Thursday, 1st Week of Lent – Good things in God’s time –Matthew 7: 7-12
Today we study Matthew 7:7-12. You could say we are entering the final lap, the final chapter of the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount covers some very diverse topics and spans three chapters.
When we read this text, we feel bound to ask if this Gospel is true? On the surface, it sounds like we have just been asked to make a wish list. We think of Jesus’ words as carte blanche. It looks as though whatever we ask for, whatever we seek, whatever door we open, God will give it to us. Hence, some people take this to mean just about everything; you can have whatever your heart desires, all you have to do is ask. Yet, so often our prayers seem to go unheard or unanswered. We tend to feel that our prayer was such a waste of time.
This passage also raises certain questions; one from the text itself and the other a consequence of the thoughts in our heart. First, what does the word, ‘it’, refer to in the sentence, “ask and ‘it’ will be given to you?” In other words, when Jesus said, “ask, and it will be given you,” what might we expect to receive? The second, what is the ‘it’ in our life? In other words, if we were to ask God for something, what would it be?
This way of thinking pushes our materialistic nature and plays on the thought that if we ask God for anything (since he said so) we could have anything we wanted, as if in having IT (there is that word again) we would be happy. It sounds like “ask, and it will be given you” is a blank cheque, where all you have to do is fill in the amount and sit back. This way of thinking 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.
This text is also misused especially by those who preach the prosperity gospel, sometimes also known as the health and wealth gospel. Such teachings say that God wants all Christians to be wealthy and healthy, and that if you are a Christian and you are not living in financial abundance and good health it is because you haven’t asked and haven’t believed God in what you are asking for. All you need to do is stand on the promises of God and claim your inheritance as a child of God.
This is not what this passage is saying. Holding on to thoughts such as the prosperity gospel leads to a boatload of disappointment. Believing that God will come through, especially after you’ve been led to believe that you can ask for anything and expect to receive it and he doesn’t—well, that’s a bitter pill to swallow. We’ve all asked for things that we didn’t get. We all know what it’s like not to get what we asked for and be disappointed. But, hey, that’s life.
So, to understand this passage we must look at the whole passage, and also to look at its context. As I said in the introduction, this passage is part of the Sermon on the Mount, and deals with asking God for things. In other words – it is dealing with prayer. This passage is basically dealing with the effectiveness of prayer. That is, that God does actually hear and answer prayer.
This is not the first time the Sermon on the Mount has talked about prayer. The theme of prayer is scattered all through the Sermon on the Mount. We have heard it in the Lord’s Prayer. Matthew 6:9-13. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus told us WHAT to pray for. That is, he told us what sort of things we should be praying for, what sort of things we should be asking for.
Again, in Matthew 6:25-34 we are told to pray that we may not be anxious. In that passage Jesus told us not to be anxious about the things of this life – food, drink and clothing. Jesus told us that our Heavenly Father provides for the needs. So, when we read today’s passage about asking, seeking and knocking, we need to read it in light of these passages and not in isolation or as prize to be claimed.
Prayer is serious business, especially when it comes to praying for those matters near and dear to our hearts. No time of prayer is wasted; all prayer is in the service of love, and prayer increases within us our capacity to love. Good things come in prayer even if they are not what we asked for. Prayer opens the heart for good things from God.
Am I truly open with God in my prayer? Do I share with him all that I am living, my struggles and my joys, and the concrete situations for which I need his help? Or do I only turn to him in need?