The famous “ask-seek-knock” (ASK) passage — is it teaching persistence or not? And is it saying that persistence will pay off with answered prayer? I doubt it and I doubt it. Instead, I think this passage (Matthew 7:7-11) teaches simplicity: that is, ask God because God is good.
The structure of these verses is clear: the simple commands to ask, seek, and knock, are followed in each case by the promise of being given, of finding, and of doors being opened. And this is followed by a simple set of comparisons that teach that God, in ways that far transcend human attributes, is good. Humans are, to use Jesus’ words, “evil” and know how to give good gifts; God is (implied) “never evil, always good, infinitely good” and therefore God will give good gifts to his children.
The point of the passage is this: God is All-Good. The point is not that if we keep on asking and keep on seeking and keep on knocking that we will eventually wear God down and he’ll give us what we want. This cheapens God. (The present tenses for the “asking,” “seeking,” and “knocking” are used for “characteristic behavior” rather than for a description of how often or how long something will be asked, sought, or knocked on.)
Some today wonder about God. They wonder if God is big enough to know or even care about everything we do. Does God really care that I’m typing this morning? Maybe so, since it is about God’s Word. But, would God care if I were to go outside and shovel some snow? Does God, as a student said to me yesterday in passing, have time to worry about such trivial matters?
Many of you are no doubt aware of what is called “open theism.” That is, that God does not know all things before they happen, and it gets more complex and very controversial. My own view is called “middle knowledge”: I believe that God knows all eventualities as potential. He knows not only what I will type if I continue on this line of thinking, but what I would type if I chose to jettison this post and opted for a less controversial topic to close off this post. And he knows what impact both of those decisions would have on any and all readers who chose to read and how that reading would get their minds going, some of whom will chase down open theism and either change their mind or get apologetic about it. In other words, God knows the potentialities of everything I say or do and everything you say and do and everything everyone in the world says or does, in the past and in the future, and he knows every bit of this — and I don’t think it is even a challenge to his system.
So, the reason we pray to God is because he is All-Good. And he cares because he is All-Good. And he responds to us because he is All-Good. Even when we don’t get what we want, because he is All-Good. And we just have to trust God because God is All-Good.