“What We Really Need”
Devotional Text: Matthew 6:7-8
Good evening, TMBC family! Thanks for tuning in. As I said last night, we may be under a quarantine, but that doesn’t mean that you’re quarantined from your church family or your pastor. And that’s why we’re doing this.
In a previous devotional, I talked about Matthew 6, verse 7. Tonight, I want to focus on verse 8. If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Matthew chapter 6. I’ll read verses 7 and 8 together:
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Again, as I said last night, what these Gentiles are really doing is, they believe that whether God will answer their prayers or not is up to them; it’s something they must do or achieve or earn, rather than being a matter of God’s grace. Don’t be like them, Jesus says in verse 8.
[F]or your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
This ought to be very comforting to us. First, because we often don’t know what we need! Not exactly… After all, I’ll bet none of us thinks we need whatever God is giving us in this current crisis with COVID-19. In fact, I wouldn’t blame you if you’re tempted to pray something like this right now: “Lord, I don’t want to tell you how to run the universe, but I think you might benefit from my wise counsel right now. Maybe this coronavirus isn’t such a good idea anymore and I don’t see how any of this could possibly be good for me and my loved ones… or good for the world… or good for your kingdom… or good for your reputation… So maybe let’s put an end to it now… It’s not good for me, regardless, so… I certainly don’t need it.”
To which I would say, “Are you sure about that?” Are you sure you don’t need this? Are you sure the Lord isn’t doing something really good through this experience to help you in some way, or to prepare you for something in your future, or to help you fulfill your purpose… or even to draw you into a closer, deeper, more intimate relationship with Jesus?
I still remember when I was going through a difficult trial several years ago. In exasperation, I said to a friend, “Why is this happening to me?” And he was very wise. He said to me, “The question is not, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ The question is, ‘Why is this happening to me now?’” In other words, why is God letting you go through this experience now? What purpose is there for it? What is he wanting to teach your or show you through this trial?
And of course, my friend was right! None of us asks for a trial… but we can be sure that trials come. The New Testament tells us so repeatedly… And they are always for our good!
My point is, what we need certainly isn’t always, or often, or usually exactly what we want. Jesus’ promise in verse 8 is that our Father will give us what we need.
I’ll never forget when I was preparing to go to Tanzania and Uganda for the first time, I had to get a few shots and a prescription or two. One of them was for Yellow Fever, a mosquito-borne illness. He said there weren’t any active cases of Yellow Fever in either place at the moment, but there were in nearby Somalia. So just in case, he recommended that I get this shot. I said, “Are there any potential side-effects.”. So he said, “Oh, sure! It’s a live virus vaccine, so there’s a chance that you’ll contract Yellow Fever from the shot itself.”
But think about it: this life-saving vaccine actually contained within it something that was potentially very harmful to me! But—if all went well—my body would actually transform that potentially harmful, potentially deadly stuff into something that’s good for me! I needed that otherwise harmful stuff… for my own good.
In the same way, God has the power to transform even bad stuff into something that’s good for us! He does it all the time!
This is what John Newton, the 18th-century Anglican minister who wrote “Amazing Grace,” meant when he said, “Everything is needful that [God] sends; nothing can be needful that He withholds.”
Are we willing to trust that our Father is giving us what we need right now, even in the midst of this difficult trial? We don’t want the trial, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need it!
The apostle Paul elaborates on the meaning of verse 8 in Romans chapter 8, verses 26 and 27. This is nothing less than an unbelievable promise for those of us who are in Christ. Let me read those verses for you—in the excellent New Living Translation:
And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.
This scripture tells us that we’re not good at knowing what to pray for… We’re not good at knowing what’s best for us, for our loved ones, for our world. In other words, as I’ve been saying, we’re not very good at knowing what we need, what other people need. But God knows what we need… Always… At all times… And here’s what happening when we pray, Paul says—and this is an unbelievable promise: When we pray, something supernatural is going on: God the Holy Spirit, who lives inside of us and knows what we need infinitely better than we do, prays for us and for what we truly need—the Holy Spirit “pleads” to God the Father, Paul says, telling the Father what we need!
In the mystery of the Trinity, as strange as it may sound, God the Holy Spirit prays to God the Father for us. God prays to God. Through our prayers.
Listen… You and I may sometimes be disappointed or frustrated or even frightened that our prayers aren’t answered, that we don’t get what we ask for when we pray. I’ve been there. I get it. But do you know whose prayers for us get answered every single time?
God’s prayers for us!
In other words, what God the Holy Spirit asks for—on our behalf, through our own prayers—God the Father gives. Every time!
That’s how we can be absolutely confident that God is giving us what we truly need when we pray!
To summarize all of this, I like this quote from pastor Tim Keller. I think it fairly summarizes Jesus’ teaching, and the rest of the New Testament, when it comes to the power of prayer:
When we pray, God either gives us what we ask for, or what we would have asked for if we knew everything that God knows.
But notice, please, what this doesn’t say: When we pray, God either gives us what we ask for, or what we would have asked for if we had bothered to pray at all.
The Holy Spirit prays through our own prayers; but he doesn’t necessarily compensate for prayers we fail to pray! Brothers and sisters, I want us to understand this difficult truth: God will do things for us when we pray that God won’t otherwise do for us when we fail to pray!
God will do things for us when we pray that he won’t otherwise do for us when we fail to pray!
There are blessings in our lives that we are missing out on right now because we’re not praying for them!
So please… pray!
One more thought:
You’ve heard it said—I know—that God answers every prayer that his children pray in one of the following ways: He either says “yes,” or he says “wait,” or he says “no.” But if what the Bible says is true, that’s not quite right. God doesn’t say “yes,” “wait,” or “no” … Instead, he says “yes,” “wait” … or “I’ve got something better for you.” I’ve got something better for you. Hang in there. Be patient. You’ll see.” God’s “no” right now only means one thing: “I’ve got something better for you in the future. Because I know what’s best for you, and that’s what I’m working right now to give you!”
Do you believe it? Amen?