Back to the issue of asking, of making requests, instead of demanding. We need to always understand (and never forget) that we are made in the image of God. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27 ESV. It is because of this most basic fact of life, this most basic reality of who we are, that we can not have one attitude toward God and another attitude towards our brothers and sisters. This is why Jesus’ two great commandments are to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”” Matthew 22:37-40 ESV. Loving God and loving your neighbor, they go hand in hand. You can’t love God without loving your neighbor. Loving your neighbor, as a matter of fact, is precisely how you love God in this life. There is no other way to do it. You can’t love God through nature. You can appreciate his awesome power, love, and creativity, but you don’t love God by watching the sun set over the pacific. You can’t love God through the Bible. You read the Bible, you get to know God and Jesus through the scriptures, but that’s not how you love God. You love God by loving your neighbor. And you love your neighbor by loving your enemies and praying for those who would crucify you.
Let me say it this way. Because we know we are made in the image of God, we can’t have one posture before God and another before man. We are whole beings, and your true character, who you are and what you believe, pervades everything you do. So, we can not love God and hate other human beings (ANY human beings). This the apostle John tells us directly – “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” 1 John 4:20-21 ESV. If we don’t love our brother, who has the image of God yet we can see him, then we do not love God, whom we can’t even see. John also tells us that “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8 ESV.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, tells us that with our mouths “…we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” James 3:9-10 ESV. James goes on to tell us that we can’t be humble before God and arrogant and judgmental before men in James 4:6-12.
The same point is made about forgiveness. Right after he gives us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus tells us “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15 ESV. Our spirit of unforgiveness will block the forgiveness we take for granted from Christ. If we don’t forgive our brother whose made in God’s image, then the one who made him (and you) will not forgive you.
Do you openly confess Jesus as Lord, or are you ashamed and deny him before others? “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”” Mark 8:38 ESV.
Also when we pray – “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:25 ESV. Forgiving is a form of giving and loving. We need to understand that if we do not forgive, then we don’t live in the spiritual reality of giving where prayers are answered.
There are few one way streets in the Kingdom of God. Just as we are forgiven, we are to forgive. Just as we want to be recognized by Christ at the pearly gates, so we must recognize him here. The kingdom is not there for us to “use” as we see fit, while we hold back our inmost selves from it. It is not here as a utility, to be used to get more of what we want at the lowest price possible. We must keep this in mind when understanding what Jesus teaches about the power of the request, of asking, both as it works here with our brothers and in prayer with God.
We don’t demand from God. I suppose we could try, but it’s not going to do much good. Nor would we expect it to. But we do come respectfully, humbly, and prayerfully before God.
We are to come to our brothers in the same way. I know this sounds strange, but think about it. When I ask someone (instead of demanding) to do or give something, I am standing with that person without force, condemnation, or manipulation. A request unites, it softens hearts. A demand hardens hearts and separates.
We teach our children to say “please” and “thank you”, correct? In many ways, this is seen as a matter of respect, but it’s much more than that. It is a way to get what we want. Getting what we want by requesting takes us through the freedom of the one we are asking. When we ask, we acknowledge and accept that the other person is free to say “no”. Yet we ask anyway, and if the answer is “no”, we respect and accept that. There is no punishment or condemnation for saying no. But we find that far more times the person being asked does not say no. Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. This is how we relate to others, and it is the primary intention of this famous passage.
Think about the power of asking. Think about your children. How difficult is it to say “no” to those little ones, especially when they say ‘pleeeeease!” Or even think about the other side. How much trouble do we go through to avoid someone we think might ask us for something? How often do I avoid certain streets, or avoid eye contact, because I’m trying to avoid that convicting “please sir?” When your boss asks you to get something done, how hard and long will you work to accomplish it? There is power in the request. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
Even if it’s someone we don’t know, don’t care about, and will never meet again, we will go out of our way to avoid a situation where we think someone might ask us for something. And that is precisely because saying “no” is really against our natures. 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? Especially in our closest relationships, just asking will usually get us what we want. Sometimes these relationships have been damaged, and the relationships are scarred. Sometimes there are good reasons not to say “yes”. But most of the time, we will get what we ask for.
We know this instinctively, and Jesus uses that fact to help us to understand the power of prayer. 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! Our final answer to the basic need we have to influence others for good is prayer. We make our requests, both prayerfully and respectfully, of those around us. We ask and don’t demand. And then we take it to God, asking the same thing we already asked for of the person we would like to see a change in. The bigger point here is, we’ve gone to that person with same humility and the same attitude with which we take our requests to God. We don’t have one way of dealing with people and another way of coming before God. We have the same spirit and attitude in both situations. If we are walking in the kingdom, our spirit will shine through in both relationships. And know this – it is only our confidence in God that makes it even possible for us to treat others as they should be treated. Or – if we don’t have confidence in God, then we are left only with confidence in ourselves and the things of man, which means we have to rely on ourselves to change our loved ones.
Just how is that working out??
“”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