You’re getting ready to pray. There’s a lot of very important things on your heart…
Ah, the power of prayer. It’s funny how we often attempt to misuse this wonderful gift. We make it a “wish list.” God is the “genie in a bottle” who can satisfy the ever increasing demands of our want. I am as guilty as anyone of sitting down with God in an attempt to sway His blessings toward my situation(s). If anyone will understand my predicament, I know God will. He loves me, and He wants the best for me…and currently the best is on sale for three days only! We have to hurry…give it to me, God!
Over the years, my prayer life has changed considerably. That’s a good thing, because it used to mimic a laundry list of very detailed requests that I needed handled. My prayers were offered up from the standpoint of greed and personal agenda. I took my requests very seriously, but I belittled the God to whom those requests were made…because I never sought His will. It was all about me, my wants, my desires, and my happiness. Today, through quite a bit of unpleasant discipline from a loving and very patient God, I find a newness in prayer life. My focus has been altered, and my agenda is normally (although not always) placed to the side.
Let’s talk briefly about prayer…
I have heard many Christians discussing prayer. Without fail, there’s always those who speak of God’s goodness in answered prayer, but there are also those who admit that, in their mind, God doesn’t answer their prayers. One gentleman in particular recently quoted this verse to me from memory…
“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” – James 1:6 (NIV)
From his standpoint, this verse of Scripture was the catch-all for God’s goodness. There’s other similar verses (for example, John 14:12-14), but He mentioned this one specifically. He believed that if you wanted something, you just had to believe that it would happen, and because of that belief, God would honor your request. Many late-night “preachers” promote this very same theologically unsound theory, while they try to sell you “miracle spring water” and “prayer cloths,” filling you with hope that God will enact a “divine wealth transfer” into your fiscally unsound situation…because money, not God, is the cure-all to every problem. It makes me nauseous.
As I read the instructions given in James 1:6, I can understand how some people might misconstrue the message; however, let me give you a different, more theologically sound, take on this wonderful passage…
First, there’s nothing wrong with praying for what you want. God knows our hearts, and certainly, at times, our greedy nature. We might as well voice them. Maybe, if we pray for them enough, we’ll begin to pick up on the one-sided nature of our requests. We'll see the manifestation of greed that has somehow infiltrated our communication with Almighty God. Consequently, our desire “for more” often flies in the face of God’s desire for us, and I don’t believe that He is quick to answer requests made from the foolish and greedy nature of our flesh. So, if your prayers for the candy apple red Porsche 911 haven’t been answered yet…just keep waiting…but while you’re waiting, you may want to refocus your prayer life on something of much greater substance.
Second, pray is not primarily about requests for intervention from God. That’s what we seem to make it, but we’re confusing prayer with a Christmas list. Prayer is all about communication and relationship with our Creator. I would say it’s about communication first and listening second. “Requests” distinctively fall somewhere below those two categories. Do we ever take the time in our prayer life to actually listen and allow God to speak? I’ve found in my own prayer life that God is very considerate. He seems to not interrupt me when I’m focused on myself and my wants. He just allows me to ramble on… Too many times, those prayers have ended without me personally and deliberately affording God the opportunity of communication with me. Sad.
Third, prayer is about finding the will of Almighty of God. Prayer is powerful. However, prayer, when coupled with the reading God’s Word, is immensely powerful. We find the outline of God’s character in His Word. It’s there that we can begin to discern His will, and prayer will confirm the manifestation of that will in our life. When we pray, our first request should be to find the will of God. When we pray specifically for certain things, we should pray for God to allow them into our life only if they fit into His perfect will. We should pray that God would sift through the poor character traits that we all possess and strip us of the greed, envy, and self-centeredness that comes so easily…replacing it with a heart for service, sacrifice, and passion for the life and spiritual well-being of others.
I say all of that to say this…
Look at James 1:6 again…
”But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”
What this verse is really saying...
When we ask, when we pray, when we petition God…we should always do it from the standpoint of seeking His will. Anything we pray for should be placed under the sovereignty and protection found only in God’s will. And then, following that, we should “believe” that God will answer that prayer based off of His perfect will. When we fail to see God directly address something that we have prayed for, we should understand that, even though we don’t see it, God has, in fact, directly addressed it.
