Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Be Careful What You Ask For


Today we are returning to our study of the Sermon on the Mount.  Here is today's text.
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 for 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! Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.  Matthew 7:7-12 NKJV
This is another example of a verse that is often misused.  I want to set aside the idea that God is promising to give us whatever we ask for. I hope that through today's study, we will get a more accurate picture of what Jesus is telling us.  The entire Sermon is given in the context of the Beatitudes and that process of seeing ourselves in relation to God and giving ourselves over to Him.  It is a lesson on just what it means to be a follower of Christ, which is someone who has denied himself and taken up his cross.  With that context in mind, I think we can see a much clearer picture of just what Jesus is saying. 

Jesus begins with "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. "  Without its proper context, it would seem as though Jesus is giving us carte blanche to just ask for whatever we want and expect to receive it.  But in its proper context, we can see that Jesus means that what we ask, seek, or knock for in terms of our crucified self-denied life, it will be granted.  I think that James sheds some real light on asking for things from God. 
You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend [it] on your pleasures.  James 4:3 NKJV
So when Jesus makes this statement, it comes with a catch and that catch is that we ask in terms of our relationship to God and not in terms of our relationship to our flesh. 

Jesus continues "Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?"  Jesus is now using earthly fathers as a comparison to our heavenly Father.  Any decent father is not going to give his child a stone if he asks for bread or a serpent if he asks for a fish.  In other words, no decent father is going to give a child a harmful gift if that child asks for a good gift.  I think we need to note that Jesus did not say that a father will not give a stone to a child who asks for a stone.  I know that many times in my own stubbornness in asking for harmful things, God has allowed me a taste of just what it is I was asking for.  Sometimes, sadly, that is the only way we learn.  Sometimes, even as in earthly fathers, a child will not believe that something is hurtful until he or she experiences it.  Another thing that Jesus does not say is that if a child asks for candy and junk food, that a father would provide it.  Just as a responsible earthly father will constantly give his child with junk food, our Heavenly father will not give us junk food every time we ask.  What is junk food spiritually?  They are things that have no spiritual benefit and if consumed to any great degree can cause spiritual harm.  The lesson in that is that it is always best to trust that God knows what is best.  But that is all an aside, what Jesus is saying here is that a good father will not give a child a harmful gift if that child asks for a good gift.  The implication is that if an imperfect earthly father will follow that principle, then how much more would our perfect Heavenly Father.

That is exactly how Jesus continues.  He says "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!"  I think we need to note that there is a qualifier here.  Jesus says that God will give "good" things to those who ask Him.  That one word changes everything.  First of all, we have to recognize that God is the one who decides what "good" is.  Secondly, we have to realize that what is "good" for one person may not be good for another.  For example, if you struggle with greed and selfishness, is it "good" for you to be lavished with material wealth?  If you struggle with lust, will God put you in a relationship that will be a constant struggle with that temptation?  Of course that is not the case at all.  The things that God will give us are things that will help our spiritual development.  As I said before, God is not going to lavish us in spiritual "junk" food.  God tells us to keep our eyes on the kingdom of heaven and so He is not going to give us things to focus on the world.  God tells us to deny ourselves so He is not going to give us things that prop up our selves.  God tells us to crucify our flesh, and so God is not going to give us things to satisfy the flesh. 

Jesus then ends with a curious statement. He says "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."  At first glance, one may wonder what this has to do with asking God for things.  This statement, though, has much to do with asking things from God.  Earlier, Jesus told us that if we forgive others, God will forgive us.  In other words, if we ask God to forgive us, we should be forgiving of others.  Jesus is just saying now that His command does not end at forgiveness.  The same principle applies to other areas as well.  If we want God to bless us financially, we should be generous to others who ask us for financial help.  If we want God to help us through hard times, we should be helping others through hard times.  If we want God to do anything for us, we should be willing to do that same thing to others who ask us. 

And that really sums it up. As God gives good things to us when we ask for them, we should give good things to others who ask for them.  If we are following God, we will only ask for those things that grow our relationship with God.  If we are truly following God and asking for those right things, God will grant our requests. If we are truly following God, we will do for others what we want others to do for us.  What you see is that all of this centers around our relationship with God.  A good relationship leads to a blessed life that blesses others.  A poor relationship with God leads to a frustrated life of striving for things we should not have in our own strength and in so doing we not only hold back in our giving to others but we also take from others.  The so-called Golden Rule is not just about our relationship to others in the world, but it is also about our relationship to God.
Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask [them] back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.  Luke 6:30-31 NKJV

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