We are close to the end of our series called “Thy Kingdom Come” where we are walking through one of Jesus’s sermons that was a big part of his ministry: the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. After today, we have one week and one passage left in this series. And next week, I think, is the scariest passage in all of the Bible. I hope you’re able to be here and bring someone with you.
To recap, in chapter 6, Jesus talked about the heart BEHIND prayer and fasting, about the emphasis of our lives and work – whether temporary and physical or eternal and spiritual, and then about how our Father already knows our needs, so we should seek HIM and HIS righteousness FIRST. And, of course, that will affect every area of our life – which is why Jesus then starts talking about relationships – first with others (regarding judgment and the golden rule that we covered last week), and then with him (which is what we will be talking about today).
Interestingly, Jesus just finished a huge list of “don’ts” such as don’t commit adultery, don’t retaliate, don’t build up treasures on earth, don’t be anxious, don’t judge, don’t cast your pearls before swine, don’t give holy things to dogs… and now in Matthew 7:7 (where we will pick up today), Jesus turns and gives a positive, affirmative imperative to his followers about their relationship with God.
Matthew 7  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 [or earthly, not heavenly], 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!
This is one of the most encouraging and hope-giving sections of the New Testament. Not only are we given a better understanding on prayer and the “rewards” of prayer, but we get to see the heart of the Father we are praying to.
But in our study of this passage, we are also left with one big question and an even bigger problem. This question that we face has left many Christians confused and the problem has left many disappointed or even bitter in their relationship with God and His Church. We will get to those in a minute.
But before we do, let’s work through the text so we can understand some of the words and phrases that Jesus uses. I want to give three observations.
First, notice that Jesus uses three key verbs (ask, seek, and knock) that are describing aspects of our prayer life. These words in the original language are known as “present imperatives,” meaning that they could be read as KEEP ON asking, KEEP ON seeking, and KEEP ON knocking.
Jesus is not talking about a one-time, emotional, or flippant prayer. This isn’t like a child saying: “Dad, can I have this? Ooh dad I want one of those? Dad can I have that, please!” He is talking about heartfelt and consistent conversations with God about what our hearts really desire. It is in this way that prayer tests our sincerity and authenticity. Jesus is inviting us to keep on asking, seeking and knocking.
Secondly, consider the words themselves and the progressive intensity that Jesus is talking about in our prayer life.
To ask is to call for something with our words. This is the most elementary step to get what we desire. While it does not take work on our part, it does take humility and embracing our need. I tell my kids: “if you need something, just ask.”
To seek is to look for something with our minds or (in this case) our souls. It moves from asking to looking for what we desire or wonder about. It reminds me of Nehemiah who went to look around and do his research on Jerusalem before calling people to come and build. The idea is that we will not find what we are not looking for. Seeking is about focus and concentration.
To knock speaks to an action or movement. It implies that there is resistance that we are pushing against that, in fact, CAN be opened. I like how the late preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “It would be of no use to knock at a wall, but you may wisely knock at a door, for it is arranged for opening.”
If this is talking about our prayer life, then the great thing is that none of these things require skill or great knowledge. Because of Jesus and with the Holy Spirit, we can all ask, we all are able to seek, we all have the capacity to knock. Or as Spurgeon also said, “A man can knock though he may be no philosopher.”
But despite its simplicity, Jesus is speaking about that which is uncommon in our prayer lives. Because this kind of asking, seeking, and knocking requires awareness of our need, humility of heart, desperation of mind, focus of thought, recognition of God’s character, perseverance in spirit, willingness to move and act, confidence in the Father’s love, and trust in God’s good will for us.
And right there is a challenge for us. Because I think that is often NOT how we pray, is it? But Jesus is saying that THOSE kinds of prayers get answered.
Which brings us to our third observation about this text. notice the outcome (or “reward” as Jesus called it earlier) of prayer. He says in verse 8: “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Of course, the opposite is true, too: if you do NOT ask, if you do NOT seek, if you do NOT knock… you will NOT receive, find, or have opened.
So let me sum it all up like this. Jesus is teaching his followers to :
- Keep ASKING (with our words) and what we are asking for will be given to us
- Keep SEEKing (with our thoughts) and we will find what we are seeking
- Keep KNOCKing (with our actions) and the door we knock on will be opened
That is the text, and it is wonderful and encouraging and hopeful. And we could say “amen” right there and go on our way, confident (as Paul said in HIS prayer in Ephesians 3) that God’s “…mighty power at work within us” and from his “glorious, unlimited resources” to answer our prayers and even “accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”
But as I said earlier, in studying this passage, we are left with a big question that is not initially obvious. And how we answer this question says much about our own theology (or our understanding of God, ourselves, and life itself). The question is:
What should we be asking, seeking, and knocking FOR?
