If You Ask, You Will Receive? – Matthew 7:7-8

Along with Luke 11, this passage in Matthew 7 is usually used to teach persistence in prayer. If we consistently present our requests to God, he will answer them. This is foundational for the Prosperity Gospel and an anything-goes “name it and claim it” view of prayer. Many in the prosperity gospel movement believe it is God’s will for believers to be in good health, financially successful, and happy.

The problem is obvious, God does not always answer our prayer. We do not get the job, our sickness is not healed, etc. Sometimes pastors will say God always answers, but sometimes the answer is “no.” But that is not what this paragraph says. Jesus says “ask, and it will be given to you.” He then illustrates this and concludes that the Father will give good things to those who ask for them.

The result for some Christians is the fear their faith is not strong enough, perhaps there is unconfessed sin in their life, or they really are not persistent enough to attract God’s attention with their small problems. This is especially true if their pastor has told them God will give them whatever they want if they ask for it in the right way.

But is that what Jesus is teaching in Matthew 7:7-12? Does he say, “If you badger God long enough he will give you whatever you want”? Is the “name it and claim it” theology of the prosperity gospel right?  We need to understand what Jewish prayer was in the first century. Did they make prayer requests as evangelical Christians do today?

Jesus tells his disciples to Ask, Seek and Knock. To “ask God” is to expect him answer. But Jesus is speaking to his own Jewish disciples, the ones he has already instructed to call God “father” (Matthew 6:9).

Some kid might come up to you and ask you for some basic need and you are free to help them (or not). If the child is your own, you have a clear obligation to take care of your child’s need. [I imagine a child might come up to me and ask me to help them blow their nose, in which case I would help them find their mother. But if my own child asked, I would (probably) help them]

The unsaved can pray to God, and God might answer their prayer, but God is not in a parent-child relationship with the unsaved person. The Book of Jonah is an example in of a pagan nation with no idea what God requires prayed for mercy and received it. That God provides good gifts to all people is a clear teaching of both the Old and New Testament. Obviously God does hear the prayers of the unregenerate who ask for the forgiveness of sin and accept Jesus as their savior.

Jesus is therefore talking about requests in prayer from God’s children. This is similar to Paul in Romans 8, the Spirit who helps us pray because we do not even know how to pray! Does a believer need to be in obedience to God’s will when they bring requests to God? Does the presence of sin in our life limit our prayers? Are your children always in perfect obedience when they ask you for things?

It is certainly possible for God to answer the prayers of a believer who is in sin. Like a human relationship, sin can cloud and disrupt a relationship. Even though God does not change, the believer may not be in a place to approach God in prayer. This is the reason the Lord’s Prayer included confession of sin (Matt 6:12). Virtually everyone who teaches on prayer includes confession as an important part of prayer. This is true for the Psalms, in the majority of the Psalms the author confesses his sin and the sin of his people before asking God to rescue him from his problems.

Does this mean a believer who is in sin shouldn’t ask anything from God until they have confessed all their sins?  Not necessarily, since it is impossible to confess every sin.

Even in our requests to the good Heavenly Father, we ought to be submissive to God’s will. Why do your kids ask you for things? Sometimes they have real needs and they need help, but occasionally they have an ulterior motive (greed, get their sibling in trouble, etc.) James 4:3 says those who ask and don’t receive are asking from wrong motives.  What might a “wrong motive” be for asking something from God?  Selfishness?  Greed?  Jealousy?

Our prayers are motivated by our desires, but the effective prayers in the Old Testament are always motivated by what is best for God.

As we mature in Christ, we will bring each area of our lives under greater submissiveness to God’s will and our prayer requests will be more in line with God’s will. Just as a child matures and better understands their relationship with their parent, so too the believer matures and better understands God and our relationship with him. Prayer is part of that process.

10 thoughts on “If You Ask, You Will Receive? – Matthew 7:7-8

  1. God tells us to ask and we shall receive, but it is our motive behind what we are asking for that God cares about. It is like when we were kids, we would ask our parents for things that are all about us. We should be asking for things that God would think is best for us. “Jesus teaches that his disciples are to go to God, ask him, and expect him to respond” (McKnight, 243). When we ask for something from God, we should expect a response. We need to be patient and keeping listening for God. His response may be no, but God knows what is best for us even if that means saying no. I think it is interesting how the unsaved can pray to God, but they do not have the same father son/daughter relationship like we do with God. We can go to God like we are going to our own father and ask him for the things we need. When we seek God and seek for his help, he will take care of us and give us the answers we need.

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    • The analogy of God being out father is relevant and is used quite often, and this passage is no different. The relationship between us and God is very similar to that of a parent and a child. I really like when you say “His response may be no, but God knows what is best for us.” This is so important for Christians to understand. God’s will is what we ultimately must seek; and if He is saying no, it is for a reason. When we are living in sin, we are farther away from God. When we are farther away from God, our will does not align with God’s will. This is the reason that God must decline our requests at times. While this passage does speak about the importance of bringing our requests to God; it is also much deeper than that, as Dr. Long talked about. Prayer is just a part of the process, the other part is having a close relationship with God so that our requests align with His will.

