“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7:7
This verse is often used as encouragement, but I also find it frustrating at times. While I love that Jesus promises blessings for those bold enough to ask, I think we both know Jesus doesn’t answer every prayer in the manner we’d like. I’ve had many prayers over the years that seemingly fell on deaf ears, which made Jesus’ words all the more confusing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve knocked, yet the door remains closed.
Jesus only adds to the confusion in Matthew 22. The disciples were amazed that He withered the deceptive fig tree, and Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but you can also say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
This is wildly confusing! Jesus never moved a geographical mountain, and I think it would’ve made the nightly news if someone’s prayer caused Mount Rainier to hop into the Pacific Ocean.
I think it’s clear that Jesus’ words are not meant to be taken literally. Rather, what Jesus promises here is the ability to do. Prayer shouldn’t be your get-rich-quick solution to your problems. If you pray, “God, please help me ace this test tomorrow,” but refuse to study a lick, you shouldn’t expect God to hand you an A. If that were true, prayer would be a lazy crutch that would make us flabby and inefficient. We would never actually have to do anything because we knew God would do it for us.
What prayer can grant us is the strength to face tough tasks. Using the previous example, one might be better served to ask for strength while studying or extra concentration during the big exam. Through these prayers, God is an aide and helpful partner, not a genie.
Prayer also gives us the ability to accept. In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Paul speaks of a thorn that he three times pleaded God remove from his flesh. Paul wasn’t delivered from the situation, but God comforted him with truth: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Similarly, when Jesus pleaded that the cup be taken from Him in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46), the task of the crucifixion wasn’t removed. However, God gave Jesus the strength and ability to endure.
So if you command a mountain to jump into the sea, don’t expect an avalanche. Similarly, don’t think you can curse a fig tree and watch it wither.
But go back and look at the verse at the top of this blog: “Ask and it will be given to you.” I think we often assume that when Jesus says “it”, He means the answer we desire. But what if “it” isn’t a concrete solution, but strength? Discernment. Endurance. Just because we pray for something doesn’t mean it’s the best solution for us.
Prayer will always remain a concept we don’t fully understand. But if you’re struggling to comprehend why your “door” isn’t being opened no matter how many times you knock, look at the next verse in Matthew 7: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will you Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!”
Maybe we won’t literally receive everything we ask for in prayer. But we can have faith that God will provide precisely what we need to weather our circumstances.