“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
— Isaiah 55:8–9

There is a tension in parenting. It’s the fine line between giving to your children and giving in to them.

Giving to your children means making wise choices to invest time, money, and other resources to help them become who they are created to be. Giving in demands no such agenda. It simply requires complicity with their wishes.

I must admit I’m not the best at walking that line.

Like the time I let my 8-year-old daughter hop in a go-cart with a friend of hers (another 8-year-old who had owned the go-cart for all of several hours). I began rethinking my decision about the time the young driver rounded a curve and flipped the vehicle. My worst fears were relieved when my daughter got out and walked away, but the fact that her arm had a funny S-shaped curve to it meant that something was wrong. I continued to mull over my decision as I carried her inside to her mother and hopped in the car to take her to the emergency room.

Wouldn’t it be great if, as a father, I only gave to my children rather than gave in to them?

Fortunately, our heavenly Father knows the difference and never crosses that line.

Oftentimes, however, it seems that we wish he would. That’s because, unlike him, we tend to have our immediate desires and not our best interests in mind. Our prayers are centered around what we want or, perhaps, what we think we need. But our heavenly Father knows exactly what we need, even when we don’t. The emotional distance between the two — what we think we need vs. what we actually need – can become a relational distance between us and our Father if we’re not careful.

Andy Stanley talks about the gap that appears in a relationship when one person fails to live up to the expectations of another in a given situation. Maybe it’s arriving late to a meeting, or not completing an assignment. At the moment it happens, we can fill that gap with either trust or suspicion. Suspicion casts doubt on a person’s motives for their lack of performance (or worse, assumes wrong motives, such as laziness or ineptitude). Trust, however, assumes the best about the person and gives them the benefit of the doubt. How we choose to fill the gap — either with trust or suspicion — can have a great impact on our relationships.

And so it is with God.

When our heavenly Father acts in ways we don’t understand and are contrary to our desires (especially when we lift them up time and time again in prayer), a spiritual gap can emerge. What will we put in that gap?

Knowing and believing the character of God can help us make the right decision when the time comes. Even though it may not make God’s answer any more desirable, it will help us trust that he always acts in our best interests. Consider the following revelations of his character:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
— Philippians 1:6

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
— Romans 8:28

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
— John 3:16

This last verse is perhaps the best indication of just how deeply God loves us — and the lengths he is willing to go to on our behalf. John 3:16 tells us that God is a giving and not a giving-into Father. Because of this, we can be sure that we will not always get what we ask for from him, but we will always get what we need.

Giving in to my daughter cost her a broken arm. If God were to give in to us, the price would be much higher. The next time God doesn’t answer your prayers the way you think he should, stop and consider his character and fill the gap with trust in his unconditional, unbounded love for you. He is a life-giving God who truly has your best interests at heart. And that’s a love worth giving in to.