Ask and ye shall receive?

By David A. Liapis

Thoughts on Matthew 7:7-11

“Ask, and it will be given to you…” Will it, though? How many of us have asked for things “in Jesus’ name” and not received them? We have asked for healing that didn’t happen. We have asked for material goods that were not provided. We have asked for leaders who were not elected. We have asked for the end of wars and evil practices that have not ceased. So, how can Jesus say that if we ask, seek and knock that we will receive?

Some would say it’s because we lack faith, and so God does not answer us (James 1:6-8). Others would say we don’t receive that for which we ask because we do so with impure motives (James 4:3). Still others would contend that we don’t get what we ask for because we’re not asking in accordance with Jesus’ will (1 John 5:14-15). While all of these are Biblical reasons and any one, or combination thereof, could be a contributing factor, there’s no single attitude, prayer, phrase or posture that will force God to act.

The question still remains though of whether or not Jesus was being honest with his audience. Did he make a promise he could not keep? Most certainly not!

It’s very instructive, as discussed in the past, to look at any parallel passages that exist in the Gospels as well as the collective narrative of the Bible. In this case, there’s a parallel passage in Luke 11:5-13. Here, the “it” that is given in Matthew chapter seven is clarified, and it’s the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus isn’t just tossing out there the possibility of being given anything and everything we desire and ask God for. Rather, in harmony with the theme of the kingdom of God in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is saying that those who ask for the Holy Spirit (in other words, the seal of salvation by faith in Jesus) will receive him.

This fact very evident in John 14 where we find a verse that says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” Again, this is not a promise that if we ask for new cars, good-looking spouses, health, wealth and prosperity “in the name of Jesus” that God is obligated to give us those things. Rather, the rest of the John 14 leaves no doubt it’s the gifting of the Holy Spirit Jesus is referencing. Here in this passage in Matthew Jesus makes the point that if we, “evil” people, know how to give good things to our children, that God, who is the infinitely good Father, knows how to give what’s good to us. As mentioned, the parallel passage in Luke identifies that ultimate good as the Holy Spirit, without whom we would not be saved.

What does this mean for us? It means that we should not be shaken in our faith when we pray for something we don’t receive, because we have a good Father in heaven who knows what we need before we even ask (Matthew 6:8). And, to draw that out more, our Father knows what we “need,” so we can trust that anything we don’t receive is not what he deems best for us. Many times, what’s best for us are the very things we don’t want. God’s purpose is to save, sanctify and bring his children into glory with him, not to give us what we think would make for our “best life now.” The Apostle Paul talks a lot about the life to come and how even immense suffering and need in this life is but “light momentary affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17) compared to what it to come for those who trust in Jesus Christ for salvation.

The challenge for us today is to trust in the sovereignty and goodness of God in all things. May the Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit, enable us to trust our Father’s plan and purposes and conform our will to his.

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