Perhaps you’ve seen the following piece (or at least some version of it):
I asked for strength — and God gave me difficulties to make me strong. I asked for wisdom — and God gave me problems to solve. I asked for prosperity — and God gave me brawn and a brain to work. I asked for courage — and God gave me danger to overcome. I asked for love — and God gave me troubled people to help. I asked for favors — and God gave me opportunities. I received nothing I wanted — I received everything I needed!
Anyone who has spent much time walking with the Lord and serving Him can understand the truth of this piece. There really are times when we ask for the finished product only to have Him send us the tools to build it ourselves. I guess we can label these answers, “Some assembly required.”
Even more puzzling and disappointing, however, are the times when we specifically ask for “A” but the Lord sends “B” or “C.” I’m referring now to those prayer request answers that can’t even be labeled “Some assembly required.” Instead, they should come with a handwritten note that says, “I know this is not what you asked for, but it’s what I sent.” Those answers are definitely the hardest ones to understand.
I’m happy to report, though, that in Luke 11:9-13, we find a teaching from Jesus that can help us sort through all the confusion created by such answers. You probably know the passage already because it gets quoted a lot, but I wonder if you’ve ever really grasped what it says. Let me give you a hint: it doesn’t say what most people think it says. The passage quotes Jesus as saying:
“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (N.K.J.V.)
Okay, so did you catch what Jesus threw there? After reading Jesus’ words about how earthly fathers know enough to give their children bread when the request is for bread, fish when the request is for fish, and an egg when the request is for an egg, we would assume that He would say, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to His children.” Furthermore, if Jesus had actually said that, we would be right to assume that if we specifically ask God the Father for something that is good, He will grant us that specific good thing.
The catch, however, is that Jesus didn’t say, “…how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to His children.” No, what He said was, “If sinful earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” You see, what Jesus wants us to understand is that the Holy Spirit is the greatest gift that God the Father can give anyone.
Now let’s relate this thought to the context of the passage. Since Jesus seems to go out of His way to cram a teaching about the Holy Spirit into the passage, the implication is that the Holy Spirit is God the Father’s abiding gift to the saved believer to help that believer correctly interpret odd answers to prayer requests. What this means for you, Christian, is that when God the Father does answer your prayer request in a strange way, the Holy Spirit will teach you why God did that.
Be warned, though; these teaching sessions will rarely be one-class sessions. Usually they will be much more akin to entire courses or even entire degree programs! If, however, you will keep attending the Holy Spirit’s classes and keep letting Him teach you, He really will eventually get you to the place where you understand God’s reason for sending you something that wasn’t even close to what you requested. As Jesus said of the Holy Spirit in another passage, John 14:26, “The Holy Spirit will teach you all things.” That word “all” certainly includes teaching us God’s purposes in sending us different things than we requested, and we would do well not to skip any of those classes.