A sermon preached on Facebook Live for the United Reformed Church of Clifton, April 19, 2020.
To hear the author preaching this sermon follow the link – https://www.facebook.com/105243486193626/videos/250381789491542/
7 “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 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! 12 So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:7-12)
We come to another one of Jesus words that are often misunderstood. “Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened to you.” So does that mean that I can ask God for absolutely anything that I want and expect to get it? Can I ask God to let me win the lottery?
That would be nice. But … If that were the case, then your payout would probably only be 10 or 20 dollars because everyone is asking God to let them win the lottery. And if God has to grant everyone’s request, then the jackpot will have to be divided between a couple million people. That doesn’t leave very much for you, does it?
John R.W. Stott in his book Christian Counter Culture says this
It is absurd to suppose the promise ‘Ask and it will be given you, is an absolute pledge with no strings attached; that Knock and it will be opened to you’ is an ‘Open, Sesame’ to every closed door without exception. The idea is ridiculous. It would turn prayer into magic, the person who prays into a magician like Aladdin, and God into a genie who appears every time we rub our little prayer lamp.”John R.W. Stott, Christian Counter-Culture, (p. 188)
This promise of Jesus is not a prepaid Master Card with a balance of several million dollars that we can use any way we please. Jesus gave us this promise not to spoil us but to empower us to do three things.
- This promise Gives Us Confidence in the Father’s Love
- This promise Gives Us Freedom to Do the Father’s Work
- This promise Give Us Compassion to Care for Our Neighbor
1. Confidence in the Father’s Love
First of all, Jesus gives us this promise to give us confidence in the Father’s love. To drive that point home he gives us an analogy.
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!Matthew 7: 9-11
All of us have read about some nasty parents who really did give their children stones and snakes, instead of love and nurture. And on occasion, there are even times for those of us who are parents when we don’t do right by our children and say or do things that are harmful. But generally speaking we try to be loving, encouraging and nurturing.
And so Jesus says, imperfect parents though you may be, God is a perfect parent who always has your best interests at his heart. You can always have confidence in his love.
John Montgomery Boice, in his book The Sermon on the Mount says,
If a young man wants to ask his father for something, he will pattern his request on the nature and the temperament of his father. If the father is ill-tempered and stingy, the young man will ask for little. He will take care to present his need in the most winsome and unobjectionable manner. However, if the father is good-natured and generous, the child will present his need openly and with great confidence.
You see we don’t need to walk on egg shells when we come to our Father in prayer. We don’t need to cower in fear that he doesn’t really want to help us. As the Apostle Paul, “He who did not spare his own Son, will he not give us all things with him.” God has already given us his best; everything else is just icing on the cake.
Jesus gave us this promise to give us confidence in the Father’s love.
2. Freedom to Do the Father’s Will
Secondly, Jesus gave us this promise to give us freedom to do the Fathers’ will.
The most important job that the Christian has is to seek first the kingdom of God. If you are always worrying about how you are going to make ends meet, then it is hard to serve God. And so in Matthew 6: 31-33 he says.
do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.Matthew 6:31-33
In other words, he says. “Look, if you make your primary goal to do God’s work, God will take care of your needs.”
But someone may object, “Sometimes when I try to share my problems with God, it seems like he isn’t listening and that he isn’t really there. Is God really going to take care of me?”
Helmut Theilicke, in his book Life Can Begin Again, compares prayer to having a telephone conversation with God.
[Why does it sometimes seem that when we dial up God in prayer there is no answer at the other end of the line?” he asks, “Perhaps it is only because we are dialing ourselves and not God.]Helmut Thielicke, Life Can Begin Again, p. 166
We dial ourselves when in our prayers we think only of ourselves, only of the things we want, the bread, the promotion, the return of our missing son, the shortage of goods we need so badly, and thus do not think of who it is we intend to speak with here. When this happens our prayer cannot break away from the spell of self-concern. Then it never gets beyond the ceiling, then we hear only the annoying pulse of a busy signal, but never those relieving, cheering words, “Here, I am my child.”
When we stop primarily focusing on our problems, and focus on our God then and only then will we meet him in our prayers. When we focus on our God, then, and only then do we hear him say, “Hear am I. I’ve heard you and I will take care of it. Go now and serve me.”
The words, “Ask and it shall be given, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened,” release us from worry and give us freedom to seek first Gods’ kingdom.
3. Compassion to Care for Our Neighbor.
Thirdly, this promise gives us compassion to care for our neighbor.
Did you notice that the last verse in our scripture lesson today seems to change the subject? We have been talking about asking, seeking and knocking. We’ve been shown a picture of an attentive Father, who not only loves to listen to prayer, but also to answer it. Now, all of the sudden , Jesus, gives us the Golden Rule. “So in everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” What in the world does doing unto others, have to do with prayer?
And the answer is Everything! For prayer that is only offered for myself and my loved ones is not prayer. True prayer seeks the good not only of those near and dear, but also of those who are strangers and yet neighbors. Helmut Thielicke puts it this way.
A prayer that does not include my neighbor is not a prayer. A service of worship which is not at the same time a service to others is not a service of God, but merely opium and pious self-titillation. God has no desire to see the enthusiastic lifting up of hands offered in praise, to hear the throbbing drum beat of an uplifting praise song, to the hear the glorious sound of organ with all it stops pulled out, or even to hear the preaching of the most correct sermon, if it does not include service to our neighbor. So it cannot be otherwise with our prayers; the vision of our neighbor must immediately appear before us: “Whatever you wish that others would do for you, do so for them.Helmut Thielicke, Life Can Begin Again, p. 170
Prayer and service go together.
Very soon, most of us will be receiving a stimulus check from the Federal government. Have you given any thought to what you are going to do with yours? For some of us, we will need to use that to make up for income that we lost during this time of pandemic.
But for many of us who have been working and bringing home a paycheck this will be an unexpected windfall. What are you going to do with it?
You might think, “Wow! This will help to pay for that trip to Disney that I’ve wanted to take for so long.” Or, “I’ve really wanted some new furniture, some new clothes or something else.” Personally, I’m tempted to think that this will help make up for the loss of value in my retirement fund.
But what if this is a gift that God has given us to seek the good of our neighbor? Maybe it could be used to make a substantial contribution to St. Peter’s Haven or the Good Shepherd Mission. Maybe you know a family who has been unemployed these past few weeks and could use a little more help than what the government is giving. What if this is God’s way to answer your prayers for those less fortunate. What if God gave you this money to make a difference in the lives of others?
Somehow we need to balance the promise of Jesus “Ask and it will be given to you,” with the command of Jesus, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Something to think about and pray about.
Rev. Michael A. Weber, April 19, 2020. I give my permission to share this on social media, but please request that you inform me at firstname.lastname@example.org when you do so.