If you read through Luke 11 in The Holy Bible in Its Original Order, there’s an interesting footnote on verse nine. In this verse, Jesus says, “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” The footnote I mentioned reads, “The force of the Greek means: ask, and keep on asking; seek, and keep on seeking; knock, and keep on knocking.” So there’s more to this verse than first meets the eye, particularly when taken in the context of the preceding verses.
Ask, Seek, Knock
And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs. (Luke 11:5-8)
This doesn’t seem like a very good attitude, does it? The man in the house can’t be bothered to climb out of his nice warm bed for friendship’s sake, but eventually this guy outside became too annoying not to help him. What are we supposed to learn from this in the context of praying to God (which was the subject of verses 1-4 as well)?
Before we try to answer that question, let’s look at a very similar parable a few chapters later in Luke.
Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’” (Luke 18:1-5)
Once again, this isn’t a commendable attitude — the judge is plainly described as unjust and unrighteous — the very opposite of a God-fearing man. Yet what does Jesus say?
Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.” (Luke 18:6-8)
It always puzzled me why God was compared to an unrighteous judge. But it’s not really a comparison at all, is it? It’s a contrast, meant to reassure us. Even unjust and lazy people respond to persistent asking, seeking, and knocking. How much more will our righteous God who “neither faints nor is weary” (Is. 40:28) listen to our petitions!
Why Do We Need Persistence?
These two parables don’t just tell us that God will most assuredly respond when we ask Him something. They also teach us how to ask. In both accounts, the petitioner refuses to give up. They have to “ask, and keep on asking” for help, to “knock, and keep on knocking” before they get an answer.
Anyone who’s ever asked God for something knows that the answer doesn’t always come immediately. We shouldn’t just give up praying about or seeking something after one request. Persistence, with the assurance of knowing we’ll eventually get an answer, does three main things I can think of:
- teaches patience through delayed gratification
- demonstrates our faith and hope
- keeps us in communication with God
Why are these so important? Well, Hebrews 10:36 tells us that we “have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (KJV). And James 1:4 counsels, “let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” People who don’t have staying-power don’t make it into God’s kingdom.
As for faith and hope, they are two of the three things Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:13 would “abide” (the Greek word, meno, means to stand, continue, and endure). Hope is so important that Romans 8:24 says we are saved in hope, or “by hope” if you’re reading the King James. And hope is again linked to faith in Hebrews 11:1, which defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
We could look at several passages that point to the importance of searching the scriptures (Acts 17:11), studying God’s word (2 Tim. 2:15), and praying (1 Thes. 5:17). We have to keep in touch with God by praying and studying His communication to us — the Bible — in order to stay on track. And, unfortunately, if we didn’t have things we felt like we needed Him to supply, we probably wouldn’t spend as much time with Him.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)
Never Give Up
I do want to touch on something Luke 11:9-10 is not telling us. It doesn’t say that if we pester God enough, He’ll give us whatever we want just to keep us from bothering Him. I doubt He likes nagging much more than my Dad does (as evidenced by how well the Israelites’ constant complaining was received).
So I say to 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 he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)
These verses tell us that God is listening, and that He will answer. He wants us to have enough faith in Him to keep asking, seeking, and knocking until we get an answer. Sometimes it’s not the answer we wanted, but it’s always going to be the answer we needed.
Take Paul for example. He tells us that to keep him from becoming prideful, “a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me” (2 Cor. 12:7). Obviously he didn’t want that — who would? — so he brought the problem to God.
Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 cor. 12:8-9)
Paul asked for his trial to be removed, and instead he received a personal promise of support from Jesus Christ Himself. Paul’s persistent asking was rewarded by an incredible response, though not the one he initially wanted. He thought he wanted something taken away, but instead he received the power of Christ inside him. Sounds like a good answer to me, and Paul said he would gladly endure trials if the result was Christ’s power dwelling in him.
There are also other promises we can look to when we need our persistence and our hope built up.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in You! (Ps. 84:11-12)
This verse promises that God will give us good things if we follow Him, even if they aren’t something we’re asking for. This is the sort of promise fulfilled for Paul. There are also other promises that are equally encouraging, where God says He does indeed give His people the specific requests they ask of Him.
Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. (Ps. 37:4-5)
God doesn’t just ignore us. He knows our needs, and our desired as well. And He wants to give them to us, so long as they are good things that will actually be helpful instead of hurting us in the long-run. We just need to keep asking, and never give up on the One who will never give up on us.