“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” (Mt. 7:7)
We find this tantalizing invitation from our Lord Jesus recorded in the Sermon on the Mount. That block of teaching found in Matthew’s Gospel has as its theme the kingdom of God. Throughout His teaching, Jesus has emphasized the values, ethics and priorities for those who belong to His kingdom. He lays out the demands of righteousness and a way of life that distinguishes believers from the world. By this distinctiveness, Christians are able to function as salt and light, influencing the world for the cause of Christ and bringing glory to their Father in heaven.
But what are we to make of Jesus’ call to ask, seek and knock, with the promise of results? Have we left the business meeting of the kingdom, taken a break and gathered at the concession stand? Has our Lord adopted the tact of kings like Ahasuerus to Esther and Herod to Herodias’ daughter, inviting us to ask for whatever we will, up to half of His kingdom?
We can liken our Lord’s invitation here to a driver’s license. My license is issued by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. With it comes the privilege of the road, along with certain rights and responsibilities. Jesus issues us, as subjects of His kingdom, a license to pray. We can note three characteristics of this license.
First, our Lord grants us right of access. The “you” of Matthew 7:7 is the “you” of discipleship. Jesus is not speaking to outsiders but to His disciples, those who have the right of grace to address God as “Father.”
That raises a question. Does God hear the prayers of the unbeliever? Certainly, God has the prerogative to hear the prayer of those outside His kingdom. But He does not obligate Himself to hear. We as children of God have assured access to the throne of grace that the world does not.
Second, our Lord charges us with the responsibility to request. Asking, seeking and knocking all stress actions we take. In fact, they are all commands, something we are to continue to do. If we want to be given, we need to ask. To find, we need to seek. For a door to be opened, we need to knock.
Isn’t that what James tell us? “You do not have because you do not ask” (Jas. 4:2). Jesus relates the parables of the persistent widow and midnight friends to impress upon us that God wants us to keep seeking, to keep knocking. He wants us be importunate in our prayers of petition. We are to persist in prayer, recognizing it as a means God uses for His ends.
Third, our Lord extends us reason to expect. For each of the actions of asking, seeking and knocking, our Lord affixes promises of success. But what sort of success will our petitions bring?
So often when people read this passage, they take is as a carte blanche. It’s like they have unearthed the magic lamp buried in the sand, preloaded with unlimited wishes. Like those interviewed about what they will do if they win the lottery, those who hear “ask and it will be given” turn their minds to personal gain and priorities.
But this license is given to Christ’s disciples and is issued to them as subjects of the kingdom. For all that Jesus has told us in the Sermon on the Mount, here He directs us to the kingdom commissary for the supplies we need to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Mt. 6:33). When He tells us in Matthew 6:34 that each day has enough trouble of its own, here our Lord tells us that our Father will provide for those troubles as we requisition what He knows best we need.
Those requisitions include what we need for our daily bread, but also such things as peace to deal with worry, wisdom to handle struggles, strength to resist our enemy, the devil. We can have absolute confidence that our all-wise God will supply all our needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus.
Our license to pray grants us right of access, responsibility to press our plea, and reason to expect just the right answer. Elsewhere, our Lord requires of us that we ask “in His name.” That’s just another way of saying we ask in reference to Him as our King. When “Your will be done” is the bottom line to our prayers, we defer our will to His in all we ask and we prefer His will to our own.