Sometimes I feel like my heavenly Father exists to tell me "no." The truth surprised me.
Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)
On the day I turned 17, my dad took me on a special date. It wasn't an arbitrary event. Though he did special things for all three of his daughters, none of my sisters received a special 17th birthday date. One day my dad simply told me he was making a plan for my birthday.
We dressed up and drove two hours to see a musical at Seattle's Fifth Street Theater. Before the show, we ate at a fancy restaurant with white tablecloths and tapered candles. My steak and shrimp dinner was the most expensive I'd ever eaten.
Our theater seats were on the floor (perfect placement for the scene where the chandelier swings over the audience). And people sitting near us smiled warmly at my enthusiastic chatter. That evening, I was completely secure in my father's delight in me. I knew he would not withhold anything good from me. Things like that are obvious when you're 17.
Pythons and Pits
This morning during worship I was thinking about snakes and stones. The past few weeks have been particularly discouraging. I pray and feel as if God is silent — maybe even frowning.
What do you expect of me? I ask. If I knew, I'd do it.
I never had these thoughts when I was 17. I had chores, of course, and there were certain established standards for behavior. But those things were easy to do, most of the time, because I loved my dad and didn't want to disappoint him. Other than the obvious ground rules, we just were — a father and daughter who enjoyed one another's company.
My dad was generous toward me and never had some hidden agenda that I had to figure out. I never had to wonder if he would give me, say, a python, when I asked for a hamburger.
The Lord impressed that truth on my heart today. Don't worry about how that circumstance is going to work out. I want to give you bread and fish. I want to nourish you, not trick you.
The God of "Yes"
For some reason, I feel like God is constantly saying no to me. Like a kid in the grocery store, I hold up the Lucky Charms (my fave), and Dad says, "no." A few minutes later, I try again with the fudge-striped cookies, and he shakes his head. When we get to the register, I make that last-ditch attempt with the Snickers bar only to receive the answer I expect. No.
Do you ever feel like God is in the business of saying no? Like He's some kind of great hall monitor in the sky, constantly prodding you back on track. I've viewed my heavenly Father in this way.
That's why I was surprised when I recently read this passage in 2 Corinthians:
But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not "Yes" and "No." For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not "Yes" and "No," but in him it has always been "Yes." For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 1:18-20).
Not only does God want to give His children good gifts, but he can. He's that guy who hears your brilliant idea and has the resources and clout to make it happen. He is the God of "yes."
Sometimes He says no, it's true, but it is for the good of the bigger "yes." Imagine if I had been fixated on a pizza party for my 17th birthday. Sure it would have been fun, but it would not have been everything my father had to offer me — the delicious seafood, the live orchestra, the swinging chandelier. When Dad said he wanted to plan something special for my birthday, I jumped at the opportunity because I knew it would be something great.
And that's the thing: Because of Jesus Christ and everything His death and resurrection procured, our Father controls a world of big "yeses," which He desires to pour out on His children.
The Fine Print
My problem comes when I try to control the gift-giving process. I either demand gifts when it's not the right time (I would not have enjoyed a fancy dinner and night at the theater nearly as much when I was 3), or I believe I should get to choose the gift.
And sometimes, like a physical father, the Lord does let me choose. I pray for something and I get it.
The problem is, I am not always (and perhaps am rarely) capable of choosing what is best for myself. I may see a stone and think it is bread. How foolish it must seem to God, when I beg Him for a piece of gravel. James tells us we can place confidence in our Father's gifts, even when our limited perspective doesn't allow us to see their true value.
Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
Perfect gifts come from God. The best thing I could procure for myself would not come close to what He can offer me. He doesn't shell out "good enough" gifts; His gifts are perfect.
Psalm 37:4 is a well-worn verse: "Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart." It almost sounds like a formula. I've heard more than one single friend quote this verse as their passport to marriage.
It is a comforting verse. How wonderful that God cares about our desires. But reducing this verse to a formula — if I do X, I'll get Y — misses the point. I rarely hear people quote the next two verses:
Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
The Father knows we will be happiest and most satisfied when we are walking close to Him in righteousness, believing that He is championing our cause. Only then do we begin to see all the "yeses."
This is what Paul was talking about when he said, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13, ESV). When our desires are aligned with the Father's, we're like an unstoppable team. Nothing is impossible, no dream out of reach.
Taking His Hand
My whole perspective on life changes when I realize God wants to say yes to me. He won't give me something dangerous or empty. Like my earthly father, God desires to lavish me with His goodness. And I will bring Him the most glory when I am walking in that freedom and joy.
There will be times when I am in need of His loving correction (Hebrews 12:6), but that is not the default mode of our father-daughter relationship. He wants to lift me into His arms and carry me through the grocery aisle and say, "Look at all these wonderful things you can have! Just because you're my daughter."
And when I catch a glimpse of that extraordinary truth — that the love and care of my heavenly Father surpasses even that of a generous earthly dad — I can take His hand with breathless wonder and excitement about where we're going next.
Copyright 2008 Suzanne Gosselin. All rights reserved.