I grew up loving Sunday school. One of my favorite parts was a sing-along we would have each week. I liked to sing. A song they taught us early on goes like this: ♪”Seek and you shall find; knock and the door shall be opened; ask and it shall be given, and the love comes a tumblin’ down.”♬
I just love that tune. I love the words. They are part of a Bible verse that many of us have memorized. It’s a favorite of mine. This verse, though, has often been misused by the name-it-and claim-it prosperity preachers of our day. God will give you whatever you ask. Just name it and claim it. He wants you to prosper. Do you want that Cadillac? Just claim it in the name of God. That seems to be the message they’ll will give and use Luke 11:9-10 as the basis for their teaching.
If you ask theologians what the most misused verse in the Bible is, many of them will likely reply, Luke 11:9 – “Ask and it will be given . . .”
Although this verse has little to do with guaranteeing our personal fulfillment, its original intention holds a great word of encouragement from God to believers like you and me. As with any Bible verse, it can be lifted out of its specific context and made to fit a particular theological slant. However, that is a dangerous thing to do.
Someone might ask, Does it really matter? After all, it’s still God’s word. Remember Isaiah 55, “. . . so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth: It shall not return to me empty but shall accomplish that for which I purpose and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (vs. 11). God promises His Word will not return empty.
It is true that God’s Word will succeed in the matter for which He sent it. However, if you use God’s words in a way other than how God intended, it does you no good. Your efforts will return void, and you will be disappointed. Instead of lifting God’s Word out of its original setting to use as some sort of proof text, examine the context around the verse and follow the flow. You will be much less likely to miss the powerful message God is personally speaking to you in His Word.
So, we need to ask what is the context of and story behind Luke 11:9-10, Ask and seek and knock. Will God give me a Cadillac if I ask? Let’s see what is really being promised here.
First, this verse is found in the middle of Luke’s Gospel story about the life of Jesus. Luke emphasized the importance of prayer in Jesus’ life and in the life of the early Church as we read his other story in the book of Acts. The disciples noticed that Jesus prayed a lot. One day they made a request of Him – “Teach us to pray like John the Baptist taught his disciples, Lord” (Luke 11:1). So Jesus proceeded to teach them what we call the Lord’s Prayer, although it is better called the disciples’ prayer. (Jesus gave it to them, and He would never pray for the forgiveness of sins since He was perfect.)
It was a humble prayer asking God to help us live according to His kingdom; hallow His name in our lives; be forgiven and protected and receive daily bread; be provided with earthly needs in order to live this kind of life with Him. Jesus told them to pray about these things.
He also attached a parable in this teaching to alert the disciples about God’s availability and attentiveness to prayer. He tells a parable called “The Friend at Midnight” (vs. 5-8). “Suppose . . . ,” which literally means, Can you imagine. “. . . going to a friend for bread at midnight and being told to go away?” The disciples would have been shaking their heads when Jesus asked that because, in the Middle Eastern culture, that would never happen. Hospitality was a very important value.
Jesus continues, “But by this person’s persistence he will get up and do it.” That word “persistence” has to do with a sense of shame. He is saying, I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is simply a friend, at least because of his persistence (his sense of shame), the guy in the house will get up. He is obligated as a friend to give his neighbor whatever he needs. This out–of-town friend is a guest of the entire community.
The next day they would send the guest on his way saying, You have honored our village by coming. The sleeping neighbor is responsible for showing hospitality to this guest so he will leave the community feeling good about the people. If the neighbor doesn’t honor the guest, he will be shamed by the village. They will look down their noses at him.
Jesus is saying this: God is even more available and approachable than that neighbor. He will respond anytime, anywhere, just like the neighbor will respond to the request. He will rise to the occasion. This is a parable, then, about God’s availability, His attentiveness to our prayers.
Jesus gives a promise in verses 9 and 10, “So I say, ask and it will be given you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.” This verse is actually written in the present imperative saying, Do this: Keep on asking. Keep on seeking. Keep knocking. It is an encouragement to be a person of prayer. Do not give up on prayer, but make it a way of life. Ask, seek, and knock are not really three different actions, just three ways of talking about prayer. We know prayer is more than simply asking. It is also praise, giving thanks, and confession. Still, asking is central to prayer. It is an expression of our dependence on God.
By the way, Jesus attaches even more reassuring words to this whole teaching on prayer as He compares God to an earthly parent. “If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” The Holy Spirit is God Himself – the best gift of all – a relationship with Him. Amazing things will happen in us and to us with the power the Holy Spirit working in our lives. The Spirit strengthens us, counsels us, changes us, and empowers us to serve. He even helps us pray.
The list of what the Holy Spirit can do in an individual’s life goes on and on. God has nothing but your best interests in mind. Within this context, then, we now look at this verse.
