Good Gifts from a Good Father: Matt. 7:7-11

Today, we continue the discussion of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5-7.  There’s just a few posts remaining, and I hope and pray this series has been edifying and uplifting to all who have stuck with me through it.

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.  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!”

Jesus commands His disciples to pray.  We’ve already discussed the Lord’s Prayer, and if we look at the life of Jesus, we see a man who, though He was God incarnate, found it absolutely necessary to break away from ministry to spend time with the Father in prayer.  So, needless to say, prayer is vital in the Christian life.

But what do we do in prayer?  Going back to the Lord’s Prayer, we can break it down to three main acts: adoration, petition and confession.  We praise God, ask God, and confess our sin to God.  In this passage, Jesus discusses the second of these acts: petition.

I don’t have children, but I have several years of experience working with children.  Among the many things I’ve learned over the years about children is this: they aren’t shy when they’re trying to get something they want.  “Please, Mr. Neal, can we play that game one more time?”  “Please don’t tell my mom I hit that kid.”  “Please, I really want more (insert favorite unhealthy snack here).”

Kids know what they want, and they’re willing to go to great lengths to get it.  I remember, like any other kid, always asking my mom for candy in the checkout line at the grocery store.  I also remember, like any other kid, the painful word, “No.”

Kids are persistent.  While they sometimes lack respect and understanding, they don’t lack for the persistent attitude Jesus describes here and in other passages (Luke 18:1-8).  Do we have this attitude in prayer?  Asking, knocking, going to the door, expecting that God will answer?  To be sure, we cannot separate this text from the rest of Scripture that commands us to pray according to God’s will (Matt. 6:10; 26:39), and this text should not be used to promote some form of the prosperity gospel that allows us to expect that if we “just have enough faith,” God will richly bless us materially.

However, we ought not run to the other extreme and throw away all forms of petition to God.  Jesus has promised that for those who trust in Him as Lord and Savior, they have now been adopted as children of God and have access to the God of the universe in prayer, and we ought to take advantage of that and ask for good gifts from a good Father.

Let’s marvel at the simple fact that we can, through faith in Christ, even talk to God, much less know Him as our Father who gives us good gifts for His glory and our joy.  We were dead, condemned sinners.  And then, 2,000 years ago, God the Father sent His Son to live perfectly in our place, to die our death on the cross, and to rise again from the grave, defeating death for all who trust in Him.  And in His glorious grace, He has given us faith to respond to the gospel, to turn away from our sin and rebellion, and to trust in Christ as Lord and Savior.  He is making us new and helping us to live out the righteousness we’ve been given.  One day, we’ll be just like Jesus, we’ll worship Him forever, and we will love Him more than we can even imagine right now.  This is the greatest gift God has given: Himself, through Jesus Christ.  If you haven’t received that gift, I urge you to consider Christ, consider what He’s done for you, and trust Him.

Jesus tells the people listening to Him that even though they are evil, they know how to give good gifts to their children.  He uses extreme analogies, such as a son asking for a fish and receiving a serpent.  His point is that while we are totally sinful and unable to save ourselves, God, in His grace, has kept us from being as evil as we could be, and one of the ways we see that is in our ability to give great gifts to our children.  Non-Christians know how to give kick-butt presents, too.  This is God’s common grace, allowing us to retain bits and pieces of the image of God we were created to reflect.

How much more then, He argues, can the Father, who is perfect, give good gifts to His children?  How much more can a good God who has redeemed us, give us what we need in order to love and obey Him?  Jesus encourages His followers to pray, not because it’s a good, religious thing to do, but because praying in faith leads to receiving good gifts from a good Father.  Pray because God longs to give you good gifts.

Praying often comes at a price.  We must quiet ourselves, lay aside everything that would keep us from communion with God, confront our sin and humble ourselves at the cross.  We must recognize that God is God, that we are not, and commit ourselves to Him.  But the reward of knowing God and receiving good gifts from Him far outweighs the price of laying aside all other things to pursue Him.

As stated before, the greatest gift we receive from God is God Himself.  But in our walking with Him in this life, God longs to bless us with good gifts.  Because God is holy, it follows that any gifts God gives will be holy.  That is, praying for God to do something or give something He has ruled unholy would be foolish.  But for those who love God and desire to love Him more and obey Him in faith, there is a world of gifts waiting for us in prayer.

Struggling with sin?  Pray to the Father for a gift of grace to kill sin and grow in holiness, becoming the man or woman God has called you to be in Christ.

Feeling like a failure in ministry, or struggling to understand God’s Word?  Your heavenly Father, who has called you to ministry, will no doubt give grace and strength to accomplish what He’s called you to do.  The author of His Word desires that all should know Him, and we can pray for understanding in faith that our Father will help us know His Word for His glory.

God blesses us with faithful friends, jobs, vacations, financial stability, etc.  God, in His common grace, blesses unbelievers with these things as well, but for the child of God, we see them not as something we’ve earned, but as an amazing gift of grace from our great God and Father, and it leads us to worship.

