“7 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. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” Matthew 7:7-11

When I was about 5 or 6 years old, my father and mother gave me a very special and unexpected gift at Christmas. My father painstakingly built a miniature Noah’s ark out of wood and my mother hand-stitched stuffed animals to place in the ark. It wasn’t until I was much older that I came to appreciate how much of a labor of love this must have been for them to carefully construct and create such a wonderful gift. We did not have a lot of money in those days, so they used what they had to express their love for me.

As I write this article, I am wondering how many children today have parents who are basically good and generous to bestow good gifts upon them? I also wonder how many people in Jesus’ audience in Matthew 5-7 had experienced the goodness and generosity of their earthly fathers when it comes to the bestowal of good gifts upon them? Before I get ahead of myself, let’s back up to this scene on a mountainside where Jesus was teaching His disciples surrounded by a multitude of people (Matthew 5:1-2).

Christ had just talked to His disciples about sharing the good news of His Kingdom with unbelievers. He compared their unbelieving audience to “dogs” and “pigs” (7:6). Pigs in Jesus’ day were unclean, wild, and vicious animals. Likewise, the dogs in that day were not domestic pets like we have today. They were also unclean, wild, and despised. Jesus warns His messengers that unbelieving people may respond to the good news of the Kingdom like pigs that “trample under their feet” the “pearls” thrown before them or like dogs who “turn and tear you in pieces” when you give them special gifts (7:6b). Christ is cautioning His messengers to be discerning when sharing the good news of His Kingdom with a lost world. Some people will reject their message and turn against them. Therefore, they must be wise about approaching hard-hearted people and rely on the Holy Spirit to prepare those people before sharing more of the message with them (cf. John 16:8-11).

It is in this context that Jesus instructs His followers to pray to their heavenly Father Who is the exact opposite of their persecutors. Christ says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (7:7). The words “ask” (aiteō), “seek” (zēteō), and “knock” (krouō) are all present imperatives which would be translated – “keep on asking … seeking … and knocking.” Do not give up no matter how strong the opposition. Jesus is saying to “ask” your Father in heaven for what you need. “Seek” your Father for what you need. “Knock” on the door of Your Father’s house so He will open and give you what you need. God has a huge storehouse of blessings in heaven to give you, but you must ask Him for them to receive them. And these blessings are not necessarily monetary. They may be in the form of favor with those you witness to. He may bless you with protection or boldness as you share the gospel with the unsaved. He may give you assurance when you are plagued with doubts or security when you feel extremely vulnerable.

Christ emphasizes the certain results of persisting in prayer, “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” (7:7-8). There is no doubt in Jesus’ mind that persistent prayer “WILL BE” answered. His promise allows no room for uncertainty. He does not say they “might be” or “may be” answered. He says they “WILL BE” answered! Why is Jesus so certain of answered prayer? Is it because of our performance or godliness? Our worthiness? Not at all. It it because of the character of our heavenly Father.

Jesus asks His audience, “Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent” (7:9-10)? As I read these verses,I wondered if Jesus may have paused for a few seconds after He asked these questions to scan the faces of His audience. Might there have been some faces that winced in pain? Faces that were covered with confusion because they did not have a father who was there to meet their needs? Or if their father was there, he did not give them wholesome (“bread”) or nutritious (“fish”) food for them to enjoy. Instead he used his resources to buy things to medicate his own pain such as alcohol or a prostitute.

Some of you reading this article may be fatherless. You did not have an earthly father who displayed any degree of goodness and generosity towards you. This has left you with deep father wounds in your soul. The idea of a loving and generous father seems foreign to your thoughts and experiences. It is difficult for you to approach your Father in heaven with any sort of expectancy that He will hear or answer your prayers.

Whether our earthly fathers were good and generous or not, Jesus wants His followers to know that their heavenly Father exceeds the goodness and generosity any decent father on earth displayed. Jesus turns to look at the fathers in His audience and He says to them, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him” (7:11)! Jesus’ point is if our selfish and self-absorbed (“evil”) earthly fathers did not give disappointing (“rock”) or dangerous (“serpent”) gifts when asked for what is wholesome (“bread”) and nutritious (“fish”), how much more will our Father in heaven Who is perfect in goodness and generosity, “give good things to those who ask Him?” (7:11b).

This is why He encourages us to persist in “asking … seeking … and knocking.” Not because of our goodness, but because of the good and loving nature of our Father Who is in heaven. He delights in giving His children good gifts.

