Question: "What did Jesus mean when He told us to ask, seek, and knock?"
Answer: Matthew 7 is part of what is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount. It’s a description of the truly righteous life, an outlining of “the law of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21, ESV). When Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you,” continual prayer is in view (Matthew 7:7a). Prayer is how we communicate our needs and desires to God. Of course, God, being omniscient, knows what Christians need whether they ask or not, but prayer is the means God has chosen to bring about those answers (James 4:2b).
Jesus is not saying that believers always get what they ask for—wrong motives, for example, will hinder answers to prayer (James 4:3). However, the more time a Christian spends in communion with God, the more he or she will know what to ask for in accordance with God’s will. Prayer, in and of itself, does not produce sanctification (an increasing holiness in a believer’s life), but it does show a dependence on God for needs that can be met no other way. God is always pleased with such displays of faith. It is only faith in what God can do, and what Christ has done, that brings about true sanctification, not an artificial self-righteousness (Hebrews 11:6).
Jesus went on to say, “Seek, and you will find” (Matthew 7:7b). What is it believers ought to be seeking? It is God Himself! “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek’” (Psalm 27:8). “The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” (Psalm 34:10). “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” (Psalm 105:4). “Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart” (Psalm 119:2). God is not hiding from His children. His heart’s desire is for us to persistently and passionately look for Him all around us, and when we do, He promises He will be found (Proverbs 8:17). Seeking is a matter of paying attention with an engaged mind and acute awareness.
Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Seeking God’s kingdom means putting God’s plan before our own; seeking God’s righteousness means setting a priority on personal holiness and desiring to be sanctified.
Jesus then said, “Knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7c). Here, the Lord uses a metaphor for the action a desire produces. If a person needs something from someone behind a door, the most natural thing to do is knock—and keep knocking until the door is opened and the desire is met. In the same way, a believer should pray in faith for God’s provision and be persistent in prayer (see Luke 18:1).
Ask, seek, knock. Notice the three different senses being considered here. Asking is verbal; Christians are to use their mouths and petition God for their needs and desires. And believers are to seek with their minds—this is more than asking; it is a setting of priorities and a focusing of the heart. To knock involves physical movement, one in which the Christian takes action. Although asking and seeking are of great importance, they would be incomplete without knocking. The apostle John said Christians ought not to love in word alone but with actions also (1 John 3:18). In the same way, it’s good to pray and seek God, but if one does not also act in ways that are pleasing to God, all is for naught. It’s no accident that Jesus said believers should love God with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27).
The commands are followed by promises: “Everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:8). God delights in the prayer of faith, and He promises to give us what we need.
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