We live in a very transactional culture. When we want something, we simply order it (and expect it in 2 days or less!). We are so used to this system that when it does not work properly we get extremely frustrated. Having worked in fast food for two years during high school, I’m here to tell you that putting pickles on someone’s sandwich who does not want pickles is pretty much tantamount to smashing their car. It is not a mistake they take likely. With maybe the rare exception of a pickle/cucumber allergy, it is unlikely a little pickle juice is going to tangibly ruin someone’s life. The reason it infuriates someone is that they did not receive exactly what they asked for, which violates one of the seemingly foundational rules of our society. When I ask for it, especially if I am paying for it, I better receive it exactly how I want it.
Unfortunately, we carry this how I want it attitude into our relationship with God. The following verse is one of the most famous in scripture, but it’s also probably one of the most misunderstood.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8
Too often we interpret this verse as meaning that whatever we ask of God we will receive in the exact manner in which we ordered it. I remember trying this out as a kid: asking for money, A’s on tests I didn’t study for, and a Chicago Cubs world series win. When I didn’t get them, I started questioning the goodness of God. Here is what we need to understand about this passage. Jesus is not promising that we will always get the response we want, but that the wisdom/guidance God gives us in response to our prayers will be perfect. Think about that for a minute. God may not always give you want you want because, quite frankly, that may not be what is really best for you. What God will give you is guidance and direction that is perfect. By not giving you the wealth or job you want God is likely pointing you towards an even better plan. I will never forget being offered the ministry job of my dreams, a job at a big church, with a large salary, a staff, and all sorts of resources. Yet, God made it really clear that I was supposed to turn it down. That was NOT the answer I wanted to receive, and it took me a long time to get over it. Yet, I can tell you with certainty it was the right answer. God may not always give us the answer we want, but He does give us the answers we need. It’s not about how I want it, but about what God needs. We need to trust His answers, even when doing so seems contrary to our desires.