“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Matthew 6:7
The text comes from the section on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus encouraged us to not be like unbelievers whose prayers were full of repetitive, empty phrases designed to get the attention of a god. “Do not be like them,” Jesus taught, and then added an explanation that Christians often misunderstand, “for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” What did Jesus mean?
First, this teaching is an encouragement to pray, not an excuse to remain silent. Many people say something along this line: “if God already knows what I need, then what is the use of praying and asking Him?” Pause for a moment and think about this. Do you really think Jesus would have taught anything that would discourage you from prayer? Of course not!
Jesus was contrasting the Gentiles’ gods and God your Father. The former are no gods at all, unable to hear, and unable to respond. By contrast, your Father is already aware of you and your needs. He wants to hear you. This text is an encouragement to pray to your Father who dearly loves and listens to you.
Second, this teaching highlights God’s nature. His nature is love, or as John wrote “God is love” (1 John 4:7 and 4:16). I’m not belaboring the obvious, but trying to help you get to the core of what grace is. God does not love reluctantly nor does He even have to decide to love. Love is God and all of His actions issue from that nature. He is the perfect coalescence of nature, purpose, and action.
Ironically, some people are a bit suspicious of “too much emphasis” on grace, as if to say that if we talk about grace then people are going to start manufacturing meth (i.e. sinning that grace may abound). Don’t go down that route! Grace never leads to licentiousness. It invites us to a more trusting relationship with God, not rebellion against Him. As hard as it is to understand, your actions do not alter God’s love for you, for you cannot alter God’s nature. Your best option is to simply accept grace and learn how it enables your devotion to God in ways that self-generated morality never can.
Finally, the fact that God knows what you need highlights His providence. Your prayers about your needs, worries, fears are not new to God. You have not informed Him of anything He did not already know, but the fact that He already knows means that He is already working to meet your need. He has already anticipated it.
Don’t be trite with providence by reducing it solely to an effort to get every material blessing you want. Providence works first at the micro level of the soul where God transforms and conforms you to the image of His Son, and then God moves out from there. So yes, God does delight in giving good gifts to His children (Matt. 7:11), and His knowledge enables Him to provide the very best to you.
Go ahead now and tell God what He already knows, but do it as a loving son or daughter. Talk to Him and trust Him. He wants to hear you, and He meets your prayers with His love and openness.
Dr. Terry Ellis