We can have faith that God hears our prayers, and His answers are directly tied to His plans for us. If we fail to understand this, then we are tossed about through the storms of life in constant frustration and paralyzing uncertainty. Praying for certain things and not receiving them may, in fact, may be an immense blessing from our Heavenly Father. God, in His love for us, shields His children from our sinful nature by not allowing everything into our life that we think will make us happy. He doesn’t always answer prayers to heal the sick on this earth, because His plans for them, and for us, are greater than the sickness. We often continue to struggle through trials, not because God is dismissive of our burdens, but because He wants us to allow Him to help carry that heavy load. And often, God will teach us patience through making us wait.
There’s power in the prayers of the righteous of God (James 5:16b), and those who really love the Lord want His will to play out in their life. Direct communication with God, paid for at great cost by the blood of an innocent Christ, was not established to satisfy the superficial amusements of our greed and want. Prayer was established to give us the foundation of personal communication and intimate relationship with the God who authored our very existence. He’s not Santa Claus. He’s not a genie…He’s God Almighty. When our prayers begin to reflect our pursuit of the sovereignty of God’s will, we will begin to see a power in that communication that defies everything we have previously known about prayer itself.
Take some time to pray for communication and interaction. Stop talking and listen. Refrain from asking for anything other than God to reveal Himself and His will to you…and see what happens. I dare you.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy, nor to achieve pleasure nor avoid pain, but to do the will of God, come what may.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
I love the epic relevance of this quote. We're seemingly in a constant pursuit of happiness, and for some reason, we feel that happiness is the most important thing in life. It seems to be our goal, our dream, and the object of our passionate pursuits. We frantically run from the things we fear. We hide ourselves from even the very thought of things which bring pain. We often, in the pursuit of happiness, compromise the truth of Scripture, and, catering to our controlling nature, we question the sovereignty of God by often living our lives in a self-imposed vacuum. We yearn to simply be happy and amuse ourselves throughout the course of our existence. Our personal vacuum shields us from the harsh realities of life, and we like it that way. However, God hasn't called us to a life of escapism. If we are to be disciples of a living Savior, then we must be compelled to live our lives as He lived His life, out among the world speaking the truth with compassion, sacrificially helping those in need, and daily engaged in finding reasons to love...not hiding behind a pew in church.
The example set forth by Christ...
Christ left the perfect splendor of Heaven to walk as an innocent among a world literally strangling in it's sin. The true impact of Christ's life was not His love for us, but rather the physical demonstration of His love for us. His actions revealed the undeniable fact that His love was real. Christ never said, "I love those people, and I wish someone would help them." He didn't live inside a vacuum; instead, He made a distinctive choice to engage man at the point of our need. And, at the hands of those He came to save, this distinctive choice would cost Him His very life. Christ's choice raises for us a high standard. His life was one of relevant action and not one of words alone. When sinful man rebelled against His very existence, He did not cower in fear. Come what may...Jesus Christ followed the will of God.
God's will leads us down many roads. Often it will lead us away from those we love. We will be compelled by Scripture and the direction of the Holy Spirit to robustly serve and selflessly sacrifice. Often times, we will be hurt in the process of pursuing God's purposes for our life. Honestly, I'm not even sure that we can really be a true disciple of Christ if we haven't been hurt?
Replacing our meager expectations for the perfection of God's will, relentlessly living out His truth instead of pursuing personal gain via our own agenda, and holding fast to the truth of Scripture instead of living by the theology of our own opinions...these are markers that we are letting Christ lead. These things are hard. They are not for the Sunday morning Christian nor are they for those whose faith is based on the fragile nature of feelings. These things are not for the seekers of happiness and health, but they are for the true disciples of a living God, a people of great faith and devotion who trust only in the perfection of God's will. Our willingness to "make small" ourselves and "make great" Almighty God is a pivot point of true discipleship and of the true disciple.
Dynamic sermons, delivered eloquently from the pulpit, do not make relevant disciples. Beautiful songs of worship, performed by polished musicians and singers, do not make relevant disciples. Those who choose to ascribe the entirety of their walk with God through church attendance find great comfort in the consumerism of the modern day church experience. If the message was passionately delivered and the worship set had the right amount of lighting, then they find it too easy to forget those whose lives exist in a world without the Lordship of Christ, just beyond the front door, but just out of reach... Like little fat well fed babies laid to sleep in the protection of a crib, many modern day Christians find that church is the most effective place to hide from the world, and even from the call of God on their lives. The "vacuum" I referred to earlier is often disguised as large beautiful churches, ornately decorated and meticulously maintained...and often as dead as a piece of petrified wood. Theses churches, and their well rehearsed ministries, can become the "pride" of the congregation. Somehow, we feel good about that being enough. How naive.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."
– Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)
The Disciple is of Christ is called to become salt and light to the world...
