Q.

Please explain Matthew 7:7. If the verse is true, why is it that prayer often doesn’t work out that way?

A.
Matthew 7:7 reads:

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

I am glad that you have asked this question. We must not look on prayer as a genie in a bottle or as a selfish way to please our every whim. No, we must meet the conditions of prayer. And we have responsibilities as believers in addition to prayer. The weapon of prayer is just one part of the whole armor of God (see Eph. 6:10–18). That fact in no way minimizes the importance and power of prayer, however.

Matthew 7:7 is not a blank check that we can can fill out as we please. James 4:3 is also in the Bible (“Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts”). Surely the believer who does not forsake sin, who tolerates sin in his life, cannot expect much out of Matthew 7:7. The principle is found in the psalms: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps. 66:18). But, oh, the power of Matthew 7:7 as a principle of life when a person is right with God! It is as limitless as God.

When we talk about a person who is “right with God,” we are talking about a person who is regenerated by the Holy Spirit, a person who has experienced the new birth. The Bible makes it clear that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). A believer in right relationship with God is affected in his whole being by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and controlling him. This includes right desires, desires in line with God’s desires. We dare not divorce Matthew 7:7 from the words of Jesus in Matthew 6 (also part of the Sermon on the Mount).

Verse 33 of chapter 6 reads, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Notice the condition in asking and receiving from the Heavenly Father. We must want Him—His ways, His will, His holiness, His purposes. So often we don’t get what we ask because we are out of tune with Him and His will. And God often withholds that which we ask for until we seek and discover His true mind in those things.

Have you ever prayed in a certain way and then later realized how foolish it was to pray that way? In other words, you learned something in the meantime. You learned more of God’s will and ways. You got to the place where you could relate to what Isaiah the prophet declared:

With my soul have I desired thee in. the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness (Isa. 26:9).

I think that Matthew 7:7 refers a great deal to asking for wisdom and discernment, rather than for material or physical things. Someone has said that, among human beings, the will to know is strong, but the will to be fooled is even stronger. And, of course, we talk about such things as “fool’s paradise” and “ignorance is bliss.” We hate to admit it, but it remains true that as believers we sometimes don’t want God’s viewpoint as we should. We fear the implications and the sacrifices involved. We might therefore ask and not really mean what we’re asking. Then, of course, we will not receive. Asking and receiving calls for heart honesty. When we honestly ask according to His will, we will receive. If we really want the wisdom of God, we have this promise:

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him (James 1:5).

An interesting observation about Matthew 7:7 involves the present tense of the verbs. The verse says, Keep on asking, seeking, knocking! Why? Can’t the Lord hear the first time we ask? Yes, but we learn from our persistence. We can learn to ask in the right way and in the right spirit. Have you watched children asking for things from their parents or others? At first, they might be rather belligerent and cocky. They might ask for something that they shouldn’t have. But they go through a sort of refining process. Before they are through, they learn to ask in an unselfish or a kind way—or maybe not to ask at all because they realize the thing is not good for them.

So it is with us as believers. God wants to show us how to change our praying for something and how to get answers. God is so good! As the context of the following verses indicates, our Heavenly Father wants only the best for us. He wants to give to us in a far greater way than earthly parents. He will never give us a stone when we ask for and need bread. Praise the Lord! Note how in each of these sections—ask, seek, knock—we are given what we ask, seek and knock for. As we enter into this Thanksgiving season, let us praise the Lord for these precious promises and gifts.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (November 1991).
© 1991 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.