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Asking for the Good Things | Matthew 7:7-11

September 18, 2016 Preacher: Ryan Gilbert Series: Sermon on the Mount

Topic: Prayer Scripture: Matthew 7:7–11

Excerpts

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As we move into the good stuff, if you’d like to ask an anonymous question to be answered at the end of our time, the instructions on doing that are in your bulletin. If you’ve been here you know we’ve been working our way through the Sermon on the Mount. In the text we’ll be looking at today, Jesus is starting to conclude what he’s been teaching. He still has several things to say about choices we have to make, but as far as all this teaching on how to live Godly lives, he’s coming to a close. With that in mind, let’s read Matthew 7:7-11. Page 4 in the blue NTs.

“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!”

Now, it’s easy to read these first two verses, verses 7-8, on their own and not take into account what Jesus is saying in the verses around it, and in this whole chapter, and even in the whole Sermon on the Mount. But we simply can’t do that. When reading the Scriptures, context matters tremendously. Too many times, verses are taken out of context and used on their own to mean things that the original writers never intended them to mean! If you remember last week, Matthew 7:1- “Judge not, lest you be judged.” It’s amazing how often that is used to say that we have no right to say that anything is ever right or wrong. If you weren’t hear last week, I encourage you to go online and listen, because it’s such an important passage that is so often misunderstood.

But this happens all the time with politicians or anyone with some sort of platform, people that don’t like them will take one phrase or sentence out of context and blow it out of proportion. Now, sometimes those individual phrases or sentences represent exactly what they meant. I say that having in mind the current political landscape. But in general, with people and even with the Word, it is easy to take one verse or a few, and as soon as they seem to mean something we like or something we want them to mean, then we just assume that’s exactly what they mean! We read into the Word what we want it to mean, instead of looking at the heart of what was being said.

 

Name It and Claim It?

At first glance, these first two verses seem like a universal guarantee that God will do anything we ask of Him. Right? It does seem that way, if you just take these two verses. You ask for it, and God will do it. Probably the most common phrase that expresses this sentiment is “Claim it!” Different movements and teachers out there tell people, based on these verses, and a few others, that to pray in faith means to name it and claim it. Name what it is, and claim it, believing God will give it to you, and he will give it to you, whatever it is.

Many will also look to James 5 as a strong example of naming it and claiming it. James 5:16 and following- “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” Many will see that and say that we, too, should pray knowing for a fact that God will do whatever we ask. “God, I’m going to buy this house even though I can’t afford it, because I’m believing in faith that you will provide for me the money to pay for it.” “God, I know for a fact and believe that you want me to have this new job, so I’m going to quit my current job knowing and having faith that you’ll me this new job.” Now, if you feel that God is leading you to a new job, that’s different, though I exercise a lot of caution when we talk about how God leads us, or especially language like “God told me this.” I just think we should exercise a lot of caution in that, and remember that the main way God speaks to us is through His Word. But, this “name it and claim it” mentality is not God leading you to do something. It is, instead, saying that if you name it in faith, and claim it in faith, believing that it will happen, then God is bound by that. They won’t use that language, but that’s exactly what they mean. God will answer the prayer of faith in the positive no matter what it is- a car, house, children, a job, whatever. If you look at the origins of the “Name it and claim it” mentality, it is inextricably linked with the prosperity gospel. God only wants health and wealth for you; you ask for it with enough faith, God will give it to you.

So what’s the problem here? Well, the problem is that this is a great misunderstanding of what faith is. Faith is not presuming upon God’s will; faith is especially not thinking of God’s will as subject to ours! Faith is believing that God will do what he has promised to do. So a prayer of faith is spoken believing that God will do what he has promised to do, not what I may want him to do! Even Elijah was not calling God to do what Elijah wanted, he was calling God to do what God Himself had promised he would do. In Deuteronomy 28, God promised that if the people did not obey the Lord God, then drought and scorching heat would come upon them.

