Read Matthew 7:7-11
7 “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. (NLT)
The first thing to say about this saying of Jesus is that it doesn’t seem to come true in all cases. We don’t always get what we ask for. What I seek I don’t always find. Given Jesus never misleads us, how do we respond?
Some put the blame on themselves and reckon it is their lack of faith or persistence that is the problem. Which leads to a lot of guilt and also presumes that the quantity of our faith is what matters. In fact, a mustard-seed quantity is all we need as Jesus says elsewhere.
Others see the puzzle clarified when Jesus speaks of God only giving good things, not just everything we ask for. It is true God doesn’t give us harmful things, but it is also true we do ask for obviously good things (someone’s conversion, world peace) and these don’t seem to be granted in every case. Of course, we give God the right to delay an answer to prayer but some Christians die well before seeing such an answer. This text seems to promise a bit more than that.
In a wider sense, we have to recognise that God does not always get his own desires fulfilled in this fallen world. So we can’t expect all to go according to our own desires even if those desires are worthy.
Perhaps we pray to God and allow him to realign our thinking and asking so that we end up praying what he is willing and able to give in our broken world. In any case, we are confronted with mystery. My own response is twofold: I can’t figure out prayer, but I can trust the One I pray to hears my prayers and that is enough to keep me praying.