Trusting and Asking Our Father to Provide

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Image by Shutterstock

We are often tempted to set asking and trusting against each other, but of course it is a false choice. When a child asks his dad for breakfast, he trusts that his father can provide. It does not occur to him to sit and wait and think, “If my dad really loved me, I would not have to ask him for breakfast. He would just do it.” We adults do that to other adults frequently, but we should take a lesson from a child.

All creatures look to God as their provider.

Psalm 104 celebrates the Lord’s marvelous provision. Yahweh’s trees, the cedars of Lebanon, are watered abundantly (v. 16). The Lord provides for a wide variety of creatures (from stork to rock badger; vv. 16–18). He makes the moon to shine at night and the sun in the day (v. 19). As part of God’s perfect, all-wise providence, “Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening” (v. 23). All creatures look to God the Creator as their provider:

These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.  (Ps. 104:227–30)

Now the animals to which the psalmist refers do not pray, but they, like us, are dependent upon God. When he gives life, they live. When he withdraws his support, they (and we) die and return to the dust from which we were taken. We are image bearers formed from the dust of the earth, animated by the Lord.

We are to ask our heavenly Father for all our needs.

Unlike the other creatures, as image bearers we were made to be in communion with God the Father, in Christ the Son, through the Spirit. As his adopted sons, we are to ask him for all our needs. Thus, we confess:

125. Q. What is the fourth petition?

A. “Give us this day our daily bread,” that is: Be pleased to provide for all our bodily need, so that we may thereby acknowledge you to be the only fountain of all good, and that without Your blessing neither our care and labor, nor Your gifts can profit us; that we may therefore withdraw our trust from all creatures and place it alone in you. (Heidelberg Catechism)

God is both the immutable Father of lights, from whom every good and perfect gift comes (James 1:17), and the God who hears our prayers. Too often we are more like the rock badger (Ps. 104:18) than we are like adopted sons for Christ’s sake. The psalmist, however, says:

Yahweh is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. (Ps. 145:18–19)

When we call out to God our Father to meet our needs, we call on him in faith, in trust and confidence for Christ’s sake that he hears our prayers and is, as is often said, “more willing to hear than we are to pray.” Sometimes we think that our material needs are beneath God’s attention. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a lie of the Evil One to think this way, because our physical, material, and bodily needs (note: we are talking about needs not desires) are basic and they persist.

We call on him in faith, in trust and confidence for Christ’s sake that he hears our prayers.

If we stop looking to God, our needs are not going away. We will, we shall, look to someone or something. That one or thing is necessarily an idol. To refuse to look to our heavenly Father for our needs is a quick route to idolatry.

This is one reason why our Lord taught us:

“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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are 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!” (Matt. 7:7–10)

Observe the imperatives: “ask” (αἰτεῖτε), “seek” (ζητεῖτε), “knock” (κρούετε). Our Lord did not juxtapose trusting with asking. Asking is an expression of trusting. We do not ask those whom we do not trust. Refusing to ask is an act of unbelief. Imagine that you do not trust your co-worker. How do you relate to her? Do you confide in her? No. Do you ask her to help you with a project? No. Why not? Because you do not trust her. You fear that she will betray your confidence, that she will take your request for help as a sign of weakness on which she might capitalize. Asking is trusting.

“In him we live and move and have our being.”

To whom should we go but God? Who else can meet our needs? The apostle Paul prosecuted the pagans at Mars Hill for their blindness in calling upon gods who could neither hear nor speak to meet their needs. He remonstrated with them about the God who is, whom they knew by nature, whom they knew naturally and intuitively (though not savingly apart from God’s special, sovereign, regenerating grace):

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.” (Acts 17:24–28)

We know that Paul was referring to the universal, natural knowledge of God because he quotes not one but two pagan writers, most likely Epimenides of Crete (6th or 7th century BC), whom Paul also quoted in Titus 1:12 (“All Cretans are liars, evil beasts, and gluttons”). He also quoted a Greek poet from the 4th century BC. In other words, he takes these truths as self-evident to sane, rational people. In other words, these truths are so basic that one need not be regenerate to see them as true. To be sure, to appreciate them fully, as they should be appreciated, to believe them truly, one must be regenerated, but Paul was preaching the law to pagans from pagan writers.

Only God is capable of hearing our prayers.

That is how foolish it is to seek our daily well-being anywhere else and from anyone other than the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our friends tire. Our family disappoints. Only God is immutably faithful. Only God is omnipotent. Only God is omnipresent and immense. Only God is always nearby. Only in him do we live and move and have our being. Only he is capable of hearing our prayers. Only he never tires of hearing from us. Only he is able to help us.

Finally, did you notice in Psalm 104 (above) that one of the ways the Lord answers our prayers is work? We should not think that work is outside the Lord’s providence. No. Steady, gainful work, fulfilling our vocation before the Lord, is one of the ways the Lord provides. We pray for work, and then, by God’s grace, we go and do it. Through that provision and process he answers our prayers.

We are not praying for food, clothing, and other necessities to drop out of the sky. Sometimes the Lord does provide in unusual and marvelous ways, but that is why we distinguish between the ordinary and the extraordinary providence of God. We have no promise from God (whatever the quasi-pagan health and wealth preachers may say) that he will cause necessities to drop out of the sky. We do have a promise that he will use means, and work is one of those means.

Was Paul unbelieving when he said, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10)? Not at all. We are unbelieving when we treat God like a cosmic slot machine or as if we had to manipulate him to get what we want. The Lord uses means such as prayer and work to accomplish his purposes. Like believing children we trust him enough to ask for what we need, and as believing adults, we make use of the means he provides in answer to godly prayers.

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R. Scott Clark is professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California) and the author of Recovering the Reformed Confession (P&R, 2008).

This article by R. Scott Clark is adapted from “Heidelberg 125: Trusting And Asking Our Father To Provide” at heidelblog.net.

Recommended:

Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice by R. Scott Clark

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