My Father Knows the Difference Between a Fish and a Snake

It’s incredibly freeing when you accept the fact that God wants us to ask Him for things. There are all kinds of reasons for this – when we ask God for something, we are entering into a state of humility because in the asking we are admitting our own inability to provide for ourselves. Further, we are also confessing God’s power and ability to give to us what we need from His abundant resources. So in the asking, we are saying something about ourselves, and at the same time, we are saying something about God. But my favorite reason why God wants us to ask Him for things is far simpler than all that. He wants us to ask Him for things because He loves us.

As a dad, I resonate with this. Granted, there are times when my patience runs thin with my kids; there are moments when I’m tired of being asked to play with them, or to take them somewhere, or to engage with them. But in my best moments as a father, it brings me joy when my children ask me for things. Because I love them, and because I delight in giving them things.

But I don’t give them everything. Of course I don’t. Neither do you. Once upon a time, those decisions were easier:

  • “No, you cannot stay home by yourself.”
  • “No, you cannot stick that form in the electrical socket.”
  • “No, you cannot have a pet monkey.”

But as our kids get older, the requests become bigger and more complicated. As they do, it becomes tougher to know exactly what to give to them, how much to give to them, and when to give it to them. As a parent, and as a parent with quickly growing children, I am finding it harder and harder to know what the best gift is to give them, or even which gifts will be particularly dangerous. And here again I am reminded that I, as a father, am but a shadow of the greater Father who does not have this struggle.

As God’s children, we can ask Him for things. But not once has our Heavenly Father wrung His hands in frustration or had to take several days to consider whether or not He should give us what we ask for. So says Jesus in Matthew 7:

“What man among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

Jesus’ point is that God knows what He’s doing. And He is generous. But by implication, He’s also saying that our good Father knows, better than we do, the difference between a fish and a snake. That’s important because often times we do not:

“Father, I’ve thought a lot about it, and I was wondering if you would give me this thing I see in front of me. I know I’ve asked for a bunch of stuff in the past, but I know this time it’s the right thing. Please… can I have this fish?”

“Son, this is not the best thing for you. I know you think it is, but it’s not. If you could see this from my vantage point you would see that it’s not really a fish at all. It’s a snake.”

“No, it’s not! I know what a snake looks like, and this is not a snake. It’s a fish. And it’s a beautiful and tasty fish. Give it to me! Please!”

“I know, son, that you think it’s a fish. But if you would pause and remember for a moment, you would realize that you’ve made this mistake before. You would have to admit that you tend to mistake snakes for fish from time to time. Trust me – I love you – this is indeed a snake.”

“You say you love me, but you won’t give me something that is clearly the best thing for me. You withhold fish – you don’t give them.”

“It may look like a fish to you. It may smell like a fish to you. It may feel like a fish to you. But I’m the One who made both fish and snakes. And I’m the One who knows the difference between them. And in time, you will see that this is indeed a snake.”

Maybe it sounds a little familiar to you? If it does, then you know how this story ends most of the time. You go and pout and mourn the loss of the thing you were convinced was the absolutely perfect for you. But perhaps today you and I both might be encouraged by the fact that there is one Son of God who didn’t pout. Who didn’t rebel. Instead, He accepted from His Father’s hand that which looked like a snake because He believed His Father when He told Him that it was a fish. Jesus, in the garden, bowed to His Father’s wisdom and said quietly but not easily, “Your will be done.”

May it be also so with us, for we have a Father who knows the difference between snakes and fish.

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