In Matthew 6-7, Jesus expounds on a teaching in which he exhorts his followers not to worry, because those who are in him have almighty God as their Father. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus tells his people that if God the Father has an overall general care for the world, why would he not have a very specific and powerful care for his sons and daughters? The answer, of course, is that if God cares for flowers, grass, and birds, he cares infinitely more for his children! Because of this, anxiety is something that should never characterize God’s people. Blood-bought, redeemed, and adopted sons and daughters of King Jesus have a sovereign, all-knowing, all-powerful God who does only good for his people. Why should we then worry? Answer: we shouldn’t!
Jesus finishes this teaching with a parable. And he tells us that because God is our Father, we should bring our needs and worries to God in prayer often. Christ tells us that if an earthly father “who [is] evil, knows how to give good gifts to [their] children, how much more will your Father who is heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Mt 7:11). Hopefully you can see the logic here. Even fallen sinful fathers desire good for their children; how much more does a perfect, all-powerful, all-caring, eternal Father desire your good? It’s almost silly to compare the two! And because our infinite God has a perfect and faithful commitment to his children, Christians should pray, trusting that God will take care of his people. Paul adds to this thought, telling us that God works only for the good of his people (Rom 8:28). All things happen necessarily for our betterment, our growth, and for our joy in God the Father. God is ruthlessly committed to his peoples’ good. And so in prayer, we should trust that God responds to our needs with good things (Mt 7:11).
But this begs the question: what about the times when God does not answer our prayers? What about the times when it seems that God does not give us the good for which we had been praying?
As I was praying with my wife last night, I thought about this for a while. And it struck me that my definition of good and God’s definition of good may at times be different. Much of the time they are the same; but from my finite perspective, often the things I perceive as good are really not good at all. From God’s infinite, all-knowing perspective, his good may be very different from ours.
In fact, this issue is addressed in scripture: sometimes our perspective on what “good” is needs to be changed in order to pray for God’s definition of what good is. Jesus says in John 15, “if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (Jn 15:7). This is such an interesting verse, because it gives us a condition for answered prayer: We must abide in Jesus, and his teaching must abide in us. What this verse means is that when Christians abide in Christ, and allow his teaching to take root in us, we will ask for things which God already wants for us. We will ask for things that God sees as good, because we also see them as good. This verse echoes Psalm 37:4, which says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart”. Again, this implies that what God delights in will become what we delight in. God’s definition of “good” will also become ours, and so we can pray for whatever we want!
What this also means though is that often when we pray for what we perceive to be “good”, God will not see it as good. And when we don’t receive that perceived “good”, we must trust that there was a better, more fuller good that God has in store; and because of that, God answers “no” to our good in exchange for his good. And though we don’t have the eternal perspective that God has, we do have a perfect Father in whom we can trust.
Whenever we don’t get an answer to prayer for something “good”, we must trust in God’s infinite and better goodness. We must trust that God is a good Father who only gives us what is good. We must trust that God is faithful and committed to give us this good, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
And one thing I do know: God’s good gifts are better than my own measly impression of what “good” should be. I want that more than anything else.