You know how sometimes you innocently look over a biblical text and it just flattens you? My pastor, Dale Flowers, preached on prayer, using Jesus’ words from Matthew 7: “Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Once again I was swept away by Jesus’ absolute confidence, his sense that the universe is open to us and to our hopes.
*Consider his audience: Jews deeply conscious of their long history of oppression. “How long, O Lord?” was a prayer most deeply engraved on their souls. It takes considerable chutzpah to tell this group, “Everybody who asks receives.”
*Jesus’ explanation is rooted in the character of God as Father. Even we bad fathers don’t respond to requests with perversity–giving stones in place of bread, snakes instead of fish. And God is a much better Father than we.
* Jesus doesn’t here offer a single hint about how to pray to get results. It’s not, “prayer works!” Prayer isn’t transactional, it’s relational. God will answer because he is your father–not because you are so good at praying.
*The series–ask, seek, knock–points toward the surprise that marks relationship. When you ask, you receive, but rarely just exactly what you imagined. This is particularly so with fathers. The better the father, the less transactional and the more personal the giving.
Seeking goes deeper. You seek what already exists whole, which has mystery attached to it–otherwise you would not be seeking it. We don’t want mere stuff that we already know all about. We seek what we don’t know. Prayer is exploration.
Deeper still is knocking. You knock in order to be welcomed in to someplace you have not been. It is a new reality, belonging to the one who welcomes you. When the door opens you must enter in and see what you find.
Jesus is no fool. He knows the reality of this unkind world, in which people struggle against adversity and rarely eat their fill. But Jesus is telling us how it really is underneath this hard surface. At the heart of existence is a waiting Father. Therefore ask, seek, knock.
It is a stunning assertion. Lots of evidence runs against it, and Jesus makes no effort at proof or argument. He immediately acknowledges that he asks his disciples to walk through a very narrow gate. (7:14) Will they ask, seek, knock? He puts it to them to choose.