By Stephen Green. (First published in Christian Voice March 2006)
Luke 11:9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
10 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
These words, which are also recorded by Matthew (Matt 7:7-8), are an encouragement to every Christian, and to everyone who is truly on a walk to faith. Luke prefaces them with a parable about a man rising from his bed to give hospitality to his friend, and before that, with our Lord teaching the disciples to pray, in response to their request, giving them and us the words we now know as the Lord's Prayer. Matthew records them as part of the Sermon on the Mount. That does not mean that either evangelist was cavalier as to context; more probably, our Lord gave the teaching twice or more. However, both Luke and Matthew go on to add another parable which reinforces the teaching:
Luke 11:11 If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father,will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?
12 Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
OLD TESTAMENT FOUNDATION Matthew has 'good things' instead of 'the Holy Spirit'. So those who are earnestly seeking the good gifts of God - and the Holy Spirit - can expect to find them. Those who are asking for them, out of the right motives of course, can have confidence that they will be given. God is generous: 'To him that knocketh it shall be opened.' It comes as no surprise that this teaching of the Lord Jesus is based on the Old Testament, where the emphasis is on seeking and finding God Himself. In Proverbs 8:17 we read about the wisdom of God, '.. those who seek me early will find me,' whilst Jeremiah prophesies this:
Jer. 29:11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
12 Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
That is prophesied to Israel, but it clearly has a universal application, all the more so since the words of our gracious Lord are for believers everywhere and in all times.
Now for a sideways look. We rarely consider any interpretation other than the obvious one: that God will give the Holy Spirit and all good gifts to His children who ask. That is the clear and obvious message of encouragement; we should be constant in prayer, pressing in with faith, knowing that eventually, that prayer will be answered and the door opened. However, I would dare to suggest that the context does not compel that as the only interpretation. There is another and altogether more uncomfortable teaching lying just under the surface. To begin to explore it, we need only ask this question: If the one who knocks on the door of righteousness can expect it to in time be opened, what of he who knocks on the door of evil?
To put it another way, if he who asks for the good gifts of God will in God's time receive, then what of he who asks in his heart for that which God has prohibited? Or again, we see that he who seeks the straight path which leads to heaven will find it, but what of he who has a desire to turn to the left or to the right? (Isa 30:21)
A PRISON VISIT Recently I made an appointment, which I believed at the time to be according to the will of God. It was an appointment to visit a man in prison on a certain Wednesday. Now, I based my decision to do this on the scripture which says that when we visit those in prison we visit Christ Himself. (Matt 25:36,43) The principle was right. The problem was, I had not adequately sought the Lord on whether this particular visit was right for me to do at this particular time, or indeed, taking up the analogy of the parts of the body, (1 Cor 12:14ff) whether visiting men in prison may be a ministry the Lord has given to another altogether. I hope that does not gainsay Matthew 25. I don't intend it to.
Well, I shared my intention with a number of people whom I respect, and each one warned me of dangers. The Lord normally reveals His will to me by the mouths of two or three witnesses, so it appeared the Lord was speaking. Was He advising me to be careful, or warning me not go? However, by this time I had made the appointment, and having done so I felt in any event that I could not in conscience break my word and let the man down. So I set off that morning to drive the four hours to the prison. Now, I knew that on a good day, at the right time, barring hold-ups, the drive would take four hours, so I had allowed myself five hours just in case of any problems. Inexplicably, or so it seemed, as soon as I set off down the most obvious route, I ran straight into a traffic jam.
I cannot sit in traffic at the best of times; the Lord has given me trust, but has yet to give me patience. That may well be because I have not asked for it, of course. Any way, I turned the car around and tried a different route. That, too, was blocked with stationary traffic. I was going nowhere. I tried yet a third route, conscious of time ebbing away. Even the third route was solid with vehicles.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT? I was before the Lord, asking what He was saying to me, when I tried yet another back-double. This time, the road cleared in minutes and I was on my way. In fact, all the motorways were uncommonly free of traffic that morning and I made it to the prison in exactly four hours. Having parked, and reached the prison, I walked into the visitor reception block and reported to the desk.
