“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!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

We’ve all seen little kids on long car trips – after a little while they begin to ask that most profound question, “Are we there yet?” Naturally the parental response is to inform the child that they have not yet arrived at their destination. Invariably a few minutes, or seconds, later the child again ponders aloud the question, “Are we there yet?” While it may be irritating for parents to constantly be barraged by the same question, there is something to be said for a child’s persistence in continuing to ask. It is this persistence that Jesus wants his followers to develop in terms of our prayer life because in doing so we will enjoy the wonderful gifts that the Father has for us.

Yet why at this point in the Sermon does Jesus bring up such a discussion? Consider what Jesus just preached in verses 1-6 where he directed his disciples not to judge hypocritically and to be careful with the “pearls” that we have been given. In light of such a lofty command, and the commands of the rest of the Sermon as well, it is understandable that his disciples will need help in meeting such standards. Thus it is that Jesus informs us of the surety of our prayers.

While Jesus does inform us that our prayers will be answered he begins his discussion with three commands – ask, seek, and knock. Each of these commands is given in the present tense in the original language and carries the understanding that they are to be constantly done. One should constantly be asking, constantly seeking, and constantly pounding upon the door of heaven. But the natural question that comes to mind is: what should we be asking, seeking, and knocking for?

The main theme o f the Sermon is life in the Kingdom of God – throughout Jesus has taught the disciples about the character of those that inhabit the kingdom. The beatitudes set out the principles by which one should seek to live and emulate, His instructions on prayer, divorce, loving our enemies, forgiveness, etcetera, all point to how His disciples should look and the standard by which they will be different from the world. And yet these are lofty goals! Which man honestly can say that he does not commit adultery in his heart? Or what woman can look at life and not worry about her security and future? What child does not from time to time become angry with another and thus murder them in their heart? The demands of kingdom living are indeed a high goal which we are to strive towards yet while we may be closer today than we were yesterday, we are still many difficult miles from the goal. Thus Jesus tells us to ask; ask for God to develop a clean heart within us; seek after the gift of a clean conscience; knock fervently at the door of the throne room to arouse the King into action. We are to ask, and seek, and knock so that we can receive the good gifts that our Heavenly Father has for us His children, and we are assured that our requests will be answered (v8).

In order to illustrate His point Jesus provides a simple example which most everyone should be able to relate. When a child asks a parent for bread, a staple of everyday life in the first century, what parent in their rational mind would give the child a stone? If we saw this we would call that person either insane (at best) or a horrible parent (at worst). In the same fashion if a child were to ask for a fish what parent would give them a snake? The answer again should be “no one”. Thus Jesus compares the good gift giving of an earthly parent to that of the Heavenly Father.

The Father is a perfect father, the ultimate father! If earthly fathers give good gifts to their children then how much more will our Heavenly father give us what we ask! An earthly parent may not be able to give a child what they have requested due to poverty or some other natural reason. But God is under no such duress, all the bounty of the natural world is at His disposal, and beyond that He is an omnipotent God able to do anything! Thus if we ask we can be assured that He has the power and authority to grant our requests and as a Father he desires to do so. This does not mean however that all our requests will be granted.

First, one should remember that prayer is not a magic spell – one does not simply say the correct words, or tack “In Jesus name”, to the end of a prayer and thus expect it to be answered. Our Father is not only able to grant our requests but he is also wise to know what it is that will be best for us. A common example is if one should ask for a million dollars, after all there are many troubles within our lives that could be solved with such funds in our accounts. Yet not many of us have received such a boon, does this mean that God has failed to answer our request? Not at all! While in our human understanding we believe that such a request would be for our good, God is wise in knowing the effects that it will have upon our lives. James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Maybe should such a request be answered it would not have the effect of developing our relationship with our Father, but instead drive us away from Him. There are many rich people in the world who have trusted in their wealth instead of God. God alone understands what is in our best interest and it is for such things that we should attempt to petition. Asking for victory over a particular sin, for example, would help to build our relationship with the Father and so He may grant such a request. Yet should he choose not to do so that should not malign His goodness! There are many godly men and women who continue to struggle with particular sins and have done so for many years, but the mature Christian understands our failures do not constitute one on God’s part. We are still human, with our human sinful nature, and we will only fully be free from the curse of sin when we stand before our Father. Then why continue to ask/seek/knock?

In Luke 11:5-13 Jesus tells a parable about this principle and further expands on the nature of what is said the Sermon on the Mount. While we are not to be repetitive in our prayers (6:7-8) it does not mean that we should not be persistent in our prayer. God wants us to seek Him and He has promised in Jeremiah 29:13 that we will find Him. Perhaps we have become complacent with our asking – when was the last time we earnestly requested something of God? How often do we seek Him with our whole hearts until we have found Him? When was the last time we made a request daily and for weeks on end as we sought His answer? God wants us to ask and in many cases is waiting for us to make the first move so that he can richly bless us with His wonderful gifts.