Reflection on Matthew 7.7-12 (Lent)

Jesus said: Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.

Today’s reading is often cited as evidence that the gospel message cannot be trusted. Sceptics will say that, no matter how sincere our prayers may be, Jesus’ promise is not true. Those who have no faith will argue that our prayers, even when they are driven by desperate need rather than personal gain, are not answered. In support of these atheistic claims, countless examples of uncured illnesses, personal misfortune and life-changing tragedy will be rolled out as if they are the killer arguments in the matter of prayer. For those who profess a faith in Jesus Christ the arguments of the non-believers make no sense, but the reality of seemingly unanswered prayer lingers on. 

For us to understand something of the conundrum of how prayer is answered we need to read further than the opening words of today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount. Rather than grasping the easily-remembered and oft-quoted opening of this passage, we need to reflect upon what Jesus goes on to say. When we pray we are asking our Father in heaven to help and support us in our various needs. Like any loving Father, God hears our requests, and then, in his wisdom, he considers how he might best serve our needs. Jesus reminds us that a good parent will not expose their child to danger or disaster by answering some selfish or spur-of-the-moment whim or fancy. They will weigh up the consequences before granting or denying the request. Sometimes they will answer the entreaty of their offspring, but not in an expected way … and that is often the case with God, our Heavenly Father.

God wants us to flourish, and God wants to answer our prayers. But, God wants us to set aside the selfish and the self-obsessed and to concentrate our concerns, our prayers, on the needs of others. God also wants us to understand that his vision of our needs is far broader than our localised and objective perspective. So often Jesus’ promise is fulfilled, but not in the way we expect.

Let us pray that our focus might be on the well-being of others before ourselves. Let us pray that, as we lay our prayers before God, we might be ready to accept his love and his wisdom as he answers those prayers in the unexpected generosity that far exceeds our understanding, or our deserving.