A perplexing promise…

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Matthew 7:7 “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

So what happens when we ask for “good things” but don’t receive them; things like healing and forgiveness and reconciliation of broken relationships – or even food, shelter, clothing and other provision? These are all things God sees as good, not just people, right? So what’s Jesus trying to teach us here? A quote from New Interpreter’s Bible commentary:

“Seeking” is often used in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition for prayer, with God’s will as the object (e.g., Deut 4:29; Ps 105:4; Isa 65:1; cf. Jer 29:12–13). It is especially characteristic of the wisdom tradition (Prov 1:28; 6:12; 8:17; Eccl 7:23–25). “Knocking” (on the “doors of mercy”) was a Jewish expression for prayer. Thus “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” are not three different actions—there are no stages of spiritual experience here—but three Jewish expressions for prayer.”

Ok, so the point of the first part of the passage is to encourage people to persist in prayer. To ask, but keep asking. Seek and keep seeking. Knock and keep knocking. Fine.

Then Jesus speaks to the nature of our relationship to God. He is our heavenly Father who desires to give good gifts to his children. The tone of the passage suggests Jesus believes this is an obvious truth. Of course God wants to give us food when we ask. Or shelter. Or provision of many kinds. And I’ll admit that makes sense to me. God our Father has access to all these things and loves us more than we can realize. Yet my initial question remains.

If this is all true, and I believe it is, what’s the deal when we pray for good things and do not receive them? Frankly, this kind of thing happens all the time in my own life and in the lives of those I know. I’m left this morning with no good answer to that question. I’ll have to ponder and pray about this.

Heavenly Father, I believe the words of Jesus are true, but I won’t deny there is a bit of skepticism in me – because of actual experience. Many, many times I’ve seen people pray for good things and come away empty. What’s up with that? Help me to better understand this teaching that I might be blessed by it. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

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