Our daughter, Becky, was sick with a cold. She was only five years old at the time. Her coughs had made for a couple of difficult nights, so it wasn’t surprising when she came to her Mom and asked, “Can I have my medicine?”
She was promptly given a good dose of cough syrup. She played for several hours, but came back with the same request, “Can I have my medicine?” Out came the cough syrup, and the dose was repeated.
Later in the day, with the kind of thoughtful reflection that only children can make, she said to her Mom, “Mom, I really wanted those animal-shaped pills.” Becky had spent the day trying to get an animal-shaped vitamin, but was receiving cough syrup instead.
Jesus used the experiences between children and parents to illustrate our requests to God in prayer.
Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11, NIV).
Parents try to give what is good, how much more does God give good gifts. But as Becky learned, sometimes human parents have difficulty understanding our requests. We need not have that fear with God. We have some great assurances that God knows our true needs.
When Jesus taught on prayer, arguing against the empty babbling of the pagans, he assures us “for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). That is not to argue against praying frequently and fervently, on the contrary! It is to give us confidence that God truly understands.
Paul’s teaching on the Spirit should also give us the same confidence:
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. (Romans 8:26-27, NIV)
The “helps” is suggestive. This Greek word means “to help by joining in an activity or effort.” The same word occurs in Luke 5:7 where Simon’s fishing partners come “help” with the miraculous catch of fish in the other boat. For example, picture someone helping you carry furniture. The Spirit doesn’t pray for me. That would be like the helper carrying the furniture by himself. He intercedes with me. I may not always know what to pray for, or how to express myself. Some of the things I may ask for might even harm me, if given. But my Heavenly Father knows my true needs. May we pray without ceasing.