I found myself back in Matthew 7 this week, reminded that the Lord invites us to ask Him for what we need. Verses 7 and 8 say, "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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." The instructions seem clear; when we ask specifically for what we need and actively seek answers, we will find them. Knocking leads to open doors. What I hear is a progression from humble requests to active pursuit to assertive action, followed by a promise that God will answer. It's a formula, isn't it? Pray specifically, boldly, and persistently and God will be moved to answer with a yes. Or is there more?
I relate to that passage from a parent perspective. When my children ask for help, I want to provide it. When they are persistent, I find the urgency growing, so I'm leaning in to listen harder to the Lord's example of good parenting so I have the full picture. As moms and dads and caregivers, we understand the illustration that follows in Matthew chapter 7. Verses 9-11 continue with Jesus saying, "Or, which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" I read that passage and GET IT. My instincts tell me to provide for and protect my kids. Even in parenting young adults, I want to do what I can to add good gifts to their "adulting" years. When they seek me for counsel, I want to give it. When they continue to need support, I want to be there for them. And I know that God, who is infinitely wiser than I and has every resource at His disposal, feels that way a million times over for me and my children--and He is the only perfect parent.
Why then, when I persist in asking the Lord to heal a long term struggle for my child, or curb a character trait I see in them that needs refining, or fill the financial gaps for them that I cannot…why do I not always get yes answers? If God is the ultimate parent, could it be that He never fails to answer but always answers in a way that protects us—and our kids? I know that humans—including both me and my students--sometimes have selfish motives, frivolous desires, or just plain bad timing. Could it be that God's yes answers are always present, just not always delivered in the way I wanted?
I also get it when Isaiah 55 says that God has higher thoughts than me. As a parent, I know what it means to do what's best, even if it means allowing a struggle, leaving a gap, or asking my children to try again. Can you hear your inner parent answer your student's inappropriate request with "Trust me, I know best." I can even recall, as a younger parent, saying out loud, "Because I said so," even though I promised I would never let those words pass my lips! We don't always deliver parental wisdom well, but ultimately, God can give parents a good perspective on the difference between good-now and good-in-the-long-run.
The Lord role modeled when "no" is best for us, too. Often, what looks like an unanswered request is because wiping away the trouble would also erase the lesson that helps us avoid trouble the next time. Natural consequences are a good protector. The consequence can be bread in disguise. It only feels like a stone. However, "yes" can be the right answer, too. If we know what is right and good and withhold it, we are not following the Lord's example, either. If God doesn't choose the snake over the fish when the fish meets our needs, why would we, when our kids legitimately need help, withhold what is in our power to offer?
The struggle comes in discerning the difference between the answers that are bread and those that are stones. Is requiring my son to balance school and a job teaching him to be a provider (bread) or is it a barrier to his academic success (a stone)? If I have a rule that he must show he can earn money toward expenses before I make a contribution, have I provided a motivator to work hard (bread) or a condition of performance to earn my approval (a stone)? If I encourage my struggling student to withdraw from a frustrating class, is that support (bread), or does it teach her to bail when commitments get tough (a stone). If she sticks with it, and I encourage her to get tutoring am I teaching her that she is inadequate (a stone) or how to ask for support when she needs it (bread)? If I lend my daughter a vehicle to drive and she wrecks it, is replacing it a provision (bread) or teaching her that someone else will pay for her mistakes (a stone)?
I've come to the conclusion that even for my two kids, the answers would be different. What is bread for one might be a stone for the other. I need divine wisdom to discern the difference between encouraging and enabling, and between consequences and conditions. Matthew 7:11 encourages me that I don't have to be a perfect parent. I just need to look to the perfect example. "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" I'm not smart enough on my own, but I am well acquainted with the Perfect Parent. Perhaps I need to ask, seek, and knock while I'm encouraging my student to do the same.