In a potent, revelatory, and brief set of verses, Jesus upends what His hearers know and believe about prayer. Matthew 7:7-11 contains instruction and hope for praying. But the concise words are more than just “teaching” and “encouragement.” They are revolutionary words about the believer’s prayer life. They are revolutionary and transformative in at least three ways:
Revolutionary exhortation to pray
Jesus doesn’t just “invite” His followers to pray. He doesn’t just “encourage” them to pray. He exhorts them to pray. He compels them to pray. He commands them to pray. Repeatedly, He commands them to pray.
With three different imperatives in verse seven Jesus reinforces that prayer is not only a good idea, but a requirement for believers. Prayer is non-optional. Prayer is not just a priority, but prayer is compulsory.
Ask. Ask repeatedly and regularly. And don’t just ask, but also seek. That is, ask and act — act on the truths that you know apply to the asking. Be obedient to the things for which you are asking. And knock. Repeatedly and regularly knock on God’s door with a persistent desire for both His answers and His fellowship. With these commands, Jesus teaches that the believer also has access to God.
Note also that those three commands from verse seven are essentially repeated in verse eight. Verses nine and ten also imply a repeated asking of God, and verse 11 exposes the benefits of asking.
In a similar way, the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that the believer has uncommon access to God’s throne, so “let us draw near with confidence” (Heb. 4:16); but Jesus’ words are even more compelling — we not only can draw near, but we must draw near. Such talk was revolutionary to His hearers because only the priest was qualified to make sacrifices and only once annually did the High Priest have access to the Holy of Holies. So who was a simple fisherman or farmer to presume a right to have access to the heavenly Father? Yet Jesus’ instruction is such that prayer dare not be ignored by any believer.
We can pray and we must pray.
Revolutionary content in prayer
But not only can the believer pray, notice also that Jesus is apparently broad in His invitation for the content of the believer’s prayer. If someone is asking the question, “for what should I pray?” Jesus does not really answer him.
Jesus simply says, “Ask.” He doesn’t identify for what we should ask. Just ask. The implication is that if there is anything for which you have a need, ask. If there is a need, seek God’s provision. If there is an ongoing desire, then keep knocking on God’s door, pursuing His provision.
The wideness of possible requests is illustrated in the rest of the sermon:
- If you have need for guidance in difficult relationships (7:1-6), ask God
- If you long for the provision of salvation (7:15ff), ask God
- If you desire the coming of God’s kingdom (6:10a), ask God
- If you want the fulfillment of His will (6:10b), ask God
- If you have a daily, physical need (6:11), ask God
- If you need forgiveness of sin (6:12), ask God
- If you long to be freed from sin and temptation (6:13), ask God
- If you need forgiveness from worry and anxiety (6:33), ask God
The breadth of all these requests that Jesus has already either encouraged or implied informs us that there is virtually nothing for which we cannot ask God for help. If you have a need, ask Him. And that had to be revolutionary for the hearers then, even as it is today. Many will say, “I don’t want to bother God with insignificant or small problems,” as if God is harried and hassled by our problems. For the One who is infinite, no problem of our lives is large and as an immense God, He can never be overwhelmed by any number of problems. Whatever your need, go to Him. If you have a need (and you do), ask God.
Now we do recognize that while we can ask anything from Him, but our requests must also be in accordance with His will and purpose. Other passages make this clear:
- The requests must be asked out of the overflow of a life that abides in Him (Jn. 15:7; 1 Jn. 3:22)
- The requests must be made in accordance with His will (1 Jn. 5:14)
- The requests cannot be to fulfill our own selfish, fleshly desires (Js. 4:2-3)
- The requests must be made in faith and not doubt (Mk. 11:24)
So ask, but make sure your asking is a godly asking.
Revolutionary access in prayer
Perhaps the most revolutionary part of this section is what Jesus says about the One to whom we pray. Our prayers are made to “your Father who is in Heaven…” He is your Father. Certainly God is Jesus’ Father, in eternal trinitarian fellowship with Jesus as Father and Son. Yet God is also our Father. Just how revolutionary is that statement? Fourteen times (14 times!) in this singular sermon, Jesus refers to God as “your Father.” That is more times in these three chapters than all the Old Testament, by my count. For Jesus not only to say that God is His Father, but also the Father of His followers would have been considered presumptuous and overly familiar and blasphemous. Yet this is the very thing He consistently did in this sermon (see 5:16, 45, 48–6:1; 6:4, 6, 8-9, 14-15, 18, 26, 32). That title affirms the relationship and revolutionary access we have to Him.
The supreme, sovereign, infinite God is your Father and in the same way (except more so) that you might ask your biological father for a need, ask God for Him to provide for your cares.
We are commanded to ask God for our needs.
We are commanded to ask God for all and any of our needs.
We are commanded to ask God, our eternal and Heaven-dwelling Father for all our needs. With such invitation and command, how can we slacken in our prayers and petitions? Being compelled and commanded by Christ, let’s pray.
If you have a need, ask God.