Tuesday, November 30, 2010

If You Ask For a Stone, God Just Might Give You One

Yesterday I posted on the times where God does not answer our prayers or answers "no."  Today I want to talk about those times when He says yes, but not to provide us something good but to show us those things we ask for our not in our best interest.  Yesterday I wrote on when we ask for bread and God gives us none, today I want to talk about what happens when we ask for a stone.  We all take comfort in the following verse.
"Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" Matthew 7:9-11 NKJV
I love that we can have faith that when we ask for bread, our Father will not give us a stone.  But I wondered, what would happen if we asked God for a stone?  There are times in our lives where we think we know what is best and despite God telling us otherwise, we keep asking for that stone.  I do believe that there are many times when if we ask for a stone enough times, God will give it to us.  He does so not to give something we think is good, but to show us that what we wanted was bad.  Sometimes, we do not believe something is a stone until God gives it to us.  Sometimes that which we think will be a boon to our lives becomes a heavy stone around our necks. 

I can think of a few examples in Scripture where this has happened.  One example is when the people of Israel asked God for a king.
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, "Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations." But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to judge us." So Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, "Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day—with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. Now therefore, heed their voice. However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them." So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who asked him for a king. And he said, "This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the LORD will not hear you in that day." Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, "No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles." And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he repeated them in the hearing of the LORD. So the LORD said to Samuel, "Heed their voice, and make them a king." And Samuel said to the men of Israel, "Every man go to his city."  1 Samuel 8:4-22 NKJV
May we not be so stubborn as the Israelites were that day.  The Israelites wanted a king because they wanted to be like everyone else.  They forgot that they were to be separate unto the Lord.  Samuel knew this was a bad idea and took it before the Lord.  God could have told them "No."  He could have told them that He knew what was best, but He didn't.  He did give them a chance to change their mind. He had Samuel tell them all the horrible things a king would mean for their lives.  He told them of wars, conscription, burdensome taxes, children being drafted into servanthood for the king, and even that they would regret their decision and when they do, the Lord would not hear them.  Despite all of that, they still desired a king.  It was more important to them to be like the world than it was to be a nation holy unto the Lord.  They wanted man to rule over them, not God.  They wanted freedom to live as they desired.  And so, with that rejection of God's warning, they were granted a king.  They lived to regret that decision. 

May we not be so stubborn in our own lives.  May our desire to live under the Lordship of Christ never diminish to the point where our desire to be more like the world wins out.  If we continually ask God, despite his many warnings in Scripture, He may grant us that request.  Just like the Israelites, we will live to regret that decision.  The people of Israel asked for a stone and when God told them what they wanted was a stone, they wanted it still.  They did not believe God.  That "bread" they thought they were getting became a burdensome stone around their necks. 

Another example in Scripture is the parable of the Prodigal Son.
Then He said: "A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.' So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything."  Luke 15:11-16 NKJV
I think this parable begins long before Jesus picks up in the story of the lives of these two boys.  Normally, the older son would receive 2/3 and the younger 1/3 of their father's estate.  Normally this would happen at the father's death or if the father just wanted to retire.  It would not be normal for a son to just come to his father and ask for his money then and now.  I imagine that his father knew his boy had some wild oats to sow and would not listen to reason that he was not mature enough or old enough to have his inheritance yet.  I know this story is meant to be a parable and not an actual historical happening, but the character of the prodigal son is important to establish.  The people hearing this at the time would have understood the younger son to be rebellious from the start.  I am sure, though, his father would have tried to warn him of the dangers of getting his inheritance at that time.  We see the son rejected that advice.  I am sure his father told him it was a stone, but his son insisted it was bread.  In the end, the father relented and the son had the means and the freedom to do what he wanted.  He had his "bread." 

That freedom led the son who lacked maturity to squander his inheritance on sin. He sinned until he was broke, a famine broke out, and he had no money or food.  He had no more inheritance and in desperation he took a job to feed swine.  Keep in mind, swine were considered unclean at the time so he went from a rich and party life to broke, hungry, and doing what would have been to him utterly filthy and demeaning work.  In fact, what he was doing was forbidden for a Jew to do. "Cursed is he who feeds the swine" so to speak.  He ended up cursed, working for a gentile, feeding unclean animals, still hungry and starving.  How that bread became a stone. 

