Ask and it Will Be Given to You
Topic: Default Passage: Matthew 7:7–11
We hit pause last week in our series on the Sermon on the Mount and this week we are getting back into that series that we will, Lord willing, finish up next week and then dive into the book of Joshua for the summer.
Many have attacked the Sermon on the Mount saying that it is such a hodgepodge of random teachings that Jesus probably didn’t really deliver. At least not in this order. Well, I disagree. First of all, I think if Jesus wants to address random things in one message, He can certainly do so. He is of no obligation to preach the way we want Him to preach.
I actually don’t think this is a random flow though. Think about all that Jesus has been saying. No one can enter the kingdom of God unless you are more righteous than your religious leaders. Don’t love your material possessions, but do love your enemies. And, most recently, don’t judge others more harshly than you do yourself. These are incredibly hard teachings. None of us have what it takes on our own to accomplish them...unless God helps us. So, it feels very logical that Jesus would now say, “Ask, Ask the Father for help and He will give it to you.”
In the early years of my marriage, Angela and I went to a very charismatic Pentecostal church. We were theological outliers in that church to say the least. But, there wasn’t a single protestant church in our city and this church was the closest about 20 minutes down the road...or down the train tracks to be more precise. I actually served as the youth director in that church for a short time.
Now, as much as I disagreed with points of their doctrine, I left that church knowing two things. First, they loved us very well. If we needed anything, from help navigating the culture to cooking lessons, they provided it. They visited us in the hospital and they included us in much that they did. Second, they were a praying church.
I was learning a lot about the Bible and Christianity in my early 20’s and I knew that if I wanted to learn good doctrine, the Presbyterians were generally who I went to. But, if I was in dire need of prayer, the Pentecostals were the ones I wanted. I’d listen to Presbyterian sermons all day long to learn the Bible, but if our health is in question or if we have a friend who was interested in knowing more about Jesus, the Pentecostal brothers and sisters were the ones I want praying for me!
I want them praying for me because they are not afraid to ask for anything. And not just ask, but plead with God. We more Reformed types are really good at praying “thy will be done,” but when it comes to asking boldly for the things that we deeply believe we need, well, that’s not always our strong suit.
But, Jesus does say, Ask, and it will be given to you: seek and you shall 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 ti will be opened. - Matthew 7:7,8
So, what does that mean? In this passage, I want to answer that question from three different angles. First, how it is that we are to ask. Second, what it is that we are to ask for. And, third, who it is that we are asking.
- How it is that we are to ask
Well, I can’t come up with a better one word answer than ‘boldly.’ Jesus says we are to ask, seek and knock. And I do think that in using these three words, Jesus is presenting us with three ways to ask with escalating boldness. Asking is generally on the more polite side of requesting something. Asking insinuates humility, respect and maybe even honor in the way we come to someone. We ask for prayer. We ask for the salt to be passed. We ask to be excused.
Seeking, though, that steps it up a bit. That takes more initiative and communicates more boldness. I had a buddy in college who is now an extremely successful and well known lawyer in this state. Back at FSU, he wanted an internship with a very successful person in the state of Florida. Well, he couldn’t even get an audience with this man, so when he heard that this man flew on his private jet to Tallahassee, my friend found a way to get on his private jet as it was sitting on the tarmac so he would be sitting there on the plane when the man returned. My friend so impressed this man in the way he was seeking him that he got the internship. You can see how seeking takes on a higher level of boldness than just asking.
But, Jesus doesn’t stop there. Next, he says to knock. Pound on that door. Make yourself known. I think of the freedom my kids feel to pound on the bathroom door when I am in there because they want in. I might see fingers coming up from under the door.
“What are doing in there?? Why can’t I come in??” That closed door between child and daddy means nothing to them. They are going to pound until they get the thing they are convinced they need.
Now, I am going to provide some caveats to this in a bit, but not right now. I want us to feel the weight of what Jesus is saying. Ask! Seek! Knock! Why is it that we don’t do that? What stands between us and the kind of prayer that Jesus is calling us to? I can think of four possible reasons we don’t pray. At least five barriers in my own life to praying this way.
