"Ask! Seek!! Knock!!!"
(Delivered Sunday, April 24, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
I'm particularly excited about the opportunity to share this morning's passage with you. It's a remarkably simple passage. There's very little in it that needs explanation.
But as simple as this passage is, Jesus gives us a wonderful invitation in it. And If we will trust confidently in what our Savior tells us in this invitation - and if we will faithfully take Him up on it - it will be enough to transform our whole outlook on life!
Jesus, in His Sermon on The Mount, speaks to His followers about His Father; and He gives us the most wonderful invitation we could ever be given. I believe it's so wonderful, that - just to make sure we get it into our hearts - Jesus says it twice! He says,
"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 he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being 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!" (Matthew 7:7-11).
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There are certain passages in the Bible - this one, it seems, especially so - that puts you to the test in terms of your view of God. A famous preacher named A.W. Tozer once wrote, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us;"1 and I would say that if you have a view of God other than the one you should have, then your response to this invitation from Jesus will most certainly fall short.
For example, someone may see God as a far-distant deity - someone who may be 'up there somewhere' in great majesty and glory and power; but who is unmoved by the cares and concerns of people on earth, or who is harsh and rigid and is irritated when they ask things from Him. Many people think that way about Him; and if that's your view of God, then the invitation of Jesus to ask things of Him will make no sense to you at all. You wouldn't bother to take Jesus up on it. You will not see His Father as interested in you at all. You will live life as a 'practical atheist' - believing that even if there is a God in heaven, for all intents and purposes, you're on your own in life. The problems of life are yours to deal with - and yours alone. You'll believe that the resources that you possess on this earth are the only things you can really trust in. And if that's so, why "ask" anything of the heavenly Father?
Or, someone may view God as 'limited' - a deity who is easy-going and very glad to hear from us when He can, and who may even care very sympathetically about our concerns; but who is not really able to do for us the things that we need. If that's your view of God, then this invitation from Jesus would only frustrate you. You might ask things of Him; but why bother? You will see God as 'well-intentioned', but not a reliable or sufficient Person in whom to place your trust. You will fear that, if you trust Him, you will soon become disappointed; or that if He gives you anything, it might be something that you really don't want. You may try to ask what you want from Him; but then, you'd quickly turn away from Him when you don't get exactly what you asked. You may perhaps try to "have God in your life", but you'd never really trust Him for the things of life. You'll always be frustrated. Always disillusioned. Always a little afraid.
Now consider this carefully, dear brother or sister in Christ: Our Lord's invitation demands that we possess a "correct" view of His Father first! Do you notice how Jesus' words demand a right view of God? He calls God "your Father who is in heaven". To refer to Him as "Father" shows us that He is NOT far-way and distant, or harsh and uninterested. A genuine and true "father" - which is what God is to those who are in Christ - loves and tenderly cares for His children. He holds them as near and dear to His heart. He protects them and provides for them. He will only intend what is good for them, and will never allow anything to happen to them that would harm them.
And to refer to Him as the Father "who is in heaven" shows us that He is NOT merely 'well-intentioned'. It shows us that He is NOT weak and incapable of meeting our needs. Far from it! It teaches us that He not only intends what is good and beneficial for us as our Father, but is powerful to bring about everything that He intends. It teaches us that we are infinitely loved in the most intimate way by One who is all-powerful, all-wise, and everywhere-present - One who holds such complete sovereignty over this universe, that absolutely nothing can ever happen to His children except what He lovingly permits; and that absolutely everything that He decrees for their good will be completely brought to pass by His infinite power.
Now let me ask you - is that the view you have of God? If it isn't, I honestly don't see how the invitation in this morning's passage could mean very much to you. But if you have come to God in humble faith - as a broken sinner who seeks His grace, and if you have trusted in the sacrifice for your sins that He has provided for you on the cross of Jesus, then you have been adopted by Him through Christ and are now free to call Him "Father". And if you know Him as Father and have the view of Him that Jesus' words demand, then you will gladly take Jesus up on this invitation and "ask" the Father for everything you need.
