“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” Matthew 7.9From David King
What do you do when your dreams aren’t realised? In our culture this is going to be an increasing challenge. Generations who have been told to follow their dream are now entering into the harsh reality of adulthood. With that they battle disillusionment, shame and anger. Disillusionment as they discover there is no guarantee that they will realise their dreams (or their dreams turn out to be nightmares); shame because it must be their fault that they haven’t reached their dreams; anger that they were sold a lie.
If we are honest, though, this challenge is also one we feel as Christians and it relates most closely to prayer. Why, when I’ve prayed so long for what is so important to me, does God not deliver my dreams? Why does God seem to give me stones when I ask for bread?
In our sermon on 7th February, we saw that God has a bigger vision for us. He wants us to have a dream bigger and more wonderful than the one we presently have – he wants us to share in his glory and his mission for the world – he wants for us his righteousness and his kingdom. What I didn’t have time for in the sermon, was one occasion when a stone turned out to be better than a rock.
Surely as Matthew is recording these words of Jesus here in the Sermon on the Mount, he is remembering an encounter just a few chapters earlier. Jesus is in the wilderness fasting. It is a massive fast of 40 days duration. Satan shows Jesus a stone and tempts Jesus to ask for bread. Satan knows how much Jesus’ body is craving food and he targets him when Jesus’ strength and resources were at a low ebb (Satan always fights dirty). If Jesus listens to Satan, he will be letting go of his reliance on his Father. So, whilst that mouthful of bread might satisfy Jesus’ craving for a moment, whilst it might appear to be the very thing Jesus most needs, Jesus knows that it will pull him away from his Father. And so, Jesus chooses the stone instead of the bread.
The truth of this is that sometimes what we really need is the stone and not the bread. This helps us understand a little bit more of why, despite our prayers, we still suffer. For Jesus, the suffering of the stone was a greater gift than the sustenance of the bread, so also for us, suffering is often the only true path to us realising God’s greater dream for us.
Paul writes, “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3). Paul knew that when God answered his prayers with what appeared to be the stone of suffering, he was really receiving the one who is the bread of life.