Ask, Seek and Knock (Matthew 7:7-11)… and Receive Anything We Ask For? (A4A 3)
We’re embarking, God willing, on a study of passages in the Bible – specifically the New Testament – that appear to promise that God will grant all our prayer requests. I will resist the temptation to recap again! The previous two introductory articles are still on the blog, and you should start with them if you have not already read them.
The first passage to look at is Matthew 7:7-11.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
The first thing to note is that if you read carefully you cannot find a promise that we will receive everything that we ask for. Jesus says, “everyone who asks receives”. He does not say, “everyone who asks receives everything he asks for“.
The emphasis is on the asking, not on the receiving. We are being encouraged to ask, seek and knock. These are three degrees of requesting things from God. Sometimes we may just ask. Sometimes we may have to work a little harder and have to seek to find what we need from God. Sometimes we may have to knock, as if the door is closed. The point is that, however hard it seems to get through to God, He is always there waiting to answer us. If we ask He will answer. If we seek Him we will find Him. If we have to knock, He will most certainly open the door to us. Jesus is encouraging us that God loves us, and therefore we should not neglect to come to Him.
Secondly, Jesus argues from the lesser to the greater when He asks how a human father treats his son. Those of us who are parents, and those who know good parents, will see the parallel. If one of my children comes and asks for something, I will definitely give them something good. I want to give good things to my children. And that is true even though I am “evil” in comparison to the perfect God. It does not mean that I give my children everything they ask for. Sometimes they may ask for things that are good in themselves, but I may refuse because it may not be best at that time, or I may refuse because I have something better to give them.
I had an example of this in the last year. One of my children moved up from Primary to Secondary school this year. He desperately wanted to go to the Secondary school that most of his school friends were moving up to. He did not want to be separated from those friends. But Heidi and I knew that it would be better if he went to a different school. He pleaded with us constantly to change our minds and send him to his preferred school. It was heartbreaking! But the beginning of September came along, and he started his new school, and even after the first day he acknowledged that we had made the right decision. We denied his request, because we knew that we could give him something better.
I was going to say that God treats us like children, but it’s more than that. We are God’s adopted children. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1) He knows what is good for us better than we do. He loves us better than we love our own children. He has infinitely more knowledge of the good things we need. And just as we would prefer to have parents who give us what is good for us, not just what we want, so we should have the same attitude towards God.
The point is that God, as our heavenly Father, knows the good that we need better than we do, and He loves to give us those good things. So we should always ask Him, as a child asks his father.
I remember another example where one of my children came to ask me for something, and he was wringing his hands nervously as he asked, as if he thought I would bite his head off. It brought a tear to my eye. I never want my children to be afraid to ask me for things. I just want them to know that I will only give them what I believe is good for them. And that is exactly what the point of this passage is. God does not want us to shy away from asking for things. He simply wants us to understand that He will only give us what is good for us. If we ask for something that fits in with that, He is only too happy to give it to us. It gives Him the same pleasure that I get in being able to give my children things that they ask for.
Finally, Jesus said these words in his “sermon on the mount”, which runs all the way through chapters 5 to 7 in Matthew’s gospel. We should always read things in context, and therefore we cannot ignore the rest of the sermon when we try to understand a part of it. And one of the things that is striking when you read the context is that less than ten verses earlier, in 6:33, Jesus introduces the idea of seeking. He says, “But seek first [God’s] kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
He has been chiding us for worrying about earthly needs (6:25-34), having earthly treasures (6:19-24), and telling us that our highest need is to seek the kingdom of our heavenly Father. Then in 7:7 he tells us that if we seek then we will find. If we seek the kingdom of God we will find it. We are to be Godward in our asking, our seeking and our knocking, and He will not only bring us into His kingdom but give us many good and needful things (which are much less important) for this life as well.
At this point it’s probably relevant to bring in the other passage I wanted to cover today, and that is Luke 11:9-10. It’s exactly the same as Matthew 7:7-11, but in a slightly different context.
The parable that Jesus tells in the preceding verses in Luke 9:5-8 confirms what I said earlier:
Then Jesus said to them, ‘Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.” And suppose the one inside answers, “Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.’
Your friend will give you what you need simply because you ask boldly, even if not because he is your friend. God is greater than that, but the point is that you must ask boldly. Here again the asking, not the receiving, is the point of the passage.
But the particular thing to note with the teaching in Luke 9, is the way Jesus ends the section in verse 13: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Seeking first God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33), laying up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20), involves asking for the Holy Spirit. He is the one we need to make us into the people our Father wants us to be. He is the one, when we are tempted to worry about earthly things like where we will live, what we will wear or what we will eat, who will change our perspective. With Him we will be able to say with Jesus, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (John 4:34) That is truly seeking the kingdom of our heavenly Father, and when we seek we will find.
So to sum up what we have learnt from these two passages:
- We ought to be encouraged to ask God boldly for what we need;
- We ought humbly acknowledge God as our heavenly Father, who knows what is best for us and who loves us, and will give us what is best;
- We ought to pray for what will enable us to glorify our heavenly Father by seeking His kingdom before anything else;
- We ought to pray specifically for the Holy Spirit to fill us more and more.
And if you want further encouragement for your prayers, I’d commend to you John Piper’s sermon on Matthew 7, which you can find at the following link: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/ask-your-father-in-heaven
Next time we will, God willing, look at the first pre-requisite for our prayers, and that is to have faith.