Saturday, October 12, 2013

It Will Be Opened

“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Mt 7:7-8).

In the choirs I belonged to, we used to sing a hymn called “Seek Ye First” that incorporated this second verse:

Ask and it shall be given unto you;
seek and ye shall find;
knock and it shall be opened unto you.
Alleluia, alleluia.

It’s a beautiful, happy little song about God’s promises to us: that God will be there when two or three are gathered in His Name; that the door shall be opened when you knock; that if you seek, you will find. The hymn frames it all positively – these are the things God will do for you, rejoice and be glad! But if you’ve spent some time asking, and asking (and asking) God for something and haven’t seen hide nor tail of it yet, it’s tempting to question God’s so-called promises and fling your faithful hymnal into a woodchipper.

Ask, and it will be given you.

In Mathew’s gospel, this saying is in the middle of a list of aphorisms – pithy Jesus-sayings that stand on their own but that are sometimes elaborated with short allegory. Jesus continues with a story about a father who knows how to give good gifts: who, when asking his father for a fish, receives a snake instead (Mt 7:9-11)? What goes unspoken, and has been pointed out by many people far wiser than me, is that if you ask God for a snake He probably still won’t give you one. We cannot ask God for just anything and expect to receive it, because God is not a wish-granting gumball machine Who spits out whatever you ask for if you only put in the right change. If we ask God for things that aren’t good for us, surely He will not give them to us merely to keep His promise that what we ask for we shall receive. Even when we ask God for the ‘right’ things, for the things we’re sure we want and believe are good for us, who are we to know? Perhaps God does not grant us all we ask for for reasons we can’t begin to understand.

If God is the Good Father, then He only gives good gifts, which are not necessarily the same things we're asking for…

Seek, and you will find.

What is it that I am seeking? Most obviously, I’ve spent a lot of time seeking healing: reading all the books, trying all the tricks, at times somewhat desperately. Before this saying, Jesus tells us about all the things that the gentiles seek: food, clothing for the body, certainty about tomorrow (7:25-34). While He promises that God indeed knows these things are important, seeking them is not meant to be the goal of our lives. It’s a difficult realization that maybe I haven’t found what I’m searching for because I’m looking for the wrong things, in the wrong places…

Knock, and it will be opened to you.

To me, this has always felt like the biggest promise out of the three – if only I can find the door, and knock on it, it will be opened. A combination of seeking and receiving yields this ultimate promise that God will strip away obstacles, open doors, remove boundaries. God Who breaks down the walls and brings light into the darkness, revealing so many possibilities. I have often felt hemmed-in, broken, and constrained by my life, my reality, and my circumstances, so the idea that God will provide passage and spaciousness is deeply attractive. I have spent many years asking God to open the way, but maybe I haven’t found the right door yet…

I struggled with writing this post, and I don’t think it’s very good. The truth is that I have trouble with this passage in Matthew because although I believe in the reality of God’s promises I’ve struggled with feeling like they’re actually crap. One of the problems with depression, besides from all the self-doubting, is that I haven’t had a lot of time to feel like God is giving me the important things I’ve asked for. I haven’t asked for anything over-the-top, like a unicorn; mostly just some clarity about God’s plan for my life and maybe to feel a little better, to be a little better. I can’t help but feel disappointed, especially when confronted with passages like this one from Matthew. Why not for me, Lord? Why not me?

As I sat with this text over the last week, wondering why I was having so many problems with it, I realized that I was actually reading it wrong. As much as this passage is about God’s promises to us, it also isn’t really about that at all. This is the Sermon on the Mount: it’s about discipleship and what we should be doing.

Knock, and it will be opened to you.

We are meant to be knocking on the door to the kingdom of heaven by doing God’s work. Jesus tells us that not everyone who calls Him Lord will enter the Kingdom, but those who have done God’s will (7:21-23). Discipleship means working to discern God’s will for us and going ahead and doing it, regardless of any other concerns we may have, however important they may be. The Lord knows that it’s important, but discipleship means putting aside what stands in the way and learning to knock on the right door. The way to God will be opened when we put God first.

Seek, and you will find.

The Bible is full of stories about God seeking and finding us: God is the shepherd looking for the lost sheep, the woman looking for the missing coin. Beloved of God, we too are meant to be seeking, and as God seeks us we are called to seek Him. Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (7:33). Seeking God first, we shall find Him, and much more. In a relationship with God that puts Him in the center of our lives, we find the meaning of our discipleship and build our houses on a firm foundation.

Ask, and it will be given you.

We are called to ask God for God, and we will receive Him. God is the deepest desire of the human heart, but we deny and push Him aside so easily in our concern for worldly things, like bread, clothing, and answers about tomorrow. Discipleship is a relationship of mutual desire, and we are called never to stop seeking God.

Jesus calls us to a radical discipleship that has no regard for our limitations and problems: we are meant to be seeking God and his righteousness. But this doesn’t mean that our struggles are beneath God or that we shouldn’t bother Him with them. We are called to bring our whole selves to God and give ourselves over into His care. We are called to perseverance in our asking, to trust that God can handle our doubts, worries, needs, and despair. Life is filled with longing and sadness, as well as joy and love, and as we express these emotions to God in prayer our relationship with Him becomes deeper. We bring ourselves to God not so that we receive solutions to our problems, but so that God can give us the gift of Himself. We should not pull away from God because our lives don't match our expectations, or because of some idea that we have about God's promises; we must seek God as we are called to do, which is in every moment and with all our being.

We are called to humility, that we may admit to God, ourselves, and others that we don’t have everything and can’t do it all on our own. We can find only when we are truly willing to seek. We are called to empty ourselves of our presumptions, our preoccupations, and our arrogant desire to do and find everything – to empty ourselves so that we may be filled. We are called to pursue, to knock, to ask, so that God can reveal the way. Asking, seeking, and knocking are all spiritual disciplines through which we realize our discipleship as God gives Himself to us.

God gives us Himself, and we must not throw that gift in the mud because it isn’t what we hoped for. While we may hope for many things, behind it all there is but one true Hope.


No comments:

Post a Comment