These posts are rough summaries of the Sunday messages.
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, 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!
It is no exaggeration to say that Jesus is touching the most sensitive part of our souls here, and therefore the importance of this passage cannot be overstated.
What is it about then? Many people read the invitation to ‘Ask… seek… knock…’ as three different ways of encouraging us to pray. While Jesus does have prayer in mind, I believe he is actually talking about something deeper and more fundamental than our prayer. He’s putting his finger on our state of need and our faith in the God who meets that need. He’s teaching us about the kind of dependence (whether in prayer or in action) that springs out of a heart that trusts God. He’s talking about our faith, our trust, our confidence in God.
We all have heroes of the faith, men and women who really lived lives of trust in God. Some of them did great exploits, and others simply had grit to keep believing in the daily struggle of hard lives. The reason we admire them – the reason they were admirable – was because of their deep faith in God and confidence in him.
Then we look at ourselves and what do we see? We see that while we imagine ourselves living a certain way, the reality is usually far short. Instead of being sacrificially generous we’re tight and careful in case we run out. Instead of being fearless we’re anxious (and often terrified). Instead of being confident to live a life for God’s approval alone we’re always fretting about what others think of us. Instead of walking in purity, satisfied in God, we’re drawn off into temptations. We’re prayerless when we should be prayerful, hesitant when we should be bold, unstable when we should be steady.
And what is the root of all this? The root is always exactly the same thing. It’s our failure to believe that God is good. It’s our lack of faith. How does Jesus want to address this lack of faith in God? We can look at the answer through the grid of mind, heart, will.
First, Jesus wants us to think rightly about God. What is your understanding of God? AW Tozer said, ‘What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us’. Why? Because whether you believe in God as good determines whether you trust him, whether you live in dependence on him.
The simple truth that Jesus wants to impart is that God is good. Oh, if only we could grasp this! ‘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!’ (v.11). Doubting this is the root of all our troubles. That is no overstatement. Think back to how our situation unravelled right at the start, in the Garden of Eden. The serpent began to sow seeds of doubt in Eve’s mind about God’s goodness. ‘Did God really say…?’ As soon as we start doubting that God is good, or that he has our best interests at heart, we stop trusting and decide to take matters into our own hands. We take the fruit and acquire its knowledge for ourselves.
In other words, if you tell me your trouble (temptation, anxiety, fear, selfishness, pride, or whatever) and I’ll show you how it’s basically rooted in the same old problem: that you don’t think God is good. So, what is your first thought about God?
Second, Jesus wants us to feel rightly about God as Father. The truth is that we can think something is true without believing it in the gut, right in the seat of our souls where all of our decisions come from. So instead of simply asking, ‘Do you think God is good?’ we need to ask, ‘Do you feel that God is good? Do you feel that he is on your side, that he cares, that he is tender towards you, that his plans are perfect?’ If you are not sure of this then you will go elsewhere for protection or joy or fulfilment.
Jesus wants us to get this gut-level knowledge of God the Father and his goodness. ‘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?’ God is your abba, your dad.
But what if you haven’t had a good dad? Is it possible for you to know the love of God the Father? Can you still feel it? Of course! You have to keep in mind that this knowledge of God’s love is always supernatural, regardless of whether your earthly dad was good or bad. Even the best earthly dads pale in comparison to our heavenly Father. And besides, no matter how bad your earthly dad may have been you still know what father-hunger feels like, you still desire this love, you still have that capacity to be filled and to know this profound security.
And yet, what if you believe in your head that God is loving but it still hasn’t sunk into your heart? Well, I’d want to ask you some questions. First I would ask, are you sure you’re saved and part of God’s family? Because if not you can be today. This knowledge of God as Father is only for those who have joined the family. I would also ask, have you tasted God’s Spirit, the Spirit who communicates with us showing us that God is our Father (Romans 8.14-17)? If you have never experienced the Spirit in this way, then you must ask in confidence that God will answer and pour his love out on you in a way that you truly feel. As Luke has it in a very similar passage, ‘If you then, who are evil, 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). Then I'd ask, are you standing on God’s word, reading and meditating on it? You can’t know God any other way, and so if you are hungry to know God but refuse to learn more about him then I can't help you. Finally, I would ask, are your eyes open to the goodness of God all around you? We have so many things to be grateful for. And ultimately, God’s love was proved beyond question or doubt when he gave his son, Jesus, for us: ‘but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5.8).
Finally, Jesus wants us to do; that is, to live and act in such a way that demonstrates our belief in God’s goodness. In this invitation to ‘Ask… seek… knock…’ Jesus is calling for prayer and action, and for both to spring from faith. Prayer without doing anything is hot air, but doing without praying is presumptuous pride. Christians pray and do. Their lives are governed by their trust in God. Here is Christ's invitation to ask, to seek, and to knock.
Are you asking? ‘You have not because you ask not…’ (James 4.3). I know you’re thinking, ‘What about unanswered prayers?’ Let me briefly answer that. First, it’s vital to remember that prayer is personal, not mechanic or magical. A machine or mechanism does the same thing every time. You pull a lever and a widget pops out. Magic is very similar in that it’s predictable, it’s in your control. But God is not a machine, and nor is he a power we can tap by uttering a spell. God is a person, and so we should expect his answers to be those of a personal Father. Second, we need to realise how utterly terrifying it would be if the answer to every prayer was ‘Yes’. Can we really trust ourselves to pray the right thing, given how little we know about anything? It’s very comforting to know that God, who sees all and has a perfect will, answers prayers as he sees fit.
Are you seeking? If you don’t yet know God as Father then hear the words of this promise: ‘You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart’ (Jeremiah 29.13). When you sincerely seek after God, he will not hide himself from you. If, however, you’re a Christian and you need to seek God for his will, don’t fret. It’s God’s job to make his will known, after all.
Are you knocking? Are you attempting things for God? Are you hungry to do his will? Are you pushing on doors? We often get paralysed by uncertainty about God’s will. All the what ifs circle round in our brains causing us to do nothing. But I have come to the conviction that doing something, even if it’s misguided, is better than doing nothing! The Bible tells us that it is our faith that pleases God, and I understand that to mean that ordinarily it’s better to do something, trusting that God will be with you and guide you, than to sit there and do nothing because you’re afraid you’ll get it wrong. You don’t need to be certain of success, but only certain of God’s goodness. So, how would you act differently if you were sure that God would smile on your faith?
As we close, this is the question I want to leave with you: Are you living so that your prayers and actions reflect the belief that God is good?