Ask and It Shall Be Given You

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 10 June 2011

9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Luke 11:9).

We mentioned in our previous study that that the Gospel of Luke emphasises the humanity of Christ just as the Gospel of Matthew emphasises His kingship and the Gospel of John emphasises His deity. Thus the genealogy of Christ in Matthew traces to Abraham through David and Solomon, whereas the genealogy in Luke bypasses Solomon and traces to Adam. The Gospel of John, of course, has no genealogy for God has no beginning.

In line with this observation, you will find, if you study this account, a greater emphasis on prayer than in the other Gospels—for as the Lord puts it in Luke 18:1—“Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” Therefore, it is imperative, I feel that as part of our study on the great and precious promises of God, that we study a promise in regard to prayer in this book.

I bring your attention, therefore, to the promise of our Lord recorded in Luke 11:9—“Ask and it shall be given you.” This promise is repeated in the following verses by use of poetic re-statements and elaborations—“seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened,” etc. But the promise itself appears to be profoundly simple: “Ask and it shall be given you.”

However, I would assure you that this promise is not exactly as simple as it may sound. Let’s consider this promise under two simple heads. First we must disabuse our minds of what our Lord does not mean. Second, we must understand what our Lord means.


1. What does our Lord Not Mean?

The Lord says, “Ask, and it shall be given you.” Now, it is quite obvious that the Lord is not saying that God will give us whatever we ask for, how ever we ask for it, without any exception. We do not really need to elaborate on this. We know this from our experience, for we know it as a fact that we often do not get what we pray for.

And the context of the promise suggests it too.

The Lord asks rhetorically:

If [a son ask his father for] a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? 12 Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?

Of course, the answer expected is: “No, for if the son asks his father for a fish, he will give him a fish and not a serpent. If he asks for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion.”

But what if the child asks for a serpent or a scorpion, what will the father do? Common sense tells us that the father will refuse. So it is clear that the Lord is not teaching us that God will give us whatever we want. In particular, He will not give us what we want if it is harmful for us.

Well, sometimes He does relent and give it to us when we stubbornly insist on our way. But when God does give us what may hurt us because of our insistence, it is part of loving chastisement, not part of His promise.

So then,...


2. What does our Lord Mean?

Well, I will put it to you that the answer is actually found in verse 13—

13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

Now, this is remarkable, for while it appears that the Lord is suggesting that God will give us whatever we ask for, He seems only to have the Holy Spirit in mind! It seems that His promise is only for the Holy Spirit!

But why? Why is it so important for us to be persuaded that God will answer our prayers for the Holy Spirit?

Well, there are a number of views on this question.

In the first place, there are some who believe that before Pentecost the Holy Spirit did not indwell believers permanently. He came upon some of His saints, but He indwelt no one.

According to those who hold to this view, the Lord was teaching the disciples to pray for the permanent giving of the Holy Spirit. He is not teaching them about prayer in general. He is telling them that there is only one thing that is good and needful, namely, the Holy Spirit!

If this so, then the Lord’s promise may not be applicable to us at all—for the Holy Spirit has already been poured out at Pentecost.

But is this what the Lord intended to teach His disciples? Well, I don’t think so, for in His sermon on the mount, in Matthew 7, the Lord teaches essentially the same doctrine about prayer and He makes no mention about praying for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

In the second place, there are some who believe that while the Lord is not particularly referring to the outpouring of the spirit at Pentecost, He is referring to a baptism of the Spirit. According to this view, the Lord is teaching us that Christians are not baptised by the Holy Spirit until they ask for the Holy Spirit and are given the Holy Spirit in the second blessing. When that happens there will either be visible or audible manifestations such as tongues or great power in evangelistic work.

This view is held by Pentecostal and Charismatic theologians. It is also shared in some ways by Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones. Those who hold to this view are persuaded that the second blessing is the most desirable experience that believers can have, and therefore the Lord is simply teaching all believers that God will hear their prayers for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

The problem with this view is that nowhere in the New Testament do we find any indication that it would be a norm for baptism of the Holy Spirit to occur subsequent to conversion.

