Turning Adversity to Good
“I tell you, 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” (vv. 9–10).- Luke 11:5–13
Continuing with our look at the purpose and reason for prayer based on question and answer 116 of the Heidelberg Catechism, we will now consider today’s passage, which is one of the proof texts for the catechism’s answer. As we will see, we need to pray not only to thank God but also because prayer is God’s appointed way of blessing us and deepening our relationship with Him.
The basic point of Jesus’ teaching is clear: His followers should not be afraid to ask the Father for His blessings, for He will not withhold good things from His children. If men become exasperated and give in to the request of a friend who refuses to give up asking for help, will not the Lord God Almighty, who loves His people with an everlasting love, supply what His people ask for when they persevere in prayer (Luke 11:5–10; see Jer. 31:3; Matt. 6:25–34)? If even sinners know that it is right to give good gifts to their sons and daughters, how much more will the perfectly righteous Father be willing to grant the greatest gift of all—the Holy Spirit—to His children (Luke 11:11–13)?
Taken in isolation, we might think Jesus’ promise means that the Father will always answer our prayers exactly as we desire. Yet we must consider all of Scripture’s teaching on prayer when we read any one passage on the subject. Our prayers must be “according to his will” to move Him to answer the way we want (1 John 5:14). What Jesus affirms in today’s passage is not that God will grant us anything we desire but that He always gives good things to us when we ask. Good, of course, is determined by the Lord’s understanding of what is best for us. We may not always get what we ask for, but everything we do receive leads to our final good and God’s ultimate glory (Rom. 8:28).
Moreover, today’s passage indicates that we must ask in order to receive. Of course, God could bless us without requiring us to ask Him for His good gifts. Often, He does just that. Still, the Bible is clear that we sometimes experience lack because we have not brought our needs to God in prayer (James 4:2c). In making some blessings dependent on our prayer, the Lord reminds us of our absolute dependence on Him for everything. He also creates a real relationship with us wherein both parties truly interact with one another. Our prayers make a difference, because that is what God has ordained.
When the catechism says that God gives His Spirit only to those who ask, it is not speaking of God’s blessing of the Holy Spirit in our regeneration, which is His work alone. Rather, the confession is speaking of subsequent fillings and guidance from the Spirit. Sometimes we lack the will to fight sin because we have forgotten how dependent we are on the Spirit. Let us pray that He would fill us continually that we might walk in obedience to His Word.
Passages for Further Study
1 Samuel 1:1–20