June 05, 2011 Q & A

What is Matthew 7:7-11 about?


What is Matthew 7:7-11 about? Will God grant me the grace I need if I ask him?


This is a great question, and one that is asked often. There are two errors that we can fall into as we approach a passage like this.

First, we can make the text say more than it does. Many have misunderstood Matthew 7:7-11 as teaching a "blank check" theology of prayer, namely, ask God for whatever you want, and he will give it to you. This understanding makes the text say too much and rips it out of its context. In verses 1-6 the Lord has been warning his disciples against sinful judgmentalism and encouraging them to be spiritually discerning. The question that would naturally come to mind after such a warning and encouragement is, "Wow, this is a tall order to fill. How can I avoid such judgmentalism and cultivate such discernment?" Jesus gives us the answer in verses 7-11. We must ask for it. And so verses 7-11 don't provide us with a blank check to ask for whatever we want from God. Rather, they teach us to strive in prayer for the wisdom and enablement demanded by verses 1-6. The parallel passage in Luke 11:13 tells us that what the Lord gives in response to such prayer is, in fact, the good gift of his Holy Spirit, who grants wisdom and discernment.

Second, we can make these verses say too little, stripping them of any real promise at all. This is done by many well-meaning Christians to avoid the error just mentioned and protect God's sovereignty over all things in prayer. However, this view is contrary to the Scripture's own teaching on prayer. Prayer is a powerful means by which the Lord carries out his will in and among his people (Jas. 5:17-20). It is an effective instrument, and we must resist the temptation to believe that it is not.

Jesus' point here, then, in Matthew 7:7-11 is not that God will give us anything we want. Rather, he teaches us that when God's children ask for things such as wisdom, discernment, and the like, God will not grant them something evil in return (vs. 9-10). With this said, as God's children we must be diligent 1) to ask in faith without doubting (Jas 1:5-8), and 2) to make use of the other means by which God grants grace, namely attending to the preaching of God's Word (where his grace in Christ is revealed), and the sacraments (where our faith in God's grace is strengthened and nourished).

So, to answer your question: will God grant you the grace you need if you ask him? Framed by a biblical understanding of prayer, yes! Yet please remember that even this cannot be understood as some magic potion or silver bullet that will instantaneously and immediately solve all our struggles. Rather, we engage in prayer trusting God's wisdom and timing in the granting of such grace. For this reason we often speak of striving in prayer and persisting in prayer. May the Lord grant you such striving and persisting in prayer—for your good and his glory.



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