What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent;
or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?(ESV: Luke 11: 11 - 12)
Sometimes I feel like God gives me serpents instead of fish. I feel like he betrays me. Now, I know he doesn’t, and we’ll get to that, but it feels like he does. Have you ever felt that way?
For example, you pray for a relationship, meet someone, and break up a few months later. You pray for a job, get hired, but then lose the job. You pray to enter a great college, get in, but its not what you thought it would be so you transfer. You pray for startup funding and then your team dissolves. You pray for your mother to get better, and your sister dies. You pray for healing, and instead get worse. You pray for new direction, but remain in the wilderness.
All these things, even the ones that seem good at first, seem like fish that have become serpents, eggs that have become scorpions. It can lead us to bitterness, mistrust, even hatred toward God. It can be so demoralizing, disorientating, and frustrating. Perhaps this has happened to you. Perhaps you left the faith, or continue at Church because your friends are there but your heart remains distant.
Wanting the Right Thing
I’ve been there. I’ve prayed for many things. Good things. Jobs, health, a family, and instead I feel tricked. Betrayed. But one of the things I’ve learned, is sometimes we simply are asking for the wrong thing. God isn’t giving us snakes, he’s just not giving us what we want.
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"(ESV: Luke 11: 13)
What’s interesting about this rather rude statement, is God calls us out. From the garden we see the serpent represents evil, and we are called evil. We are the snakes. We aren’t even asking the right thing.
A Matter of Character
God is more interested in our character than our present predicament. He wishes we would pray to grow in singleness, trust him in sickness, trust he will take care of our needs. But we don’t want to trust, we just want our situation to change. We are convinced God’s gifts, not God himself, will bring us happiness.
Whether we ask or not, God is going to give us the holy spirit, and keep us in the wilderness to learn these lessons. That’s what we should be asking for actually.
In the wilderness the gifts we can receive there often feel like snakes. Just ask the Israelites. They received mana in the wilderness, but did they enjoy it? No, to them God was tricking and betraying them and giving them snakes.
Here, we see they are starving, a legitimate need and prayer request. Of course, instead of asking for food, they basically have already given up, and are ready to die.
And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness,
and the people of Israel said to them, "Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day,(ESV: Exodus 16: 2 - 4)
Now God gives them food anyway, and you think that would solve the problem. Prayer request met. Seems to taste ok too.
Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.(ESV: Exodus 16: 31)
Well, that should be the happy ending. Story complete. Except it’s not. They’re not happy with the bread, the “mana” from heaven. In fact, to them, it’s a snake.
Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, "Oh that we had meat to eat!
We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.
But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at."(ESV: Numbers 11: 4 - 6)
Notice they want fish! They feel that God has promised them fish and yet this mana they received is a snake. It’s not what they want. They have food, but they want variety. They want more. However, wanting more alone is not the problem. God tells us he is an abundant God. The issue is they want more of God’s stuff, but they don’t want God at all.
The Heart of it
And this is our problem. If we find ourselves praying and receiving unexpected results and complaining and being frustrated toward God, we probably don’t want God himself. We need to be careful here. Complaining can lead to much darker actions. Just look at another story that relates to the same thing.
In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground,
and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering,
but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.(ESV: Genesis 4: 3 - 5)
Cain wanted God to bless his offering. But he didn’t want God. To him, lack of blessing was a snake, and God was a liar. We may need to stop and ask ourselves, do we want God? Would we be happy if we lost everything else but him?
Trust is Key
Now of course we have needs, and God knows this. Material needs, safety needs, and relational needs. God is not asking us to be happy in hard times. He is asking us to trust him in hard times.
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'
For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.(ESV: Matthew 6: 31 - 33)
God loves us. He wants us to want him. Not for his ego, but because that is what’s best for us. When we love God and seek him first, we can endure and persevere through the trials of this life. And we can help those around us, because we have walked frustrating paths as well.
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
(ESV: Philippians 4: 11 - 12)
This is how Paul can say these things. He trusts God completely. He doesn’t blame God he is in prison. He doesn’t pray and ask God to release him from prison. He doesn’t feel tricked by God. He accepts, trusts, and prays to endure and best handle whatever comes his way. Whether or not in this lifetime, our trials will end, and there is a paradise to be had with God. God will not leave us in the wilderness forever. There is a promise land to enter and enjoy.