It has always been interesting to me how, when something became a matter of interest and desire to me, eventhough unspoken to anyone, there would always “appear” some book, quote, teacher, or other source that would bring information that addressed the issue in a very prompt, timely, and direct way. There have been times that it has been so promt, timely and direct as to be disconcerting, causing me to wonder just how it could happen that the information would present itself at just the time I had needed or desired it and not a moment sooner, unless it was by the divine providential hand of God. And this started long before the advent of the internet’s easy access to almost any topic.
I’m sure that there are those who would explain away this phenomenon, pointing out that the information was always available, just undetected by me until my interest was piqued, so that, at the moment I became interested in the topic, I had only to look and find it there, right out in the open. I’ve heard this explanation in regard to cars, too. Oddly, when one makes a car purchase of a particular model and color, suddenly one seems to see the same model and color around every corner. It’s a matter of heightened awareness, not suddenly altered availability.
There is a quote attributed to Guyatama Buddha that goes “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” And while I have used that quote myself on occasion, I prefer the more proactive and directive quote of Jesus cited above from Matthew 7:7-8. It tells us to ask, seek, and knock, in other words, to be intentional. My sense of it has always been that Jesus’ quote had to do specifically with regard to pursuing the kingdom of God. But, in my experience, whether it is in pursuit of the kingdom of God or pursuit of knowledge about almost anything, the principle is the same. It gives me great comfort to realize that God, who possesses all knowledge and wisdom, is so very generous with it and desires to give it to us. When I reread Matthew 7, it seems clear that Jesus’ instruction to ask, seek, and knock is not just about pursuing the kingdom of God or even about pursuing wisdom, but actually is about pursuing any “good gift” or “good thing”. There, however, is the rub, determining what are “good gifts” or “good things”.
Martha Stewart, the noted domestic diva of my generation, included a section in her signature magazine that was entitled “Good Things”. In any given month it could be a diverse assortment of information, items or events that might appeal to readers. Sometimes they were “good” to me, other times they were better described as neutral or merely curiosities. I can’t recall any that I would classify as out and out “not good”. I suppose the definition of “good gifts” or “good things”, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, depending on the interests and desires of the individual.
In James 1:17 we are told that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” ( Additional comment: This chapter also tells us that God gives wisdom generously to all who ask, without doubting, (vs. 5-6) and does not send temptation to us. Temptation, it says, arises out of our own lusts(vs. 13-14) (see 1 John 2:16 for a description of the lusts that entice us). The additional qualifier that James provides of the “gift” – good and perfect – leads me to conclude that, some desired gift, while it might generally be considered good by or for anyone, God may have determined that it is not perfect for me and therefore not one that I will receive. “Perfect”, in the scripture, from the Greek word “teleios”, generally refers to that which is complete, mature, having attained its full stature or measure, wanting nothing in order to be complete, or having consummate integrity and virtue. In other words, while something might be considered “good”, it may not be God’s best for me, because it is not both good and “perfect” specifically with regard to His plan for my life.
James 4:2-3 also tells us “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” God is certainly not going to give us those things that arise out of our selfish desires. Such things are neither good nor perfect for us.
So, back to Matthew 7:7, is it about aking for the kingdom, wisdom, or things? Does it matter? The bottom line seems to be that God is the One who makes the determination about whether or not something, anything, is right for us, good and perfect. Furthermore, He determines when and how we receive it. But this scripture makes it clear that we must be intentional and proactive in asking, seeking, knocking. Is that to stretch us and make us consider what it is that God would consider good and perfect for us, to teach us to “ask aright”? Is it to force us to examine our motivations? Is to invite us to consider what it is that we really should want, considering God’s desires for us? Or is it simply to assure us that God does listen and will respond, that He rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6)?
Because Matthew 7:7 repeats the instruction 3 times, each time more emphatically, it seems to me that Jesus is telling us that, whatever we desire, we must persist in our pursuit, assuming that our motives are correct. I’ve always thought that it was interesting that, in English, the three verbs – ask, seek, knock – when made into an acrostic, spell out “A.S.K.”. It begins with asking and ends with having the door opened to us when we have found the true object of our desire.
Lord, teach me to ask aright; teach me to persist in the effort.