How many of you have ever been in line at the grocery store and you hear a conversation happening next to you? It goes something like this?
Mommy, can I have a candy bar? No, dear, not this time.
Please mommy! Just one? No, dear, not this time.
But mommy, I’m hungry? I’ll get you a snack when we get home.
But mommy, I’m hungry now! You’ll have to wait sweetie.
BUT MOMMY!!!! [Screams and crying follow…]
I’ve seen moms react in a variety of ways. Some are embarrassed but I always like when they simple shrug, stand strong, and move on. To me, that teaches the child an important lesson about delayed gratification. But then, how many of us grew up with Cookie Monster demanding his cookie?
How many of you have ever acted the way the child did but towards God? Think about it for a moment. Have you ever wanted something and thought He should give it to you at that exact moment? Have you ever wondered why He didn’t respond as you thought He would / should? Have you ever gotten… angry?
In continuing to walk through the Gospel of Matthew, the personal conviction I’ve felt in the Sermon on the Mount has been strong. Now, I’ll be quick to say, I’m not that bad. However, in the light of the Law (and the absolute perfection held only by God), I must admit to feeling like a whining baby when I don’t get my way.
The Christian journey and the process of sanctification (being made holy) calls us to accept the reality of our situation while also accepting the grace that has redeemed us. We must confess and press forward. It’s simple, yet oh so difficult…
Let’s jump into the particular text that called me to consider this more deeply.
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. Matthew 7: 7-8
Jesus has promised us that we only need to ask. It’s just like the little child asking his parent for a candy bar. We are to ask, through prayer, for our Heavenly Father to give us what we need. His ear is inclined toward us. But, as I imagine you are already guessing, His response is not to give us something that will harm us.
There exists a difference between wants and needs.
Jesus is clear. When you pray, it’s ok to ask God to give you what you need. It’s ok to ask your Heavenly Father. He is your Abba, your daddy.
The act and discipline of prayer changes us. It takes us closer to God as we speak and listen to Him. It allows Him to work in our hearts and minds and change us to follow Him more closely. We may not like His response to our “asks” (Yes, No, or Not yet) but we know that our Father always wants what is best for us.
Jesus illustrates this when He then gives us the example of bread and fish:
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? Matthew 7: 9-10
A quick reminder. If we don’t have our sandals on, this can sound a bit peculiar. 2,000 years ago, bread and fish were common. Think of the miracle of the loaves and the fish. Everyone connected with the bread / stone or fish / serpent analogies.
And so, when Jesus gave that example, followed by what He said next, these words were streams of living water. They nourished and refreshed those who heard them. And then Jesus said:
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! Matthew 7:11
Again, keeping the words in context and culture, imagine how these would have felt. These were God’s chosen people. They had been living under the rule of the Romans. They had been praying for generations to be delivered and restored. And now, they are receiving hope and words of life.
And now we have what many people call the Golden Rule.
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7: 12
What is the Law and the Prophets? Jesus summarized it later as the Greatest Commandments, but I believe the essence of it is right here. Love God and Love your neighbors. If you want people to be nice to you, be nice to them. If you want people to help you, help them.
Of course, the requirement we sometimes miss is that we need to do these things to them first. If we are cruel to others, then we shouldn’t expect them to be nice to us first. Act the way you want to be treated. Do the things for others that you want them to do to you.
Now, the last two verses deserve a bit more time. There is something a bit unpleasant that I’d like to discuss. This isn’t about any of you, but it is about all of us.
In the last several weeks, there have been two notable people in Christian circles that have stated that they are leaving the faith. I won’t say their names because that is not the important part. In fact, it’s the least important part.
One of the individuals is an author and former pastor. Over two decades ago, he wrote a book that became a best-seller. He went on to become a speaker and traveled around receiving all sorts of accolades. He pulled back from the spotlight a bit and then wrote more books and came right back into it.
And then he renounced his faith. He said that the terms that we would use to define Christians no longer applied to him.
The other person is a musician and song writer. He became a part of one of the most successful groups in Christian worship music today. Awards and all sorts of whatnot followed. He also has just come out and said that he has questions and would no longer consider himself to be a Christian.
Let’s be honest. It’s hard to hear Jesus’ words sometimes. We want to think that everyone will go to Heaven. We don’t want to think of our loved ones not going. But Jesus said very clearly:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Matthew 7: 13-14
Now, there are about three or four messages I could share from those two verses. Let’s keep it simple and to the point.
Two-thousand years ago, the gate imagery was in the forefront of people’s thinking. Jerusalem – like other cities at the time – was a walled city. They were north, by the Sea of Galilee, and to go to the Temple inside the walled City of Jerusalem, had to go through a gate. If you were riding a camel or hauling a cart, you had to go through a large gate. If you were walking by yourself, you could use the small, narrow one.
First point. The gate had to be unlocked. Our sin destroyed our relationship with God. There is no way for us to get through. But Jesus, through His death on the cross, paid the price and He opened the door for us to be restored. It is only through receiving Jesus as your Savior that you can enter.
Second. You go through alone. It’s a narrow gate. You can’t take your husband or wife, son or daughter, friend or neighbor. If they want to go through, they need to receive Him as well. You can’t do it for them.
Third. It’s not hard, but it’s not easy. I’m talking about life AFTER you walk through the gate. Life with Jesus isn’t easy. Why not? Because sin still happens. We do it and others do it. Sin has ramifications. Sometimes we cause those. Sometimes we feel them.
But life with Jesus – knowing that God is sovereign and, in the end, God wins, makes everything a lot easier. How? You simply learn to walk in trust. No matter what, God is good and He is always in control.
God will supply your needs. But that doesn’t mean He will supply your wants.
I’ve found that when God does not give me what I think I need, when I think He isn’t listening, then I have to check myself. Am I like that kid screaming for a candy bar? Am I stomping my feet and whining? That’s a pretty good sign that I’m focused on a want and not a need.
God is always faithful to provide for our needs. Trust in Him.