One of the distinguishing features of Jesus' teaching about prayer is his insistence that God will hear and answer the prayers of his people. In Luke 18:1-8 we have the record of a parable Jesus told his disciples to show them that they should always pray and not give up. Unlike the unjust judge in the parable, who only responded to the persistent widow because she would not take "no" for an answer, Jesus assures us that God will see that his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night will get justice, and quickly. In Matthew 7:7-8 we have a similar emphasis. Jesus tells us to ask, seek and knock because "everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door is opened". There is a wonderful universality that should encourage us to pray. Later in the New Testament, James rebukes both our prayerlessness and our self-centeredness when he writes: "You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (4:2-3). In spite of the rebuke the underlying thrust of his message is that Christians should pray because this is pleasing to God and it is the way that he blesses his people.
Speaking of God, Jesus goes on in Matthew 7:9-11 to encourage us to pray based on the revealed character of God. According to Jesus those who have come under the saving power of the kingdom of heaven have a special new relationship with God; He is their heavenly Father. Today almost everyone who believes in the existence of God likes to think that he is their heavenly Father! But that is not what Jesus taught. God is the Father of all his creatures in the sense that he is their creator and sustainer, but he is not the Father of all human beings regardless of their spiritual condition. God is the heavenly Father of those who have come to know him the only way he can be truly known, and that is in his Son Jesus Christ. Only those who have turned from their sins to follow Jesus as their Savior and Master have this unique and intimate relationship with God the Father.
If God is our Father this has some implications for prayer. If he is our Father we should not be afraid to talk to him and ask him to help us in our struggle to live for him. If he is our heavenly Father he knows how to give "good gifts" to his children. By "good gifts" Jesus is referring to the gifts/graces he has been describing for us in the Sermon on the Mount. Righteousness, sincerity, humility, purity, love, perseverance... These are the gifts we need to fulfill our calling as Christians. To underline his point Jesus contrasts God, our heavenly Father, with human fathers who know how to give good gifts to their children even though they are evil! If our children ask for bread or a fish we will not give them a stone or a snake. If this is how we earthly fathers conduct themselves with our children how much more will our Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him.
We need to face the fact that prayerlessness dishonors the good character of God. When we don't pray we are acting as though God is unworthy of our attention, or he is reluctant to help us, or he is unable to do what he has promised. Forgive us Lord. Turn our hearts to you. Help us to pray. We have no excuse not to seek your face. You promise to hear and answer us when we cry to you and you know how to give us just what we need.