“Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for bread, would give a stone? Or if the child asked for a fish, would give a snake? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!Matthew 7:7-11, NRSV
I would say that this is one of the most difficult sayings of Jesus. “Ask, and it WILL be given to you.” All my life I’ve heard this interpreted as a sort of carte blanche promise from God. So I’ve heard people pray for cars and spouses and new jobs and pay raises. The list goes on. And who wouldn’t ask for those things if Jesus wa making us an unlimited promise?
However, ask anyone who prays as a daily practice what their experience with this text is, and many will say that they most certainly have not gotten everything for which they asked: the child died, the spouse left, the job dried up, or the tornado hit their town. Often leaving the pray-er disappointed with God or wondering what they did wrong.
There are two things that I think shed some light on what Jesus may be saying here. The first is that John told his church that “…if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14-15. The writer of the book of Hebrews prayed that God would make them complete in everything good so that they could do God’s will.” Hebrews 13:20-21. Therefore, it is clear that God wants us to pray with God’s kingdom and will in mind. A promotion at work or a larger house would not necessarily fall in that category.
The second thing to keep in mind is Luke’s take on this saying, “If you then….know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him,” Luke 11:13. Again, the focus of the prayer according to Luke is the presence of the Spirit of God in one’s life.
The church in the U.S. has too often thought of the “Ask, seek, knock” passage as being an ATM. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says and repeats that the Kingdom of God is to be a focus of the disciple’s life: “may your kingdom come,” and “strive first for the kingdom of God.” And Jesus in this text, Matthew 7:7-11, must also have the Kingdom in mind as he speaks.
How this would refocus the modern church’s attention if we made the Kingdom of God the primary item of our prayers and our priorities!
Prayer: O God our King. We humans are so self-centered and worldly in our ambitions. Even our prayers are obsessed with the pressing things of this life rather than your grand vision for our world at the end of time. Please keep us from ourselves and focused on you, aware of your promise to hear our prayers for the work of the Kingdom. In Jesus’ name. Amen.