Summary: Genuine prayer focuses on those things that are on God’s heart, not on our personal needs and desires.
[“O Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz” video]
The way that we pray says a lot about what we think about God. Unfortunately, Janis Joplin, and a lot of other people for that matter, view God as someone who exists to do their bidding and give them what they want – kind of like a great genie in the sky who has come out of the magic lamp to grant their three wishes. But that is not the God of the Bible – the all knowing, all seeing, sovereign God of the universe who desires to give His children what they really need.
This week we’ll wrap up Jesus’ teaching on prayer from the Sermon on the Mount and then next week we’ll go back and pick up the passages that we’ve skipped over and spend about 5 weeks looking at Jesus’ teaching on stewardship from the Sermon on the Mount as well as in the rest of Scripture.
The passage that we’ll examine this morning is another one of those passages that has been greatly misused, even within the church. But if we begin with a proper understanding of who God is and what He desires for us we can make sure that we don’t fall into that trap. So take your Bibles and turn to Matthew 7.
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:7-11 (ESV)
In order to make sure we come to a proper understanding of this passage, we actually need to start at the end, because it is there that we find…
THE TRUTH ABOUT GOD:
1. God desires to give good gifts to His children
First of all, we need to remember that this entire sermon that Jesus preached is directed primarily toward His disciples. So the promises regarding receiving, finding and having the door opened don’t apply to mankind in general – they are only promises for those who are God’s children through faith in Jesus. Jesus certainly emphasizes that truth when He uses the illustration of an earthly father giving gifts to his children.
As a father I certainly enjoy giving gifts to my children – and now grandchildren. Until I became a grandfather I never quite understood why my mom was spending my entire inheritance on her grandchildren. But now I’m becoming a big proponent of the practice myself. And while I might occasionally, because as Jesus said, am evil, give a gift to my grandchildren that would annoy their parents, I would certainly never intentionally give a gift that would be harmful to them.
And even though I know my children and grandchildren well enough to have a pretty good idea what would be good for them and what would not, I am not omniscient like God, so my choice of gifts might not always be perfect. I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy giving gifts, but what I hate is trying to figure out what to give someone as a gift. Once in a while, I have a flash of brilliance and can figure out the perfect gift to give someone, but most of the time I get frustrated because I want to give the perfect gift but I just can’t figure out what it ought to be.
But because He is God, our heavenly Father always picks out the perfect gift for us. In fact, James, who was probably listening to Jesus that day on the mountain, may have very well had these words of Jesus in mind when he wrote this:
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
James 1:17 (ESV)
Not only are the gifts that God give to us good, they are absolutely perfect. They are complete and beneficial for our lives. That leads to a second observation that we have already touched on briefly:
2. Only God knows what is truly good for His children
Not only does God desire to give good gifts to His children, because He is all knowing, He understands fully exactly what we need and what will be good for us. Sometimes God’s good gifts aren’t comfortable or pleasant. God often has to be like earthly parents who make their kids eat their vegetables or hold their hand in a parking lot or make them do their homework or tell them “no” when they want to do something that would be harmful. Although some of those things may not be pleasurable for our children, we, as parents understand that they are good for our children.