A number of years ago, I visited a man whose children attended the Church that I pastored. He made sure his boys were there every Sunday, but he never came. In the course of the visit I inquired about his absence and was greeted with a flood of anger. He explained that he was angry with God because of his Mother’s death. Furthermore, he felt completely justified in his anger toward God because he had prayed that God would heal her, and He did not. As far as he was concerned, God had failed to keep His word. As proof, he cited 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 he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being 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!
Did he have a point? Has God promised to answer every prayer we utter? Does Matthew 7:8-9 indicate that we can pray with complete confidence? Well, He certainly can answer our prayers, if He wants to do so. To this we would all attest. However, we also know from experience that God doesn’t answer every prayer that crosses out lips. Prayer is not a blank check. We cannot ask for whatever we want from God and be assured of receiving it. We all understand this reality. Our prayer life has confirmed it. So, how are we to understand Matthew 7:7-11? It seems to say that we can pray with every confidence that God will answer, but we know He does not always grant our requests. How do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory truths? To do so, we must look elsewhere in the Scriptures.
The seeming contradiction is resolved when we consider the broader context. Considering the whole of God’s revelation on prayer clearly reveals the parameters or restricting factors that limit the promises made in Matt. 7:7-11.
In examining the whole of Scripture, the first parameter that limits answered prayer is this. When we pray, we must be right with God before we can expect Him to answer. Our lives as His children must be properly oriented to Him-obedient and dedicated to Him. David said in Psalm 66:18 that if he regarded iniquity in his heart, God would not hear his prayers. In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter instructs husbands to be understanding of their wives and to honor them as weaker vessels and heirs together of the grace of life. Then he follows with a purpose clause, adding, “that your prayers be not hindered.” So, the first parameter involves answering this question, "Are we right with God?" Being right with Him is necessary, if God is going to answer our prayers.
The second parameter requires answering another question, "Is the request we are making, right?" The problem is that we don't always know what our real need is. We are keenly aware of the problem and we may well believe that we know the answer to the problem, but God doesn't always answer in the way we expect. Our request may not be in accord with God’s mind at all. For example, we may ask God to take away our problems when it is God who has orchestrated those very problems which need to be endured for our spiritual growth (Jam. 1:2-4). So, our requests are not always right.
Finally, a third parameter is this, the timing of our requests also has to be right. Sometimes God delays His answers. Obviously, He knows when it is best for Him to act, and we do not. This reality is apparent in the present tense verbs used in Matt. 7:7-8. Asking, seeking, and knocking are all defined by the present tense as ongoing activities, and not singular requests.
As long as all three of these parameters fall into place, what’s said in Matthew 7:7-11 can be taken to be an absolute promise
Dr. R. Jay Waggoner
Dr. Waggoner has been in the pastoral ministry since 1980, serving churches in West Virginia and North Carolina. He has been the Senior Pastor at Fellowship Baptist Church since April 1992.
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