Jesus is encouraging His disciples to pray (like most of us, they found it difficult). He assures them (and us) that God is both ready and willing to answer our prayers; and that, because He is a perfectly loving Father, we can be confident that He will only give us what is good for us – which may, of course, not be what we ask for!
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 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 the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
The Holy Spirit is the greatest of His good gifts – a gift that every child of God receives (Galatians 4:6). So if we have the Holy Spirit, then we can be sure that many other blessings will be ours for the asking. As Augustine said, “What would He not now give to sons when they ask, when He has already granted this very thing, namely, that they might be sons?”
“How much more will your Father in heaven give …”
James states, firstly, that our God is the Source of all that is good (both material and spiritual); and secondly, that He is absolutely reliable. He has already mentioned the gift of wisdom and God’s abundant generosity (verse 5), and the less welcome ‘gift’ of trials that strengthen our faith (verses 2,3). And we have already received God’s gifts of salvation and new birth (verse 18). He is a God that we can trust.
This psalm is a prayer for national renewal (probably after the Exile). The community of returned exiles were impoverished both materially and spiritually (as we can see from reading the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Haggai). They needed good harvests (verse 12); but their main concerns were love, righteousness and peace – and, even more, an assurance that God was with them (verse 13).
II Kings 2:1-15
“He will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
The Holy Spirit was manifested amongst God’s people under the Old Covenant – but was only given to a few individuals, not to all. One of these was Elijah. Elisha’s request for a ‘double portion’ of the Spirit was not because he wanted ‘twice as much’ of the Spirit as Elijah had, but because the ‘double portion’ was the inheritance of the eldest son; he wanted to inherit Elijah’s commission and the power with which to carry it out. Elijah knew that only God could bestow such a gift. Elisha’s vision of the fiery chariot was the sign that his request had been granted; his ability to perform miracles was the proof.
Why is the Holy Spirit so important? It is the gift of the Spirit that makes the New Covenant so radically different from the Old Covenant. For the Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out (II Corinthians 5:17), transforming our natural stubborn sinfulness into a desire to do what God wants (Romans 8:1-11).
All those who turn to Jesus and follow Him will receive two free gifts: forgiveness of their sins, and the Holy Spirit. The promise was not just for that day alone, nor just for the Jewish nation, but for “all whom the Lord our God will call.” And that includes us.