On the contrary, when we study all the verses about the Holy Spirit, we find the apostles teaching us that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is equivalent with regeneration and the indwelling of the Spirit is equivalent to the sealing of the Holy Spirit or the giving of the Spirit of Adoption. And all these happen at the time of conversion.

So it is quite unlikely that the Lord is teaching us to crave for and to pray for a second blessing. And besides, it does again seem rather out of context, for the Lord appears to be teaching about prayer in general.

Now, the third view, which I believe is correct, is that the Lord is teaching the disciples and all Christians about the need for a greater fullness of the Spirit and that all their prayers should have an eye on that.

The Lord, in other words, is speaking about filling and influence of the Spirit rather than an outpouring or baptism of the Spirit.

There is a difference between filling of the Holy Spirit and Baptism of the Holy Spirit. To be baptised by the Holy Spirit is to be regenerated by the Spirit. To be filled by the Holy Spirit is to be sanctified and to be led in the way of the Spirit.

We are baptised by the Holy Spirit once at conversion. But we ought to be filled by the Holy Spirit repeatedly and constantly. We see this demonstrated in Acts where the apostle Peter, after being filled with the Spirit at Pentecost in chapter 2 (Acts 2:4), was again filled with the Spirit in chapter 4 when he addressed the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8).

So the apostle Paul teaches us:

“And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18; Col 3:16).

Now, if this view is correct, then what the Lord is teaching us is that all our prayers should be related to the filling of the Spirit or our sanctification. That is to say: whatever we ask for in prayer ought to be desired upon with spiritual-mindedness.

In other words, the Lord is not telling us that we should not pray for anything else other than the Holy Spirit. Does He not tell us specifically that our heavenly Father would give all good Gifts to them that ask Him?

Why then does the Lord specifically highlight that we should ask for the Holy Spirit? Because this is the most important aspect of our Christian walk, and it should be the desire of our heart in all our prayer. To be filled with or led by the Holy Spirit is something that we should be more concerned with than anything else!

John Calvin puts it very beautifully—

Instead of good things (ajgaqa;) in the last clause, Luke says the Holy Spirit. This does not exclude other benefits, but points out what we ought chiefly to ask: for we ought never to forget the exhortation, Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all other things shall be added to you, (Matthew 6:33.)

And then he adds:

It is the duty of the children of God, when they engage in prayer, to strip themselves of earthly affections, and to rise to meditation on the spiritual life. In this way, they will set little value on food and clothing, as compared to the earnest and pledge of their adoption, (Romans 8:15; Ephesians 1:14:) and when God has given so valuable a treasure, he will not refuse smaller favors.

That is to say: The Lord is teaching us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. This must be so even in our prayer—so that when we pray for ourselves or for one another, it should always be with a view to spiritual good and not to carnal comforts and pleasures.

So for example, we should not demand: “Lord, heal him completely now.” Rather, we should pray: “Lord, thou hast a purpose in all things. Grant him thy grace that his heart may be strengthen as he waits upon thee, and if it be thy will, would thou restore him to the end that he may give praise and glory to thy name.”

When we learn to pray in this way, we can have the firm assurance that the Lord will not only hear but also answer our prayers. This is what our Lord means when He says: “Ask and it shall be given you.”

This is the promise of the Lord!


Conclusion

If you would have your prayers answered, you must seek and pray with a view of the glory of God’s kingdom and your spiritual good.

If you have no regard to the kingdom of Christ and spiritual benefits, you can have little assurance that the Lord will give you the desires of your heart. But if your prayers are aimed upon spiritual good, you need not doubt that God will hear and answer and give you that you desire. This is the promise of the Lord.

I hope none of us are disappointed at the supposed limitation. I hope none of us would rather hear that God always gives us everything we desire so long as we do not foolishly ask for something to our own detriment. Remember, beloved brethren and children: Prayer is not about changing things. It is about communion with God that changes us. God is not a Santa Claus. God is love. In love, He gave of Himself to us. If we love Him, then we must learn no more to idolise ourselves but to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. It is when God is glorified through us, that we shall have the greatest joy. Therefore, it is when our heart’s desire is for the glory of the Lord that we shall be desiring the greatest good for ourselves, and can expect the Lord’s constant blessings.

Amen.