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I was reminded again this past week how easy it is to “remember” a passage of Scripture out of context. That is, to recall a few verses and use them in a way that is not entirely consistent with the context in which they are found. The result is that I can hijack the meaning of that “remembered” passage for my own purpose.

Here’s the text:

“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.” (Luke 11:9-10)

Jesus is speaking. He is talking about prayer. And I readily “remember” that he is explaining how I can come to the Father in prayer to have my needs met. I just need to ask, seek, and knock and the Father will come through and meet my needs.

Now there is a sense in which that idea–the way I have applied Jesus’ words–may be true. But when I back up and take a look at the context, I am reminded that I may have just hijacked Jesus’ meaning.

Here’s the larger context for these words.

Then [Jesus] said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you, 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.” (Luke 11:6-10)

Jesus is talking about prayer–in fact the next larger context includes what we refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. But did you notice how the “ask, seek, and knock” idea is introduced? “So I say to you  . . .” This means that those words are intended to be understood in connection to with what preceded. And what preceded? Making a request on behalf of the needs of someone else.

Here’s where I may have perhaps “mis-remembered” Jesus’ words.

In this context, Jesus’ invitation to “ask, seek, and knock” follows on the heels of his picture of someone beseeching a neighbor with abundant resources (a picture of God) on behalf of a friend who has needs. Prayer pictured in this little parable is about making requests to the one who has resources for someone else, not for oneself.

So, as intent as I am to “ask, seek, and knock” in order to have my prayers answered, I have to wonder if I have grasped Jesus’ intent. Am I asking and seeking and knocking because I am aware of the needs that others have and conscious of God’s intention to supply resources to meet those needs in their lives? Have I hijacked Jesus’ words to turn to prayer selfishly or have I seen prayer as God’s intended means to involve me in the meeting of needs of others?

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