Would you please turn with me in you Bibles, to Matthew chapter 7. We come to another passage concerning prayer in verses 7-11, and this passage may seem to have little direct connection with the verses that we have just studied, but in fact, their relationship is obvious if you give it a little reflection. Christ has just been instructing His disciples on how they are to relate to others. How they are to not judge and how they are to judge. In verses 1-5, He has been telling them that they should not be hypercritical. They should not be harsh and quick to judge, they should certainly not judge in accordance with their own opinion, but in verse 6, He has made it clear that they must judge. For if they are not to be hypercritical, neither are they to be naïve. And so they need discernment. They must judge, but they must not judge harshly or according to mere opinions, but rather they should judge charitably. And in according to the standards of God’s word, not hypercritical, but appropriate critical. Not to judge, but to judge. Surely as soon as the believer hears that we must balance that awesome task, of judging appropriately without becoming one who wrongly or censoriously judges others, it ought to drive us to our knees and that is precisely where the Lord Jesus takes us.
He takes us to the subject of prayer in verses 7-11. He has already dealt in this sermon with the duty of prayer. He has dealt with the method of prayer. He has even given an outline of the content of prayer, as well, as talking with the disciple's attitude in prayer. Back in Matthew chapter 6, verses 5-15, but here He speaks of prayer as the appointed means through which our Heavenly Father provides our needs, especially our spiritual needs, and in this context fulfills our need for discernment. Who is sufficient under these things when I must be discerning and to determine when to judge and when not to judge and how to judge charitably and not to judge harshly, only the Lord can give that wisdom and we gain that wisdom as we look to Him in prayer. The Lord teaches us about prayer and encourages us about prayer in this passage. Let’s look to the word of the living God beginning in verse 7.
"Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened. "Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”
Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s look to Him in prayer.
Our heavenly Father, we know more about prayer than we practice already. We ask that these would not be simply more words of information about prayer, but that these words, by the work of the spirit in our hearts, actually impel us to prayer. For we would become a prayer trusting people. And we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I. Christians must boldly implore the Heavenly Father for grace.
The Lord Jesus has for us, three words of encouragement regarding prayer in this passage today. The first, I want to point your attention to in verse 7. There He says, “Ask and it will be given unto you, seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened to you.” We see here, a three-fold exhortation to prayer. And Christ is teaching in that verse that Christians must boldly implore the Heavenly Father for grace. Christians must boldly go to the Lord in prayer. His words are designed to be an encouragement to our prayer. Calvin once said, "Nothing is better adapted to excite us to prayer than a full conviction that we shall be heard." If you work with someone, or perhaps if you married to someone, who doesn’t listen to you, it doesn’t motivate you to share with them your concerns, because you know your are going to share those concerns and they are going to be ignored. But when you are convinced that the person with whom you are relating, listens to you, and is concerned about the things that you share with them and is ready to act upon those things, it motivates you to share those things. You don’t hide things to yourself, you share them with that person, because you know that you are going to get an answer. You know that you are going to be heard by someone who has concerns, so also with God. When we know, when we are fully convinced that God will hear us, it motivates us to prayer.
And the Lord Jesus’ design in this passage, is to encourage us to prayer. Jesus issues this encouragement in the form of a command, a triple command. Ask, seek, and knock, He says. All of those words point in the same direction. With each of those words, with each of those imperatives, with each of those commands, he is attempting to press on us, the privilege and the responsibility of prayer. They all reinforce that same principle. Matthew Henry says, "They teach us to pray. To pray often, to pray with sincerity, and seriousness. To pray and pray again. To make a conscious of prayer. And to be constant in prayer. To make a business of prayer. And to be earnest in prayer." Those words are designed to impel us to prayer.
And I want you to notice, that though all of those three words are referring to the same thing, they are pressing towards the same end, they are said for the same purposes. You see an ascending order of emphasis in those prayers. There is an ascending force, or urgency, in those prayers. We are to ask, but more than that, we are to seek, but more that that, we are to knock. Each of those words, tell us something about prayer. They offer secrets to our own prayer life.
First of all, I want you to note the word ask. That is the word that is used for a beggar when he is asking for alms. It is also the word that is used for someone who is pleading a case before a judge. The Lord Jesus is telling us there to ask, to beg, to plead, this word refers to a petition that might be addressed from an inferior to a superior person in society. And it is designed to remind us of the humility that we ought to have and the consciousness of our own needs that we ought to have when we go to the Lord in prayer.
