ASK, SEEK, KNOCK
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We’re beginning our series on the promises of God. The first promise we will look at today is one that we probably all know - Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened. This is God’s promise to us that when we pray, he will answer. How should interpret this promise? We can probably all think of things we’ve asked God for that he has yet to give us. Is “ask and you will receive” only for certain people or does it only apply to certain requests? Is there some kind of a magic formula that once we decipher, we can then use to get God to give us what we want? It’s important for us to look at this passage because there can be a lot of misunderstanding around it.
These verses come at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. The passage is found in both Matthew and Luke and is very similar in the two books. Jesus has been instructing the masses. He’s given exhortations to love our enemies and challenged us to forgive those who have persecuted us. He is now asking his followers to be pure, loving, generous and humble. These qualities aren’t easy to learn or to practice. Yet these are qualities that Jesus requires of his followers. He then goes into the Lord’s Prayer.
In Luke, the author records that the disciples first ask, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’. One author points out that this is the only time in the gospels that the disciples ask to be taught. They want to know how to pray, not how to be doctrinally correct or morally pure, but how to pray. They have come to the understanding that following Jesus is about cultivating a relationship with God the way they observe Jesus doing it. The disciples recognize that this life, this way is about being in communion with God. When we’re looking at prayer it’s important to note that the primary purpose is not for us to receive anything. The primary purpose of prayer is to commune with our Creator. There are five elements to prayer – Praise, thanksgiving, confession, petition for self and intercession for others. The instructions to ask, seek and knock apply to the latter two elements – petition and intercession.
Jesus continues with more instructions – Don’t be anxious, don’t judge others. I can imagine all the people listening and getting worried. Really? Can I really live like that?
And then Jesus speaks those words “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will open.” This is the way things are because God is our Father and he wants to give us good things, just as any parent wants to give their child good things. And if we who are prone to be anxious, envious and judgmental, can give good gifts, then how much more can God who is good, kind and holy, give good gifts?
I believe that understanding these verses will be a big help to our prayer life, both individually and corporately. Let me first say a couple things about prayer. Sometimes praying can seem pointless. God already knows everything. HE knows my thoughts, needs and wants so what is the point of verbalizing it? To this concern, I would say that prayer is more about our transformation as it is about getting what we want. When you think about a significant relationship or about being in love, you know that spending time with that person changes you. You become other-oriented rather than self-focused and in the same way, prayer gives us a God-orientation that we cannot get any other way.
The other reluctance I hear about prayer is that people don’t feel they are good at it. And I want to stress that the ability to pray is not a gift. The Bible never talks about prayer as a spiritual gift. It does talk about prayer as a discipline. Early will I seek you and I will meditate on you in the night (Psalm 63). Prayer is like anything else, it requires practice and discipline. It is also meant to be done both individually and together. Praying together is an important aspect of the community of God. Prayer binds us together in a way that nothing else can. One of the best parts of my week is gathering with my small group to pray for each other. We talk about our daily struggles and joys, we share family concerns and hopes, and then we go around the circle and pray for each other.
ASK, SEEK, KNOCK
Now we come to Ask, seek and knock. You’ll notice that there are two parts to each phrase; our part and God’s part. I know this is a sermon series on the promises of God but he is not the only actor when it comes to prayer. God’s actions and words are always Invitational and leave space for us to participate in what he is doing. Ask and it will be given to you. Our part is to ask. And we are to ask with humility. We are to ask recognizing that we don’t always know what is best for us. We are to ask in faith. Asking in faith does not mean that we think positively and picture ourselves as having what we want. Faith is not like the Little Engine that Could where having and doing is all about willpower and determination. Faith has very little to do with our willpower. Asking in faith means that we ask knowing full well that God knows what’s best for us and trusting that his way is the best way even if it’s not what we want.
You might also think “Who am I to ask God for anything?” I do believe that God wants to give us good gifts. He tells us this in his word. Part of being in a relationship with him is asking for good things. We saw in the Old Testament that Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord and he wouldn’t let him go until he received his blessing. We see with Job that after much loss and suffering, God restored to him all that he lost and more. We read throughout the Bible, that God wants us to ask him for things.
