“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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish will give him a serpent? If you then, who are 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!” Matthew 7:7-11 (ESV)
The passage Will preached on this past Sunday contains what might be one of the most comforting and encouraging things Jesus said during his time on earth. In a world where everyone is constantly searching for fulfillment and satisfaction, these verses seem to offer a simple solution. In times of need, ask, and it will be given. When we don’t know what to do next, seek, and we will find. When the door is closed on an opportunity, knock, and God will open that door. Simple enough. God promises to give us good gifts. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus compares God to a loving earthly father, and reminds us that he will graciously give us good things when we ask. This is a wonderful promise and a beautiful reminder to look to him and depend on him to meet our needs.
But what happens when we ask, and we don’t receive? What happens when we seek and seek and seek and still can’t seem to find the answers we are looking for? When we are banging on that proverbial door, and no one answers? These verses seem to quickly change from a beautiful promise to a trite and seemingly insignificant quote someone might put on a magnet or bookmark. But it doesn’t penetrate our hearts.
Where is the disconnect?
We know from the Bible that God is good and that he is in control. And we know that he promises to give us good things. He promises that when we ask, it will be given. So what happens when it’s not given? Is God on vacation? Are we not asking with enough faith? Have we asked for too much? The answer to all of these things is no. God is ever present in our lives even when we cannot sense that presence. He always answers our prayers, and he always gives us good gifts.
But in order to bridge the gap between this promise and our present reality, we need to redefine the word “good.”
A quick Google search led me to find these definitions of good: “to be desired or approved of” or “benefit or advantage to someone or something.” These definitions are quite vague and can be interpreted in many different ways. Good for one person might mean wealthy. Good for another might mean blessed with a large family. For others, it might mean a successful career or good health, and the list goes on. Let’s take a look at Romans 8:28, one of the most frequently quoted passages in Scripture:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Once again, we get this vague idea of what good means: a “happily ever after” kind of statement. But if we look to the next verse, we see what God’s purpose truly is for our lives, and we can begin to have a different perspective on the meaning of the word good:
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
God’s purpose for our lives is not necessarily to make us healthy, wealthy, and successful. It is to conform us to the image of his Son. It is to make us look like Christ. After all, we are called to be his disciples, and a disciple was someone who followed in the footsteps of their rabbi or leader as closely as they possibly could, who soaked up their teaching, and who desired just to consistently be in their presence.
Of course, God desires for us to be joyful. But our good is not always what makes us happy.
It is often what helps us to grow, and growth can be uncomfortable, even painful. In the midst of great suffering or unanswered prayers, we can look to the one who walked before us and knew that God’s will was greater than his own. The one who prayed in the garden of Gethsemane that he would not have to go through such an excruciating death and punishment, and yet submitted to God’s plan because he ultimately trusted that God’s purposes were greater. We, too, can look to God in faith in moments of unanswered prayers and ask that God would grant us patience and faith to trust in his plan for our lives and to rest in him, even if our circumstances don’t change. Because his plans are better than ours, and he will always orchestrate things for our good as we look to him. As our perspective of what this looks like begins to shift, we can rejoice more and more knowing that God truly is a good Father who might not always give us exactly what we ask for, but will richly supply all that we could ever need and more.
“In short, God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything He knew.” – Timothy Keller