So the amazing thing about Elijah was not that he used God to do Elijah’s will, but that he believed that God would do what he promised he would do. Ask, and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock, and the door will be opened, this doesn’t make God our own personal genie who will do whatever we wish. This makes clear that God will do what he has promised he will do.

The problem with this mentality of “Name it and Claim it” (or however we might express it) is that not only would that subjugate God to our will (which just can’t happen, that would mean he’s no longer God), not only that, but also: that would weaken the promise that we see here in Matthew 7. This promise is BIGGER than that. This promise is just GOLD, but, we must dig a bit deeper to get to the GOLD. This might be one of the most comprehensive promises we see in all of the New Testament. There is incredible encouragement and assurance here, when we see what Jesus is saying. So, I want us to see four truths from Jesus’ words here, four truths in “Asking for the Good Things.” The first truth is this:

 

  1. We need the Holy Spirit’s help (vv. 7-8).

Look at verses 7-8 again: “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.”

What does Jesus mean?

We must have in mind why Jesus said this right here in the Sermon on the Mount. With everything Jesus has been teaching us, this may seem a bit out of place. So why right now bring this up? Well, if you think through what Jesus has taught us so far– the Beatitudes in chapter 5, being salt and light, what he taught about anger, and lust, and divorce, keeping our word, loving your enemies, giving to the needy, prayer, and even last week, how we’re not to condemn people or look down on them—thinking about all of that, I don’t know about you, but I can get a bit overwhelmed by the ways in which I don’t live up to all this teaching.

In fact, maybe you feel this way often. You know, we’re pursuing Godliness together as a church, guiding people to a Christ-centered identity and influence. We want to be more like Jesus, who died for us and took our sin upon Himself. Now, we’re free from sin and we’re pursuing holiness! Or at least I hope we are. That’s what it means to be a believer, is to have a new trajectory toward God and his will for our lives over our own.

Sometimes it’s overwhelming, though, because Jesus’ standard is remarkably high, and that’s just looking at this sermon he gave! Jesus comes to this point in the Sermon on the Mount where I think it’s obvious that he knows that he’s challenging his followers beyond their capacity! He knows it, which is why he decides to bring us some assurance and encouragement, particularly in knowing that He is here with us, and that He has provided what we need for life and Godliness. We need HELP on this journey toward Godly living, so where can we get it!? He answers: “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.” Where do we get help in pursuing righteousness? Who can help us in living for God’s glory? Specifically, the Holy Spirit.

Ultimately, the “good thing” that verse 11 says God wants to give us, ultimately, that good thing is the Holy Spirit. I’m not just saying that because it makes sense. I’m saying that because of the parallel passage in the gospel of Luke, which specifies this good thing that God has for us as the Holy Spirit! Luke 11:13- “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” In Luke 11, the Holy Spirit, specifically, is the good gift that God has for us. And why is that such a good gift? Because the Holy Spirit is the source of all blessings for a Christian, and he’s the source of our regeneration (salvation), Godliness, and Godly wisdom, and discernment, and all our obedience. Ask God for the Holy Spirit’s help, and He will give it to us. That’s so much better than trying to make this verse mean that God is a genie in a bottle. You ask him whatever you wish, and he will grant it!

I don’t know about you, but I think we need to be thankful that that’s not what these verses mean, that God doesn’t say yes to everything we ask of Him. In the same way it’s incredibly good that a parent does not always say yes to a child, right? That would be disastrous. If I always said yes to Jacob, all he would eat is candy and all he would do is watch TV and occasionally wrestle me. I say no to him for his good. In the same way, we should be thankful that God, who knows all things and especially knows what is best for us, is NOT our personal genie. Instead, He’s our Father, who has provided everything we need for life and Godliness and Godly wisdom, specifically, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.