Take time today to reflect on all the gifts God has already given you.  Thank Him for them, and take time to consider what you need, what you most want God to grant you in your walk with Him.  And pray for it, trusting that your good, perfect, heavenly Father “will give good gifts to those who ask.”

Father, may we marvel that we can even talk to you.  May we not forget the blood of your Son that was spilled for us that we may not only be forgiven, but be adopted as your beloved children.  May we not be ashamed to ask you to give us good gifts, knowing that you long to bless us with all we need.  May we trust that you are a lot smarter than we are, much wiser and much more loving than we are, and trust you to give according to your will.  May you be glorified as we receive good gifts from you, our good and perfect Father.

God bless,

Neal E.

Christ Clothes Our Nakedness

The reason that I chose to title this post this way is namely because it’s not fully mine.  It belongs to writer and Christian comedian Jonathan Acuff, author of “Stuff Christians Like,” which is a hilarious and surprisingly convicting book that pokes fun at Christians and some of the things we do.

It’s a collection of essays Acuff has written and posted on his blog, stuffchristianslike.net.  This particular essay, titled “Thinking You’re Naked,” doesn’t employ much humor.  In fact, as of page 192, it’s the most serious essay in the book.

I’ll post all of it, with all the credit for the writing going to Jonathan Acuff:

“I don’t want to brag, but I’m pretty awesome at applying Band-Aids.  And make no mistake, there is an art.  Because if you go too quickly and unpeel the the wrong way, they stick to themselves and you end up with a wadded-up useless mess instead of the Little Mermaid-festooned bandage your daughter so desperately wants to apply to a boo-boo that may in fact be 100 percent fictional.

Half of the injuries I treat at the Acuff house are invisible or simply wounds of sympathy.  My oldest daughter, L.E., will scrape her knee and my three-year-old, McRae, realizing the Band-Aid box is open will say, ‘Yo Dad, I’d like to get in on that too.  What do you say we put one on, I don’t know, my ankle.  Yeah, my ankle, let’s pretend that’s hurt.’

But sometimes the cuts are real, like the day my five-year-old got a scrape on her face playing in the front yard.  I rushed into the house and returned with a princess bandage.  As I bent down to apply it to her forehead, her eyes filled up with tears and she shrank back from me.

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘I don’t want to wear that Band-Aid,’ she replied.

‘Why? You have a cut, you need a Band-Aid,’ I said.

‘I’ll look silly,’ she answered.

Other than her sister and her mom, there was no one else in the yard.  None of her friends were over, cars were not streaming past our house and watching us play, the world was pretty empty at that moment.  But for the first time I can remember, she felt shame.  She had discovered shame.  Somewhere, somehow, this little five-year-old had learned to be afraid of looking silly.  If I were smarter, if I had been better prepared for the transition from toddler to little girl, I might have asked her this:

‘Who told you that you were silly?’

I didn’t though.  That question didn’t bloom in my head until much later, and I didn’t understand it until I saw God ask a similar question in Genesis 3:11.  To me, this is one of the saddest and most profoundly beautiful verses in the entire Bible.  Adam and Eve have fallen.  The apple is a core.  The snake has spoken.  The dream appears crushed.  As they hide from God under clothes they’ve hastily sewn together, he appears and asks them a simple question:

‘Who told you that you were naked?’

There is hurt in God’s voice as he asks this question, but there is also a deep sadness, the sense of a father holding a daughter that has, for the first time ever, wrapped herself in shame.

Who told you that you were not enough? Who told you that I didn’t love you? Who told you that there was something outside of me you needed? Who told you that you were ugly? Who told you that your dream was foolish? Who told you that you would never have a child? Who told you that you would never be a father? Who told you that you weren’t a good mother? Who told you that without a job you aren’t worth anything? Who told you that you’ll never know love again? Who told you that this was all there is?

Who told you that you were naked?

I don’t know when you discovered shame.  I don’t know when you discovered that there were people who might think you are silly or dumb or not a good writer or a husband or a friend.  I don’t know what lies you’ve been told by other people or maybe even by yourself.

But in response to what you are hearing from everyone else, God is still asking the same question, ‘Who told you that you were naked?’

And he’s still asking us that question because we are not.

In Christ we are not worthless.  In Christ we are not hopeless.  In Christ we are not dumb or ugly or forgotten.  In Christ we are not naked.

In Isaiah 61:10 it says, ‘For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.’

The world may try to tell you a thousand different things today.  You might close this book and hear a million declarations of what you are or who you’ll always be, but know this.

As unbelievable as it sounds and as much as I never expected to type this sentence in a book:

You are not naked.”

I’ll ask the question Acuff does: When did you feel shame?  Disappointment?  Hurt?

Maybe you still are.  Do you find yourself wondering why life is even here?  I know for me, that sense of disappointment came at an early age, when I would do something wrong and feel like a failure, before, primarily, my mother and my grandparents.

