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"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
These verses contain a promise about prayer (7–8) and a proof of that promise (9–11). Today, I’ll look at the promise; tomorrow, at the proof.
In verses 7–8, Jesus promises that God will answer our prayers. And he does so in absolute, unambiguous terms. Everyone will receive what he asks for, find what he seeks, and enter through opened doors of opportunity when he knocks. There are no qualifications to Jesus’ promise of divine answer. In other words, Jesus does not tell us that God will answer our prayers only if we pray in God’s will or ask for things we truly need, as opposed to things we merely want. He simply and without reservation promises that God will answer us.
But this raises the obvious objection of unanswered prayer. We do not always receive what we pray for; neither do our family and friends. Is Jesus’ promise a hollow one, then—nice words but nothing else?
First, we must interpret Jesus’ words correctly. Jesus often spoke in absolute terms, vivid contrasts, and hyperbole. We misinterpret his teachings if we mistake rhetorical flourish for legalistic promise. In verses 7–8, Jesus used strong language to motivate us to pray. I sincerely doubt that he intended us to think our relationship with God is a blank check. After all, even he had an unanswered prayer, namely, “may this cup be taken from me” (Matthew 26.39), which referred to the crucifixion.
Second, as a general principle, it is true that God answers our prayers. The issue really is not unanswered prayer per se, but rather prayers with answers that we did not expect. Someone has written that God always answers prayers in one of four ways: No, Go, Slow, and Grow. I think that’s about right. Sometimes, God refuses our requests. Sometimes he grants them. Sometimes he let us know that now is not the right time. And sometimes he wants our character to mature. Only a very bad parent would give a very selfish child whatever he wanted, whenever he asked for it. And God is not a very bad parent.
Indeed, according to verses 9–11, God is a very good Father, who longs to give us “good gifts.” If, on occasion, I ask for things that God does not give me, I’m quite sure he has something better in mind.