It’s Thursday, March 5, the 9th day of our Lent journey. Thank you so much for all of you who have gathered with me across miles, across borders and time zones to hear God’s Word, to reflect on it, and to pray together.
Scripture: Matthew 7: 7-12 (The Living Bible)
I imagine, if you have followed Jesus for even a little while, you will have had times when you asked God, even begged him desperately, to give you something you wanted or thought you needed. And He didn’t.
And, unlike in Jesus’ example, there may be some of you who do not have parents who provided for you. They may have neglected or abused you. Or, they simply were not able to meet some of your needs, no matter how much they wanted to.
How do we understand the promise in this scripture in light of these disappointing experiences? It can be tempting to read this passage with a hint of cynicism.
Maybe we read it incorrectly when we pull this passage out of the larger context of Jesus’ words.
This short section is set within a much longer monologue in Matthew that we call the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus had climbed to a hilltop where crowds gathered around him, and he’d preached to them.
Jesus talked about many different things in this sermon (and throughout numerous sermons and conversations recorded from His life). Yet, they all are woven together with one theme: Here is what the Kingdom of God looks like, and how we can become citizens of this Kingdom.
Throughout His sermon, He’s giving quite a lengthy list of instructions for how to live in God’s Kingdom, including:
- Be the light in the darkness, and the salt that seasons your society.
- Cultivate a pure heart.
- Make peace with your enemies, and even love them.
- Be faithful to your spouse.
- Don’t put your security in earthly wealth, but in God alone.
- Don’t worry, when God is your security.
In the middle of this list is this instruction to seek God when we have needs.
He gives the example of an earthly father who will at least fulfill his absolute minimum commitment as a parent by making sure his child has food to eat, and will not knowingly put the child’s safety at risk.
“And if you hardhearted, sinful men know how to give good gifts to your children, won’t your Father in heaven even more certainly give good gifts to those who ask him for them?” Jesus asks.
Those who care for children know that many times children ask for things that aren’t good for them or others. They ask to stay up later than they should, or want to eat lots of sugar when they should eat more vegetables and fruit.
That’s not what’s happening in Jesus’s story. In this passage, the child is asking for something good: healthy, nourishing food when she’s hungry. And the parent does not respond by giving the child something harmful.
When I read this carefully, I realize Jesus does not say, “So, if you ask for bread, God will give you bread.” What He does propose is, “Won’t your Father in heaven even more certainly give good gifts to those who ask him for them?”
So, Jesus doesn’t promise to give us exactly what we ask for, or immediately when we ask for it. But He does promise that He will do good things for us, even better things than an earthly parent would know how to do, or have the power and authority to do.
Last year, I interviewed a mother who fled the civil war in Syria with her children, after her husband was killed. She used all her savings trying to bring her children to Europe. But they got stuck in Armenia, and so she sank into despair, believing that God had abandoned her family. She really thought God didn’t love her anymore because he had not answered her fervent prayer to travel to Europe.
While in Armenia, they found a local church that became a safe place of profound healing and of unconditional support and acceptance for her and her children. Through the church’s love, this woman and her children have found a new life of joy and peace. At the end of her story, the woman said she now understands that if God had fulfilled her desperate prayers to go to Europe, they would never have found the healing they were looking for. Instead, they found it with this new church family in Armenia. She is so grateful that God did not answer her prayer in the way that she first asked. He answered her prayer by keeping her in Armenia, and meeting her there with His healing love and provision. He did not give her what she wanted or thought she needed; He gave her what He knew she needed.
If God isn’t going to give us exactly what we ask for, when we are sure we need it, then why should we ask Him for anything? Why should we ask for things we need, such as healing of sickness or mental illness? For a job or financial rescue? For relationship reconciliation, or a loved one to find God? For the kids to get into a better school? For a home of our own? To do well on a test? To be spared from natural disasters such as violent storms or droughts? To be saved from persecution or even death?
Even more so, why should we ask for things we simply want but don’t need, like the opportunity to travel? A new vehicle when the one we have is functional? For a closer parking space at the market? Or, just not to have a bad day?
If we look at the overarching message of all Jesus’ preaching, we might find the answer: Seeking God first, above all that He might do for us or give to us, is what it means to live in His kingdom. If we choose to live in His kingdom, it means we go to Him as our king.
When a child asks her parent to meet her need, she is acknowledging her relationship with her parent. She doesn’t go next door to a friend’s parent to ask for dinner. She asks her own father for dinner.
If you are in a kingdom, the highest authority to which you can appeal for help is your king. To go to God with our needs is to live as subjects of our King in His kingdom. We don’t go to a king of another kingdom. We go to our King.
Going to God with our needs is to acknowledge He is our Father, our King; that we submit to His authority, and trust His goodness, and there is nowhere else we would consider going.
By trusting Him to answer us according to His love and wisdom, we understand God is not a vending machine, where we can insert a small coin, push a button, and what we want will come out. God is a person. He might have other ideas, better ideas, for how and when to meet our needs than what we ask.
If we trust Him, we will allow Him to meet our needs in His wiser and better way and time.
Let us bring our requests to Him, but give Him our entire trust to give us His good gifts.
- Where do I go first when I have a need? Do I go first to God? Pray now that God will remind you to start with Him when you have a need, and to grow your trust in His goodness and love, no matter how or when He answers.
- Have I asked God for something, and He gave me exactly what I asked Him for, when I asked Him for it? Thank Him now for that answer to prayer.
- Have I asked God for something, and He didn’t give it to me, or I had to wait much longer than I wanted to before I received it? Thank Him now for His wisdom and goodness in not giving you exactly what you asked or when you asked it.
Let’s pray together as Jesus taught us:
‘Our Father in heaven, we honor your holy name. We ask that your kingdom will come now. May your will be done here on earth, just as it is in heaven. Give us our food again today, as usual, and forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. Don’t bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One. Amen.’ (Matthew 6:9-13)
The additional scripture passage for today is found in:
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