The first is simple. We don’t pray because we don’t believe God really cares. How in the world can the God of this universe care about my little needs and requests. It almost feels rude to bother Him with with my requests in light of all the problems in the world.
But, what that is is simply a lack of belief in how valuable you are to God. If you have value to Him, then so do your requests. Jesus says look at the bird of the air and the blooming flowers, how beautiful they are and how they are provided for and you are worth more than many sparrows. 1 Peter 5:7 says “cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
The second reason we don’t pray is because we think it’s not necessary. Sometimes we hide this under the banner of a large view of God. There are streams of Christian and non-Christian thought that believe that God is so in control of everything that our prayers are fundamentally unnecessary. Well, that’s not a large view of God that is a low view of God’s love for and value of us. And it contradicts not only our passage here, but others like James 4:2 You do not have, because you do not ask - James 4:2
A third reason we don’t pray like Jesus is telling us to is because, if we are honest, we are scared about what it will mean if the prayer isn’t answered. What if we boldly go to God and ask for something and it doesn’t happen? What would this do to a fragile faith? It could do more harm than good so we don’t ask.
I’m sure some of you have had children who had a hard day or got harassed or bullied at school. Or maybe they are having trouble making friends. We know we should pray with them and model the kind of prayer life that Jesus teaches. But, what if God doesn’t answer this prayer? Would it be better not to pray than to have our kids see a prayer that isn’t answered? How small is our view of God and how large is our view of self if that is our mind set? Our job is not to decide what tasks God is up for. Our task is simply to ask. And in doing so, we will set the right example for our kids.
Fourth, we don’t pray because we don’t have time. Martin Luther once said, “I am so busy now that I cannot get by with any less than two hours of prayer a day.” The busier he got, the more he prayed. The truth is that we make time for the things we value. If we cut out a little phone time here and a little Netflix there and maybe a little sleep, we would all likely find time for important things. And remember, it’s not like we have to bring a three point sermon to Jesus. Just a chapter ago He told us not to heap up empty phrases.
The fifth and last reason I think we don’t pray is our own sin. Sin robs us of the confidence we can have in our prayer life. It doesn’t make God work less, it makes us doubt more. It’s very logical if you think about it. If we know we are not trusting God in our actions, it makes sense that we would not trust God in our prayers.
Unconfessed sin slowly erodes at our ability to trust God with our prayers. John says, Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him.. - 1 John 3:21,22a Then the Psalmist writes, If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened - Psalm 66:18
Those are five reasons we don’t pray, but I want to say one more thing before moving on. There is one place I would push on my Pentecostal friends. Many of them believe that God either won’t or, in some extreme cases, can’t act unless we pray. They believe that prayer either merits God’s response or allows God to respond. There is this constant guilt that hangs in the air no matter how much they pray because we can always pray more. So, every second we aren’t praying, they believe, is time God is off the clock.
We have to remember that Jesus, in this sermon, talking about prayer, has already said that God knows our needs before we even ask. And we see in Scripture that not only does God know our needs first, it is then He who shows us our need. We saw this three months ago when we talked about how God had Adam name the animals. God didn’t need names for these animals, God knew that Adam needed a companion so He showed Adam all the companions in the animal world. God showed Adam his need before he even knew he needed it. Prayer isn’t in any way permitting God to act, but going to God with a need that He not only knows about, but made known to us in the first place.
And this changes the whole motivation in asking God for things John Calvin says,
“Nothing is better adapted to be an encouragement to our prayer than a full conviction that we will be heard.” All of us are more likely to make a request to someone we think will hear us. That is true of our parents, our children, our bosses, our spouses and it is true of our God as well.
Our God will hear us and wants to hear us. So, what then is it that we should be asking for?
- What it is that we should ask for
Jesus says that we should ask for ‘good things.’ So, what are those good thing?
I did a little experiment this week at dinner and I asked my kids if I could give them anything they wanted, what would they ask for. The list included eating chocolate all day, a new Tesla, a gun, a baby lamb that would sleep in their bed, a horse, a helicopter that that child would pilot...right now, a flame thrower and a robot with an incinerator inside it. Now, do you think it would be a good thing if I were to give my children everything they ask for? No, unless you’re an arsonist.
