This from Matthew 7:7-12 is not an etched-in-stone promise. It’s an offer with a nuanced caveat.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which one of you would hand his son a stone
when he asked for a loaf of bread,
or a snake when he asked for a fish?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things
to those who ask him.
“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.
This is the law and the prophets.”
The caveat is “…how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.”
I have to chuckle to myself when I think of the material things I asked God for when I was younger and was disappointed when I didn’t get them. And other people have done so, too. “Well, the Bible says,’Ask and you shall receive,’ and I didn’t get that Lamborghini I asked him for!” Even jobs or personal crushes people prayed for and didn’t get.
The thing is, God knows what your real needs are. And they are different from your wants and desires and even the things you covet after. So when you ask for a loaf of bread or a fish, and you’re starving, and you pray to Him (or Her if that’s your conception of God) for it, He’s going to see to it that you get food. In the same way, it’s been my experience that when I really needed money and someone owed it to me, when I prayed for money to come in time it always – always – came in time.
In the same way, when we are searching for God, or ask God for an answer to a question, He will come through. When we knock on His “door” He will answer. When we pray to Him, He will answer. We just need to listen, and we need to listen carefully, because God doesn’t knock loudly or shout, he whispers. He is gentle and kind and unobtrusive. We have to know how to listen and what to listen for. That’s not to say we have to only listen for what we want to hear, but rather that we have to be receptive to His calm and quiet voice.
Sometimes what God says in response is, “No, you don’t really need that.” Or, “I hear you, but someone else needs that more.” Or, “I know you would like that, but it would do you more harm (or less good) than you know.” Or even, “You know you don’t really need that.”
So the next time you pray for something and you don’t get it, don’t think that God hasn’t heard you. And don’t think that God hasn’t responded. Consider that you may not have been listening or that you didn’t know how to listen. Or that what you thought you really, really needed was in reality just what you really, really wanted and God answered you with a, “Sorry, no. But thank you for asking.”
It’s also in this reading in which Jesus the Christ gives us the profound Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.” It fits in nicely with the rest of this reading. When others ask of you with their needs, don’t turn them away and don’t fail to respond. Give to them according to your ability, and give them according to their actual need. Naturally, there will be times when you say no. But it should never always be a no answer. Always give deference to the least among us and never assume you know their story. And please, pray to God about it and listen ever so intently for His whisper for an answer.