We need the constant help of the Holy Spirit. And I know, we may not like to hear that. I mean, part of our sinful nature is that we want to be autonomous and have no real need for anyone else. But at the heart of the Gospel is the truth that we are in desperate need. The incredible weight of the sacrifice of Christ is only evident when we understand the incredible weight of our sin, and this huge need we have for a Savior. But most don’t believe this. Most have trouble with this. People don’t like hearing they need something. That’s why many churches, even, have minimized the Gospel by focusing primarily on why you should want Jesus, instead of why you NEED Him. The problem with telling people that the heart of the Gospel is that Jesus provides a better life and more joy and contentment, even though these things are very true. The problem with making THAT the heart of the Gospel, is that it doesn’t explain why Jesus had to DIE!

He DIED because we have this incredible debt due to our sin. He DIED because God was going to expend his wrath on us, because we had rebelled against Him. He DIED because no one else lived a holy life and could bear our sin instead of his own. He died because we deserved nothing but God’s wrath due to our sin. In the same way that God provided us a Substitute in order to provide a way for our salvation, he also has provided us a Helper to lead and empower us in our pursuit of Godliness. That Helper is the Holy Spirit. This brings us to our 2nd truth in “Asking for the Good Things.”

 

  1. God has all the supply we could ever need.

This goes right along with the first, but it’s important to note separately. Notice, it does NOT say, “Ask, and God will see what he can do. Seek, and God will try and go looking with you. Knock, and God will see if He has the right key to open the door.” It doesn’t say any of that, does it!? No! “Ask, it WILL be given to you. Seek, you WILL find. Knock, and it WILL be opened to you.” The point here is that there is no question that God has all the supply we could ever need! And, again, as if we wouldn’t get it the first time, Jesus says it TWICE, the second time in even a stronger way: “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”

God has all the supply of what? In context with the sermon on the Mount, he has all the supply of Godliness and wisdom we could ever need. 2 Peter 1:3-4, I love this: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”

Is there anything that we could desire more than this? Than to become partakers of the divine nature? He supplied what we needed in Christ, and now he supplies what we need for a Godly life! I know that some would say that I’m weakening these two verses, limiting it to only mean that God will give us things that he considers to be good, instead of anything and everything we ask for. My response to that is first: that’s what it says—Verse 11: “How much more with your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” Good things, who determines what is good? God does; not us! So first: that’s what it says. 2nd: How could that possibly be weakening what Jesus is saying? “Oh, you’re just using a cop-out so that it doesn’t have to mean what it really says, and you’re just making it more manageable and less intense.” My question is this: How in the world is Jesus promising the power to become like Him in His character, how in the world is that a cop-out!? How in the world is saying that these verses refer primarily to Godliness, not asking for whatever we may want, how is that lesser in meaning?! We get to partake in the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

There are no greater thing for which to ask God than this. These things that GOD considers GOOD, especially in reference to our salvation and Godliness, he has all the supply we could ever need. It’s a beautiful thing. The third truth in “Asking for the Good Things”:

 

  1. God is our Father, and desires only good for us.

Look at verses 9-11: “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!”

Jesus, yet again, as he’s done so many times in this Sermon on the Mount, he gives us a picture that is so helpful in understanding what he’s saying. No human father would give his son, who’s asking for food, something useless, or especially something that could hurt him! The loaf of bread could actually look like a stone, and even the snake could be mistaken to be a fish, especially the catfish in Galilee which looked like eels; they were long and skinny. So it seems like Jesus is not just saying that no earthly father would give his son something random instead of what he needed. It seems like he’s using an even more extreme example: no normal human father would want to trick his son, and potentially cause harm to befall him.

Even thinking along the line of unintentional pain caused by fathers: Earthly fathers can make mistakes, and think something is good for a child that later becomes clear was not good! But one of the most amazing things is that God’s wisdom is perfect, and that he can never give you something that he thought was good, but turned out to be bad. He’s never mistaken. He doesn’t make mistakes. He won’t give you bad gifts by accident.

