Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Ask, Seek, Knock

Matthew 7:7-11

“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!”

What’s the difference between God and magic? Wikipedia defines magic as, The use of rituals, symbols, actions, gestures, and language with the aim of utilizing supernatural forces.  These “supernatural forces” can be some inner natural “force” like in Star Wars, or it can be the manipulation of unseen spirits like angels and demons, or it can be rituals to manipulate God. But if we are trying to manipulate unseen powers, we are practicing magic.

Religion is not magic—in fact, it is the opposite of magic. That is why a person cannot be a “real” magician and a Christian at the same time. Christianity is not about the manipulation of unseen forces, but yielding to the power of God and letting Him manipulate us.  

Even so, many Christians without knowing it, are practicing magic. They don’t want to be manipulated by God. They want to manipulate Him. Whenever we think of prayers as a sure-fire way of getting what we want, we have turned our faith into magic.

In this passage, Jesus said, Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Some people have taken this passage among others to be a kind of a Christian magical formula. But this is a misuse of Scripture. It contradicts what Jesus already taught about prayer in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will (not ours) be done.” If we ask from now until the end of time, God will still not give us what He doesn’t want us to have. Jesus is not a magic genie, we cannot command Him do what He doesn’t want to do.

Nevertheless, we must understand that Jesus is supernatural. He does have the power to manipulate time, space, energy and matter to do whatever He wills. He can and will do what we cannot. 

This passage connects directly to the passage that came just before it. “Do not give what is holy to the dogs, or cast your pearls before swine.” Jesus is saying  that we do not have the power to manipulate the souls of other people. We cannot change the basic nature of a person by preaching at them or manipulating them. God alone has the power to change a person. 

So, how do we help our loved ones who are by the very nature lost and insensitive to the truth? We can’t, but God can. So, we need to ask, seek, and knock at the door of God, asking him humbly to do what we cannot do. We must go to the one power in the universe capable of affecting the change we desire. We must pray. 

Unfortunately, there is much less belief in prayer than there ought to be—even among Christians. Many professing Christians are really closet deists. They believe in God, but don’t think He is listening. So Jesus assures us that He really is.

Before we can understand this passage we must throw off any magical ideas we have about prayer. It isn’t us manipulating others or God. It’s not up to us, it’s up to Him. 

There are a couple of magical misconceptions in the world. 

The first misconception is the “vending machine” concept of prayer. This is the idea that prayer works like a vending machine without prices written on it. If we just keep feeding it quarters, eventually the lever will work and we will get what we want. In this view, prayers are the equivalent of quarters in God’s vending machine. God will give you whatever you desire if you only feed Him enough prayers. “Ask and keep on asking” is interpreted as saying that if we hit the desired amount of prayers for something, then we will always receive it exactly the way we expect. By asking we bend God to our will, not us to His.

Another misconception is the “merit badge” prayer. In this view, we have to earn the answer to our prayers. Get enough merit badges from God, and God will give us what we want. The reason we don’t get what we want is because we are not “good enough” for God to give it. We seek to placate God by offering to “be good.” If we can only change our bad habits or give up our pet sins, then God will hear us.

Preachers often suggest this when they suggest that our prayers are hindered, because we are not good or holy enough. They misinterpret Psalm 66:18, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” To say if we have sinful or lustful desires doesn’t hear our prayers. If this were so, God shouldn’t hear anyone’s prayers! To cherish iniquity in our heart is not to have been tempted and failed, but to seek iniquity by abandoning God. The moment we seek God, God listens. To suggest there’s a test of righteousness before God answers our prayers is to invite magical thinking. 

It’s another form of manipulation—be good so God will hear.  But God is sovereign and does whatever He wants and no amount of pleading or manipulation will make a difference.

But are we saying that God doesn’t care what we ask for? Not at all! He clearly indicates otherwise in verses 9 through 11.

“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 tells us something that should brighten our mood considerably. You can trust God. He really wants us to be happy. The takeaway from this passage is not “Jesus will give me what I want.” But “I can trust what Jesus gives me.” He won’t see us starve or let us get poisoned. He really, really loves us!

We don’t always know what we want. We want all kinds of contradictory things. One of my friends described her natural state as “Queen Baby.” As a queen, she wanted what she wanted when she wanted it. She did not think that anyone had the right to deny her anything. Like a baby, she wanted everyone—including God—to wait on her, and excuse her when she acted childishly. Everyone should take care of her, and bend to her will.

It never occurs to us that there is any contradiction in this. We want good health without exercise or dieting, we money to satisfy our slightest whims, but do not want to work for it. We think everyone should treat us as special and wonderful, but leave us alone whenever we desire it. 

As parents, we wouldn’t put up with this—not if we loved our children. A loving parent wants children to be happy, and will give anything for them, but a truly loving parent would not allow a child to act like “king baby.”
We don’t know when to be loving and firm—not even with ourselves. That’s why God has to be in charge. He is loving, caring and sustaining, and He knows our needs better than we do.

So, why does Jesus tell us to ask, seek, and knock? First, ask the question, what are we asking, seeking and knocking for?  What are we pursuing?  It’s not God’s blessings—it’s God Himself. If we receive the blessings of God without God, we will be forever missing out on the real purpose of life. 

Let’s use a parable to explain: imagine a Spanish galleon loaded with gold and silver sailing through pirate infested waters. The lookout spots a fast-moving ship-- exactly the kind of ship pirates often use. Since the galleon doesn’t have weapons to defend itself, and the ship is too slow to run, the captain decide on a brash action. He fills a lifeboat with gold and silver and sends it adrift behind the boat. If it’s pirates, they will stop to get the gold, giving him time to escape.

God is like that galleon. We pursue Him, but then God releases all kinds of blessings on our lives.  He gives us good times, full bellies, friends and families, and meaningful jobs. Maybe that is enough for us. Maybe we stop and enjoy these blessings. Meanwhile, God sails on, farther and farther away, as we feast on what He has left behind. But God is testing us. He is not testing us with tragedy, but with abundance. Will we stop and say we have had enough, or will we go on and seek Him instead of His blessing? 

Take in His blessings, but don’t stop. There’s a lot more ahead for those who will pursue. Most people stop for the blessings, and miss God. Only a few keep going. The blessings that God leaves behind are only a fraction of the blessings He has.  Don’t be thrown off by the blessings. Keep seeking, keep knocking, and you will find. 

We all know the story of Aladdin and his bottled genie. In Muslim folklore a genie is a demon.  If you trap him in a bottle you can bend him to your will. You don’t love the genie—you hate him, but you force him to give you wishes.

God doesn’t want to be your genie in the bottle. He wants to be your friend. Will you accept him as your friend? Then don’t stop seeking, because you are blessed, or if you are not blessed. Seek Him with all your heart.

There are only two ways to face God—with clenched fists ready to fight, or with open arms lifted in surrender. Which way will you face Hem today?

This is what Jesus is saying. Keep pursuing God, and you will receive—not His blessing, but His own true eternal presence. 

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