Is Jesus just talking about stuff – fame, fortune, good health, and status? Is this a verse to promote the “prosperity” and “health and wealth” of His followers? Is Jesus telling us to follow our dreams and visions and, if we have enough faith, they will become a reality?
Well, just so you know, that would NOT make sense in the context of the Sermon on the Mount (especially because Jesus just said not to focus on building up treasures on this earth and that his followers WOULD be persecuted).
But even more, that would not make sense if we consider the life of Jesus and the Disciples themselves. The reality is that everyone gets sick, no matter how much faith they have, everyone eventually dies no matter how much they pray, and many Christians (especially outside of modern America) are not wealthy or famous or prosperous. The “prosperity gospel” it not a gospel at all – it is a lie.
So if Jesus is not saying to ask for stuff, then maybe he is talking about intangible and spiritual things – such as asking for salvation, seeking eternal life, and knocking on the narrow “gates” of heaven that he refers to in the next passage.
But while that certainly makes sense, there are ample examples in Scripture where God chose to give or do something TANGIBLE in response to a prayer – such as multiplying the bread and fish, turning water into wine, causing coins to come out of a fishes mouth, and even raising the dead! And then we read:
James 1  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change
Or as we read earlier, Jesus said that even an “evil” or “earthly” father will give his son bread if he asks for it. And I could recount examples in my own life where God provided something tangible or physical or an opportunity that I needed.
So then the answer to the question of “what is Jesus saying that we should be asking, seeking, and knocking for?” – must be (I believe):
“…Whatever we need to live the life that God has called us to live.”
In fact, I heard two or three times this week from different preachers, that when we are living in step with God and seeking Him and His righteousness first, God will give us anything we need to accomplish his will.
Is it possible to pray for the wrong thing? Sure! But as any loving parent or grandparent would say, we would rather our kids to come and ask us for wrong things sometimes… than to never talk to us at all.
Now that the question is out of the way, that still leaves us with an incredibly difficult problem that we see “between the lines” of this text. And I think it is a problem that we have all faced at some point in our Christian lives. It is this: if Jesus said we receive, find, and have opened what we ask, seek, and knock for… then why do we not always get what we ask for? Why do we not always find what we seek? Why does every door we knock on not get opened? Or let me sum it up like this:
Why doesn’t God always answer our prayers?
Of course, sometimes we pray for our team to win or the rain to hold off or us to do well on a project, and while it doesn’t work out, we are okay. No harm, no foul. We get over it, we stop thinking about it, and we move on. Sorry Cavilers.
But what about when our prayers get more serious and more dangerous? What about when (even though we prayed for them), our loved ones die, jobs do not hire us, lost family members do not get saved, children get cancer, plans fail, dreams never come true, or we feel like our lives are falling apart. Why doesn’t God answer our prayers then?
Let me just say: I know that question well. I have been very blessed, but even in the middle of that, there are times that I can ask, “why, God?” or sometimes “why not, God?”
And that is all of us. We do not have to go any further than the Book of Psalms to read about the heartfelt cries of God’s people. For example, one Psalmist wrote:
Psalm 44  But you have rejected us and disgraced us and have not gone out with our armies.  You have made us turn back from the foe, and those who hate us have gotten spoil…  All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant.  Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way;  yet you have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death…  Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!  Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever asked God “why?”
Jesus was no stranger to our grief and disappointment. His friend, Lazarus died. His own family did not trust him. His own community did not believe in him. His own creation, the ones that he loved and came to give good news to – crucified him. And as he hung there on the cross, bleeding and suffocating, with his final breaths he cried out with a loud voice:
Matthew 27  …“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Just let that settle in.
And listen: I am not trying to downplay what you might be going through or to belittle anything you are feeling. I am not trying to come up with a short, cute phrase that “fixes” anything – because the truth is that we live in a broken and hurting world full of broken and hurting people. There is sickness and disappointment and death all the time in the world because of sin. And that is not how God wanted it to be.
So the “problem” is real – but what is the answer? I believe that the answer is this:
God is a good Father.
How is that the answer to this problem? Well let’s look back at the text (which is always the best place to look to understand Scripture). Jesus said:
Matthew 7  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? [that would be ridiculous, right? He is using an extreme example to say that…]  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!
That phrase “how much more” is used multiple times throughout the Gospels, letting us know that God is MORE than anything we can imagine here. Do we have a good friend? God is more. Do we have a loving father? God is more. Do we have a great plan? God is more. He is always more.
