Ask … and You Will Receive
Jesus invites us to ask God for stuff, and to ask often no matter how much faith you think you have or how unfaithful to God you’ve been. Jesus shows us that God is a good Father, who loves to give us good gifts. How hard can that be? Turns out quite hard actually! Here are some thoughts on what’s really on offer and why we don’t seem to be able to ask the way we’re invited to.
One of the deep truths that Jesus tried to teach people is that when we zone in and preoccupy ourselves with the wrong kind of things, we end up living with anxiety. On the flip side, if we learn what it means to live in God’s Kingdom we’ll begin to shift our focus onto the right things, put our hope in God and learn to rely on God’s faithfulness. The result is that we will begin to feel more secure and restful. Which would you rather live with?
In this series we’re exploring 6 life-changing things that Jesus invites and calls us to do. This one is really simple but strangely, also really hard. It couldn’t be easier yet we so often forget to do it.
Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him? (Jesus in Matthew 7v7-11)
You do not have, because you do not ask God – James 1v2
Boom! Imagine if we simply asked God for more things? Or maybe it’s not so easy? Let’s dig a bit deeper…
What can we ask God for?
In Matthew 7 Jesus doesn’t mention anything in particular, he just says: ‘keep on asking…’ It’s an open invitation. We can ask God for anything.
It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t limit what we can ask for, you know, like only the things you think you’re likely to get from me, or obviously good stuff like world peace or the end of poverty. I think Jesus just wants to encourage us to ask. Don’t worry if this is a good thing to ask for or not – just ask!
Jesus also says, however, that God only gives us ‘good things’ (v11) …. and, yes – that’s a good thing.
Read Chapter 6 and 7 of Matthew and you’ll find that God loves to give us all kinds of things – things we’d expect and things we might not even know we need.
Does that raise any questions for you? Like …
* What if we don’t get what we ask for?
* What if God seems to send ‘bad’ things our way?
* What about poor people who love God but don’t have enough to eat or wear?
You can check out some answers at the end of this post. Keep reading though, the next bit might answer some of these.
Can anyone ask God for stuff?
Verse 8 seems to be pretty clear doesn’t it? ‘everyone who asks …’ You don’t need to have done all the right religious things and been a good boy or girl to ask God for stuff. (Read that again, and again. Then read it a few more times. Is that something you find hard to believe?)
If you’re asking God to give you something it does kinda say a few things about you: you have some kind of faith that God exists, that God is able to hear your prayers; and you believe that God might just be able to give you what you’re asking for – right?
It turns out that when Jesus says ‘everyone’ he means everyone who wants to be part of God’s Kingdom. You don’t have to have made it very far into the Kingdom. It’s about who you’re seeking the things you want from.
Is it God or something else you’re seeking stuff from?
The answer to that makes all the difference.
How much faith do I need to receive things from God?
It’s also interesting that Jesus doesn’t say: ‘if you have faith, then ask …’. I think that’s partly because Jesus assumes that we know that at least some faith in God is needed.
But here’s the main reason:
this ‘asking thing’ is much more about God’s faithfulness in giving than our faith in receiving.
God’s faithfulness is one of the great themes of the Bible. Check these out …
‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD’ Jeremiah 29:13
‘I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me’ Proverbs 8:17
This is all really about God’s faithfulness – which of course should boost our faith too!
Keep on asking …
When Matthew wrote this passage in Greek, he used a form of the verb ‘to ask’ that is best translated as ‘keep asking’. Asking God for something is a continuous act –not just something we do once. How many things have you asked God for, maybe just once, and then forgotten about them? What would happen if we kept on asking – bugging God – until something happened?
Jesus made this clear in two parables in Luke 18: 1-8 and 11:5-8 about people who got what they want from God because they refused to quit asking … A widow gets what she wants from a judge who becomes worried that she will eventually wear him out with her asking! A man who boldly and persistently asks his friend for bread late at night eventually gets what he needs. You can read more about this in the last session of our Prayer series.
Your Father in heaven is not like your real mom or dad
How did you feel when you read or heard the bit in the passage about parents giving good things to their kids? Everybody deserves to have good and loving parents. Tragically, it’s way too common for people to grow up with parents who are distant, or abusive or just not very loving. Jesus says it like it is: everyone’s parents are sinful (v11 – just like you are too…). It’s sometimes tempting to imagine God is just like your earthly dad or mom who’s disappointed or hurt you.
Don’t believe it. It may take a big step of faith to begin to believe that God – your true ‘Father’ – is good and that God gives good things to those who ask. If that’s your story then maybe a good place to begin is to start re-imagining what God is really like.
Here’s what Jesus is saying: Do you need something? Ask! Ask often; ask no matter how much or little faith you think you have; ask for anything – not just what you think are the correct things to ask for.
How hard can that be?
K, so any questions?
Jesus’ invitation to ask God for anything (Matthew 6: 6-11) raises a few obvious questions. Here are some thoughts on those:
What if we don’t get what we ask for?
A few ideas:
- maybe we think we’re asking for something good but actually we’re not. God won’t give us something that’s bad for us even if we might think it’s good
- perhaps the thing we’re asking for is good – but it will only be good for us later, once we’ve grown up a bit or are in a different situation
- maybe we need to just keep asking – be a bit more persistent like the widow in Luke 18.
- it’s also important to realise that passages like these don’t mean that there’s a formula involved – like if we do or say the right things then God will automatically act in a predictable or guaranteed way. God is not like that (whew!). Jesus is teaching us about how things work in general in God’s Kingdom: God is a giving God who gives good things to those who ask.
What if we seem to be given ‘bad’ things?
- So you’ve asked for something and bam – something goes horribly wrong. What now? Again, hold on in faith that your Father in Heaven is good. God will not give harmful things to us – no ‘snakes or stones or scorpions’. Sometimes God ‘gives’ us things to help us grow up and become mature. Those things can be painful – but they are still good for us.
- Maybe what you’re experiencing is not from God at all. Maybe it’s a natural result of some way you’ve messed up, or something that someone else has done to you. God doesn’t guarantee that we won’t be hurt by others or escape the consequences of our sin.
What about the poor who love God and ask but still don’t have the money, or food, or clothes they need?
K, this is a bit of a tough one. Here are two thoughts:
- Jesus is talking about life in God’s Kingdom – about the kinds of things that happen when Kingdom people do Kingdom stuff. It doesn’t take much looking around to see that there are big parts of life that are very far removed from the way God wants things to be. That includes poverty and all kinds of injustice. God hates that – and is slowly but surely bringing his Kingdom more fully into this world.
- It’s clear in the Bible (see for example James 1:27 and Isaiah 58: 6-7) that God commands people who are not poor to help those who are. Perhaps the reason people don’t receive what they ask God for is sometimes more our fault than God’s?
What other questions do you have about this? Can you think of different responses to the ones above? Let us know: email firstname.lastname@example.org
In this tab you’ll find ideas and questions to help you lead your group through an interactive, story-based journey. Our leaders guide has more info on how to use our Story-based framework.
Download a PDF version of this session here
Take a few minutes to think back over the last few weeks or months of your life. What are some of the things that have occupied your thoughts the most? Maybe a relationship, or work at school, a series you’re hooked on, a sport you’re trying to better at…
o How are you feeling overall as a result of having those things on your mind: secure and peaceful or more anxious?
o Have you ever wanted to pray about something, but decided not to? What stopped you from praying?
Get the conversation started …
Get everyone to check out the WordSpace posts from this week on their phones or from a printout (you’ll find them in the next tab.)
o Is there a post that stands out for you? Why so?
o Is there something in a post that raises a question for you? What is that?
o If you had to choose one post to share with a friend, which one would it be?
Read the post in The Post tab.
Here’s Brad Fish diving into invitation 3… On YouTube here
Some questions to help you replay your story …
o How do you feel about what you encountered in this session – encouraged, discouraged, hopeful, disappointed, anything else?
o Did anything seem like particularly good news for you? Anything that was hard to understand?
o ‘You don’t need to have done all the right religious things and been a good boy or girl to ask God for stuff.’ Do you find it hard to believe that?
o How hard can asking God for things be? Quite hard actually, if we keep trying to control and manage things on our own. How much do you try and keep things all under control in your life?
o How many things have you asked God for, maybe just once, and then forgotten about them? What would happen if we kept on asking – bugging God – until something happened?
Re – draw your picture of Jesus
Jesus asked his Father for lots of things when he was physically on earth. Some of those things happened, some didn’t. The Holy Spirit was sent in response to Jesus’ asking (John 14v16) but the suffering Jesus was going to face on the cross wasn’t taken away from him as he begged God to do (Matthew 26v39) . That didn’t stop Jesus from asking – and in the end accepting the answer ‘no’ when he realised what he wanted wasn’t what God wanted.
o How does seeing Jesus in that light change or challenge the way you understand what Jesus is like?
o Does it help you see that Jesus understands what it’s like to be human and dependant on God??
What practical action, response,or new way of thinking do you need to take into the week?
Have you encountered something about asking God for things that makes you want to say to God:
‘wow, I’ve really not been asking you for things the way I should be. Help me get over whatever it is that’s keeping me from asking you more’
Jesus invites us to repent often and with freedom. It’s a real gift from God – go for it!
Some questions to help you remix your story …
o What’s an area that’s really important to you that you haven’t prayed about yet? What about giving God a chance to get involved there?
o Do you feel you lack faith or struggle to view God as a good parent (maybe you don’t know what that actually looks like?) Ask Jesus to show you a Father who is good, and loves to give good gifts – and to help you trust in that.
If there’s something stopping you from praying, what is it and how can you deal with it? If you’re feeling unworthy of God’s attention, why is that? Spend some time this week digging into who Jesus says you are – find your identity in Him, not what you’ve done? It may help to ask someone to do that with you.
From the WordSpace
Here are five posts from the WordSpace we’ve posted specially to tie in with this topic:
‘Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’ (Hebrews 4v16http://bit.ly/1ah6Vq7 )
God is kind and generous. He’s your father. He wants to help you. He also knows you and loves you better than anyone. He knows all the plans he has for you and he is perfect in power and wisdom. So he has in store for you the very best – the most suitable – gifts. That doesn’t mean you’ll like everything he does in your life. But like Brussels sprouts, what’s good for us is not always nice 🙂 Ask … and trust Him … and you will receive.
James said: ‘you don’t have because you don’t ask’ (James 4v2)
So why don’t I ask? Do I think I can provide for myself? Am I too proud to get on my knees? Is my faith in God’s ability to provide too small? Do I keep forgetting about the last time God gave me what I needed?
Truth is – I see myself as really not that needy.
Truth is – God sees me as completely needy (and that’s a good thing:
‘You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.’ (Revelation 3v17http://bit.ly/17gJgsZ )
Woah. Is that a word for me?
‘Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened’ (Matthew 7v7 http://bit.ly/1hsMKzw )
Have you read that incredible invitation from Jesus in those words before? It’s a good and accurate translation. Keep on asking, seeking, knocking… Don’t do it just once!
The best part about this invitation? It’s open to ANYone – yes even if you feel you’re too far from God to deserve anything.
So go on ask God to give you what you’re looking for. See what happens…
Here’s some good news for anyone who thinks they can’t scrape together ‘enough’ faith for God to answer their prayers. Jesus doesn’t even mention faith in Matthew 7v7 (http://bit.ly/1hsMKzw)
Why? Partly because this ‘asking thing’ is much more about God’s faithfulness in giving than our faith in receiving. God’s faithfulness is one of the great themes of the Bible:
‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you’ declares the LORD’ Jeremiah 29:13
‘I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me’ Proverbs 8:17
How about relying more on God’s faithfulness as you ask God for what you need?
God, it’s so easy to become fixated with what I’m asking you for. It’s like having a spot on my sunglasses… every time I look around that’s all I see. In the midst of all the things I think I need, what one thing do you want me to see?
‘I’m asking God for one thing and only one thing – to live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty. I’ll study at his feet.’ (Psalm 27v4)
What does that look like for me here and now God? Consume me with this one thing.
Psalm 27 here: http://bit.ly/1jjeEeL