If that's your view of God, then you will ask Him in faith. You will ask Him about everything. You will ask, and not give up. You will ask persistently; believing that God loves you, and hears your concerns, and cares very deeply about you. And you will ask confidently - knowing that He not only hears you and wants to meet your needs, but also knows how to meet those needs in the very best way that they could possibly be met. You will trust Him to give you only what is good and best for you - and to do so lovingly, wisely, powerfully and completely.
And you tell me - would that make a difference in the way you live? You bet it would! It would make all the difference in the world!
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Let's take a closer look at this invitation. And as we do, let me encourage you to make it your prayer to ask the Father to change what may be wrong in your view of Him today, so that nothing stands in your way of taking Jesus up on this wonderful invitation!
The first thing to notice is the fundamental call of this invitation:
1. ASK! (v. 7).
Jesus - the Son of God - gives us a remarkable and authoritative invitation concerning His Father. He says, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." The words of Jesus, in the original language, are given to us - grammatically - in the imperative tone. That means that they constitute a command: Ask! Seek! Knock! And they are given to us in the present tense. That means that they constitute a command that is to be obeyed by us as a regular and ongoing practice of life: Always be asking! Always be seeking! Always be knocking! This is an invitation, but it is also a command to take up a regular habit of life: Ask!
And please also notice the promise that Jesus attaches to this command. He promises results! If you ask, it will be given to you. If you seek, you will find. If you knock, the door will be opened. The implication, of course, is that it isn't given to the ones who don't ask; and it isn't found by the ones who don't seek; and it isn't opened to the ones who don't knock. But it's specifically those who ask, seek and knock that receive, find and have the door opened to them.
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Now it's always important to read the words of the Bible in their context. But it would be hard to imagine a passage in which the context was more important than this one. You see, not everyone has a right to this invitation. But then, Jesus isn't inviting everyone in the world to ask things of His Father. He is speaking only to a specific group. And if someone were to take this invitation out of its context, and ask things of the Father when they didn't yet have a right to do so, they would only be frustrated by it.
If you were to go back to the very beginning of Jesus' sermon, you'll see what I mean. Matthew 5:1-2 tells us about the people to whom He was speaking in this sermon. It says, "And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them . . ." Who is the "them"? It's not the multitudes. Rather, it was those who were His "disciples" - His devoted followers. He was speaking to those who believed on Him, obeyed His teaching, and have followed Him as His disciples. Others may have been listening to the words He spoke; but He was intending those words for His disciples only.
You can put it this way: He was speaking to those people who are described by the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) - that is, those who recognized that they were poor in spirit, and who needed God's grace; who mourn over the sin in their lives; and who come to God meekly and humbly - hungering and thirsting for a righteousness that is not their own. And having received that righteousness by God's grace through faith in Christ, they then demonstrate the grace of God in their lives by showing mercy, by living with purity of heart, by seeking to bring others to a state of peace with God through Christ, and by being willing to suffer persecution in Christ for righteousness sake. These - and these only - are the ones who have a right to approach the Father and ask things of Him; that is, those who have believed on Jesus and follow Him faithfully as His disciples.
This is very important; and I don't think I can stress the point enough. Only God's children have a right to approach Him as "Father" and ask things of Him. And only those who have believed on Jesus have the right to be called "children of God". John 1:12-13 says, ". . . As many as received Him [that is, Jesus], to them He [that is, the Father] gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." Others who do not believe on Jesus may try to ask things of the Father; but He has no obligation to give them anything, because He is not their Father and they are not His children.
Now that might seem harsh and unfair. But remember: God never prohibits anyone from believing on Jesus and becoming His child. In fact, He has gladly made every provision possible for anyone who believes on Jesus to become His child. Even the worst sinner in the world will become God's child if he or she will believe on Jesus. In spite of what many people are fond of saying today, there really is only one way to become one of God's children - and that's through Christ. But God welcomes everyone who come to Him through Christ. The way to become one of His children, then, is open to everyone who will take it. He turns no one away who comes to Him through Jesus.
So let me ask you - have you placed your trust in Christ? Are you His child by faith in the cross of Jesus? Have you prayed something like this? "God in heaven, I am a sinner. I have rebelled against You and have shaken my fist at You. I have tried to run my life in my own way and on my own terms. I have sinned against You. But my eyes have been opened to see that Your Son Jesus died on the cross to pay for those sins. I now place my trust in what He did on the cross for me; and I accept the forgiveness of my sins that You purchased for me there. I no longer resist you. I come to you willingly through Jesus Christ. Take my life, and make me what You want me to be."
