure we use. In the case of receiving we receive according to the standard of measure we use in receiving.
If we are to receive authority from God to overcome spiritual forces we must measure according to a standard that recognizes God’s authority over all - including us - and submit to that authority.
If we are to receive blessing and prosperity from God we must measure according to the standard he uses for the value of the thing to be received - like instruction and correction.
We must receive what God says we need, not just what we say we want.
We will receive from God according to the standard of measure we use to determine what others can expect to receive from us.
Whatsoever good things a man does, the same shall he receive of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:8)
He that does wrong shall receive for the wrong he has done. (Colossians 3:25)
We will receive according to the standard of measure we use in trusting the source from which we receive. If we waver between trusting God and another source we won’t receive from God.
Have faith in God, Jesus answered. I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:23-24)
We will receive according to the standard of measure we use to value the thing being received. If we measure a thing of value just to satisfy our desires for pleasure, then we won’t receive from God. Is it of sufficient value to keep asking? To keep seeking? To keep knocking? To do the work necessary to overcome the spiritual forces withholding? To give thanks? To receive with joy?
Valuing the thing received is especially important when we are receiving those things beyond our measure in giving that God has already given us: things like salvation, redemption, and spiritual cleansing. One measure of the value of these things God gives us is what it cost him to give them to us.
For God loved the world in this way: so much that he would give up his Son, The Only One, so that everyone who trusts in him shall not be lost, but he shall have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8)
Fasting until we have the result in prayer is another way of recognizing and honoring the value of the thing we are praying for. Daniel ate no desirable food or meat and did not drink any wine. When we fast a comfort or pleasure we show how we measure the value of what we are seeking in prayer. The more we value the result in prayer, the higher the value should be to us of the thing we are fasting. Is your favorite hockey team in the tournament finals? You could fast watching or going. Same with soccer, football, or baseball. Relative to what we are seeking in prayer these are likely trivial in real value, but how much people value them is evident when they contemplate fasting them.
Another way of recognizing and honoring value is through importunity - unceasing in wrestling to overcome the principalities and powers working to withhold what God has given us. The more highly we value the result the longer and more intensely we will fight for the result.
If you will receive my words and treasure my commandments within you, make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding; If you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the LORD and discover the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:1-5)
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. (Luke 18:1-8)
All things we receive from God we receive by faith. Every prayer that successfully receives from God will include some expression of our faith - our trust in God to give us the result we ask him for. We can express that faith through fasting: trusting that we will receive from God and again partake of the thing we are fasting. Faith can be expressed through importunity. It can be expressed through open testimony (confession) to others that we believe we will receive from God. Giving things we need express our faith that God is reliable to meet our need. Exercising authority over opposing spiritual forces expresses our faith. Taking a step where we risk loss, depending on God to supply our need expresses our faith.
One key in successful prayer is seeking God to direct us to how we express our faith to receive the result prayed for and then expressing our faith in the way he directs us. This is especially true when expressing faith by risking loss. Risking loss should only be done when we have the testimony of the Spirit of God that our faith is faith and that risking loss is the expression of faith needed to receive for that particular prayer.