Matthew 7:7-11, ““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? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 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!”

Some things Jesus says are hard to believe. It’s not that we don’t want to believe him, and usually, it’s not that we literally don’t believe him. Rather, it’s that due to our experiences, lack of faith, and sin we find it difficult to receive what he’s said and put it into practice.

Perhaps chief among the difficult saying of Jesus are the numerous statements he made on prayer. On the surface, they make sense, but they seem so extreme. For example, here in Matthew 7:7-8 he promises, “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.”

So, here we have three commands and three promises. The commands are easy to understand and put into practice. Ask things of God, seek after God and his blessings, knock on God’s door and do what you must to get his attention. So far so good, but then Jesus adds promises to these commands. He promises that if we ask things of God, he will give what we ask. He promises that if we seek God and his blessings, we will gain them. He promises that if we knock on God’s door, he will open it to us.

On first reading, we may not find these things hard to believe, but as we press into the implications of what Jesus promised in light of our experiences with God, we may find ourselves in a trap of unbelief. We may think of all the times we’ve prayed for something but did not receive it and ask, “Jesus, how can this be true?” We may remember seasons in which we were seeking God but did not feel his presence and ask, “Jesus, how can this be true?” Even now, we may feel like we’re doing what we can to get God’s attention, but he’s not responding and ask, “Jesus, how can this be true?”

When our emotions collide with Jesus’ promises, we must begin by carefully considering his words and then choosing to believe what he has said over what we feel. With this in mind, consider Jesus’ reasoning. “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 7:9-11).

I don’t have a son, but I do have a daughter. While I can imagine denying her request for bread or fish under certain conditions (for example, if she asks right before bedtime), I cannot imagine denying her request altogether. In other words, I may need to apply my wisdom to her request, but my heart is to bless her by providing for her and doing good to her. She is my child, and I love her, and it is my delight to hear and respond to her. Providing for her needs is not about greenlighting a request as if it’s a transaction, rather, it’s about enjoying fellowship with a person God used my wife and me to create.

Please note this point: the act of asking and receiving is relational and not transactional. It’s not about the things involved; it’s about the relationship between parent and child.

If this is true of earthly parents—even though our hearts are evil, we sin all the time, and we fail every day—how much more is this true of our Father in heaven? He is perfectly holy, he cannot sin, and he cannot fail. He wants to bless and do good to his children more than any earthly parent has ever imagined. And while he has to apply his wisdom to our requests (he would not be loving if he didn’t), his heart is to grant our requests and bless our lives.

You see, in Matthew 7:7-11, Jesus is saying less about the nature of prayer and more about the heart of our heavenly Father. He’s trying to help us understand the nature and implications of what he has accomplished for us through his life, death, burial, and resurrection. And even though Jesus said these things before the cross, he knew the end from the beginning and so he said everything he said in light of the cross.

By grace through faith in Jesus, God has become our heavenly Father, and he longs for us to call upon his name, seek his blessings, and pursue his fellowship. This is the truth, and we need to give less attention to our experiences, feelings, and perceptions, and more attention to the relational vision Jesus has revealed to us. And with this relational vision in mind, we need to live by faith, take him at his word, and give ourselves every to these three things—ask, seek, and knock.

Lord Jesus, please reveal your glory as you teach us to live by your words.