If you have never trusted Christ in that way - and if you will not do so now - then please understand: this invitation to "ask" things of the Father is not for you. The only request He will hear from you is the request for salvation through Christ, so that you then may become His child. And I sincerely hope that, one day, you will trust Christ and become God's child; but until you do so, this invitation is not for you. It only belongs to those who are God's children by faith. But if you HAVE trusted Jesus, or are willing to do so right now - demonstrating that trust by going on with Him and following Him in obedience to His commands - then this wonderful invitation belongs to you! You are a child of the Father through Christ; and you are invited to ask your Father for whatever you need. The promise of the Bible is this:
And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment (1 John 3:22-23).
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Now; if you have placed your trust in Jesus Christ, and are now a child of God by faith, let me share with you the next thing Jesus commands us in this invitation . . .
2. ASK PERSISTENTLY! (v. 8).
Look at how, in verse 8, Jesus affirms the invitation He just gave in verse 7. In verse seven, He was stressing the command: "Ask, seek, knock". But in verse 8, He's stressing the results: "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened."
In the original language, our Lord uses three present tense participles to describe a kind of person - literally calling such a person: "the 'always-asking' one; or the 'always-seeking' one; or the 'always-knocking' one". And when He stresses the results of these actions, He again uses the present tense of the verb to describe an ongoing, habitual product of those actions. The sense of Jesus' words could be translated this way: "For every person who is the 'always-asking' one keeps on receiving, and every person who is the 'always-seeking' one keeps on finding, and every person who is the 'always-knocking' one keeps on finding the door opened to them." Taken altogether, this is a picture of persistence.
Even the manner of asking that Jesus describes suggests persistence. Do you notice that He doesn't simply say that the person who gets results is the one who "asks"? Rather, He seems to describe a whole-hearted kind of progressive 'asking' that comes very close to becoming impertinent! They not only ask; but if they don't get an answer, they seek. And they don't only just ask and seek; but if they don't get results, they knock! They don't give up! This reminds me of how little children ask something from their mother or father. They will ask; but if they don't hear an answer, they will get up from where they are and seek their mother or father so they can ask again. And if they seek their mother and father, but are met by a closed door, they will knock so they can ask yet again. If you're a parent at all you already know all about this! They are persistent! And Jesus is not only inviting us to ask the Father as His beloved children; but He's urging us to be like children, and be persistent in our pursuit of what we ask.
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I love how our wonderful Savior gave us stories to illustrate His teaching. What Jesus is teaching us in this passage is something that He taught to His disciples on another occasion. And on that occasion, He told a story. He said;
"Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within and say, 'Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise up and give to you'? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs" (Luke 11:5-8).
He comes right out and says that the point of this story was to illustrate persistence. And look at what Jesus then goes on to say! Perhaps, by now, it will sound familiar to you!
"So I say to you, 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 he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (vv. 9-10).
Ask, seek, and knock! Keep at it! Be persistent! Don't give up until you receive the answer! It's not that God is unwilling to answer us when we ask. The problem is that we're not willing to demonstrate true faith in Him by being persistent in our asking! Jesus taught us the same basic principle of 'persistence' in another parable. Luke writes about Jesus' teaching to His disciples on another occasion:
Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying; "There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying 'Get justice for me from my adversary.' And he would not for a while, but afterwards he said within himself, 'Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.'" Then the Lord said, "Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bear long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:1-8).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; I suggest to you that this is one of the main reasons why so many people become discouraged or defeated in the Christian walk. They believe it's supposed to all come "easy"; and they don't realize that everything worth working toward in the Christian walk requires persistence in prayer. They struggle against a particular temptation to sin, for example; and they stumble and fall. Each time, they pray to conquer it; and yet, it seems to sneak up and hit them again. Pretty soon, they give up and consider themselves defeated by a sinful habit. They resign themselves to it; and assume that prayer didn't work for them - when the whole time long, God was looking to them to "keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking".
