Matthew 7:9-11 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
What do we call a parent who gives his child everything he asks for? A weak parent, perhaps even a bad parent, but probably not a good parent. It can be tempting to give in to their less sensible requests just to stop the whining and begging. Maybe you have agonized a little over whether your child was old enough to safely own the jack knife or rifle he has been asking for, or whether it was a good idea to get your children the Play Station or X-Box console they wanted, as though they needed even more encouragement to sit in front of the TV. For a good parent a good gift is always something that is wholesome and beneficial, never something that is dangerous or harmful.
Jesus reminds us that our heavenly Father is a good parent. He promises that he gives us only good gifts, even if that is not immediately apparent to us.
“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” Remember Jesus’ first temptation in the wilderness? Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread. But Jesus was trusting the Father in heaven to take care of his needs. If God in heaven knew that Jesus needed bread, he wouldn’t have given him worthless stones and expected him to somehow make do. If the Father had provided no food at that particular moment, Jesus had to trust that the Father knew what he was doing.
And a father certainly wouldn’t give his children something dangerous, like a snake. The danger wasn’t merely snake bite. Snakes were an unclean animal. Some Texans I’ve known have a taste for rattlesnake, but for an Old Testament Jewish person this was forbidden. Eating a snake made you ceremonially unclean and hurt your relationship with God in Jesus’ day. No loving father would purposely do that to his child.
Aren’t we sometimes suspicious that this is exactly what our Father does, however? We pray and pray about something, but it seems as if nothing happens. Worse yet, we get just the opposite of what we asked for. Instead of relief our life seems to get harder. It seems as if God is answering our prayers with the spiritual equivalents of stones and snakes.
We need to hear and trust Jesus concluding promise, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” In order to understand Jesus’ promise, we need to understand what he means by “good.” As is so often the case, the Greek language has several words for “good.” Here it doesn’t mean “pretty,” or “pleasant,” or “pricey,” or “just what you asked for.” Here the word refers to something which is useful or beneficial. It is actually going to help you in the long run. It’s just like when your parents used to tell you, “Take this. It’s good for you.” And you knew that meant it wasn’t pretty or pleasant, and it was almost never just what you asked for. But true to their promise, it was good for you–it did benefit you in some way or other.
Our heavenly Father answers prayer in a similar way. The only gifts he knows how to give are good gifts. Sometimes they are very enjoyable. Sometimes we get what we asked for, because we have asked for exactly what we need. But because God gives us only good gifts, he doesn’t give us things that will harm us, even when we ask for them.
Since God promises to give us only good gifts, can’t we pray to him with such confidence? We know every answer he gives to us will bless us. Sometimes people say, “Be careful what you pray for. You just might get it.” I have heard people refer to prayer as “dangerous.” And it’s true that God’s answers to our prayers can take some unexpected twists and turns. But that should not discourage our prayers. Jesus promises that everything our Father in heaven gives us is good. In his saving life, death, and resurrection, Jesus himself is the promise that everything the Father gives us is good. We can let ‘er rip, and pour out our requests non-stop, with a child’s confidence in his father’s help. No matter how our Father answers our prayers, we only stand to gain.
(Picture By Ltshears - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29533674)