Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 7:7 Introduction
Verses 1-6 have taught us that effective confrontation of others, based on our accurately judging them, is one of the hardest challenges we face as believers. I thus offer a prayer on behalf of us all. “Lord, we want to do right, to judge only words and deeds, and to do so gently. Please remove the log from our own eyes, and help us remove the splinters in other people’s eyes. Let us know where to draw the lines to avoid the two extremes of overkill and silence. We do not want to drive people farther away, nor do we want to let them sink deeper into the woes of sin or Hell due to our neglect. We fear our ability to assess. Help us do right. How can we be sure we are doing precisely the right thing? Amen.” Our Master replies,. . .
Matt. 7:7a “Ask,. . .”
Gautama, founder of Buddhism, and Confucius said nothing of prayer. They gave only codes of conduct, but Jesus did not leave us with such “silence of despair. He, who knows God from resting eternally in His bosom, bids us pray” (Glover).
“Ask,” the dominant verb in this part of Christ’s sermon, will be brought before us in five consecutive verses. Jesus is driving a truth home. To meet God’s requirements we need God’s help, and to receive God’s help, all we have to do is ask.
It would do no good for God to demand what cannot be done. His edicts can be carried out, but we cannot fulfill them on our own. Thus, He has to enable us. This means every command in Scripture is also a promise, a guarantee God wants to give us strength sufficient to obey it. He merely requires us to ask. Remember what James said, “You do not have,” and why? “Because you do not ask” (JM 4:2).
Asking is not as easy as it sounds, for it is the language of utter dependence. To ask is to beg, to come emptyhanded and totally reliant on someone else. To succeed in Christian living, we have to ask, as a starving beggar asks for food, as a thirsty child asks for water, as a lost traveller asks for directions. The foundation of every true prayer is an overwhelming sense of our own helplessness and need.
We Americans certainly know how to talk this talk. We claim to be dependent on God, but often do not let it become a conscious, practical feeling. Thus, true asking, and therefore true prayer, is probably rarer among us than we like to admit.
Modern Western Christianity, as a whole, has not been characterized by prayer. There have been exceptions. Seasons of revival and intense prayer have visited us, but in the main we have not elevated prayer as high as it should be lifted.
I fear we Americans let cultural pride seep into our Christianity. Our society teaches us, from our youngest years, that human spirit, will-power, and resolve can handle all of life’s problems. This tenet is basic to Western Civilization. We believe effective leaders, smooth organizations, human ingenuity, and hard work can fix anything. Unfortunately, our churches often adopt and reflect this cultural ethic.
One of the most difficult aspects of being a Christian in America is breaking through this cultural crust of self-sufficiency. We must break this mold, get out of ourselves, renounce hyper-self-confidence, and learn, some things only God can do.
Every Christian experiences often the heart-rending sensation of not being inherently sufficient for a given task. We frequently do not have enough will power to live up to our own resolutions. This discovery is for many a frustrating realization. When this bewilderment occurs, our pride makes us want to fix it on our own.
This “fix-it-yourself” mentality is the very mindset our Lord opposes here. He wants us to face reality. We need God’s power to overcome our lusts, God’s courage to boldly speak to others of salvation, God’s wisdom to solve our perplexities, God’s healing for our inner wounds, God’s release for the baggage we carry.
Jesus’ prescription for our maladies is for us to humbly spread our innermost self out before God, and “Ask.” Beg Him to meet our need, to take away anything and everything that hinders His will from being done. This is real prayer–not pious rhetoric and mindless repetition–but truly seeking help from outside ourselves.
We do this asking not only occasionally or from time to time. The need is continuous. It never ends. Thus, our Master used in this text the present imperative, a verb form emphasizing persistence. We more accurately catch His intent in this passage if we translate it, keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.
Never grow tired of prayer. Continually be coming to God in prayer. Never think we have prayed enough. It is not presumption to ask repeatedly. The watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem were to call unto the Lord, “and give him no rest” (IS 62:7). Paul said, “Pray without ceasing” (1 TH 5:17). Our Master taught His disciples “that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (LK 18:1 NAS).
We are forbidden to ever give up on prayer. If we quit all else, we can never give up on this. Keep on asking, seeking, and knocking. Giving up on prayer is no minor matter. It is a grievous sin, for it opens the floodgate to a tidal wave of evils.
Persevere. The walls of Jericho did not fall the first time Joshua and Israel walked around them. They had to persist. Jacob wrestled with the angel, and in desperation cried out, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (GN 32:26).
We cannot quit praying. It is the mark of a believer. Ananias could not believe proud and arrogant Saul of Tarsus had become a Christian. What evidence did the Lord offer to Ananias? Simply, “Behold, he is praying” (AC 9:11 NAS).
It is easy to become discouraged with prayer. Many times we are tempted to say, “I have prayed. It doesn’t work. I quit.” No, no, no–do not yield to this Satanic delusion. The ships of prayer which take the longest time to arrive are usually loaded with the best freight, and send ahead cargo we had not even dreamed about.
Often we are so obsessed with one particular need that God knows if He delays in giving it we will stay in prayer. Our continuing in prayer allows God to send us other blessings we had not thought to ask about. He wants to give us more than we ask, and if we stay in the spirit of prayer it allows Him to give us what He knows we need most. Rather than immediately giving us an enabling grace, He often grants us a humbling grace which will yield a bumper crop of enablement later.
An imaginary example may help. I may be driven to prayer by a sensed need to love people more. After praying a good while without sensing a growing love, it is easy to become frustrated, “God, why are you not giving me a greater love?”
Unknown to me, God is trying to accomplish other objectives in my life. He may be saying, “John does need more love for people, but first needs more humility. While his heart is prayerful, I will drive him to a new level of dependence.”
In the meantime, I pray harder than ever. I am humbler than before, but don’t see it; I’m obsessed with wondering why God is not giving me more love for others. My prayers are intensifying, yet greater love does not seem to be coming my way.
Unknown to me, God has begun saying, “John still needs more love for people, but first he needs to be in the Bible more. He’s been slipping lately.”
For my part, with a deepening sense of humility and need, I am now poring over Bible verses more than ever before, seeking God’s direction. I still pray for greater love, but on that issue the heavens seem made of brass.
Unknown to me, God is saying, “John definitely needs more love for people, but that desire is what keeps him in earnest prayer. It has allowed me to humble him and draw him closer to my Word. While he is in this state of earnest prayer, I will bring certain things to his mind he has not been praying enough about lately.”
For my part, I am still struggling over my prayers for greater love. My heart is humbler, my mind is digging more into the Word, and all of a sudden I am praying about things I had not been praying about lately. Yet all the while, I think I am a failure in prayer, and I believe God is paying no attention to me.
Enough for the imagined scenario–I think we get the point. The one thing driving us to prayer may not be the main thing we need. The fact it impels us to an attitude of prayer places us in a position of receptivity which allows God to give us what we truly need most when we need it most.
“Lord, if by delaying to grant us one grace, You will send other blessings by the bushel to us, then continue to delay answering what we ask. We do not know our true need. Help us to keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking.”