Or they seek to do something that they believe God has called them to do. All the indications seem to be that God was calling them to engage in some work or embark on some mission. And yet, they keep hitting road-blocks along the way. They pray for God's leading and provision; and yet, it seems as if the leading and provision never comes - and the only thing that seems to show up are the road-blocks. After a while, they give up. They conclude, "I prayed; but God didn't answer my prayers" - when the whole time long, God was urging them to "keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking".
Or sometimes people simply seek to have a deeper fellowship with God through Christ. They want their faith in Him to be real. They want to really know Him and experience His power in their lives. And yet, they run into times when He seems far away. They pray to Him; but He doesn't seem to respond. It's as if He had hidden His face from them for a time. Pretty soon, they give up and settle for a mediocre kind of experience - when all along, God is willing to give them what they long for if they would just "keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking".
You name it. People pray for doors to be opened, for loved-ones to believe, for illnesses to be healed, for hindrances to be removed, for resources to be provided. They pray for these things - and even pray much for them! And yet, when they don't see an answer, they far to easily give up and conclude that prayer must not work. I will confess; I have done it too. And yet, it's not that prayer doesn't work, or that God doesn't hear His children's cries to Him, or that He doesn't care. It's that we forget that one of the most important elements in prayer - as the Bible itself teaches us over and over - is persistence!
Have you been defeated and discouraged, because you didn't see an answer to your prayers as soon as you would have liked? If you are a child of God by faith in Christ, it's not that God does not hear your prayers! It's that He is seeking to develop your faith in Him by calling you to be persistent. If you have given up along the way and surrendered to defeat, dear brother or sister in Christ, then get back up and begin again. And this time, join with others of your brothers and sisters in prayer about what concerns you - because Jesus speaks in the plural in verse 7; literally saying, "Ask, and it will be given to you-all; seek and you-all will find; knock, and it will be opened to you-all." We need to pray together and encourage one another in persistence.
Jesus spurs us on to persistence in prayer with this promise: "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." Let's keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking - knowing that those who do so will receive, will find, and will have the door opened to them! We have Jesus' word on it!
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And that leads us to one final thing . . .
3. ASK PERSISTENTLY WITH CONFIDENCE! (vv. 9-11).
We can ask, knowing that our heavenly Father loves us and will never give us something that is not good for us. All of His answers to our prayers are only good every time.
Jesus uses a couple of 'slice-of-life' examples that we can all relate to. He says, "Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?" In Bible times, bread was often made into little 'buns' that looked very much like stones. Could you imagine a hungry little child asking his daddy for some bread, and his daddy mocking his hunger by giving him a rock? There may be some scoundrels who are that insensitive and cruel; but if there are such men, they're the exception that highlights the rule. Even the most hardened and wicked man would still give his own hungry child a piece of bread when the child asked.
Jesus gives another example of a child's request. He says, "Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?" Scholars have suggested that the kind of fish involved was long and 'snake-like' in appearance. Could you imagine even a hardened and sinful father hearing his hungry child ask for a fish for food - only to mock the child's need by giving him a dangerous snake instead?
I remember flying home from Arizona once. Before I left, I stopped in the gift shop to buy presents for my sons; and I found the perfect gift for one of them. He was very little at the time - but was fascinated with scorpions. And I found a paper-weight that I knew he would really like. It had a scorpion encased in a big piece of plastic with the words "ARIZONA" imprinted on it. When I brought it home in a paper sack, I said to my son, "I have something for you that I found in Arizona. Would you like it?"; and his eyes got wide, and he nodded as as he looked at the sack. Then I said, "Do you remember that you always told me that you wanted a scorpion?"; and then he stopped nodding, and started to back away - looking a little fearfully at the paper sack. I said, "Oh, don't worry. Daddy will never give you something that would hurt you." And then I slowly pulled out the plastic paper-weight with the scorpion in it; and as he inched his way closer to it, his eyes got big again. He loved it! In fact, I think he even still has it! In his imagination, he always wanted a real scorpion; but in the end, I think that the one I got him was much better.