Just to be clear, God is not:
- A genie that grants you whatever you wish
- A vending machine that drops a prize with the right change and combination of buttons
- A claw game that might give you wanted after wasting your time and money on it
- A wheel of fortune that gives you what your lucky spin lands on
God is not even JUST a friend – He is a GOOD, GOOD FATHER. And as we said in the Lord’s Prayer that this “Father” language was new to God’s people on such a personal level. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is having the “defining the relationship” talk with his followers. He is saying how much MORE will your Father who is in heaven (he is high above, his thoughts are higher, his ways are better), will give GOOD things to those who ask him.
How does God being a good father answer this question of why he doesn’t always answer our prayers? Let me quickly give us 3 ways and we’ll be done.
Because He is a good Father…
1. God gives good gifts to His Children.
Although we recognize the wickedness and brokenness in the world, we must also remember that was NOT God’s plan. Back in the beginning Genesis, God originally made everything good.
But even while life is often “bad,” God is still good and he still gives good gifts to his children. In fact, Romans 8:28 tells us that God can even take that which which seems bad right now and turn it into something good! However, God will certain allow us to make bad choices and put bad things into our lives, but even the consequences of our sin that we brought on ourselves, God can use them for our good and his glory. He is a good Father.
God is not out to get us but to help us. He won’t play tricks on us and sneak in (as Jesus said) a rock for a stone or a snake for a fish. He is a loving, good Father. That might mean sometimes that he does not give his children everything they want, because he knows what we NEED as opposed to what we sometimes want. As John says in 1 John 5:14-15, “This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”
If we ask with a pure heart, we seek in God’s kingdom and his righteousness, we knock on the door that is within God’s will, then, as Mary said, “nothing is impossible.” Because God gives good gifts to His children.
As a good Father,
2. God will not reward disobedience.
Maybe there is unrepentant sin that you committed or good that you neglected to do in your life, and God is waiting for you to repent before you answers your prayer. Will God cause or allow a loss or sickness or failure because there is sin in your life? Absolutely! That is not always why stuff happens, but a good father disciplines the children that he loves! God would not be a good Father if he let his children do whatever they wanted to – not while he knows the best plan for them.
God will not give us the gift we are asking for, he will not lead us to find the new thing we are seeking, and he will not open a door to new places that we are knocking on when he cannot trust us to handle and be faithful with it. Consider the parable of the stewards that Jesus taught. Are we faithful with the time, talents, and resources that God has already given to us?
Or what about as a church – are we being faithful with what we have before expecting that God will give us more? Could God be waiting on us to be in a right frame of mind, to be unified, to focus on him and his righteousness before he answers a prayer?
Listen to two of many verses we could read about how our sin “hinders” our prayers. James says in James 4:3 ”You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” James wrote also in:
James 1:6-7 “… ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord”
Or maybe you are not saved, and God is allowing things to happen to bring you to the place of desperation and “poverty of spirit” – because it is only at that place that God will save us from our sin.
Lastly, because God is a good Father…
3. God has a better plan than we have.
Really, God has the BEST plan. But when we ask for things, seek things, and knock for things that are not in line with his will, he will not give them to us. Why – because he is mean? NO! Because his thoughts are SO much higher and his plans are SO much bigger and better.
I often feel like I have to tell my kids “no” more than “yes” at this point in their lives. I don’t know everything, but I do know that eating junk before a meal is not the best plan for their health. I do know that playing in the road is not the best plan for a long life. I do know that if I put my child up in the tree, then they won’t be able to get themselves down and will be stuck or will fall out. And how much MORE is God a good Father than us?
We read earlier about how Jesus cried out, “Why have you forsaken me” on the cross. But just before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed in the Garden, “…My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
And as unimaginably difficult and torturous as that must have been for Him, we are so thankful that Jesus trusted his Father’s plan – and yielded to it even though he prayed for it to pass. Because it is only through Jesus’s death that we can have life. It is by his woulds and stripes we are healed.
What if the struggle we are going through is going to teach us something that we would not learn any other way? What if the difficulty we are facing that we are asking God to remove life will result in someone else’s salvation? We can’t see ahead, but God can. Let’s trust our good Father and his plan for our lives.
So what are you asking for that you have not yet received? What are you seeking for that you have not yet found? What door are you knocking on that God has not yet opened?
Maybe God is saying to us this morning:
- “what you are asking for will not be good for you – just trust me”
- “you have sin or wrong motives in your life – just repent”
- “I have a better plan for you than you know – just wait”
Do we trust God is a good Father? That’s really what it comes down to.
Remember that Psalm of “Lament” and discouragement that we read? Where the Psalmist was questioning God? Well just one Psalm after, we read this:
Psalm 46  God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,  though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah  There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.  God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.  The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.  The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah…  “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”  The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah