I remember a speaker at a conference I attended claiming that he had identified the secret to successful prayer. It was a matter of persistence in prayer and fasting. We give up too easily, he claimed. He was even prepared to put a number on this. Just as Jesus prayed and fasted for 40 days, so too if we gave ourselves to 40 days, then we too would experience spiritual break through.
Well that sounds a bit superstitious but we can still read Matthew 7:7 -8 in the same vein. We think that somehow we have to keep pressurising God until he gives in. However, such a view conflicts with what we know about God.
First of all, from systematic theology, we know that God is sovereign. He cannot be manipulated or controlled from outside. This means both that he is without rival gods and that we cannot exert pressure on him.
Secondly, we know from the context of The Sermon on the Mount that this is not how God is. We have learnt that he is the God who knows our needs before we even ask. We have seen how forgiveness is rooted in generosity which is itself rooted in God’s extravagant generosity towards us. Here in the immediate context, we have Jesus’ reminder that God is the good father who will not harm his children but will give them what the need and ask for (Matthew 7:9-11).
It is helpful to see how what Jesus says in these verses fits into the argument that he is making at this stage. The bigger point of the Sermon on the Mount is that God’s happy people are those who are dependent completely upon him. The complete dependence arises out of a recognition that God looks at our hearts not just our inner motives. We need a new heart from him and we receive that new heart leading to radical change in our lives.
This radical change which arises from total dependence is expressed in prayer as we trust the Father to give what we need, to lead us in the right paths and to forgive us. Following the right paths means that we too are to forgive. This means that we are not to be judgemental but we are still to exercise discernment to make sure that we are following the right path. There is a good and right path to follow which is the way of salvation even though many miss it. There are true words of life to listen to and there are false words brought by false prophets – wolves who devour. There are true foundations and false (or non existent foundations).
So, those who ask, knock, seek, find are those who recognise that it matters that you are on the right path, that you are part of the Father’s family. When you are, then in complete dependence upon him you will find what you need.