Luke 11:9-10 is not implying that prayer is a blank check – Just name it and claim it; God will give it. Remember, Jesus taught us what to pray for in the words of the disciples prayer – His name be hollowed, His kingdom come into our lives and in this world, His will be done in our lives, daily bread, forgive trespasses, protect us from the evil one. This is the kind of prayer God loves to hear from us. He is not a genie waiting to do our bidding.
I’m reminded of the story of a little boy going off to bed. He says to his family one evening, “I’m going to pray before I go to sleep. Anyone want anything?” Wrong idea being worked there.
Tim Keller once shared this story in a talk.
I prayed for an entire year about a girl I was dating and wanted to marry, but she wanted out of the relationship. All year I prayed, “Lord, don’t let her break up with me.” Of course, in hindsight, it was the wrong girl. I actually did what I could to help God with the prayer, because one summer, near the end of the relationship, I got in a location that made it easier to see her. I was saying, “Lord, I am making this as easy as possible for you. I have asked you for this, and I have even taken the geographical distance away.” But as I look back, God was saying, “Son, when a child of mine makes a request, I always give that person what he or she would have asked for if they knew everything I know.”
Luke 11 is an encouragement to trust God, to be a person of prayer, to lean on God’s faithfulness. Jesus tells us how to pray – keep it simple. He gives a picture of an attentive, answering, loving God who gets up in the middle of the night and rises to the occasion. He talks about a father who knows how to give so much more. Then He says, So keep on being an asking, seeking, knocking child of God, believing in His faithfulness.
One of my favorite stories about prayer is about an elderly missionary who was discussing prayer at a woman’s conference. To the small circle of women gathered around her, she explained that when she first went into the mission field more than fifty years ago she was extremely lonely. She saw other missionaries were married and had families, and she felt bad about feeling alone. In her loneliness, she begged God to pick out a husband for her. She told the women how she prayed and prayed and was sure God would answer her prayer.
One of the women in the group explained, “But you’ve never been married. You’re still single!”
The elderly missionary replied, “You’re right, but somewhere out there is a 74-year-old man who has been resisting God’s will for more than 50 years!” ☺
Jesus is giving us relationship language in this teaching on prayer. Keep turning to God in everything, trusting in your heavenly Father – His wisdom, His goodness. Pray confidently, boldly, knowing your Father loves you and will give you His good gifts and Himself – the best gift of all – through His Holy Spirit. You can approach Him like a child who has a loving parent, knowing that He hears you. We don’t give our children everything they ask for, but they know that when they can come and ask, we won’t ignore them. You can talk to God about anything, bring anything on your heart to Him. Prayer is not a time to hide what’s going on inside of us but to share openly and honestly, warts and all, with our heavenly Father whom we know loves and understands us.
We can trust Him. That’s what this ask and seek and knock is all about. It is an encouragement. Keep on being a person of prayer.
So what keeps us from praying? For some it’s a feeling of inadequacy. They’re not sure how to pray. Others have a self-reliant and prideful attitude – I don’t need help. I can handle life on my own. For other people, their theology gets in the way. God is too busy with the big things of the world to really have time to listen to me.
Then there’s the mystery of prayer. Perhaps you’ve had a faith crisis. Why didn’t God save me from my abusive parent when I asked for help? Or why didn’t God heal me or that loved one I prayed so hard for? Did I not have enough faith, or was I in the wrong? When I hear questions like these, my response is no. God was there. He loves you. He loved you then as He loves you now. I don’t have a clue why you weren’t rescued right away or why that person died. Sometimes we just have to live with the mystery.
While I don’t know the answer to these questions, what I do know is Jesus, the Son of God, paints a lovely picture of our heavenly Father who wants to have an ongoing relationship with us. He desires us to keep dependently asking, seeking, knocking, and believing you have His attention. He loves you and knows what’s good for you. So keep on praying and communing with God even when you’re mystified. Trust Him.
Perhaps – just perhaps – it’s better for us to move beyond the mechanics of prayer, which we sometimes get so wrapped up in. How do I get good at this? How do I master prayer so I know it will get answered? That’s not a good question. Maybe it’s better to focus on who I am talking to – my Father. My Father. You see, you have a Father in heaven who loves you. And if you wonder if He really does love you, just pause and look at the cross. How much love does He have to show to get you to believe it?
God your Father has nothing but your best interests at heart. He has gone out of His way to make you His own. He is wise, and He knows the big picture. Trust in that; keep on praying.
I want to finish this message today with a prayer written by Gerhard Frost, a Lutheran pastor. Would you pray with me?
Thank you, Lord, for always answering my prayer but not indulging my every petty give-me. Thank you for winnowing and refining, vetoing and delaying, refusing and revising. Thank you for being God and never less, for freeing me, for wide horizons, for protecting me from my limited vision and my wayward will. Thank you for foiling my every effort to unseat you and make myself king. Thank you for keeping it safe for me to pray. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer