When you are a new believer, and you read Jesus’s words, “Ask and it will be given; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be open to you,” it sounds like magic. Ask for what I want? Answers given whenever I seek? Closed doors opening? This is Jesus’s invitation to pray boldly. So, you do. You ask for your husband to change. You want God to answer why someone you love got cancer. You knock on a closed door, knowing that God will so convict your Dad, that he will pick up the phone and call you after a three-year silence.
You wait for your husband to change. And you wait. And wait. The turmoil in your heart about why a good person suffers doesn’t go away. Your Dad’s number never shows up on your phone. Then you are left with deep unease. Did Jesus not keep his promise? Did you not have enough faith? Did Jesus lie?
Bible scholars and preachers handle Jesus’s promise in two ways. First, they try to explain Jesus’s words are not what they seem to be. They try to limit the scope of the promise, or draw in other scripture that seems to teach us to limit our asking. The outcome of this teaching is timid prayer, anemic prayer, prayer that doesn’t move a grain of sand, much less a mountain.
The second way preachers explain Jesus’s words is to claim this as a faith promise. We are to ask, seek, and knock and God will give. Preachers thunder, “You have not, because you ask not!” Then they get in their Mercedes and go home. If God is not giving you the sweet life, it is because you don’t ask, or you don’t ask in faith. The outcome of this teaching is foolish asking and foolish thinking. “Name it and claim it” turns God into a heavenly Amazon Prime, delivering blessings to our door.
What did Jesus mean?
When my daughter Sarah was two, she asked me to go by Sonic and get some ice cream. I told her “no.” She asked again. I said “no” again. She paused, thought and then said, “Daddy, Jesus wants you to get me some ice cream.”
I wonder where she learned that?
Sarah did not get ice cream that day. I wasn’t being cruel. I was being wise. She needed a nap and the sugar in the ice cream would wind her up for hours. When I told Sarah “no” she thought I was the cruelest Dad in the world.
I’ve told this story before as an example of our heavenly Father knowing our needs better than we know our own. That’s still true. It’s only recently, however, that I realize how much Sarah trusted me. She knew her father loved her (and loves her still). Even at two, she knew I was the source of good gifts. So when she wanted ice cream, she asked her father. She trusted me enough to ask.
I think this is what Jesus is teaching us. Trust your Heavenly Father to ask, seek and knock. Trust him with raw desires of your heart. Don’t try to edit your prayer to make it perfect or acceptable.
But remember asking is the first step of prayer. It starts a conversation. Asking means listening for God to speak back to you and tell you, you don’t need ice cream, you need a nap. It means trusting him enough to lie and take the nap.
Ask boldly. Trust boldly. Trust your heavenly Father enough to ask.
Now, I need to decide if I need ice cream or a nap.