A Call to Persistent Prayer
We all need a little encouragement from time to time. A particularly demanding supervisor wrote just two words on a report: ‘Good work.’ There was nothing more, simply ‘Good work,’ but that comment made this employee’s week. When we face a daunting task, it helps to know that someone thinks we are capable. And if we are ready for a task, it is a blessing that a capable friend is willing to help.
This kind of encouragement is just what we have in Matthew 7. In the Sermon on the Mount, ‘Jesus bombards his disciples with uncompromising demands.’ The self-aware reader knows he cannot fulfill all of them. Jesus forbids anger and forbids lust. He commands that we keep our every word. He prohibits worrying and forbids boasting. He says, ‘Be perfect… as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (5:48).
The breadth and depth of this standard would lead us to despair, if Jesus did not pause to bring encouragement. Fortunately, Jesus does strengthen his disciples’ resolve at crucial moments in his message. He invites us to lay aside our fears. As he tells his disciples how to live, he also explains how they may reach toward his standards.
In the beginning of chapter 7, Jesus tells his disciples how to regard their neighbors (vv1-6). There is a kind of neighbor whose lawless life invites criticism and judgment. His moral failings are obvious and even his manners are an affront. But Jesus tells us to refrain from hasty judgment. Perhaps if we remove our own sins first, then we can help our neighbor with his.
But it is no easy thing to withhold judgment or to still a critical tongue. Beyond the negative effects on others, censorious people often fail to see how Jesus’ word speaks to their flaws. Jesus says we should apply the law to ourselves first, confessing to God our sin, our weakness, and our inability to reform ourselves. If we ask, he will listen and act (7:7-8).
Furthermore, Jesus continues, the Father knows how to give good gifts, especially gifts of grace, to those who ask (7:9-11). We need that grace, for discipleship is not easy. The road that Jesus traveled was hard, and when he asks us to follow him, he bids us to take the hard road, too (7:13-14). Jesus’ road is hard, and his standards are high – indeed, they are beyond us. But, as we saw, the same Jesus who delivered these laws also came to deliver those who do not and cannot keep his laws. He came to give commands and to redeem those who violate them.
Jesus says simply, ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find.’ When Jesus says that ‘it will be given’ and ‘the door will be opened,’ he means that the Father will give us aid. He will open the door (7:7). The point of this powerful invitation is simply, in the words of the hymn, ‘O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer.’
As one ancient writer noted, “The power for doing the Sermon on the Mount is in the Beatitudes at the beginning, in the Lord’s Prayer in the middle, and in this Ask near the end.” Like three deep springs beside a trail, these three texts renew those who walk the high mountain of the sermon. The Ask promises may ‘be regarded as a final reference to that source from whom alone the power to keep [the Sermon’s] commands proceeds.’
Do we really believe the Lord when he says, ‘Ask and it will be given to you?’ Join us this week as we look at Jesus’ generous promise to those who ask, seek, and knock.