And if a flawed, fallen human father desires only good things for his children, and NOT bad things, then how much MORE does our Heavenly Father, who is not flawed in any way, how much MORE would he desire what is good for his children? This truth that God wants good things also makes it clear that the picture presented in verses 7-8 are NOT of God ignoring a nagging child: “Ask, then seek, then knock, and FINALLY God will give in just to shut you up.” That’s not the picture here at all. The picture is of a God who desires what is good for us, and that he even wants us to be PERSISTENT in asking Him for those good things.

God wants to give us good things, and He will never give us anything that is evil. The fourth truth in “Asking for the Good Things”, a pretty simple one, yet profound:

 

  1. If we ask for the good things, our Father will give them to us.

Plain and simple. If we ask for the good things, our Father will give them to us. This doesn’t necessarily mean the things that WE think would be good, but it absolutely does mean the things that God considers good, especially pertaining to our salvation and our Godliness.

Martin Lloyd Jones, a Welsh pastor who died about 30 years ago, puts it like this: “What it means is this. Ask for any one of these things that is good for you, that is for the salvation of your soul, your ultimate perfection, anything that brings you nearer to God and enlarges your life and is thoroughly good for you, and He will give it to you. He will not give you things that are bad for you.”

And in case you’re wondering if Jesus really wants us to ask and even PERSIST in asking, he says it twice! “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” And then verse 8: “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” It’s this type of persistent prayer that will find an answer! That’s what Jesus is saying.

God desires persistence.

Ask, seek, knock; that’s a strong encouragement toward persistent prayer. Seek and knock are metaphors for prayer. And you may notice even an increase in intensity there: Ask, seek, knock! We must not stop asking God for these blessings that He has for us, every single day. That’s not a legalistic thing, asking every day, that’s something that reveals a heart that hungers and thirsts for these blessings from God, that desires sanctification and Godliness!

If you remember back to one of the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:6- “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” I think of the sentiment behind Psalm 42, verses 1-2, you’ll probably recognize the song: “As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after you. You alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship you.” That kind of desire and thirst for righteousness, for living out the Sermon on the Mount, that creates in us a persistence in asking God for these good things!

The truth of the matter is that what we desire we’re going to ask for! If you pray at all: Plain and simple- You’re going to pray for what you want.

So a great question to ask ourselves this morning: Do we desire righteousness? Do we desire Godly wisdom that will help us live like Jesus? Because if we truly desire those things, which are bigger and more important than any of these other desires we can have, if we desire these things more than anything else, we WILL ask for them. And if we ASK for them, God WILL give them to us! It’s a guarantee! It’s an obnoxiously clear promise! It is as sure as the love that our Heavenly Father has for us. So ask! Seek! Knock! Be persistent! Yes, about physical ailments, yes about our physical needs, again, those things matter, BUT ask for the GOOD THINGS, the BEST THINGS! Holiness. Repentance. Discernment. Wisdom. Joy. Contentment in Christ. Godliness. Hunger and thirst for these things, then ask, and he will give it to you.

Then, keep asking. This is where most of us are so molded by contemporary culture: that once we see any results of prayer, and God changing our hearts, we suddenly stop asking as if we’re done. Or as if some things have changed, so it’s not as much of a priority anymore.

 

Conclusion: Me, the Dependent Child; God, the Heavenly Father

To go back to all four of these truths we’ve talked about. If we think about our tendencies as human beings, even as saved human beings. We see our need, sometimes. We see God as the One who desires only good for us, sometimes. We see God as the only One who has an unending supply of these good things, sometimes. And because of all these “sometimes”, we ask sometimes.

Ultimately, this is a failure on our part in understanding who we really are, and who God really is. We see God as the Benefactor and ourselves as the Cause, instead of seeing ourselves as the dependent children, and God as the Heavenly Father. We are like children who are in constant need of a parent’s help. We constantly need our Father’s help, whether we know it or not, and He will always be there to provide that help.

The more we realize who we are as God’s children, and who He is, as our Father, the more we will become dependent upon Him. The more we become dependent upon Him, as His children, the more we will hunger and thirst for righteousness FROM Him. The more we hunger, the more we will ask, seek, and knock.