ASK, SEEK, KNOCK

Activated - - NEWS - BY PETER AM­S­TER­DAM, ADAPTED

MATTHEW CHAP­TER 7, the last chap­ter of the Ser­mon on the Mount, con­tains a num­ber of suc­cinct state­ments, which make im­por­tant points for be­liev­ers. The fo­cus is on prayer, con­tin­ued from ear­lier in the Ser­mon: not pray­ing like the hyp­ocrites who want to be seen by oth­ers1 or like the pa­gans who bab­ble on, think­ing their pray­ers will be an­swered if they re­peat them over and over;2 but rather pray­ing with the un­der­stand­ing that our Fa­ther loves and cares for us. 3

“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!” 4

Je­sus asked what those present would do if their child asked for bread or fish, sta­ple foods in Pales­tine at the time. Of course they wouldn’t sub­sti­tute a stone or ser­pent for the food their child was ask­ing for! As He of­ten did, Je­sus used the “lesser to greater” ar­gu­ment to make His point. If earthly par­ents give their chil­dren good things when they ask for them, how much more will God give to His chil­dren when they ask Him? Since God is our Fa­ther and al­to­gether good, we can freely pe­ti­tion Him in prayer, in the same way a child can ask her par­ents for some­thing she needs or de­sires.

Some might say that prayer isn’t nec­es­sary, be­cause there are plenty of peo­ple who don’t be­lieve in God and don’t pray, yet they seem to do fine. They work and get paid, so are able to ac­quire what they need with­out any pray­ers. Au­thor John Stott ad­dressed this point when he wrote about the dif­fer­ence be­tween the gifts of God as the Cre­ator and His gifts as our Fa­ther:

We need to dis­tin­guish be­tween his cre­ation-gifts and his re­demp­tion-gifts. It is per­fectly true that he gives gifts (har­vests, ba­bies, food, life) whether peo­ple pray or not, whether they be­lieve or not. He gives to all life and breath. He sends rain5 from heaven and fruit­ful sea­sons to all. He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good alike. He “vis­its” a mother when she con­ceives and later gives birth. None of these gifts

is de­pen­dent on whether peo­ple ac­knowl­edge their Cre­ator or pray to him.

But God’s re­demp­tion-gifts are dif­fer­ent. God does not be­stow sal­va­tion on all alike, but be­stows his riches upon all who call on him. For, “ev­ery­one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” 6

The same ap­plies to post-sal­va­tion bless­ings, the ‘good things’ which Je­sus says the Fa­ther gives his chil­dren. It is not ma­te­rial bless­ings that he is re­fer­ring to here, but spir­i­tual bless­ings—daily for­give­ness, de­liv­er­ance from evil, peace, the in­crease of faith, hope and love, in fact the in­dwelling work of the Holy Spirit as com­pre­hen­sive bless­ing of God. 7

In the Lord’s Prayer, Je­sus taught us to pray for both kinds of gifts. Our daily bread is a cre­ation-gift, whereas for­give­ness and de­liv­er­ance are re­demp­tion-gifts. We pray for for­give­ness and de­liv­er­ance, be­cause these gifts are given only in an­swer to prayer. We’re also told to pray for ma­te­rial needs, be­cause it is ap­pro­pri­ate to ac­knowl­edge our phys­i­cal de­pen­dence on our Fa­ther.

With this in mind, let’s look at the first part of the pas­sage: “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.” Was Je­sus cat­e­gor­i­cally stat­ing that ev­ery prayer will be an­swered in a pos­i­tive man­ner, and that we will al­ways get what we pray for?

One of the ba­sic prin­ci­ples of un­der­stand­ing Scrip­ture is to com­pare what is taught in one par­tic­u­lar verse with the teach­ing of Scrip­ture in gen­eral. It’s clear from read­ing the Bible that pray­ers are not al­ways an­swered in the man­ner that the one pray­ing re­quests. This can be seen in the fol­low­ing verses:

To keep me from be­com­ing proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh … Three dif­fer­ent times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weak­ness.” 8

Ev­ery day I call to you, my God, but you do not an­swer. Ev­ery night I lift my voice, but I find no re­lief. 9

From these and other verses, and fac­tor­ing in our own ex­pe­ri­ence, it’s clear that God doesn’t al­ways an­swer our pe­ti­tions in the man­ner we would like Him to. Our heav­enly Fa­ther isn’t our “cos­mic bell­hop” who is there to do our ev­ery bid­ding, and Je­sus’ words shouldn’t be in­ter­preted to mean that God will grant our ev­ery wish. But even if some of our pray­ers aren’t an­swered in the way we would like, we can trust that He knows what’s best.

We should be thank­ful that God doesn’t an­swer our ev­ery prayer by giv­ing us ex­actly what we ask for. If He did, we would likely pray less, be­cause we’d quickly see that the ef­fects of hav­ing ev­ery prayer an­swered would have un­fore­seen and un­wanted con­se­quences. These and other prom­ises about an­swer­ing our pray­ers are not pledges on God’s part to give us what­ever we ask, when­ever we ask it, and in ex­actly the terms we ask. If that were the case, prayer would be an un­bear­able bur­den for us to carry. Only our all-know­ing,

10 all-good, all-wise, and all-lov­ing Fa­ther can know how pray­ers should be an­swered, when it is best to an­swer them, and if they should be an­swered at all.

Go­ing back to the ex­am­ple of chil­dren ask­ing their par­ents for things: if the child asked for a ser­pent in­stead of a fish, then the par­ent, out of love and con­cern, would not grant the re­quest. The par­ents’ greater knowl­edge and wis­dom, as well as their love for their child, would keep them from re­spond­ing to the child’s spe­cific re­quest. In­stead, they might look be­yond the spe­cific re­quest to the fact that the child is hun­gry, and of­fer some­thing more suit­able to eat. Par­ents some­times refuse or de­lay grant­ing their chil­dren’s re­quests or give them some­thing that, while dif­fer­ent from what they asked for, sup­plies their need. Our heav­enly Fa­ther of­ten does the same thing when re­spond­ing to our pray­ers.

We’re en­cour­aged to pray—to ask, to seek, to knock—for in do­ing so we re­ceive and find, and op­por­tu­ni­ties open to us. Through­out Scrip­ture, there are nu­mer­ous prom­ises that God will an­swer our re­quests. Though it’s not stated each time, the un­der­ly­ing foun­da­tion of these prom­ises is an un­der­stand­ing that God is good, has our best in­ter­ests at heart, deeply loves us, and de­sires for us to present our re­quests; and as our lov­ing Fa­ther, He will an­swer our pray­ers ac­cord­ing to what He knows is ul­ti­mately best.

We pray in faith, know­ing that God will an­swer in the man­ner that is best for us and oth­ers over­all, be­cause of His deep love for us. We ask for our needs and de­sires, trust­ing that in His com­plete un­der­stand­ing, wis­dom, and good­ness, He will re­spond with a yes, no, or wait. Trust­ing that He knows best how to re­spond to each of our pray­ers, we can pray as Je­sus did: “Not my will, but yours, be done.” 11

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