I sat with a friend and his young son, Jeremiah, at a local restaurant. My friend and I had already finished eating and were talking about the Rockets, as Jeremiah paid close attention to everything in the restaurant but the meat on his plate.
Dad kept reminding the child that he still needed to finish his lunch. Each time he was spoken to, Jeremiah would briefly return to his food, but after a small bite he'd go back to playing with the salt shaker or giggling with the child seated behind him.
Finally, dad spoke what seemed to be the magic words: "Jeremiah, if you don't finish that meat, I'm not going to buy you an ice cream cone."
The meat suddenly became the most important item in the room.
Jeremiah would take a bite or two and stay focused until he seemingly forgot what his dad had just spoken to him. Three minutes later, with half his lunch still uneaten, Jeremiah's attention returned to the hustle and bustle of his environment.
Frustrated but determined, my friend went to the counter and got his son an ice cream cone, which sat melting on the table in front of him until every bite of the meat had disappeared from the youngster's plate.
"That's how I see you," God's still small voice spoke very clearly inside of me.
Perplexed, I looked at this cute little kid with melted ice cream smeared all over his face and dripping down the front of his t-shirt. And I realized, in amazement, that God had just used this child and his dad to illustrate a very important point to me.
Our heavenly daddy is no different! He has given us a book of promises and they all sit on the table. Our ice cream cone sits before us, waiting for the moment in which we have done what he has required, feeding on his word and nourishing ourselves so he can gleefully give us the treat we've been so eagerly waiting for.
Our Father is gracious and giving by nature. Jesus said it this way: "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!" (Matt. 7:11)
At times, aren't we just like Jeremiah? How often has God placed his goodness before us, and staying focused and persevering becomes such a challenge we can't see the answered prayer that is literally right within our grasp?
Paul recognized that staying focused on the desired outcome would empower us to stay faithful to the course. "Let us not grow weary in doing good," he wrote, "for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Gal. 6:9).
We know that the only way Jesus got through the misery of the cross was to focus on the end result. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that "for the joy set before him he endured the cross."
Sometimes we just need to keep our eyes on the prize.
The answer to our prayer and the fulfillment of our deepest dreams and longings are all available to us, once we stay focused on the task at hand. Then, he promises to pour out his goodness in a manner that is greater than we can ask or imagine.
We have to finish our meat, so to speak. Sometimes we may not feel hungry anymore. Sometimes the cares of life will distract us. Sometimes the lies of the enemy will replace the promises God has provided us in his word.
The author of Hebrews wrote, "We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised" (Heb. 6:12).
Keep in mind, if we do our part and stay focused and obedient, his word cannot fail.
For Jeremiah that day, it was an ice cream cone. What are the desires of your heart today?
Lift up your hands and praise the living God. He's placed them on the table before you.