It is common on sports quizzes to run a sequence of film and then to stop it and ask, 'What happened next?' Usually, the footballer has fallen over about to score to goal, or the cricketer's helmet has fallen off, or the tennis player's racket breaks. Occasionally, 'what happened next' is quite beyond comprehension and the teams have to give up. In this case, 'what happened next' to me was so unexpected that no-one would ever get it. Take a moment to guess what happened next. Have you given up? Here's what happened next:
The prison clerk had double-booked the appointment. Both I and another man were down to visit the same man on the same Wednesday afternoon. Discovering their mistake, the prison authorities asked the prisoner to choose which man he wished to have visit. He chose the other man. He was then told to telephone me on the Tuesday to explain and save me a fruitless journey. Either he never made the call, or any message he may have left on an answering machine disappeared into the ether. I had gone all that way, as it appeared, for nothing.
THE LORD WILL SMOOTH THE PATH I bear the prisoner no malice; part of trusting God is realising that all things work together for good to them that love God (Rom 8:28) and therefore working with the situations God sends. Clearly, the Lord had after all been patiently trying to tell me not to go. When I would not listen to His witnesses, he showed me not to go. When I was still stubborn, He finally let me go and even smoothed my path. 'To him that knocketh, it shall be opened.' Finally, he prevented me from going by a miracle but still allowed me to keep the word I had so rashly given. The Lord pulled me out of the fire by the actions of others. What a wonderful, far-sighted and omnipotent God we serve.
I think back to Balaam. God told him the precise circumstances in which he should go (Numb 22: 20) and he jumped the gun. He did not wait for the men to ask him again, and went of his own volition (Numb 22:21). Then the Lord barred the way for Balaam three times until his dumb ass spoke and he saw the angel of the Lord. Balaam still went, but used enchantments (Numb 24:1) and added to his sin. I am thankful the Lord was merciful enough simply to teach me through the experience I had.
It still remains, that 'he that seeketh findeth'. And I suggest that whatever we seek, we shall find. If we seek salvation, we shall find it. If we seek God, we shall find Him. Conversely, and horribly, if we seek witchcraft and enchantments, as Balaam did, we shall find those techniques rather than God, and we shall be damned. If we seek money, we shall find it, and we may lose our soul. If we seek a continual spiritual high, that is what we shall find, and it might not be God behind it. Even if we dwell on something, possibly some lust of the flesh, constantly in our thoughts, we may well end up with it.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU PRAY It has been a theme in folk-lore that we must be very careful what we wish for. The man who wished for eternal life on this earth ended up, in his infirmity, longing for the release of death. The man who was given eternal youth watched in anguish as his wife aged before his eyes. 'Ask, and it shall be given you.' What you ask may not be what you need, and it may turn out very badly in the end.
We Christians should therefore be careful what we ask for in prayer, and be careful what we think about, because God often takes thoughts as prayers. It is always by the grace of God when our prayers are answered in the negative. He has His purpose. And yet, if we are persistent, and keep asking, those ungodly prayers may be answered in the affirmative and we shall see how wrong we were to ask. We need to keep focussed on the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt 6:33) and keep immersed in His word (Psalm 119:1-176!) in order to ask for the right thing, seek God's will and knock on the door of righteousness.
Someone once said that God is the perfect gentleman. He will not stand in our way if we wish to choose evil. That is the problem of our whole United Kingdom. God has warned us in His word, but as we are determined to do it on our own, He is letting us find out the hard way that breaking His commandments is the way of death. And whoever seeks death will find it, whoever asks to be free of the law will be given lawlessness, and whoever knocks on the door of rebellion, it will be opened to reveal the fires of hell itself. And then it is too late.
'Seek and ye shall find.' It's an encouraging word, and our gracious Lord meant it to be, but it rather concentrates the mind when you take a sideways look, doesn't it?