Notice the phrase “your Father in heaven” (7:11). Before you can pray like this, you must know God as your Father. Not know about Him, but know Him personally. How? The Bible says, “If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin…” (Galatians 3:21-22a NLT). We cannot become God’s child by obeying God’s laws. God’s laws actually reveal our sinfulness and that we are slaves of sin. No matter how much good you have done, you are still a sinner. You fall short of God’s standard of perfection and deserve to be punished. When we realize we cannot save ourselves from sin, then we will be more open to receiving the promise of eternal life through faith in Christ who died for our sins and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6).

“So we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ… For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:22b, 26 NLT). To know God as your Father requires faith in Jesus Christ. For example, just as you trust a chair to hold you up through no effort of your own, so you must trust Christ, through no effort of your own, to give you everlasting life. Once you do, it does not matter when Jesus returns, you will have a home in heaven with Him. You won’t have to panic when some preacher starts predicting the end of the world because you have the assurance you will live with Jesus forever because of your faith in His promise to give eternal life to whoever believes in Him (John 3:16).

Child of God, if you are not asking your Father in heaven to give you good things you are living below average!But when you ask the Father for more and more blessings, you are asking Him to engage in one of His favorite activities. After all, God loves to give and He has a storehouse full of blessings to give you, but You must ask Him for them. When we ask our Father in heaven to bless us, we step forward into another life. And as God blesses us, He wants us to share those blessings with others.

Prayer: Loving Father in heaven, when I awake in the morning, it is with eagerness that I enter into Your presence to soak up Your goodness and grace towards me through Jesus Christ. So many things on earth have distorted my perception of You as my Father in heaven, but I am learning to trust what You say about Yourself in the Bible. I need Your grace to renew my mind in such a way that I may see You as You truly are – a good and loving Father Who delights in lavishing His children with good and perfect gifts from above. It is a fairly new thought for me to think that when I ask You to bless me, I am asking You to engage in one of Your favorite activities. With Your help Father, I am committed to persevering in prayer knowing that You are perfect in goodness and grace. You delight in lavishing me with Your many blessings. Please lead me to the people You want me to share Your blessings with. Oh, how I praise You for being my Father in heaven! And I thank You for loving me more than I ever thought possible. I look forward to talking with You again. With much love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

I am my Father’s treasured son

“ ‘Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For though I spoke against him, I earnestly remember him still; Therefore My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, says the Lord.’ ” Jeremiah 31:20

When I was a young boy growing up on a dairy farm in Illinois, one of my most treasured memories was playing catch with my Dad. He nicknamed me Tiger as I learned to throw a football with a spiral and catch it with both hands. With each word of affirmation from my father, I felt seen and valued.

There are four basic needs of every human being from the womb to the tomb and they are to be seen, safe, soothed, and secure. When I played catch with my father, I felt seen. I felt treasured in his eyes. When these four needs are met, there is trust.  We feel loved and cared for. We learn to depend on God and others to meet these needs. 

But when a man does not have these four basic needs met especially from his earthly father, it leaves him with gigantic holes or wounds in his soul. And he may try to cope with these wounds by medicating them with various behaviors, emotions, and substances called addictions. Addictions are really the pursuit of intimacy. But they fail to deliver. They actually leave us more broken and wounded. But when we experience God’s love in the depths of our souls, the wounds in our souls can be healed.

With this in mind, I want to focus on a single verse in Jeremiah 31. In this chapter of Jeremiah, God is speaking to His broken people whom He was carrying from Jerusalem into captivity in Babylon because of their rebellion against the Lord. But in this chapter He affirms that He still loved His chosen people with an “everlasting love” (31:3a) and would restore them back to the Promised Land in the future (cf. 31:4-40).

What got my attention in this chapter was what God said to the Northern Kingdom of Ephraim in verse 20: “Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For though I spoke against him, I earnestly remember him still; Therefore My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, says the Lord.” This verse speaks to those of us who long to be fathered by God. You are a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ (John 1:12), but you have been wounded and you want to know that God sees you and values you. 

When God asks, “Is Ephraim My dear son?”, the implied answer in this context is “Yes!” The word “dear” (yaqqir) means “very precious” or “treasured.” This may seem surprising to us when we realize that the tribe of Ephraim had been “chastised” by God “like an untrained bull” for their sins (31:18a). Yet they cried out to the Lord to “restore” them and acknowledged that He was their God (31:18b).

You were not a perfect child growing up. Nor was I. But your earthly father may have been absent (physically or emotionally) or abusive. And this deeply wounded your heart and soul. And you may project your feelings toward your earthly father onto your heavenly Father. But God now says to you, “You are My precious and treasured son (or daughter).” Latch on to this truth and repeat it to yourself often. Get alone with Your heavenly Father and listen to His still and gentle voice whisper this truth in your ear. You are not a mistake nor are you worthless. You are God’s precious and treasured son or daughter. The more you focus on this truth, the more your brain will develop neurological pathways containing this truth. And the less you pay attention to the lies that degrade and shame you as a person, the weaker those neurological pathways will become that contain those lies.

When God asks, “Is he a pleasant child?”, again the implied answer is a resounding “Yes!” This word for “pleasant” (shaashuim) refers to being “a delight” or “an enjoyment” to God. This may seem surprising to you if you did not get your basic need to be seen met when you were growing up. You have perceived God to be distant and uncaring because your earthly father was distant and uncaring.

I want to talk for a moment about the importance of facing this wound in your life before God can heal it. I have met many Christians who have been conditioned by evangelical Christianity to deny any negative feelings towards a parent because we are supposed to honor them, right? Passive aggressiveness (ex. silent and withdrawn when angry, etc.) is often perceived by evangelicals to be more spiritual, but open and honest expressions of anger are the mark of immaturity to them. But let’s remember that God experiences and expresses anger (cf. Numbers 25:3; 2 Samuel 6:7; Psalm 2:5; 95:11; Matthew 21:12-13; 23:13-36; Mark 3:5; John 2:13-17; Romans 1:18; Revelation 16:19; 19:15), so anger in itself is not wrong. One of Jesus’ most angry expressions was toward those who mistreat children (Matthew 18:6-9). God says you are to “be angry and not sin” (Ephes. 4:26; cf. Psalm 4:4). Denying our anger or pushing our anger down inside of us is what leads to sin. Admiting our anger (or hurt) even toward an absent or abusive father (or father figure) is when we begin to take control of that anger and heal.

God’s next words in Jeremiah 31:20 say, “For though I spoke against him, I earnestly remember him still. Therefore My heart yearns for him.” Even though God spoke against Ephraim as He disciplined him, He still remembered him with great affection and grace. The word “heart” (meeh) refers to one’s internal organs. The word “yearns” (hamah) means a deep-felt compassion or sympathy. God’s heart is breaking forth with a gut-level compassion and longing for His child!

The verse concludes with God saying, “I will surely have mercy on him.” The word “mercy” (racham) means “to have love or compassion.” This word is derived from the name of the most motherly organ in the human body: the womb. This is where the strongest connection of compassion and love are bonded between the mother and the baby, respectively. God’s mercy is much like the womb – it provides safety and soothing for God’s children. Softly and tenderly, God waits for Ephraim to return so He can pour His affection and love upon Him.

Let’s personalize this verse a little more. Substitue your name in place of the name “Ephraim” (a name for God’s people which includes you) and the pronouns referring to him. “Is _____ My dear son [or daughter]? Is _____ a pleasant child? For though I spoke against _____, I earnestly remember _____ still; Therefore My heart yearns for _____; I will surely have mercy on _____.”

Imagine God’s heart bursting with longing and love for you!?! This is the message that Jesus gave when He spoke of our Father in heaven (Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 15:20). We have a Father in heaven Who treasures each of His children. He cares so deeply and passionately for you. He yearns to be your Father now if you will let Him. No matter how old we are now, our true Father in heaven wants us to experience being His treasured sons (and daughters). But this requires the opening of our hearts to the Lord. Perhaps we shut our hearts down years ago as a means of protecting ourselves from the wounds we had from our earthly father or a father figure. God graciously and tenderly waits to draw near to us if we will let Him (James 4:8a).

We might ask ourselves, “Did I have a father with whom I felt safe and seen? Did I know I was treasured as his son or daughter?” Take some time to write out your answers and then answer the question, “Why or why not?” It is important that you tell your story, at least to yourself or even to God. He is waiting and He is listening. God is willing to go to great lengths to bring us back to the longing in our hearts to be His treasured son or daughter. Let’s pray.

Prayer: Father God, I have a deep need to know that I am Your beloved and treasured son in the depths of Your heart so much so that no one else can replace me there. I long to experience Your love deep inside the wounded areas of my soul. Please raise up the lonely and ashamed boy in me that longs to be held and prized by You. Give me the eyes to see and the ears to hear how precious and special I am to You. Thank You for Your mercy which soothes me and comforts me. Pa Pa, please heal and restore my soul as Your beloved and prized son. Honestly, I am going to need a lot of grace to believe it. Thanks heavenly Pa Pa. In Jesus’ name. Amen.