In Jeremiah 33 God tells his people “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know”. In James, the author addresses the scattered tribes of Israel saying “You do not have because you do not ask”. It is clear from reading scripture that God wants us to ask things of him. Again, making requests is part of being in a relationship with him. It’s also part of being the church of God here on earth.
William Barclay wrote that God will never refuse our prayers and God will never mock our prayers – God will answer them in His way and His way will be the way of perfect wisdom and perfect love. God’s way is the best way. And while we know this in our heads I think it can be difficult for this to sink into our hearts. So what do we do? How so we ask God for something and trust Him to answer our prayers?
The first thing we do is ask in humility. The very act of coming before God with a request is humbling. It’s hard to ask for help. When we do this, we are admitting our need for him. We are admitting that we can’t do it on our own. And we’re opening ourselves up to the possibility of an outcome that we don’t want. So to ask is itself, a mark of humility.
Once we have made our request known to God, we don’t just sit there and wait. There may be some waiting involved but there comes a time when we need to get up and go search for the answer. Seek God’s face and God’s will. You say this is my request God, this is what I want and now I’m going to search your word and seek you and find out if this is what you want for me. This is the point where we scour God’s word looking for wisdom and instruction that can apply to our situation. This is where we talk with our pastors and deacons and teachers and parents to ask their opinion and their guidance. We seek God through his word and through those who are wiser and older than us.
Then we watch for opportunities and we seize them. To knock is to be active. The example Jesus gives his disciples is one of a person who goes to a friend’s house and knocks persistently. At first, the friend says “It’s late! Don’t bother me”. But the person persists knocking and eventually the door is answered. This is a strange way to think of God - as someone we can pester with a request until we get our answer. The author is not meaning to say that this how God works. The point is that this is how our friends would respond, our friends who love us imperfectly. If that is the case, then how much more will God respond to our persistent knocking as the God who loves us perfectly.
Ask, seek and knock. The text has these verbs in the present imperative – Go on asking, go on seeking, go on knocking. Jesus is telling us to persist in prayer; be patient in trouble and keep on praying (Rom 12:12). He is telling us never to be discouraged in prayer. As one author put it “we must bring to God an undiscouraged life of prayer, which tests the rightness of the things we pray for, and which tests our own sincerity in asking for them”. When we are persistently asking, seeking and knocking, this gives us time to examine our requests and see if they are right and honest and if we really want what we’re asking for.
The best gift, of course, is one that God gives freely – the Holy Spirit. Verse thirteen tells us that our Father will give us the Holy Spirit if we ask him. The Holy Spirit is God’s way of being personally with us in all our listening and speaking and acting. The Holy Spirit is the one who intercedes for us and prays for us when we do not know how to pray. In the book of Luke the Holy Spirit leads and empowers Jesus in his ministry and, as we heard last week, it is the Holy Spirit who leads and empowers the church. This is the crux of the passage.
The same passage in Matthew reads “how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him”. Both Matthew and Luke perceive the answer to Christian prayer as consisting of spiritual graces, not material treasures. I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t ask for material things. We all have different desires within our hearts. But Jesus is always reminding us not to worry about material things. Don’t worry about what you will eat, or what you will drink. Don’t worry about what clothes you will wear. Don’t worry about the future, about your calling or career or your health. For God knows what you need. God knows. In Luke chapter 12 we read “seek first his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”. Your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.
I want you to take a moment now, and close your eyes and in the silence think about what you are asking of God for yourself. Speak to him about that now.
I also want you to think about what you are asking of God for our church. What spiritual graces should we be praying for as a church? Ask God to bring about his kingdom in our community.
I’d love to hear about what you’re asking God for. I’d love to pray persistently with you that he would answer your prayer. We know that we can trust God to do his part; to give us the Holy Spirit and give us that which is good. We can trust him to take care of our every need. We can trust that when he says ask and you will receive, that these are not empty words. It’s a promise. And when God makes a promise, he keeps it. Receive from your Father that which is good. And in your asking and seeking you will discover that you are receiving a gift beyond what you could have imagined, a relationship with the Creator of the universe.