(Matthew 7:7)

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened unto you.” (Matthew 7:7)

On first contact with this text: One could ask two questions: First, what does the word, it, refer to? In other words, when Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you,” what might you expect to receive? And secondly, what is the it in your life? In other words, if you were to ask God for something, what would it be?

This verse has been misunderstood and misused many times by many people because, on the surface, it sounds like a “Blank Cheque”: You can have whatever your heart desires; all you have to do is ask. Well, there are two main problems with this way of thinking: First, it excites our materialistic nature and plays on the fantasy that, if we had unlimited resources, we could have anything we wanted … as if, in having that “it” we would be happy.

Thinking of Jesus’ words as a Blank Cheque brings out the worst in us and leads us to think of life in terms of material wealth and of God as the ultimate Sugar Daddy. That’s the first problem. The second is that it leads to a boatload of disappointment. We know how many number of times we have all asked for things that we didn’t get and we all know what it is like not to get what we asked for and be disappointed. That is when you begin to hear: But, Lord, you promised me now!

This falls into the category of unanswered prayer. You ask God for something and, either God doesn’t hear you or God chooses not to give you what you asked for or, a third possibility, the answer is, “Not now,” which, for the moment, is the same as, “No.”

Unanswered prayer is one of those ambiguities of faith that’s hard to explain, especially in light of our text from Matthew’s Gospel 7:7. And it even gets worse when you pair it with what Jesus told his disciples in the Gospel of John. He said:

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. … Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:7; 16:23-24)

And if you go through the pages of the Bible, you’ll find that people of faith don’t always get what they ask for. For example:

 Moses asked to see God face-to-face, but God said no. He said, “No one shall see my face and live.” (Exodus 33:20)

 Jonah asked God to destroy the city of Nineveh because of its great wickedness, but God refused. He said, “Should I not be concerned about Nineveh …?” (Jonah 4:11)

 More than once, the psalmist cried to the Lord for help, but God did not answer. For example, in Psalm 13, we read, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalms 13:1)

 The Apostle Paul asked God for healing, but he got turned down. Paul told the Corinthians, “Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that (this thorn in the flesh) would leave me, but God said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

 Finally, there’s Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done.” (Mark 14:36). The cup was not removed.

So, here’s the question: Given all we know about the reality of unanswered prayer, how can we still take Jesus at his word when he says to us, “Ask and it shall be given to you …”? I suggest that the answer lies in the pronoun, it. That it does not refer to whatever you might ask for; rather, it goes back to the previous passage where Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)

In this way, the passage then reads: “Keep on asking and (the kingdom) shall be given to you; keep on seeking, and you shall find (the kingdom); keep on knocking, and the door (of the kingdom) will be opened unto you.” This is the force of the present imperative mood of the verbs that are used here to connote the required persistence in prayer.

So, what is the kingdom of God? First, let me tell you what it’s not. The kingdom of God is not a panacea of human desire –– it’s not a re-creation of the Garden of Eden, where all you have to do is pick the fruit of your choice and eat to your heart’s content. The kingdom is being at one with God and the whole of God’s creation; for when you’re at one with God and the whole of God’s creation, you’re able to experience life in all its abundance, even in the face of sickness and death and prayers that seem to go unheard. Because, make no mistake about it, in the Kingdom of God, at least on this side of heaven, loved ones still die when they must according to their allotted time.

The difference between living in the world and living in the Kingdom of God is this: No matter what, God will be with you and will help you overcome every adversity. As Paul told the Romans, “… nothing will be able to separate (you) from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:32)

I don’t believe that Jesus ever intended for us to think that, if we believe in him, we can call the shots and order life to our own specifications. I do believe, on the other hand, that he invites us to be part of God’s kingdom on earth, and all we have to do is ask, seek and knock.

That said, what is then the it in your life? When Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you …” what’s the it –– what do you most hope that God will give you or do for you?

Being good, our heavenly Father gives only good gifts to His children; being wise as well, He knows which gifts are good and which are not. We can thank God that the granting of our needs is conditional, not only on our asking, seeking and knocking, but also on whether what we desire by asking, seeking and knocking is good according to God’s standards.

So here is what I’d like us to hold on firmly to: As long as the it in our life has to do with the things of this world, we will fall short. It will never be enough. Only as we seek to live in harmony with God and the whole of God’s creation shall we be truly happy, for this is the promise: If you’re willing to seek God’s kingdom above all else, God will give you all you need for a full and abundant life. So, go ahead and: Ask, and the “it” will be given unto you…