And now, these days, it comes when I fall flat on my face before God, brought there by sin and pain.  It comes when I fail to live up to others expectations of me, and the expectations I have for myself.  I have a bad habit (I have a lot of those, I know…working on it) of putting too much pressure on myself.  And too often, I embarrass myself.

But those moments where I realize I have nothing, where I realize I’m embarrassed, and I’ve failed, that’s when I look up and see that God is reaching for my hand, to pull me up once again.  He’s done that over…and over…and over…and over, and over.  I’ve lost count.  But God has never let me go.  In the days where the pain seems so unbearable, God is there, telling me to lay it all on Him, because He can bear it.  He’s been there.

Go back and read those questions Acuff lists.  More likely than not, you can find yourself in one of those questions.  Maybe God has asked similar, yet different questions, to your heart.  The following are most likely questions I’ve been asked.

Who told you that you weren’t loved? Who told you that without a father in your home that you can’t be a man? Who told you that you don’t have talent? Who told you that you’re a loser? Who told you that you’ll never find love? Who told you that you’d always be a slave to lust? Who told you that you cannot trust me? Who told you that I’m just like every other relationship, and that I will fail you? Who told you that I can’t wipe away every tear, and every pain in your heart? Who told you that you aren’t a Godly man? Who told you that you will never be a good father? Who told you that you have no future?

I’ve told myself most of these lies above.  And they are lies, every one of them.  I thought, and at times make the mistake of still thinking this way, that I would never get away from the sin of lust.  But God told me, YOU ARE MINE! And He will never let me go!

Because I didn’t have my dad growing up, I assumed I didn’t get the “good dad” gene.  And that scares me to death.  More than anything else.  I love my dad, I do.  And I pray that our relationship would continue to grow.  But at the same time, I realize that he failed in a lot of ways, in ways that I don’t want to.  While I certainly forgive him, I know how hard it would be to forgive myself if I made those same mistakes.  One of my deepest fears is that I will be a failure as a father.  God has, and continues to, show me that He is making me into the man and future father that He has called me to be.

So much has changed this summer.  I feel like my heart has been on a never-ending roller-coaster.  And at times the ride makes me want to puke.  I’ve fallen flat on my face so many times, and I’ve felt lonely, as I’ve said before.  But the one thing that hasn’t changed is God’s incredible love for me.  As the seasons of my life come and pass, and people and dreams come and go, I realize that God’s love for me is truly the same yesterday, today, and forever.

So many times in my life I’ve felt naked.  I’ve felt lonely.  I’ve been ashamed, and I’ve hated who I’ve been.  And yet, God looks at me and says “You are not naked.”  He tells me of His love, and reminds me that He is always there.  Because of Christ’s work on the cross, and His saving of me, I am no longer who I was.

I’m no longer a child of divorce.  I’m no longer a slave to sin.  I’m no longer afraid of never finding love, or of being the Godly father I so desperately desire to be.  I’m no longer dependent on anything or anybody except for God.  I’m no longer naked.

And you aren’t either, if you’re in Christ.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve done.  God looks at you and says, “I see your sin, I see your shame, and I see every little thing that you’ve ever done.  And I love you.  Come, follow me, and live.”  He does this, not out of anything we’ve done to deserve it, but out of His mercy and love to us.

I’m going to make a reference to last summer now.  I’ve talked a good bit about this summer, but it’s always good to go and remember God’s work last summer as well.

So many of those kids have gone through things that I could never imagine.  Abuse, pain, struggles, lack of love, addictions, and so many other things I can’t imagine.  Going back to that first week of camp, I can remember one night that brought back all of the pain and memories of a past life.  We asked the campers to go and find somewhere quiet and alone, and write, on a piece of paper, something in their past that held them back.  What was it they were holding from God? What did they need to give up?  What was keeping them from being clothed in the love of God?

Sin, addictions, hurt, pain, lust, pride, envy, jealously, bullying…it goes on and on.  As I watched each camper come and throw all of their burdens into a fire, letting them go, I was reminded of how incredible Christ is.  The change He produces in our life is remarkable, and He alone is able to heal us and clothe us.

So I don’t know who told you that you were worthless, and that you don’t matter.  It certainly wasn’t God.  God sees you just as you are: dirty, helpless, and in need of Him, and He, in incredible grace and love, comes to you, to show you love so that you may know Him.  I don’t know your past.  I don’t know what’s going on in your life now.  But as I look at my own life, and I look at Jonathan Acuff’s writing here, I’m reminded of how amazing God is, and how He is able to heal us.  He is our comforter.

When we are Christ’s, we are no longer who we used to be.  We are no longer called sinner.  We are called child of God.

It’s time to give up, and give it all to God.  This world will seek to strip everything from you, and demand that you conform to it, and devalue you and it will not provide the pleasure and the satisfaction and the peace that God can.  It will take everything you have.  You will be made nothing.

God doesn’t see you as nothing.  He doesn’t see you as worthless.  And He most certainly doesn’t see you naked.  When you come to Christ…you are His, and nothing in this world can change that.  Let Him clothe you, and follow the God that will never leave you.

God bless,

Neal E