Summary: Jesus’s teaching on asking, seeking, and knocking for our prayer requests challenges our faith, and gives us an open door to ask for more than we can imagine.
In my last post, I talked about what Jesus really means when he says we shouldn’t judge others. In this post, we continue to track with Jesus through His Sermon on the Mount and talk about asking God for our requests.
There’s an awkward approach in the Western Church today concerning requests in prayer. We all realize we can’t ask God for things out of selfishness. But sometimes we are like Abraham when he wanted to know if God would spare a city starting at 50, down to 10 righteous people. He gingerly asked God for just a little more with each request.
Sometimes we approach God like a child who has broken a priceless vase. We know we have been sinners, and so we don’t deserve for our requests to be answered. But, we still want to ask. We approach God as if we are walking on egg shells.
When Jesus teaches on requests in Matthew 7:7-11, it seems loosely connected with previous themes, like the Lord’s Prayer and not being anxious or worrying about our needs. He will go much further than we can imagine. So, let’s discover how different we as Jesus’s disciples view prayer requests from God. Let’s get started.
Your Blank Check
When you first read Jesus’s teaching on asking, seeking, and knocking, you get the impression that it’s an open-ended proposition. He puts virtually no restrictions on what you can ask. In fact, there seems to be a progression from asking to a more ardent seeking, and an unabashedly knocking down God’s door with requests.
He doesn’t place a number on the requests we can seek. There seemed to be no restrictions. It’s like Jesus hands His disciples a blank check and just expects God will answer our requests. Many scholars search for ways to rein in the bodacious, bountiful claims Jesus makes about the Father’s willingness to answer our prayers.
Is it really so simple, so cut and dried? With such an open invitation, the disciple of Jesus might be challenged to ask in faith for the biggest, most amazing miracles. We might have to put our faith where our prayer requests are. We might have to boldly, confidently come before God and believe Him for big things.
Surely Jesus is not offering a blank check to ask anything. Or should we take Jesus at His word? Is this a challenge for us to think of, and ask, for big, impossible things? Perhaps Jesus challenges our faith. The Father will answer any request. But do we have the faith to ask such monumental miraculous things from Him?
The actions of asking, seeking, and knocking here are in the present, continuous tense. Jesus is telling us to keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking. Does this tie in with the persistent widow who keeps coming before the judge until he answers her request for justice (Luke 18:1-8)?
Even more scandalous is the promise that as we keep asking, God keeps giving. As we keep seeking, God will and our search with a find. As we keep knocking, God will open up to us. No matter how much we hound Him, God doesn’t get angry or stop answer us. What a great promise! Why don’t we take more advantage of Jesus’s offer?
Are There Conditions?
It seems too good to be true. It’s like Publishers Clearinghouse walked up to our door and handed us the biggest check we could imagine. Should we balance Matthew’s account with other Gospel accounts? We’ve got to do something about this open-ended offer from Jesus. After all, God can do all things.
Isn’t that the point, though? We come with our tails tucked between our legs, not looking up at the Father on His throne. What if we go too far? He could smite us with a mere thought. There must be unwritten rules, something to read between the lines. And yet, Jesus is clear.
The implication is that we ask anything, and God grants our request. We can seek Him for anything, and we will find it according to His lavish grace. Knock on the door over and over, and God will open it to you. Jesus tells one church in Revelation that God opens doors no one can shut (Revelation 3:7).
We scramble to find some fine print and boundaries of His teaching? That wipes away Jesus’s incredible offer. Why do we look for ways to put words in His mouth, to disbelieve His generosity, or to find all the little places Jesus might have taught differently. Do we really see Jesus as teaching this with a wry smile on His face, ready to point out the intricate nuances to what He says?
There is a context to this teaching. He is speaking in the same line as prayer, like the Model Prayer He has taught us earlier in Matthew 6. He mentions the same phrase of the “heavenly Father.” So, these requests are prayer requests. What if we ask for $1 million, or the most expensive car?
Think of the kinds of requests Jesus teaches us to pray about in that Model Prayer. When we have the right priorities of understanding who God is and what He can do, putting His Kingdom first, and then asking for our needs and understanding them in light of who He is, that seems to place restrictions on this offer.
If we understand Jesus’s teaching about not wanting temporal things and wealth here and now, God can be so generous in answering our prayers because we will not ask for things outside of the bounds of the Model Prayer. The rest of Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount also affects what we ask for. But within those bounds, this really is a blank check.
Jesus tells us to ask, seek, and knock. He does not say the Father will give us everything we ask for. He knows better than us what lies ahead. For instance, what if I ask Him for something I think is huge, but He knows will not be enough further down my path? Before my paralysis, I would never have thought to ask such basic things as I ask for now. I have faith, but I realize the value of the little things I request from Him.
We placed the conditions on ourselves. We only go so far. But God has greater perspective than we do. He can take our small requests and make them fit His purposes. We limit ourselves, but God has limitless resources. We need a bigger faith.
The Parental Illustration
After Jesus presents these three actions we can take in prayer, and God’s three responses to our requests, He presents two rhetorical questions based on parenthood. He compares earthly parents to our heavenly Father.
Jesus has already taught us about God taking care of our needs. I didn’t say “wants.” But God sometimes surprises us by giving those to us, too. God has limitless resources and all the power to grant any request. Jesus’s rhetorical questions reveal the differences between our heavenly Father and our earthly parents.
Jesus doesn’t choose lavish gifts impossible for parents to give to their children. He picks the necessities, the staples on every table, bread and fish. These are readily available in Israel in the first century. They are not hard to find or provide. So, why does He compare bread to stones and fish to snakes?
We have seen the comparison between stones and bread once before, when Satan tempted Jesus because He was hungry after His 40 day fast (Matthew 4:1-4). In Bible times, a loaf of bread was similar in shape, color, and size to the stones, or rocks, in the land of Israel. Leviticus 11 forbids the Jews from eating fish without fins and scales perhaps because they resemble snakes, like eels and catfish. This may be where Jesus gets His illustration.
All this focus is on a pernicious parent who tries to trick his children. Instead of providing their basic needs, he sees if he can trick them, first with a useless stone instead of necessary bread, and then with a dangerous snake resembling a fish. This may be why Jesus uses the word “sinful, evil, or wicked” to describe the earthly father.
But a closer look at this word gives us another, closer understanding of its meaning. It can mean “evil” or “wicked,” but it also has a comparative sense, especially in this passage. Jesus isn’t calling fathers and parents wicked. He makes the larger claim that God can provide what earthly parents cannot. He is a better Father because of His ability to provide and His desire to bless His children.
The sense of this context that fits this word best is “a quantitative difference,” that the earthly parents are deficient in quality to the heavenly Father. Even their best intentions to provide for their children fall short because of their limited ability and resources. As much as we hate the thought and fact, children go hungry every day. It’s not because their parents hate them. It’s that the parents sometimes cannot provide their basic needs.
Parents can fall short, but our heavenly Father is a faithful Provider unbound by limits. His intentions are good, not pernicious. He can provide. He does provide. And He only gives good gifts to His children. More than providing our basic needs, He loves to lavish us with blessings. This isn’t about limiting ourselves in asking God our requests. It’s about God’s character and desire.
We’ve only scratched the surface on Jesus’s teaching on asking, seeking, and knocking in our prayers. We will finish our discussion in the next post, concluding with part 2.
When you share your prayer requests with God, go for the gold. Ask for the biggest requests, the ones you think are impossible, and see what God will do for you.
We’ve talked about how the disciple of Jesus understands what happens when we bring our requests before Jesus. But there’s more to discuss on answering prayer. I will conclude our discussion in the next post.
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