What stones in our lives do we ask for?  Do we pray for a certain car that looks real nice but then we can not afford the insurance or upkeep, we are slaves to payments for the next several years?  Do we pray for a certain man or woman to notice us and when God tells us it is not them or time and in the end we end up with our hearts broken?  Is it riches, only to find out how empty they are and that getting more money only leads to the desire for even more money?  Is it a job that God warns us about but we are lured by the promise of pay and prestige only to find that job utterly miserable?  There are so many times in our lives where we ask for a stone and despite God's warning we desire it anyway.  God gives it to us or allows us to get it, and we live to regret it.  It is at this point now where we are in the parable now.  It is at the point where we come to the realization that the bread we desired is really a cold hard stone.  What we will see now is the heart behind God allowing us to have that stone and we will see how we should rightly react when we come to that realization. 
"But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 'I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants."'  Luke 15:17-19 NKJV
He hit rock bottom and came to the realization that the bread he wanted was stone indeed.  There are many ways this could have gone. I know for many of us, when God gives us that stone we think is bread, we bite into it expecting it to be warm, soft, and fresh, and it ends up breaking our teeth, we often blame God.  When our hearts are broken by that special someone God warned us about we ask why He allowed it to happen and why He is not taking that pain away.  When that car God told us not to get becomes a stone around our necks we ask God why He is not providing for us to take care of what He allowed us to have.  When that job God warned us not to take becomes miserable we ask God why He put us in that position.  When those riches become empty just like God told us they would we ask why our life doesn't "feel" abundant.  The fact is that God tried to warn us, but in our own rebellion we desired those things just like Israel desired a king and in that our pain is on our own heads.  God is not our enemy when we break our teeth on the stone, He is our salvation.  God allowed us to have that stone to turn our hearts back to Him and to learn to trust His judgment instead of our own.  Our response needs to be like the prodigal son.  We need to repent and turn back to God and humbly repent of the stone we asked for. 
"And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' And they began to be merry.'" Luke 15:20-24 NKJV
The grace of God amazes me more each and every day.  There is even grace in the stone He allowed us to have.  This story began with a prodigal son just looking to get his bread and go out and party.  Now he comes back to his father as a humble servant.  The bread he thought would make his life better was a stone that crushed all that he had.  That stone even crushed his rebellion and he returned to his father in all humility.  By law, his father had every right to kill his son.  The penalty for his disobedience and rebellion was death.  The father not only did not put him to death but ran to him and embraced him.  Not only did he embrace and welcome him, but he accepted him back not as a slave but as his son.  Giving him his best robe, a ring, and sandals were things not given to a slave, but to a son.  His relationship with his father was restored. 

That is just how it is with our heavenly Father.  When we forsake God's warning for our own desires, we are in rebellion to God.  Eventually, that rebellion will hurt us and we will come to realize that God was right all along.  The response can not be to harden our hearts against God, but to humble ourselves and return to God.  If we harden our hearts against God, that stone will become our hearts.  We need to humble ourselves, return to God, and He will restore us.  The whole goal in giving you the stone is to crush the rebellion in your heart with it.  The goal is restoration.  The prodigal son refused to repent before he had that stone, and so it became necessary to allow him to have it to crush that rebellious heart.  God will do the same for us.  For us?  Yes, I did say "for us" because at that point we need to be broken.  In the end, the prodigal son had a better and closer relationship with his father than he had at the beginning of the parable.  In the end, our relationship with God will be better than before we asked for that stone.

In this post I shared a real historical example of people asking for a stone and a parable that illustrates the same.  May we not be so stubborn as the Israelites or as rebellious as the prodigal son.  May we trust God that He always knows what is best for us and may we heed God's warnings when He knows we are asking for a stone.  Sometimes, though, we need to learn lessons the hard way.  Sometimes we need the stone.  Thank God for the stones He gives us. 
But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  Hebrews 12:8-11 NKJV

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