Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 7:7b “. . .and it. . .”
What does “it” refer to? What will be given when asked for? Some see in this famous passage a blank check to receive everything they want. These people pray for things they desire, and then, based on their erroneous interpretation of our text, become disappointed at God for His supposed failure to keep His promise. In our text, “it” refers to whatever we need from God to help us accomplish His will.
Jesus was not talking of health, wealth, fame, or fortune. Keep His words in context. He was speaking of what is needed to do God’s will in a given situation. The asking, the request, is to know what to do, when to do it, and how to do it right.
Another oft abused passage is Psalm 37:4, “Delight thyself in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” Reading this verse, people surmise, if they are right with God, He will give them whatever they want. This is not true. One who delights in God is one whose heart desires what God wants. Psalm 37:4 promises we will receive what we desire, if it has to do with fulfilling God’s will.
Jesus never intended for His followers to have whatever they want. The best way to spoil a child and make it a misery to itself and all around, is to give it all it wants. We all want what we want in life. The test of our faith is, do we want what God wants us to want? We can have all we want of what He wants us to want. . . .
Matt. 7:7c “. . .shall be given you;. . .”
Note the passive tense. Accomplishing God’s will is a success we receive, not a victory we achieve on our own. To ask implies we apply to someone other than ourself. God has to give us ability. He loves to do this. Whatever we need for doing God’s will, we can come ask for it with confidence, expecting to receive it.
We ask, as a starving beggar asks for food, but we know we will not be rebuffed. We ask, as thirsty child asks for water, but we are confident the parent will run to our aid. We ask, as a lost traveller asks for directions, but we are sure correct directions will be given. The foundation of prayer is a sense of our own helplessness and need; the encouragement of prayer is a sense of confidence in being heard.
“Nothing is better adapted to excite us to prayer than a full conviction that we shall be heard” (Calvin). Our text is not only a call to prayer, but also an assurance our praying shall not be in vain. Jesus’ words here are a promise that can be applied to anything known to be for sure within God’s will. We can have as much of God’s power to do God’s will as we want. This principle runs through all of Scripture.
For things outside God’s will, we are not assured affirmative answers to our prayers. Rather, God thwarts “our wishes till they run parallel with His will” (Maclaren). Inside God’s will, though, His promise is absolute, a carte blanche. This truth raises an important concern. If we can have all the power we need, why do we display precious little of it? If the resources are available, why are our lives not all they ought to be? Our Master, in His next phrase, helps answer these questions.
Matt. 7:7d “. . .seek, and ye shall find;. . .”
To “seek” entails a longing for something missing, yet highly valued. True prayer is as much a yearning as it is a speech. Mechanical praying is of little use.
Christians reject magic. We do not believe words in and of themselves have mystical powers. Words have significance only when backed up with heart-desire.
Rote and half-heartedness will never do in the private place. Nothing freezes the flowing river of God’s blessing faster than a cold heart. Asking must be accompanied with seeking, with the urgency of a compelling desire. Yearning for the treasure of God’s enabling power keeps our asking from being a mere formality which accomplishes nothing. To receive what we need from God, we have to prove we know and appreciate its value. Without desire, our appeals can never be earnest.
On the other hand, a strong desire for spirituality will result in strong spirituality. “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (JR 29:13 NAS, see also DT 4:29). In spiritual matters, we can have all we desire. If we do not become strong, mature Christians, we have only ourselves to blame.
If our Christianity does not count for much, if there is little difference between us and the world, if we are quiet about our faith, if our hearts are cold, if we do not love our spouses, if we have sins we do not overcome, we have no one to blame but ourselves. God is more eager to give us power than we are to ask for it.
When did we last have a gripping prayer time, when the issue was not the words being said, but the desire exploding to find expression? “Is there any place in any of your rooms where there is a little bit of carpet worn white by your knees? Or do you pray when you are half asleep at night, and before you are well awake in the morning, and scramble through a prayer as the necessary preliminary to going to the work that really interests you, the work of your trade or business?” (Maclaren).
If we are desiring a higher spiritual plane, truly seeking it, we will ask for it. If we are not asking for it, we do not desire it. People give many excuses for not praying as much as they should–little faith, not knowing how, too little time, shame and guilt, etc. I fear Charles Sheldon is right, “None of these are the real reasons for failure to pray. The real reason why many people do not pray is simply that they have nothing to pray for.” Many Christians are satisfied with the level of their spiritual walk. Having found enough religion to keep them out of Hell, out of jail, and out of trouble, they now want just enough to keep them respectable.
Many believers quit growing years ago. Thus, they miss the best joys of the Christian life. They let others receive powerful answers to prayer, they let others experience the exhilaration of leading loved ones to Jesus, they let others give and see the windows of heaven open, they let others go on mission trips and receive the blessing. The task, the duty, and the higher plane are always for others. They never dream for a moment that these things are meant for them, also. Thus, they never ask for them, for they are not seeking them.
Raphael was asked, “Which is your greatest painting?” “My next one,” he replied. What a contrast to the president of Pierce-Arrow car company, who said in 1910, “We have built the finest car it will ever be possible to build. No improvements can ever be made.” When did you last see a Pierce-Arrow on the highway?
Is our faith soaring as a Raphael or stagnant as a Pierce-Arrow? There is more yet to enjoy. Never settle in, content and complacent. Not only ask, also seek. “Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face continually” (PS 105:4).