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  2. Thinking back to my childhood, this passage was taught to me at my Christian kindergarten. However, the teacher did not explain the text this way. Rather they explained the text as you can ask God for a gameboy and you can ask God for an apple. You do not need the gameboy, so you are not getting the gameboy. You need the apple to live, so you are probably going to get the apple. To sum this teaching up, the teacher stated that people are not to pray asking God for what they want but for what they need. This teaching is a great teaching to get children to stop praying to God for everything on their Christmas list, however, it is not that biblically sound. McKnight states that, “…the problem is not that we are too eager to ask for the wrong things. The problem is that we are not eager enough to ask for the right things” (p. 242). The purpose behind the text is to once again have man examine his heart. Jesus is calling for people to observe and reflect upon what they pray for. If man is praying for things that are good and of the spirit of God, such as peace, more of the Holy Spirit’s presence and so forth, they will most likely have their prayers answered. However, if a person is asking for God to give them a raise at work so they can make more money, this may not be given to them. If the person is asking out of a place of greed, such as they want a new boat, or out of generosity, such as wanting to donate all of the new income to mission projects, will affect how God answers prayer.

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    • I really liked your post Sarah. Great analogy about the apple and gameboy. However, yes I agree with the fact that intention is ultimately what counts. With this in mind, if two people are asking for a raise, one with the intentions of buying a new flat screen TV and the other one with the intentions of being able to support a mission program, God will look at the intentions behind the prayers and give accordingly. Now, I’m not saying that every time we ask for something that has a “good purpose” behind it we will get it. That’s not how God works either. In the end he knows our need and he will give accordingly.

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    • Sarah I really like the story you shared from your Christian kindergarten. I feel like this is how we teach many children to pray. This is exactly how we are teaching young children how to pray. We teach them they they need to pray for what they need and not for what they want. However, I think it is important to teach them the right information. We need to teach them that what really matters is the intentions of the person praying. We need to teach children and every one to pray with good intentions and not selfish intentions.

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  3. Praying requires us to examine our hearts and our motives. It takes humility and honesty not only with ourselves, but with God. Without a doubt we are excellent at selfish prayers. Many times we only pray when we want or need something from God. Other times we do not pray at all because we’re “too busy” or we do pray and nothing changes. These are surface level excuses and these were never the intention behind a life of prayer. I do believe that our prayers move God into action. I also believe that it is okay to pray for God to bless us. But, what we are often lacking in our prayer life is passion and urgency, knowing that God WILL move in His time or if it is according to His will. We have never had the control. McKnight writes, “we are tempted as humans to figure things out ourselves and to make things happen under our own power” (245). If God already knows the future, why would we not ask for God to help us give up control and trust in Him?
    I have never been one to believe that prayer needs to follow a certain structure or mold. I don’t believe you’re a sinner if you do not pray before every meal and before going to bed at night. That is not what prayer is about. I am not saying that scheduled prayer is bad, but I am saying that if that scheduled prayer is mundane and routine, then we’re missing the point. It is important to stop and ask ourselves, where is prayer placed in my life? Because it should be the believers first response, not last resort. In 2 Chronicles 20, we read about a king named Jehoshaphat. He became the king of Judah after King Ahab, who was incredibly evil and hated God. As King Jehoshaphat started to get Judah back on the right track with God, he began experiencing spiritual warfare for his courageous obedience. We read that a large army from Edom was coming to attack the nation of Judah (v 2). King Jehoshaphat’s immediate response is to pray to the Lord and proclaim a fast for all the people to participate in. I read this and think… what?! An army is coming and all of Judah is going to be starving and weak. But, in verses 6-12, Jehoshaphat stands in front of his people and prays out loud to God. He praises God’s sovereignty. He thanks God for His mighty hand seen throughout the generations. He makes known to God that their faith is in Him and they fully believe that God will not only protect them, but save them from this war. Jehoshaphat ends his prayer by saying, “for we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what you do, but our eyes are on you” (v 12). How amazing. God does hear them and He fights on their behalf. If our prayer life is stale, then we are forgetting the grandeur of our Lord. He not only deserves our prayers, but we should be humbled and honored to be able to make our requests known to our Father. King Jehoshaphat got it. He understood the power of prayer and he believed with all his heart that his prayers would move God to action.

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  4. The Bible says that we can come before the throne of God with confidence and boldness to ask for anything that is within reason of the will of God. For most of us we don’t have a problem asking for things so this should come easy for us. However, it’s a privileged that can’t be abused because it’s meant for Heavenly things, not worldly and temporary things. God has given us different ways to talk with Him and ask for help, encouragement, advice, etc. Prayer is one of them. The disciples asked for God’s help on how to pray and what to pray and Jesus taught them the Lords Prayer which approached the throne of God in such a way that it recognizes the power and faithfulness of God, asking Him because we have already received from the Father. God desires for us to go to Him with our requests and to make them known to Him. We are a needy people and Jesus fulfills our needs. Because He isn’t here with us prayer is our main communication source with Him. Matthew speaks about the divine will of God and that if what we ask for is of the Father than it shall be given unto us. If we make our hearts desire and out motives the same as God’s then there is nothing we can’t ask for and not receive. McKnight also stresses the fact that when we approach the throne with confidence and our prayers are truly seeking the best and are humble before Jesus then we have no limits because God is our King and the God of the universe and what is His is ours because he is our Father and we are His children.

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  5. Sometimes the things we pray about and ask God for, are the things that we think we need but don’t really need. How many people pray for more money and they pray and pray but they don’t get that money. while some people don’t have enough money to keep their heat on so they turn to prayer and pray for God to provide for them and he does. Other times God will give us something that we didn’t know we needed, but he did. “The certainty that prayer will be heard does not make it superfluous; it makes it possible (McKnight pg. 247).” When it comes to prayer faith plays an important part of prayer. You can pray and hope that God hears you and hope that he will answer your prayers. Or by your faith you know that God will hear you. And you know that he will answer you might not like that answer but you know that he will answer your prayers.

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