Now, I'm a very imperfect father. I struggle with sin. I make very fallible decisions and choices. Compared to my heavenly Father, I'm a very evil father indeed! He sits upon the throne of heaven and is very good; and I walk upon a sinful world as a very fallen man. And yet, not even I would give a stone to a hungry child of mine who wanted and needed bread. And not even I would give a deadly serpent to a hungry child who wanted and needed a fish. I surely wouldn't drop a live scorpion into the hand of even a little boy who wanted one! I'm evil - but even I know better than to do that! And so, Jesus argues from the lessor (me) to the greater (my heavenly Father), and encourages me by saying, "If you then, being 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!" Oh how I can trust Him!
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And isn't it interesting that Jesus doesn't say, "For everyone who asks receives exactly what they ask for, and he who seeks finds exactly what they were looking for, and to him who knocks it will be opened to reveal to them exactly what they knocked for." We are promised that we will receive, and that we will find, and that we will have the door opened to us. But there's no promise to us that we will be given exactly what we asked for. And frankly, we can praise God for that! What a horrible fix we'd be in if we foolish creatures got everything we asked for!
We had a meeting here at church once, in which the leader of the group started us off by asking, "How many of your prayers has God answered this week?" I'm sort of a wise-guy I suppose; so I raise my hand and said, "All of them." I got a lot of funny looks from everyone; until I explained, "Oh don't worry. A lot of the time, the answer was 'No.'"
And do you know something? I'm very grateful that the answer has so often been "No." I'm growing in maturity (I hope), but very often, I have asked my heavenly Father for some rather foolish things - things that, in my limited understanding, I didn't realize were not the least bit good for me. I'm thankful that my Father loves me enough to NOT give me things I ask for when those things will hurt me - or hurt someone else. Jesus doesn't say that the Father is inclined to give us whatever gifts we ask for. Rather, He says that the Father gives "good things" to those who ask Him. Even when we ask Him for foolish and harmful things, He gives us "good" things. Even if we were to ask for a hard stone, He'd give us the bread we really needed; or if we were to ask for a deadly serpent, He'd give us the fish that was much better for us to have.
This underscores for us a wonderful principle of prayer; and I believe that this principle explains why it is that we sometimes feel as if God is not answering our prayers. We find it in 1 John 5:14-15; where it says, "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him."
The apostle John doesn't tell us that our confidence is that if we ask anything, the Father hears us and gives us what we ask. We shouldn't have confidence that He would give us anything we ask; because He won't. He loves us too much to do that! (Only a bad parent would give their child whatever they asked; and God is a good Father!) Instead, our confidence before our good Father is this: If we ask anything ACCORDING TO HIS WILL, He hears us and gives us what we ask.
And this is the principle that I believe is reflected in Jesus' words. The Father knows how to give good gifts to His children when they ask. And He wants them to ask. In fact, He wants them to ask with persistence. And they will need persistence in asking; because sometimes, they ask for things that are not according to His will. And that's the key: to ask according to His will! That persistence makes us examine our requests, and revise them when they are asking for the wrong things. That persistence makes us think, and search out for what it WOULD be His will for us to ask. The persistence in asking refines our requests, and conforms them to His good will to answer!
That need for persistence is really a gift of God's grace, isn't it? It explains why it sometimes seems as if He isn't answering our prayers. He really is answering them in saying, "No, my child. What you've asked is wrong. Sometimes, you do not have because you do not ask. But at other times, you ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures (James 4:2-3). I love you too much to give such things to you. You are not yet asking according to My will for you. Be persistent. Learn My will. And keep asking until you ask according to My good will to give. Then, I will gladly answer."
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And all of this means that I can ask persistently with confidence. We lay our requests before one who is our heavenly Father, and who loves us infinitely. He desires to give us only what is good for us - and in His great wisdom, He knows that that "good" is. He will never gives us something bad when we ask for something good. But neither will He give us all that we ask; because not everything we ask is good for us to have. We can ask in absolute confidence in His love, and trust him to answer only in a way that is better than our asking could ever be - even when that answer appears to be "No."
Do you view God that way - that is, as a heavenly Father who loves to shower good gifts on His children? Then I think you would be excited about this invitation from our Savior. I hope you will make it your regular habit in life take Him up on it. I hope you will feel encouraged to ask, to seek, and to knock!
1A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of The Holy (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1961), p. 1.
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