Our Discernment in Prayer
So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
I would not say it’s happened every week in our study of the Sermon on the Mount, but I have regularly been hit with a new perspective on Jesus’ teaching here. Particularly in the area of connection and flow, I am looking for what lies behind what comes next in the sermon. This weekend was particularly challenging.
I began with what I thought was the appropriate section to bring in sequence only to change it Wednesday as I looked more closely at the text. What hit me first about Jesus’ teaching in our current passage, Matthew 7:7-12, was what felt like an abrupt departure from the previous verses on “judgment” to instruct us again on the practice of prayer. Certainly Jesus does have a new point He wants to make about prayer in this section, and it is in contrast with what He gave us in the model prayer back in 6:7-8.
At first glance it may be difficult to see what He says in our current passage as not being in conflict with the previous chapter. There He has told us not to be like the pagans who bring some repetitious chant or memorized spiel to God. We are to approach Him as a Father and make our petitions as an intimate conversation. And yet in 7:7-12, He begins by urging us to “keep on asking,” which at first seems to suggest repetition. It takes us a moment of reflection over these verses, but we see clearly that Jesus is not confusing repetition with the consistency and persistence required to attain God’s resources. It is a daily dependency that Jesus wants us to remember. We must consistently seek God for His provision.
But it struck me in what He says next that provided the key to connecting this teaching with the prior context of our study last week. Remember that it was here where we learned about how judgments are cast in the world. First we saw what is obviously prohibited for any human being to hold, and that being judgment as condemnation. Only God has the authority to bring such judgment. John 3:18 makes it clear that condemnation comes as a result of not believing in Christ.
The next point is made with the illustration that points out the hypocrisy that stems from self-righteousness. The thought, Jesus says, that someone with a “log in their own eye” would feign superiority to help someone with merely a “speck” of sawdust in theirs is truly ridiculous. It is first important to “judge” our own flaw and deal with that before we launch off in a ministry to help someone else.
Finally, Jesus closes this passage with a call to discern what is best when faced with the worst possible situation of someone completely despising our loving pursuit. If we aren’t called to sever these relationships, we are certainly charged with putting them on hold and taking our distance until something changes. These three instances give us a process to examine ourselves as we are confronted with judgment and discernment.
This is where the connection with the prior context comes to light in our study for this weekend. This illustration in 7:11 where Jesus is comparing a parent’s relationship with their children is also a picture of discernment. Sometimes children do not ask for what is best for them. Our children continue to come back with requests for things that they may or may not know isn’t good for them. We as parents should know what is best for them, and offer that—usually to their disappointment, if not tantrum.
What Jesus is showing us here (I believe) is the process for growing in our discernment of how to pray. By asking, and seeking, and knocking, we learn over time what is best for us because we see what God gives in comparison with our requests. Certainly our Heavenly Father can discern what is best for us. As we learn to trust Him with our requests, we become less directive and more discerning. We begin to judge the best things to request—to seek the Kingdom of God even in our prayers.
Don’t be discouraged but confident that this discipline is met with the exact opposite of empty repetition. Such discernment in our prayers is evidence of our growth as a disciple. If God is not giving us what we ask for, then maybe the approach is clouded and the requests are off the mark. Many times, what we need is simply the awareness of our intimacy and delight in Him.