Like your disciples on that day between your murder and your return to life I wait, longing to see what you have promised. You said that, if I would just believe even a little tiny bit I could make a mountain move, I would receive from your loving hand what I am begging for. So I wait, and scrape up hope, asking you for mercy. Help my unbelief!
When I prayed that prayer, I needed to be reminded of what Jesus told us in his Sermon on the Mount, where he reminded us of how God is our Father, and gives good gifts to his children (Mat. 7:9-11). Good human parents love to give their kids what they need, whatever is good for them and their purposes. God is good, and can be trusted way beyond any humans.
When Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened “(Matt. 7:7-8 NIV) it sounds like an all-encompassing promise. Ask, and you get it. But in the context of his message it is clear that certain parameters are in place, such as which actions and attitudes are eligible for reward from the Father in heaven. Even in his model prayer, he underlined that we are to want God’s will to be done on earth. So when we ask, we need to ask him for things that are in line with his teaching and his purposes. We can trust our good Abba to listen to us and answer in the way that is best for us—like a parent who truly does want their child to have a phone, but will wait to give it when the child is mature enough to handle one appropriately. But if the child wants help for a friend who just fell down then the parent will run to help.
Many commentators find the teaching about asking and receiving, then about good fathers and our good Father, as teachings pasted in rather randomly in this passage. But Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy, sees a meaningful connection between all the teaching in Mat. 7:1-11 passage, and his analysis makes sense to me. I will try to summarize what he says. We are not to judge others, condemning them and pushing them away. If we truly want to help them, we can often get them to open up by asking open-ended questions that invite them to friendly sharing, even in situations of disagreement or when correction is needed. Condemnation pushes them away. But asking and trying to understand them often will result in understanding, even change. And rather than trying to help guide the conversation on our own, we should turn to our Father and ask him to help us and them. He has told us to reach out to our brothers and sisters, and even to the wider community in the world. This is how Willard puts it:
“We should note that the ask-seek=knock teaching first applies to our approach to others, not to prayer to God. . . .Asking is indeed the great law of the spiritual world through which things are accomplished in cooperation with God and yet in harmony with the freedom and worth of every individual. , , Prayer is nothing but a proper way for persons to interact. Thus Jesus very naturally moves in Matt. 7:7-11 from asking for what you want of others to asking for what you want from your Father. . . “
Most of our English translations miss an element in the Greek text that make this statement ask-seek–knock more than just a one-time deal. Whether drawing out someone with the purpose of helping them, or asking God to help them or yourself, this is meant to be done with perseverance. Here is the grammatical information:
“The three imperatives of v 7 as well as the three participles of v 8 are all in the present tense, conveying the idea of a continual asking, seeking, and knocking. This implied notion of persistence in asking is found in the teaching of Jesus (Luke 18:1–8; 11:5–8).”
Here is an example of a translation that conveys this truth:
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. (Matt. 7:7 NLT)
That is another truth I needed to consider when I was writing the prayer-poem above, waiting for an answer that I truly longed to receive. Keep on keeping on!
The example of God as a loving Father shows that he is not offended by our asking, even our persistent asking. He wants us to come to him and let him know our needs and concerns.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6 NIV)
To be like our Father, we need to be willing to engage with others and listen to them. But it is clear that there are some people we should not pressure to participate in such a discussion, particularly about spiritual truths. Verse 6, coming right after the command not to condemn others without careful consideration, is difficult: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. (NIV) Willard, along with many others, takes this to refer to not persisting forcefully in sharing the Good News or proper correction with those who resist completely. Characterizing them as “dogs” and “pigs” makes it clear that these are unbelievers:
“They are an exceptional group of stubborn people who are ‘dogged’ and even ‘pigheaded’, one might accurately say, in their decisive rejection of Jesus Christ. Reluctantly we have to drop them. But if verse 6 is the exception, verse 12 is the rule, the Golden Rule. It transforms our actions. If we put ourselves sensitively into the place of the other person, and wish for him what we would wish for ourselves, we would be never mean, always generous; never harsh, always understanding; never cruel, always kind.”
This “Golden Rule” has its place as the conclusion to this part of the Sermon on the Mount! It is not randomly inserted, but actually starts with “therefore,” which, as we know, is there for a reason:
Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matt. 7:12 NAS)
And how does treating people that way complete what is taught in the Law and the Prophets? It obviously comes from a key verse in Leviticus:
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Lev. 19:18 ESV)
If I truly love my neighbor, I will reach out to them to help them, not to condemn them, because that is how I would like to be treated. And I am not to assume that I am able to do this on my own. It is a huge challenge to always act that way—way beyond me! But I am not alone. I have my Father to call on, persistently. He actually desires that mutual interaction, that connectedness. It is such a strong attachment that it is what gives us life, and the health to live out that life and to bear good fruit. Think about what Jesus said about our need to be attached to the Vine (John 15)! I love Jesus’ prayer for his followers in John 17:18-23, where he contemplates the importance of “being one” with each other and with him, our God. This is an amazing unity. The more we grow in it, the better we will know how to pray and to show love.
We are so blessed to have that kind of Father, who loves us and wants us to converse with him and depend on him for help. We can trust his goodness! That is what produces faith in him, and willingness to wait when that is what he wants us to do! And, as members of the community of prayerful love (as Dallas Willard calls it), we interact prayerfully with Abba and with others, working together with God and our brothers and sisters to promote healthy life:
“So in Matthew 7:1–12 Jesus has introduced us to these basic relationships. At their centre is our heavenly Father God to whom we come, on whom we depend and who never gives his children other than good gifts. Next, there are our fellow believers. And the anomaly of a censorious spirit (which judges) and of a hypocritical spirit (which sees the splinter in spite of the plank) is that it is incompatible with Christian brotherliness. If our fellow Christians are truly our brothers and sisters in the Lord, it is inconceivable that we shall be anything other than caring and constructive in our attitude towards them.”
We need to live this out with all our energy and with God-given wisdom. As the Word says:
The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. (1 Pet. 4:7 NLT)
 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God (HarperSanFrancisco, 1997), 232.
 Ibid. 234.
 John R. W. Stott and John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 191–192
 Willard, 215.