And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks. (Luke 11:9-10, N.L.T.)
An old saying in preaching circles says, “A text taken out of context is a pretext.” The saying simply means that the writers of the Bible didn’t jot down random thoughts in random order. To the contrary, each one organized the content of his book in a systematic, intentional way. In most cases, the order stems from the chronology of the events recorded in the book. In some cases, however, the order is topical rather than chronological.
I was recently reminded of the importance of a text’s context as I read an entry from the daily devotion book I’m working through this year. In regards to our text passage, the author of the devotion book brought something to my attention. He pointed out that Luke placed that great promise from Jesus right on the heels of Christ’s story about a man who knocks on the door of his friend’s home at midnight and asks for three loaves of bread. The knocker needs the three loaves because another friend of his, one who is in the midst of a journey, has showed up very unexpectedly and very hungry at the knocker’s home.
Jesus says, “Even though friendship alone won’t compel the friend who receives the late-night request to get out of bed and give the bread, he’ll do it to end the knocker’s persistent midnight knocking.” Following this illustration, Christ’s next words in Luke’s gospel are, “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened.” It isn’t hard to see that Luke wants the illustration and the promise to walk hand in hand. The illustration segues directly into the promise.
You say, “Okay, Russell, I understand that, but what’s the big deal?” The big deal is that the context for the promise is actually one of intercessory prayer. You see, the knocker in the illustration is interceding (making request) for his traveling friend. It’s the traveler, not the knocker, who needs the bread. As for the guy who is asleep in bed, he’s merely the person through whom the knocker gets the traveler’s need met.
Now, to be fair, this same promise about asking, seeking, and knocking is also given in Matthew 7:7-8, and in that passage the context has nothing to do with intercessory prayer. So it’s not right to say that Jesus intended the promise to be used exclusively for intercessory prayer. It is interesting, however, that He made it very clear that the promise can be claimed in this way. (For the record, I’m in the camp of the commentators who believe that Matthew 7:7-8 and Luke 11:9-10 are the record of two separate quotes from Jesus, albeit the same promise, told in two different places at two different times.)
The upshot of all this is that if you’ve been praying that God will meet the need of a certain individual, don’t stop praying. Don’t stop asking for that request. Don’t stop seeking that answer. Don’t stop knocking on God’s door. After all, He’s the friend of yours who has the bread, and He’s the one who will at some point honor your persistence by granting your request.