28th July 2013
"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! (Matthew 7:7-11)
A recent survey of people with over 1 million dollars in investments revealed that most of them do not feel wealthy until their assets, not counting their home exceed 5 million dollars. This shows the flaw of a world system that tells you to rely on yourself, or your government for what you need. Most people will never reach the point of feeling secure, in their ability to provide all that they want and need.
So to put this passage in context, our focus has been on the kingdom of heaven and repentance. We pray and fast to claim our dependency upon God, not just for righteousness but for life itself. We are to be beacons of hope serving with good motives, and rejecting worry. We are not to judge un-righteously, we are not to treat holy and precious things as common, for what is holy has been given to us from God. What we see are the ways in which we are supposed to respond to God. He is King and we are His citizens. Our position is to be one of dependence and trust to our benevolent king.
God wants our Petitions
As we begin to look at this text we see two main ideas. One, we are encouraged to ask for things from God, and two, God is pleased to give us what we need. So, first we must see that God wants our petitions, he desires for us to ask from Him. In this passage we see three imperatives from the get go: Ask, Seek, Knock. Though we will go into more detail about these below, in general these three words convey the message that God wants us to be in the practice of petitioning him with our requests.
This is the practice of prayer throughout the Bible. We see it displayed greatly in the psalms of David. We find many Psalms with requests for God.
Sometimes David is asking for repentance.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin! (Ps 51:1-2)
Sometimes it is in praise:
Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion,
and to you shall vows be performed.
O you who hear prayer,
to you shall all flesh come.
When iniquities prevail against me,
you atone for our transgressions.
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple! (Psalm 65:1-4)
Still there are other petitions that are when we are in distress:
Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry!
Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit!
From your presence let my vindication come!
Let your eyes behold the right! (Psalm 17:1-2)
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2)
David shows that we are to pray to God in any circumstance that we are in. God longs for our petitions. Even in the last psalm that we cited we find Jesus Himself reciting it from the cross. In fact it was the common practice of Jesus to beseech the Father for things in His life. We can remember His High priestly prayer where Jesus is asking many things, but in particular prays for us:
"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21)
We have a great God who wants to hear our prayers, in fact the entire way in which our relationship with Him works is based upon us communicating to Him. Not because He has an ego, but because He desires children who seek after Him. With such a simple declaration to ask, seek, and knock, it should come as no surprise to us the Scripture that states, You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:2-3) We need to be a people who are in the practice of asking, seeking, and knocking because we have a God who desires us to be so.
God is Pleased to Grant our Petitions
The second thing that we need to see from this passage is that God is pleased to answer our prayers. When we ask, seek, and knock, he answers, is found, and responds. Look at what the text says, For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. This is not just a simple no brainer about prayer, but points to the charity of our God towards us. He is a God that loves us greatly, and as such he wants to answer our requests.
Jesus demonstrates that desire to us with a few analogies by drawing on our own understanding of what a Father should be. He says, 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? When we look at these stories we would find the Father who did such things to be a horrible Father. In fact some of us would call CPS as soon as possible for such a dad. Fathers are not supposed to be unloving and cruel. Fathers are to care for their children, feed them, clothe them, and train them up in love. Though it does not always work this way and though many fathers fail, we still known deep down what a Father is supposed to be like. The reason for this is because it is a truth written on our hearts (cp. Rom 2:15), it is the truth that God is our loving Father.
Since we have such a Father who always is loving towards us (even in discipline and punishment) we should understand that He is always going to give us good things. When we ask, seek, and knock to Him we are able to receive good things back from Him because that is His desire. This is the truth of Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. We need to recognize that it is in the nature of God, in His love, that He wants to care for us and answer our petitions that we offer to Him. God will give us what is good for us; he will give what is best for us.
This also means that God will never give us what is evil for us. Just as the character of God is loving and from that He gives us good things, the reality is that God's character is not evil and cannot give evil things to us. Though it may seem at times that we are struggling with different things in the world (temptations, pain, problems, etc.) we must know that these do not come from God. The character of God is depicted well in this story. When we ask God for something like food or money He is not going to respond to that request with a snake or more trouble. It is against His character. God is not going to give us what is evil.
It seems like a simple thing to say that God wants to grant our petitions and that He gives us what is good and what is not evil. However, we run into problems when troubles come. This is where we need to be mature in our faith and aware of what is going on around us. Sometimes when we pray to God the answer is no or wait, in the moment we may not understand why it is that God did not answer with a yes. It is in hindsight that we can look and see that God had indeed answered our requests in a good way. Though it may be less than spiritual, the sentiment of Garth Brooks' song "Unanswered Prayers" is legitimate here. (Look it up if you do not know it). Things that we have prayed for have often been the wrong things for our lives, and our all-loving God knows this and as a good Father always gives us what we need. The hard part is that it is only in hindsight when we realize it. So, we need to learn to trust more in the loving, good God who desires to answer our petitions.
We must be Persistent with our Petitions
Finally, from this passage we have seen that God wants us to pray and wants to answer our prayers, so, we must be a people who are persistent with petitions. We must embody the Scripture that says, Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
This passage in particular addresses this on a grammatical level. The three main verbs of this text, Ask, Seek, and Knock, are all Present Active Imperatives. What that means is that these are commands that Jesus is giving to His hearers. We are to be asking, seeking, and knocking all the time, and when we are doing these commands we know that we are persistent in seeking God's best for our lives. Though there are many important imperatives throughout the Bible, the imperative to pray is the life force behind the rest for we cannot make disciples without the power of God on our side, and we do not have that power apart from asking for it from God.
So what does it really look like to be a person who is persistent in petitions? Jesus has already provided that illustration for us in the beatitudes. In Matthew 5:6 He says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. We see that the satisfactions, the good things, that come from God, are given to those who are hungering and thirsting for it. There must be a longing in our souls to consistently cry out to our creator. If we taste and know that the Lord is good we will always want to come back for more.
In conclusion let me leave you with a quote from the famed pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
Our Lord does not promise to change life for us; He does not promise to remove difficulties and trials and problems and tribulations; He does not say that He is going to cut out all the thorns and leave the roses with their wonderful perfume. No; He faces life realistically, and tells us that these are things to which the flesh is heir, and which are bound to come. But he assures that we can so know Him that, whatever happens, we need never be frightened, we need never be alarmed. He puts all that in this great and comprehensive promise: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 2:196)
Life Group Discussion Questions:
- How persistent is your prayer life?
- Do you feel like God answers your prayers?
- Have you had times where you felt God was not giving you good things? Why?
- Describe sometimes when you have heard God say yes and provide?
- Describe a time when God withheld and it was for your good.
- How can you build a more persistent prayer life?