Matthew 7:7-12 (NRSVCE)
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
“Ask, and it will be given you”
Jesus tells us that, should we have desire in our hearts, we ought to take that desire to God. For if we take our wants and our needs to God, He will provide. There’s an obvious caveat here, that gets implied by Jesus’ example of the child. God will provide your desire, if your desire is good. When a child asks for something good, we don’t give her something wicked, because we know better. So far more, when we ask the Father for what we desire, if that desire be good the Father will provide (because the Father knows what is good better than anyone), and if that desire be wicked, God will instead provide what is good.
“Search, and you will find.”
Searching implies earnestness and sincerity. You don’t search for something unless you truly desire to find it. If you didn’t have desire, you wouldn’t bother searching. And so Jesus tells us here that the things we ought to be taking to God ought to be those things that we find we have an earnest desire for. Those wants that you just can’t seem to get out of your mind—that nag you for days on end. Take them to God. But it also means that when we ask, ask with the sincere intent to find an answer, even if that answer is one we may not expect or enjoy. One who seeks earnestly does not determine beforehand what the nature of his finding will be, but rather he opens himself up to the many possibilities of what might be found. If a scientist were to do all his experiments with his conclusion already decided, and instead was just looking to prove the conclusion he already had, that is bad science. That is not earnestly seeking the truth. When we pray, we are not to be like a bad scientist. We are to open ourselves up to whatever we might find, because the Father knows what is good, and His response will always be good for us.
“Knock, and the door will be opened for you.”
Here we get the implication of persistence. Once who knocks doesn’t knock only once. She keeps knocking, with the hope that someone will answer her on the other side of the door. She persists, perhaps through several rounds of knocking, before giving up. The difference here is that we ought to not give up. We are to keep knocking, to keep asking, and to keep searching. Jesus is telling us here to not be discouraged when it seems our prayers are going unheard. Persist in our prayer. Maintain hope, because Jesus tells us there will always be someone there to answer the door.
Desire, sincerity, and persistence. Those are the three things we must have in our prayer lives. Not all of those things will be there with the same intensity with every prayer. Sometimes we will feel discouraged, and thus won’t want to persist. Sometimes we already have such a strong idea of what God’s response ought to be, that we are far less able to be sincere seekers. And sometimes we may feel that we are only praying for something because we know it intellectually to be good, and not because we truly desire it. But as these three things waver and shift and grow in each of our many prayers, the one thing remains constant: God will always be there to answer.