You remember the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, that the Lord Jesus tells in Luke chapter 18. Isn’t it interesting that the Pharisee, when he goes into the temple to pray, he does not ask God for anything, he tells God things, but he doesn’t ask Him anything. And the Lord Jesus doesn’t make a mistake in words there. There is a reason why he doesn’t have the Pharisee asking God anything in prayer. Because the Pharisee is not conscious of needing anything from God. And so he spends his time telling God what he ought to be doing in prayer. Notice also, that the Publican, the tax collector, the sinner, he goes into the temple and he pleads with the Lord in prayer. He begs the Lord in prayer. He realizes that he is a sinner, and that he has needs before the heavenly father. And so he pleads his case before the heavenly father. And so the Lord Jesus instructs us to ask. That teaches us what the demeanor of our heart ought to be when we go to the Lord. We ought to be humble, and we ought to be conscious of need.
Notice the second word, we are to seek. That is the same word that you would use for search or scour. You have been given a gift of a string of pearls by your husband. Your three-year-old has jerked them from your neck. The necklace has shattered and the pearls are all over the living room floor. You are down on your knees, lickety split, trying to find everyone last pearl. You are scouring for those Miki Moto pearls because that is a precious gift from your husband. My heavens, it cost him two months of his salary to buy these, and you want every last one of those pearls back together so that you can take them to the jeweler and have those pearls restrung. You are scouring, you are searching, you are actively endeavoring to get an answer to your designs. This is what this word means. You are endeavoring actively to obtain a favorable reply. Perhaps you have had some expensive medical bills, you have had to be in the hospital and it has taken months and months and months, and insurance has yet to pay those bills, and suddenly you begin receiving letters from the bill collector that the hospital has employed, and you are being threatened with all sorts of bodily harm if you don’t pay those bills, and you begin to seek out someone, not an answering service, but someone in the insurance company, who can insure that you will indeed have this bill paid. You seek, you scour, you search, until you find someone, who can answer your need. So Jesus says, we are to ask, we are to seek. There is to be a clear desire, not only should I our demeanor be humble, not only should we be conscious of our need, but there must be a single-minded focus of desire as we go to the Lord in prayer.
And we are to knock. This is the same word that we would use for pounding or banging on the door. We are to persevere in boldness, in the desire of obtaining favor. Jesus tells another story in Luke chapter 11, of a friend who found himself breadless with mouths to feed. And it was in the middle of the night and he didn’t know where to turn. And then he remembered he had a friend, a neighbor next door, who had bread. And he goes over to his house at midnight and he begins pounding on the door, and he says, “Friend, give me bread,” and the friend says, “I am asleep and the whole family is asleep. Don’t wake us up, go away.” And he keeps pounding because he needs that bread, and he pounds, and he pounds, until finally his friend gives up and he gets up and he goes and he gives him the bread, and says, now let me go back to sleep again. He is persistent. He is bold in desire of obtaining the favor. Ask, seek, and knock all indicate those things. Not only a demeanor of humility, not only a single-minded desire, but also a diligence in seeking God’s favor. Each of these things are secrets to our prayer lives. Asking implies humility and consciousness of need.
Now let me ask you a question, do you pray with that same sense of need in your prayer life? Or do you go to the Lord not feeling like you really need much? Are you self satisfied, are you satisfied with the bounties of this life and so not aware of the poverty in which you live? Do you go the Lord with a sense of need, a sense of the needs of your own circumstance? Matthew Henry once said, "Those who would be rich in grace, must betake themselves to the poor trade of begging. And they shall find it a thriving trade." When we humble ourselves before the Lord, when we go to the Lord in a humble posture asking, pleading, begging, then we will find a Lord who answers and hears.
Notice also friends, that seeking the Lord in prayer implies earnest, deliberate petitioning of the Lord. Let me ask you this question. Have you wisely set your hearts on that which is good? That which is in accordance with God’s will? That which He reveals in His Word as His plan for you and have you set your heart on it and plead your case before Him in prayer? We must seek God’s favor just like that woman who has lost those pearls is down on her knees seeking everyone last one of those pearls. Just like the merchant seeks a profit, just like anyone who has lost a valuable anything, seeks to recover seeks to recover that valuable commodity. We must seek earnestly and deliberately our Lord in prayer. Knocking implies diligence and perseverance in the request that we are taking to the Lord.
