“Salt and Light”: Matthew 7 | “Ask, Seek, Knock…”

 ‘“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Matthew 7:7-11

One of the best lessons my father taught me, is this: “Find out what you want, and then ask for it. Don’t be fearful. Ask for it clearly, boldly. Your chances of getting what you want are much better if you: First, get clear on what you want, and then ask for it. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Ask hesitantly, timidly – even if you really believe you want what you’re asking for – you probably won’t get it.”

That has been very helpful at different points in my life. Almost twenty years ago, I got good and clear: “I really love this amazing woman named Tara – I want to spend my life with her! Okay, go to Tara’s Dad, first, ask him, then ask Tara.” Turned out pretty darn good.

Of course, sometimes it works the other way, doesn’t it? We can convince ourselves that we want or deserve something – it’s only right, good, fair – and then we ask for it, and ask for it, and ask for it, but don’t get it. Or, worse, we ask for it, get it, and it turns out bad.

Prayer, too, is about asking, but there are important differences: When we ask in prayer, we have to expect that God will answer, be found, and will open doors, in ways, with people, through new things that we don’t expect or maybe even – at first glance – want.

And we have to prepare ourselves for the fact that sometimes the answer will be No – that God will wisely keep the thing we think we want from us.

Each of these words – ask, seek, knock – is a biblical word for prayer. They each say the same thing: Pray, pray, pray. But in saying this, Jesus’ counsel is not to build a bigger laundry list, and pray, pray, pray our way through it.

“Ask, seek, knock” tells us that prayer is more like a quest. The journey of every man, every woman, when he or she walks with God, is a quest in which we are found by God and where we find God in prayer.

God comes to each of us and lifts us out of darkness. He puts us back on our feet. He gives us new strength and purpose. He puts us alongside other people, making the same journey. And then he sends us on a quest – sometimes many quests – in his Kingdom. We are told to ask, seek, and knock as we carry the fire of the Holy Spirit, through a sometimes very dark land.

“Quest”. It feels like an old word from an old world. Does it really make sense to use it today? We look at our life, now, and the word “quest” feels like it belongs in the world of knights and castles. Our world, perhaps, is more about getting things done making to-do lists, creating timelines, managing projects. So maybe we should think about prayer in that way, too: Put it on the list. Pray about it. Get it, good. Don’t, move on.

That is a vision of faith – of life with God – that makes prayer marginal. It tries to turn prayer into a special way of getting what I want, what I need. It is not the kind of prayer that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 7.

“Ask, seek, knock” describes a journey – a quest led by the living God.

And it is a journey that begins where we are. If the language of knights and castles sounds to high-minded, too idealistic, Jesus is very realistic about where that quest starts – who is starts with. Isn’t it striking that he says to his disciples, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him”?

Jesus starts from the point that each person who enters the journey of prayer, will begin with selfish motives – will begin in sin, and only gradually work his or her way out, being slowly transformed into Christ’s likeness.

If you want to pray – if you really want to pray – it can’t be another thing to put on your to-do list. Asking, seeking, knocking prayer is part of a living, breathing, questing life with God that will transform you and sustain you from this side of life to the other.

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