In our march through the Sermon on the Mount, we come to a passage today in which Jesus encourages those of us in the Kingdom of God to pray. I think He knows us—knows we don’t pray as much as we know we should—and He’s not surprised. After all, even His handpicked disciples and best buds couldn’t stay awake with Him and pray for an hour on his last night on earth. So, in this passage, Jesus is making some promises that could revolutionize our thinking, and with that, blow life into our prayer time. Let’s start with a look at these five verses:
Matthew 7:7-11 - 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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are 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!
Two things you should see right off the bat in this passage. One, we are to pray. The words, “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” are in the imperative mood, and that means these are not suggestions. They are directives. If we’re not praying, we’re living in disobedience to a specific command of Christ. Prayer must be pretty important from Jesus’ viewpoint. And we’re to pray all the time. Those same words are in the present tense, so anytime it is “Now” we are to be praying. Really, it’s just keeping the channel of communication open to God all the time. Ask, and keep asking; seek, and keep seeking, knock, and keep on knocking.
All these things—ask, seek, and knock—imply that we have a need we can’t meet. We’ve got a recipe that calls for one more egg than we have, so we’ve got to ask. We’ve lost our keys and can’t find them, so we’ve got to ask someone to help us locate them. We can’t get through the door, so we’ve got to find a key or find someone with a key to get through that puppy. Our problem often is that we don’t feel a need. We think we can handle it. We don’t need any help. After all, we pride ourselves on being self-sufficient. Sometimes, to help us feel that need, God brings little things our way we don’t like in the form of trials, difficulties, problems, even crises. Even then, even as Christians, we’ll often try to claw our way through without asking, seeking, or knocking. Yet, we’re told in Hebrews 4:6 that we can approach God as followers of Christ because his throne is not one of judgment for us, but grace, and we can come and find help in our time of need.
Israel was a prime example of going it alone. Rightly, they feared the Assyrians, a bloodthirsty, brutal, and aggressive nation with sights set on Israel. But Israel didn’t see this threat as something God was using to pull them back to Him, as something that would cause them to repent from some of the junk they were engaged in. Nope, they figured they could hold on to their ungodly ways and get out of this all by themselves. They cut a deal with the Egyptian Pharaoh for protection. But God warns them in Isaiah 30 that this would turn to shame and humiliation because the Egyptians weren’t God, nor were their horses spirit. God told them that had they only returned to Him and trusted, they would have been spared.
Trust. Listen, that’s how everyone who is genuinely a Christian got that way. Trust. We had a need—salvation—that we could not get. But God had the answer and was willing to supply it—Jesus. All we do at that point is trust. That’s how we start our Christian lives, and it’s how we’re to live them. Recognizing our needs, asking God, and trusting in His provision. Jesus is telling us in this passage that this is exactly how life in the Kingdom of God works.
Psalm 50:15 says, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you shall glorify me.” So, you’re in trouble. Don’t take matters into your own hands. Call upon the Lord, counting on Him to deliver you. And when that happens, just give Him the honor, the credit, the praise. God apparently loves to deliver His people out of trials and conflicts. Over and over in scripture we see people calling out and God miraculously answering; barren wombs opened, nations delivered; hungry people fed; sick people healed; prisoners set free; dead people raised. Notice this. God didn’t retire at age 65. He’s not sitting around now thinking, “Man, those were the good ol’ days. I just wish I still had that in me.” We might feel the advances of age, but God has not hung up his sneakers. Read the last book of the bible. His best days are not behind him at all.
The question for us is whether we want to have God answering our prayers end up being part of our legacy in life. Because what Jesus is saying here, promising here, is that if we pray, God will answer. Will we take up God’s challenge to ask, seek, and knock, to wear Him out with our prayers? I mean, to call God on his commitment, expecting that if we do our children and their children and their children will be saying things like this: “Well, I’ll tell you this about mom or dad or grandma or grandpa. They prayed, God heard them, and God answered them.” And this isn’t about you so much as it is about the God that God is.
Now, be aware there are some conditions in this. Nothing as weird as the iTunes terms and conditions. You may not know it, but by agreeing with those terms and condition, you are committing yourself not to use iTunes to build chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. If you didn’t know that, and you’re building such devices using iTunes, you really need to stop it or you won’t be able to listen to your favorite tunes as you destroy the world. But God does have some conditions. If we’re praying while we’re aware of sin in our life that we’re not willing to deal with, we’re told God’s not answering those prayers. If we ask things that are contrary to God’s revealed will, He’s not obligated to answer those. So, praying that God would kill someone who took your parking spot in Snowmaggedon probably isn’t going to happen, ok? Men, if you don’t live with your wives in a loving and understanding way, God says that that will mess up your prayers. But, when we persist in prayer and seek to walk in God’s will, He has committed Himself to answer. With that promise in hand, it’s kind of crazy not to ask, right? I mean, kind of silly not to give it a whirl. I’m just saying that the odds seem higher than winning Powerball.
Take another quick look at Matthew 7:9-11. I think one of our problems with prayer is that we’re just not sure God’s a very good dad. We all just about go broke at Christmas, because we love our kids and want good things for them. And, truth be told, we’re still a bit messed up, still a bit selfish. Even so, we don’t purposely withhold anything good from our kids if we can help it. But God, as a dad, isn’t messed up at all. He’s perfect. So how much more does He want good things for His kids? I’m pretty sure God knows we have a tough time believing that because of Romans 8:16, which tells us that the Holy Spirit, among all His other duties, has this one: to bears witness with our spirits that we are sons and daughters of God. So, we’ve got to get it through our heads that God actually does love us, delights in us, treasures us. As good as we might be as dads and moms, God is better.
He’s so much better that He never gives us anything but good things. Anything God sends your way is a good thing. Now, be careful. I’m not saying God only gives us easy things. Some things might feel like a stone or a serpent, because it’s not necessarily what we wanted, but it’s actually bread or fish from the hand of God. We might just not know it yet, might not understand it yet.
Sometimes, we ask for what we think we need, but God sees that it’s really a stone or a serpent we’re requesting. In His wisdom, He chooses to say “No” to that and gives us what He knows is bread instead. Prayer is really all about pleading for what we think we need and, at the same time, being willing to surrender to God’s will in the matter, trusting—there’s that word again—that God has our best in mind. I shared the story of Paul Miller and his wife, Jill, who had an autistic child with major developmental issues. They accused God of doing them harm. It took 20 years for them to realize that their daughter was a banquet that God spread for them in the wilderness. They knew what they were like, how proud and independent they were, and now they realized that their daughter brought Jesus into their lives front and center. They couldn’t get from the beginning of a day to the end of it without prayer and relying on Jesus. It dawned on them how God used this hard thing to build them into the people of God not only that He wanted them to be, but that they were delighted to be.
It’s the Apostle Paul, crying out three times to have this thorn in his flesh removed, and God saying three times, “Nope. My grace is sufficient.” Paul realizes years later how that thorn protected him from becoming prideful. What looked like a bad thing turned out to be just the best thing ever.
So, as we leave this passage, I don’t think the answer is making a greater commitment to pray more. You’ve probably tried that already, haven’t you? How about this? Just believe truer things about God. That He loves you, that He loves to hear from you, that He wants you to come to him like the loving dad He is and make requests, and that He loves to give you good things. So, maybe for the next week or so, just hang out in this passage. Maybe memorize it. Meditate on it. If you begin to believe what Jesus is saying here, you’ll start to see prayer in a new way. And once you start getting prayers answered, it’ll be nearly impossible to get you to stop!!