“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights
with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
(James 1:17 (ESV))
Have you ever prayed for patience, then found yourself surrounded by the most insufferable and tiring people imaginable?
Have you ever prayed for peace in your life, only to be forced into a situation where there was fighting and bickering all around you, and you were the one who had to sort it out?
Or, have you ever asked that God would strengthen and deepen your faith and reliance upon Him, but then found yourself plagued by sickness, setback, disappointment, and loss?
When our prayers are answered this way, it makes us want to give up praying and asking. It seems like a cruel joke: “I want to grow in my faith and be more Christlike, but the troubles of the world always get in the way.” We think that God hasn’t heard our prayers, or worse, that He has ignored them. It’s easy to get cynical and just give up.
But that isn’t the way God works. Jesus tells us that when we seek first the Kingdom of heaven, all these things will be added unto us; that we must ask, seek, knock – that is, pray – and our Father in heaven will give good things to those who ask him (Matthew 7:11). Lloyd-Jones, in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, writes, “Our Lord does not promise to change life for us; He does not promise to remove difficulties and trials and problems and tribulations; He does not say that He is going to cut out all the thorns and leave the roses with wonderful plumage. No; he faces life realistically, and tells us that these are things to which the flesh is heir, and which are bound to come. But He assures us that we can so know Him that, whatever happens, we need never be frightened, we need never be alarmed.”
There is a scene in the Fellowship of the Rings in which Lady Galadriel, Queen of the Elves, gives the remaining members of the Fellowship gifts for their journey. Among the gifts given, everyone received a cloak that she had made which would help hide them from the eyes of their enemies, Sam received a box containing soil from Galadriel’s orchard and a seed from a mallorn tree, and Frodo was given a small crystal bottle of liquid, containing the light of Eärendil’s star which would shine great light when in deep darkness. Each gift was a warning of the danger they faced, but each gift gave hope that they would not face their troubles alone.
Jesus said, if we who are evil (by comparison to God) know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will our heavenly Father (who is holy and good) give His good gifts to us?
God gives us the gifts we need to endure the trials and tribulations of this world with a witness of faith and love. In giving us His Holy Spirit, we have the assurance that He is always with us, equipping us with every good gift for building one another up, loving and serving one another, and bearing one another’s burdens.
God does answer prayers. God gives us everything we need, just not the way we might expect. God’s ways are higher and greater than ours, and He works through and in all things to bring about His good purpose in our lives. “All things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). God’s gifts are never given in isolation, His blessings are never meant to be hoarded. If you ask of God, He will give, and you must be prepared to give as well.
If you ask for faith, be prepared to find yourself in situations that will test your faith – that is how He gives it.
If you ask for patience, be prepared to be surrounded by people who will test your patience – that is how He gives it.
If you ask for forgiveness, be prepared to forgive those who have offended you – that is how you know He has forgiven you.
If you ask for knowledge and understanding, be ready to have every belief questioned – that you may return to God’s word and find true wisdom.
If you ask to be more like Christ, be prepared to be ridiculed and rejected – that is how the world treated Him.
If you ask to be more loving, be prepared to encounter the most unlovely and unlovable people – that you may love them as our heavenly Father has loved you.
Keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking, that our heavenly Father may richly bless you, and so that you may also be a blessing to the world for the sake of Christ Jesus our Lord.