Prayer is such a wonderful blessing that we have in our lives. We are able through Christ to immediately move our words from this earth to the heavens. However, there is much debate today as to how prayer works, and how it is answered. In Matthew chapter 7, the last chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, contains a number of statements, which make important points for believers. The focus is on prayer, continued from earlier in the Sermon: not praying like the hypocrites who want to be seen by others 1 or like the pagans who babble on, thinking their prayers will be answered if they repeat them over and over; 2 but rather praying with the understanding that our Father loves and cares for us.3
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”4
Jesus asked what those present would do if their child asked for bread or fish, staple foods in Palestine at the time. Of course they wouldn’t substitute a stone or serpent for the food their child was asking for! As He often did, Jesus used the “lesser to greater” argument to make His point. If earthly parents give their children good things when they ask for them, how much more will God give to His children when they ask Him? Since God is our Father and altogether good, we can freely petition Him in prayer, in the same way a child can ask her parents for something she needs or desires.
With this in mind, let’s look at the first part of the passage: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Was Jesus categorically stating that every prayer will be answered in a positive manner, and that we will always get what we pray for?
One of the basic principles of understanding Scripture is to compare what is taught in one particular verse with the teaching of Scripture in general. It’s clear from reading the Bible that prayers are not always answered in the manner that the one praying requests. This can be seen in the following verses: To keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh … Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”8
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.9
Our heavenly Father isn’t our “cosmic bellhop” who is there to do our every bidding, and Jesus’ words shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that God will grant our every wish. But even if some of our prayers aren’t answered in the way we would like, we can trust that He knows what’s best. We should be thankful that God doesn’t answer our every prayer by giving us exactly what we ask for. If He did, we would likely pray less, because we’d quickly see that the effects of having every prayer answered would have unforeseen and unwanted consequences. These and other promises about answering our prayers are not pledges on God’s part to give us whatever we ask, whenever we ask it, and in exactly the terms we ask. If that were the case, prayer would be an unbearable burden for us to carry.10 Only our all-knowing, all-good, all-wise, and all-loving Father can know how prayers should be answered, when it is best to answer them, and if they should be answered at all.
We’re encouraged to pray—to ask, to seek, to knock—for in doing so we receive and find, and opportunities open to us. Throughout Scripture, there are numerous promises that God will answer our requests. Though it’s not stated each time, the underlying foundation of these promises is an understanding that God is good, has our best interests at heart, deeply loves us, and desires for us to present our requests; and as our loving Father, He will answer our prayers according to what He knows is ultimately best.
This Sunday at South Side we will talk further about prayer. Friendly faces and coffee awaits you at our café connect. Worship begins at 10:45, and we would love to see you there!
Barry Pettit is lead minister at South Side Church of Christ in Washington Court House.