It would be terrible for them and it would be terrible for us as well. Imagine if we married the first person we prayed to marry. That would not have been a good thing for most of us. What if God had answered the prayers in this room for fame and mega-wealth at a young age? That really might not have gone well. God is not some cosmic vending machine where we push a button and out comes an answered prayer. He isn’t a genie that does our bidding. Nor would we ever want him to be.
It might seem like fun to have a genie for like 30 seconds, but name a movie where that has turned out well. To go to God like a genie is, in essence, to put ourselves in God’s place. If we were to really play this out to its conclusion, we would soon realize how bad this would be. We are limited in our knowledge, we are selfish in nature and we sleep!
So, we are glad that there is a God and that He is not a genie. What then are these good things that He wants to give us? A good thing is something that will both glorify God and work to conform us into the image of His Son. In Luke’s version of our passage, he says, ‘how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?” The Holy Spirit allows us to see things increasingly the way God sees them and to be able to discern what is truly good.
Here are two things that I think will help us to understand what qualifies as a prayer for a good thing. A prayer that merits asking, seeking and knocking. First, does it align with Scripture? John Calvin says that, “The Spirit holds our affections by the bridle of the Word of God.” We know that God desires the things in His word to happen. We can take the promises of Scripture and plead with God. We can argue with God. It might sound weird to argue with God, but if we know from Scripture that we are praying for something that God has said He wants to give, then we ask, we seek and we knock.
Charles Spurgeon said, “The best prayers I have ever heard in our prayer meetings have been those which have been fullest of argument. Sometimes my soul has been fairly melted down where I have listened to the brethren who have come before God feeling the mercy to be really needed, and that they must have it, for they first pleaded with God to give it for this reason, and then for a second, and then for a third and then for a fourth and a fifth until they have awakened the fervency of the entire assembly.”
George Mueller was a 19th century pastor in England who became known for the insane answers he would receive to his prayers. The most well known of which were the prayers for the orphans. When he started his pastorate, all of England had capacity for just 3,600 orphans and twice that number under the age of 8 were in prison. Mueller was able to care for over 10,000 orphans in his life while preaching three times a week and never once asking for money. All he did was pray. He was known to spend hours looking for Scriptural support for something he wanted and, once he found it, he would knock unrelentingly.
Do you have Scriptural backing for your prayers? Do you know enough Scripture to even know the answer to that question?
Scripture is the first way we can know what good things to pray for. The second is community with other believers. We are able to know more about God and what He desires when we are in community with other believers. God has designed us to thrive in community with each other. C.S. Lewis was a part of a circle of three friends: Jack, Ronald and Charles. C.S. Lewis was Jack. When Charles died, he thought he’d now have more of Ronald, but he said, to his shock that he found he had less of Ronald. He said, “In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity….Now that Charles is dead I shall never again see Ronalds reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald...now that Charles is away, I have less…”
In the same way, we have more of God when we are together. Together in church, together in each other’s homes, together in Bible study and prayer. Our Discover OGC class started this morning. It’s not too late to jump in. Join us next week and see what it would look like to be a covenant member in this church family. Together we will more effectively know what ‘good things’ are and more fervently ask for them.
I could imagine that some of you are here today and thinking, “But it seems like a good thing that my child come to faith and that hasn’t happened. It seems like a good thing that we have children and that hasn’t happened. It seems like a good thing that my health continue so I can continue to take care of my family and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Why has God not given me that thing?”
If that’s you, first, I just want to say how sorry I am. How gut wrenching that has to be. But, I also want you to hear two things from me. First, don’t stop asking. If you are convinced that it is a good thing, never give up. Don’t give up until there is nothing left to ask for.
And because there are some heavy health issues in this church right now, I want to say that our health is something that we can ask for. It’s obviously not a guarantee because all of us will lose our health at some point, but all through the New Testament, prayers for healing were almost assumed.
One of my best friends had a child that was diagnosed from seven different blood tests with leukemia. A faithful group of people prayed over that boy and it went away. I understand that can feel uncomfortable to some of us here, but we plead with God for things that we believe are good until He says yes or He says no.