Let me ask you this question. Have you patiently pursued what is good, what is in accordance with God’s will in prayer. We must seek God’s favor like a friend who needs bread at midnight. Or like a widow who has been unjustly treated seeks to find justice even from an unjust judge. We must seek the Lord with perseverance and diligence as we go to the Lord in prayer. Why? Because God is always more ready to give than we are to receive. It is a secret of prayer to learn that God is more ready to give in answer to prayer than we are to receive. And so much of what happens in prayer is that our hearts are changed so that we are ready to gratefully receive that which the Lord is going to give us. God is not a parent who just spoils His children. He gives gifts which are always designed for our best interests. And therefore, until we are appropriately appreciative of those gifts, sometimes He withholds them. And that is why James tells us, "You have not, because you ask not." The Lord is not going to spoil us by giving us certain things when He knows that it will not be good for us. And so often times, until the demeanor of our hearts are right, until the desires of our hearts are right, until the diligence of our souls are right as we approach Him in prayer, He will withhold in order to bless us. And so the Lord Jesus teaches us to ask and to seek and to knock. To be humble and to recognize our need. To desire God’s will, and then to be diligent, to weary God if we could. To weary Him in pressing our claims to Him in prayer. That is the first thing that the Lord Jesus teaches us in this passage.
II. God's answer always meets the need.
The second thing is this, and you will see it in verses 7 and 8. Christians must realize the glory of Jesus’ promise about prayer in this passage. The promise of answered prayer is repeated six times in this passage. Three commands the Lord Jesus gives-ask, seek, and knock. But twice the number of commands are given in promise. Six promises we find in this passage. Look at verse 7. Ask, and it will be given to you. There we see that God’s answer always meets the need. Notice, we ask and it is given. It is not lent, it is not sold, it is given. We ask and it is given. God’s answer always meets the need. Notice also in verse 7, "Seek and you will find." That is the second promise.
Note again, God is found of those who seek Him. That is an Old Testament principle. Those who seek the Lord will surely find Him. Notice again in verse 7, "Knock and it will be opened to you." That is the third promise. Again the door of mercy opened by the instrument of prayer. God is sovereign, so why pray? Because God has ordained that blessings come to His people, especially spiritual blessings through the instrument of prayer. And that is why the old Puritans used to say, "When the Lord is preparing to bless His people, He sets them a praying." The modern missions movement began around the end of the seventeen-century and the early eighteenth century, when a group of Moravians had been praying in a prayer meeting for a hundred years that God would bring in the nations. God was preparing to launch an assault of missions that would cause the nineteenth century to be known as the century of missions and even a Christian century, but He had had His people praying a hundred years before His blessing broke forth. God answers prayer. But He answers it in such a way that His sovereignty is shown and goodness is done for His people.
Notice in verse 8, we see the fourth promise-for everyone who asks receives. Notice again, everyone. Everyone that asks in faith is heard. Not just super saints, not just apostles, not just those who are particularly gifted at public prayer, but every saint who comes believing before the Lord is given the promise that the Lord will hear His cry.
Notice again in verse 8, He who seeks finds. The passage says that not just one day he will find, that he finds now. The Lord shows us His favor in prayer. Faith procures the promise. And again in verse 8, the sixth promise, to Him who knocks, it will be opened. This is an encouragement to us to persevere in prayer. Christ is determined in this passage to convince us that we will never labor in vain when we labor in prayer. And so He keeps us these promises to us to encourage us in prayer. "Where God finds a praying heart, He will be found a prayer hearing God." That is a saying that the Puritans frequently repeated.
In verses 7-11, the Lord Jesus is bringing inducements to bear upon us in order to get us to pray to the heavenly Father. Notice in verse 7, He makes a promise to us. In verse 8, He repeats the promise to us. In verse 9, He illustrates the promise. In verse 10, He illustrates the promise again and in verse 11, He emphasizes the promise that He had made in verses 7 and 8.
You think He was trying to get a point home? You would think He is trying to convince you that the Lord really cares, that the Lord really hears, that the Lord really will answer your prayers. You see, the Lord Jesus knows you. He knows the fears of your heart. He knows how quickly we become discouraged in prayer. He knows the aching heart of a person who has lifted up a heart felt prayer in all of the faith that they could muster and that prayer doesn’t seem to have been answered. And so, He is responding to the faithless fear that prayer does not work, by piling up the promises of God, that the Lord does answer prayer.
Now let me say this by way of application and by way of a side note. The kind of prayer that the Lord Jesus is calling on us to enter into here, presupposes at least three things. The kind of prayer that Jesus sets before us in this passage first of all, is prayer that is based on knowledge. The knowledge of God’s word, the knowledge of Gods’ will. This kind of prayer requires that we know God’s will, that we know God’s Word and that we submit to it, because the things that we are asking for must be in accordance with God’s perfect will, because like the heavenly Father, He does not give that which is not good. And that means that He does not give that which is not in accordance with His will. So when we find ourselves looking for anything under the sun, we may find ourselves rebuffed. But when we ask in accordance with His will, we find that our prayers are answered.
