“No, no!” I shouted as I looked up just in time to see my toddler inch toward the open outlet, fan’s cord in her hand. (How smart she is, I thought, to understand where that goes.) I took the cord from her and wrapped it up, then went back to my laundry.
“No!” I shouted again as I looked up to see that she’d moved on to other interests- in this case, unfortunately, the toilet bowl. I picked her up and took her immediately to the sink to scrub her hands. Then back to play for her while my heaping pile of laundry waited patiently to be hung and folded.
After a few short seconds of sweet silence, I looked up again, this time to see my 15 month old daughter running around with a bra on her head, her daddy’s shirt being dragged behind her, and an array of dish towels and socks scattered around on the floor. “Oh,” I sighed. This parenting thing takes patience.
There’s a passage in Mathew that reminds me of my persistent child. It goes like this:
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Matthew 7:7-8 NLT
Have you ever prayed for something you really wanted, and didn’t get it? That thought is among the first in my mind when I read this passage. I didn’t let my daughter stick her fingers in the outlet even after she kept going back to it, and there have been some things I didn’t get to have even after asking God countless times. So what gives?
First of all- there is truth in these words. If what we are seeking brings God’s peace, wisdom, and knowledge into our lives and inches us closer to the Kingdom of Heaven- I’m confident God does provide those things after our persistent prayer and ongoing reliance on Him.
But what about when we don’t get what we ask God for? I think it’s no coincidence at all that the very next lines in Mathew are these:
“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”
Matthew 7:9-11 NLT
When my daughter wants to play in the toilet I’m not going to let her because I know there are germs in there that cause sickness (and are the stuff of my anxiety-fueled nightmares.) When she wants to use her tiny, sticky fingers as a science experiment and see what happens when they get crammed into an electrical outlet, I stop her. When she wants to dine on dog food, I (usually) redirect her. And when I ask for things that God- in His infinite knowledge- knows are not good for me or derail me from my path in life, He pulls me away from them and sits me in front of something better.
We wouldn’t give our child a snake if they ask us for fish to eat (as the passage from Mathew says,) we would give them fish to eat! But sometimes- often unknowingly- we actually pray for snakes, don’t we? So when we feel our prayer isn’t being answered the way we thought it should, sometimes we have to consider that God may be preparing the fish instead of letting us get wrapped up in the snakes. If even I know enough to withhold things from my children that don’t serve them well, then I can certainly trust that God does the same for me.
I remember a kindergarten lesson from my favorite teacher where she once told us that God answers every single prayer, some just not in the way you’d think. If we pray for a bicycle but He knows we’d be in an accident and get hurt, then His answer may simply be ‘no’ because His perspective is so much greater than ours. We may end up with a different blessing instead. God is patient with us when we make mistakes, and He’s also patient with us when we’re running after the wrong things. No matter the circumstances, we can trust that if we’re praying about it, He’s working on it. We just need to be patient with Him in return while He prepares the blessings we can’t yet see coming.
(Photo credit: Brian Harris)