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So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. | Matthew 7:11 (NLT)
Dr Gary Chapman’s best-selling book ‘The 5 Love Languages’ took the world, and latterly aspects of Christian couples’ counselling by storm some time ago. Chapman identifies a variety of ways that people show and receive love, including the giving and receiving of gifts.
A person whose love language is gifts will carefully and thoughtfully select gifts to pass on to others as a demonstration that they were thinking of them.
Imagine then if, having forgotten it was your birthday, I nipped into a local 2nd hand shop on the way to your party. There, given the limited range of items within my stingy budget, I selected the only ‘suitable’ thing I could – a rusty old fork with a prong missing and a bend to its handle. What would your response be as you unwrapped the paper it had left the store in? You would, quite reasonably, conclude that I didn’t care, and could quite rightly question how much I actually cared for you.
Imagine the same kind of attitude at Christmas time, but this time the recipient of the gift was not you, but my children. Imagine me dutifully giving them a piece of coal and a carrot. An expression of the depths of my love and care for them? Hardly!
Quite the opposite is true, isn’t it? When it comes to Christmas, birthdays, or other moments of the year, we select gifts that we know are good for our children – gifts that will evoke delight and that will be enjoyed by them. Toward members of our family even we with our twisted and selfish hearts seek to give good gifts.
And this, Jesus says, is a great lens through which to view the goodness of the gifts the Giver. The Giver is our Maker. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what is good for us, what we need, and what brings us delight, and gives us that.
As I write this, my mind is racing with an awareness of the risk of misinterpretation that accompanies those words.
It feels little more than a hair’s breadth from a form of prosperity teaching – ‘name it and claim it’ kind of thing.
See, here’s the issue – you and I often like to determine what we ‘need’ and what is ‘good’ which can often be outside of God’s best. Does he then give it us regardless? No – that wouldn’t be loving parenting. Instead, he is at work changing our desires and longings so that, as time rolls by, we find ourselves loving and seeking the things that please him. The consequence? The things we ask for are increasingly in line with his heart.
King David shed some light on this in Psalm 37:4 when he wrote the following:
“Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
Do you see it? Make God your number one delight – above all of the things this world can offer – and as you do, you’ll find your longings and the yearnings of your heart change. They will align with the Giver’s.
Like a husband who asks for things that he knows his wife will enjoy, so our agenda changes. Our requests are transformed. Our desires melt.
Are our hearts fully there yet? No. So we ask for things that come from selfishness or things that are not best for us, because they reflect our plans and the desires of our old nature. The best thing a wise Father can do in that instance? Say no. That’s not unkind or cruel, it’s best for us in ways we don’t easily see. It’s a good gift.
Country singer Garth Brooks expressed it well when, looking back from a more mature age in life, he reflected “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.” How true!?
But those prayers that align with God’s plans and purposes – those which are Christ-exalting, God-honouring, Kingdom-advancing? He loves to answer with a resounding yes.