Secondly, this prayer presupposes faith. Faith humbles itself before the will of God, and says, Lord, thy will not my will, but it is also confident, it is confident that God will do us good, in His answer. Faith is gloriously represented, is it not, in the life of Job, who could say, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” He was confident that what God was giving Him, was ultimately for His good, even though He could not see how that could be in his current experience.
And thirdly, this prayer presupposes desire. Not only knowledge of God’s will in word, not only faith that God will do us good, and confident trust in His will and desire for it, but a desire for God’s will to be done. Desire. We must long, we must single-mindedly desire for God’s will to be done. Is it the desire for our hearts that His will be done? Are we willing to submit to that will no matter what? All those things underlie the kind of prayer that the Lord Jesus speaks of in verses 7 and 8.
III.Christians must trust the Heavenly Father to answer prayer wisely and graciously.
And then in verses 9-11, He teaches us one more thing. He teaches us that Christians must trust the Heavenly Father to answer prayer wisely and graciously. Here He gives us illustrations. Christ knows the hidden doubts in His children’s hearts. He knows that we wonder sometimes whether it is really worth it to take that matter to prayer. He knows that there are people who have held a dying child in their arms and lifted in prayer that the Lord would spare that child. And the Lord has not answered that prayer as they would have desired. He knows that there are people who have come before Him with their financial world crashing around their ears, and said, “O Lord spare me from this disaster” and the Lord does not seem to have spared them from that disaster, and they begin to wonder, “Well, does this prayer really work? Why should I bother?” Well, the Lord Jesus tells us two things when we face those doubts.
The first things that He says is that we are to come to God as children. We are to go to the Heavenly Father just like a child would go to his father or mother and ask for food, asking for a loaf of bread, or a piece of fish, the basic staples, the basic needs of life. We are to go with the same kind of trust and the same kind of confidence that the heavenly Father will hear us as a child goes to a parent. If you have a young child, you may have experienced that young child crying out to you if you are in the same room with them and asking you for something. If you are not in the same room, perhaps you are in another room of the house or building, you have perhaps experienced them following you around until they find you. They seek for you until they find you, and if you are in the same room with that child and that child has sought you ask and you don’t give them the requisite amount of attention that they desire, they continue to pester you to death, until you pay them attention. So also the Lord Jesus says, go to the Heavenly Father, you ask, you seek, you knock, He will hear. He will hear better than your earthly parents will hear.
Notice also that Jesus tells us that we are to expect good things from God, when we ask Him. Just as when the child asks for a loaf of bread, the parent does not give a stone, even evil fallen parents don’t stoop that far. When the child asks for a basic necessity, the parent, the earthly parent responds by supplying that need. So also, the Lord Jesus says we are to expect the heavenly father to give to us good things. We shouldn’t think that we are better to ourselves and to our own children than the heavenly father is to His children. We are poor reflections of the goodness of the heavenly father. The best mother and father who ever lived is but a vague shadow and reflection of the goodness of the Heavenly Father and so we should expect Him to be better to us, than we could be if we could determine it ourselves. Because God is a better father than we could ever be. The Lord Jesus is telling us to trust the Heavenly Father. “If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?”
Now what about those prayers that are lifted up that we seem to get the answer “no” to? Well, that may be the greatest blessing of all. And I think there are many saints in this room, that can attest to what I am about to say. And that is the fact that they have experienced over and over in their life, lifting up certain prayers, which the Lord resolutely answered no, and later on they have looked back and they have been able to say thank God, He did not answer that prayer yet. The Greeks used to say, “Whom the gods would destroy they answer their prayers.” We all know what that is like. Because sometimes we set our hearts on things that are not the best for us. “The Heavenly Father,” however, as Calvin reminds us, “does not hear our prayers and answer them as we ask them, but He answers them as we would ask them if we were wiser.” And so we can say with Martin Lloyd-Jones, "Thank God, He has not answered all my prayers with a yes. But He has given me what I needed even when I didn’t know what I needed." The Lord God hears our prayers and we are to trust Him to answer wisely and graciously. The whole thrust of Jesus’ word here is to remind us that when we need discernment and when we seek for spiritual blessings, if we will ask and we will seek and we will knock, the heavenly father is ready and waiting to pour out blessing on His children. In fact, He is more ready to give than we are to receive. Won't you prepare yourself to receive by grace through prayer to Him? Let’s look to Him in prayer now.
Our Father, we thank You for the privilege of prayer to be able to talk with You, to be able to share the desires of our hearts with You. We ask that You would give us the grace to trust You, to always know that You answers will be better than our own answers and to persevere in that prayer. Give us the spirit of Christ, as we pray. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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