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Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”
I don’t know about you, but every time I read those words I want to respond to Jesus and say, “No! That’s not how it works!” At least, that’s not how it’s often worked in my life.
I can think of innumerable times in my life where I’ve asked for something, but couldn’t have it. Or I ask for a favor, and the answer is “no.” Or when I’ve asked God to make things turn out a certain way, but that’s not the way things turned out.
And I have frequently searched for things I never was able to find, no matter how many places I looked. Or sometimes, I look for a way back to the way things used to be in my life, but I can’t find it. Or I’ve searched again for something I’ve told God I want, but it still isn’t there (at least in the way I want it to be there.)
And sometimes, I’ve knocked on doors, both literally and figuratively. But that door doesn’t always open. Often, knocking feels more like hitting my head against a wall over and over again. And sometimes, when the door does open, it turns out to be like those old game shows where you pick door #1, door #2 or door #3, and when the door opens, it’s not at all what you wanted!
I suspect that I am not alone in having these experiences! And so when I hear Jesus tell me that I should just ask or search or knock and God will give me whatever I want, I want to scream out that that just hasn’t happened in my life.
And yet, as I read these words more carefully, that’s not actually what Jesus said. And as I’ve re-read them over the years, I’ve come to realize that’s not what Jesus meant either.
Jesus isn’t actually saying that God is like a heavenly Santa Claus, and all you have to do is send up your wish list through prayers, and you’ll find it in your stocking the next morning. But often, I read it that way, because I’d like it to be that way. But Jesus is addressing these words to people like you and me, who often have asked and been turned down. Who have often searched, but not found what we’re looking for. And who often have knocked, and it feels like we’re knocking in vain.
To folks like us, and folks like Jesus’ first hearers, Jesus had a different message. In these words, he encourages us not to give up – to keep on asking and searching and knocking. But it’s not because God will eventually give us everything we want. Rather, Jesus wants us to:
- Ask – not because we’ll get a particular thing, but because we’ll get an answer. Yet that answer may be different from the one we “want,” and it may be an answer that causes us to ask yet more questions. I often resist that process, but it’s the case in my life, and maybe in yours, that answers that complicate the process actually eventually make things better… (I’ve found this in some of my home renovation projects lately – I have an idea of what I want, but as I research how to do it, I develop other questions, and other possibilities keep popping up…) Jesus tells us to ask, not to get a particular thing, but to open us up both to God’s answers, as well as to God’s questions for us…
- Search – not for what was, but for what lies ahead. Often, what I end up searching for is what I’ve lost from before. That may be a physical thing, or a way of life that I used to live that clearly isn’t coming back. Usually, searching for those things really is futile. But Jesus calls us to search for what God has in front of us, confident that there is a future no matter what we feel we’ve lost from the past. After all, this is the basic message of the Resurrection! And the paradox for me is that often, when I search for the new way forward, God shows me a way that actually helps me to recover the sense of purpose and direction I felt I had lost back in the past. Jesus calls us to search, not to find what was, but to open us up to God’s direction for the future…
- Knock – but not just to knock. If we’re willing to knock, it also means a willingness to walk through the door that opens and see what’s there. And it occurs to me that Jesus says, “knock and the door will be opened”, not “that door will be opened.” Sometimes in my life, and maybe in yours, the door I was banging on never opened, but another one did. And sometimes, that’s the door that God’s opening for me. Or at least, I should be open to taking a look and seeing if that’s the door that maybe I should have been knocking on in the first place. Jesus calls us to knock, not so that we can bang our heads against the same door in futility, but so that we’re always open to which doors may get opened, and asking if one of those might be the open door God is guiding us towards…
Of course, this whole process isn’t as quick or easy as sending a wish list to a heavenly Santa Claus. When we ask, it’s often hard to figure out the answers God gives us, or even respond to God’s questions. When we search, it’s often difficult to discern the way God is leading us into. And when we knock, it’s sometimes the case that several doors open, and it can take trial and error to see which one or ones God may have opened.
But I do know that when I don’t ask, I never get an answer. When I don’t search, I rarely find. And when I don’t knock, I usually don’t see the open door, even if it’s right there in front of me.
And that’s part of Jesus’ point. Don’t give up. And especially, don’t give up on God. Jesus promises us that God is always willing to engage with us in our questions, so we should never stop asking. Jesus promises us that God is always working to guide us into the future, so we should never stop searching and looking for God’s direction in our lives. And Jesus promises us that God is always opening new doors for us, no matter how many have been shut and locked before, so we should never stop knocking and being willing to explore the next open door.