Second thing, I want you to hear from me. Trust God in the nos. David prayed for his son with Bathsheba to live and God said no. Paul prayed for the thorn to be removed from his side and God said no. Jesus prayed for the cup of God’s wrath to be removed and God said no.
There are times when the greater good is there, but we just can’t see it. Joni Ereckson Tada is a name many of you know. She is a 69 year old lady who was paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident when she was 17. I heard this quote a few weeks ago at The Gospel Coalition conference and I thought it would be helpful to hear how she has processed the greater good in her life.…”I always say that in a way, I hope I can take my wheelchair to heaven with me - I know that’s not biblically correct, but if I were able, I would have my wheelchair up in heaven right next to me when God gives me my brand new, glorified body. And I will then turn to Jesus and say, “Lord, do you see that wheelchair right there? Well, you were right when you said that in this world we would have trouble, because that wheelchair was a lot of trouble! But Jesus, the weaker I was in that thing, the harder I leaned on you. And the harder I leaned on you, the stronger I discovered you to be. So, thank you for what you did in my life through that wheelchair. And now, you can send that wheelchair to hell if you want.”
We ask for good thing. We seek good things. We knock on the door for good things. But, we do it always acknowledging that God knows the ultimate good. But the only way we can really believe this is to understand who it is that we are praying to.
III. Who it is that we are praying to
We are praying to a good Father. I look out at the fathers or soon to be fathers in this audience and I see men who want to give good gifts to their children. If our children asked for bread, we wouldn’t give them a stone. If our children asked for fish to eat, we wouldn’t give them a serpent. Maybe a more updated way to say that is if our kids want Burger King, we aren’t going to give them week old gas station taquitos. If our kids want meatloaf, we aren’t going to give them mystery meat. That’s for you 90’s kids.
And do you know what Jesus calls us, dads? Evil. Compared to our Father in heaven, we are evil fathers and even we know how to give good gifts to our children. How much more does God who is a good Father know how to give good gifts?
So, we see that we aren’t praying from a formula, we are praying to our Father. A Father who loves us and wants to hear from us. A Father who deeply enjoys our seeking Him. I know I have had a lot of kid references this week so one more and I’ll try and spare you next week. One of the great joys of my day right now is my four year old running into my room when he wakes up (even if it’s a bit too early), jumping on my bed, hugging me and saying, “Good morning Daddy!” His next words are usually something like, “Where’s my breakfast?,” but that doesn’t bother me. I know he needs it. And, remember, I’m evil. How much more is our Father in heaven happy when we seek Him and make requests of Him
The core motivation for our asking is based on the character of the Father. In Luke’s version of this passage, Jesus compares our asking to a man getting up in the middle of the night seeking two loaves of bread from his neighbor and relentlessly knocking on the door. Now, almost every commentary I have says that the neighbor opened the door and gave this man the bread because of his persistence and so shall God. And maybe that’s true, but I see Jesus comparing the character of the neighbor to the character of the Father. Even this selfish neighbor obliged, how much more will the God who loves you?
And do you know how we know our God loves us? Because our Trinitarian God, came in the form of the Son, Jesus Christ to rescue us from this world. He has established a new kingdom and those who believe in Him will reign forever in that kingdom with Him. Jesus has given us access to the Father by forgiving our sins. By taking the punishment we deserve on Himself. Believing in Jesus is the only way we have this kind of access to the Father. Do you have this access? Do you want this access?
So, what is it that you are or will be seeking God for? I’ll let you know what I prayed for this week and will continue to. I want to see God kingdom strengthened and grown through this church. I know that is in line with His desires. It deeply grieves me that there is this idea that a church is either theological or evangelistic. Often churches are neither, but seldom are churches both. You have your fluffy evangelistic churches over here who usher people into the kingdom and once they grow in their faith, the move on to a more theologically sound church. But, the theologically sound church seldom sees true adult conversions.
I want to reject the idea that a church has to be one or the other and seek God that we could be both. And I know that if God were to answer that prayer, it would require a ton of us, but that is why we are here. I pray a lot of things for this church, but that is the main thing. And I believe deeply that if we all ask that together, if we seek that together, if we knock on that door together, that God will answer that prayer and that we would see something truly special here.