Satan will move mountains to convince us that happiness is what's important, saftey is what's important, and a painless, carefree life are the distinctive blessings of God's love for us. However, we can't be the salt and the light of God in our world while trying to exist living inside a vacuum. Our walk with Christ is not relevant to the world when we live it cowering behind a church pew, or hidden in a Sunday School class. The perceived greatness of our pastor or church staff has little to do with the relevance of our intimate walk with the Creator. Hiding out from the things that cause fear and pain in the world keeps our focus on God blurry, distant and introverted, and we were not 'fearfully and wonderfully' created (Psalm 139:14) to live a life of spiritual introversion. Our life was created for engagement with a world of sin, boldly making Christ known among the nations.
Let us be encouraged by the flawless legacy of God to protect and provide, and let us be known as His disciples, relentlessly serving God and following the perfection of His will...come what may.
“Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:13-14 (ESV)
Here we see another soul desperately seeking to satisfy an inescapable physical problem, thirst. As surely as the sun has risen everyday in our mortal existence on this earth, we have encountered the need to drink. Our bodies demand it. Water is essential in maintaining the health and operation of internal organs, it is essential to brain function, digestion and temperature regulation. Even the most marginal deficit of water in the human body triggers the feeling of thirst. If we look at the foundational drive behind our thirst, we must understand that, even in the mildest form, thirst is the bodies way of screaming out in fear of death. Without hydration, our body takes the initial step in a very bad direction. Our body understands the severity of the need. Thankfully, all we must do to satisfy our thirst is engage the operation of a sink, a fountain, or possibly a convenience store cooler. We don’t often view thirst from the perspective of life and death, because our physical thirst isn’t such a big problem to satisfy. Our body, however, views thirst as a critical warning of impending danger. But what exactly are we thirsting for?
John 4, among other things, is a narrative of thirst. It is the tale of woman seeking to satisfy a present need. There’s an immense amount of great knowledge found in this story, but today, we’re just going to view it from the perspective of her thirst. She identified a need. She was thirsty for water, but in the pursuit of a drink, she came face to face with the Son of God!
Humans are ill-equipped to handle need. Frankly, we’re ill-equipped to handle satisfaction, as well. My point is this…when we determine that we have a need or desire, we quickly become dissatisfied with our present life until that need or desire is quenched. Moreover, when we do finally satisfy ourselves by attaining that which we desire, it doesn’t take long for that satisfaction to become disenchantment. Most of the things that we long for, the things we’re sure will satisfy us forever, only entertain our senses for a brief season before we are again in the pursuit of something better. It’s as if we can never be happy. Regardless of the monetary value, the rarity, or the tenured wait we had to endure to attain our prize, once it is in our possession, it seems to lose the enchanted luster it possessed on the store shelf, the car lot, or the internet page. Even through the dissatisfaction, we continually thirst for more.
Just as this woman traveled to Jacob’s Well for water to satisfy her thirst, we also dig wells that we hope will bring eternal satisfaction. We visit these wells often. We place our hope and trust in these wells, and we never seem to reach the obvious conclusion that, regardless of what they offer to us, these wells will never produce a product that will eternally satisfy our thirst.
We can dig wells of wealth, hoping that our monetary resources will fund our satisfaction. We can dig wells of materialism, thinking that we can acquire enough ‘things’ to be satisfied. We can dig wells of relationship, trying desperately to find satisfaction in someone else. Sadly, many will dig wells of substance abuse, alcohol, pornography, and violence. All of these wells are visited by people who have a recurring thirst for something that only provides temporary satisfaction. Yet, they continue to make the journey to the same well again and again, and they will continue to realize the same unsatisfactory result...continued thirst, inescapable thirst.
Our satisfaction, when placed in the weak and decaying hands of earthly treasure, is at best fleeting. Satisfaction placed in the hands of others is subject to profound and frequent disappointments associated with any human relationship. Satisfaction grounded in substance abuse, alcohol, and pornography is as damaging as it is superficial. All of these things lead us away from real satisfaction. They are diversionary by nature, and they only seem to create greater need.
We often view satisfaction as a journey…a journey to seek, conquer, spend, consume and collect our way into a great life. I would agree that satisfaction is a journey of sorts, but I would also view satisfaction as a destination. That destination is grounded in truth. Arrival at that destination will, in itself, be the start of another, much greater journey. The destination to which I’m referring is God. Specifically, I’m referring to a true, intimate, growing, and consistent relationship with our Creator through Christ Himself.
We will never truly be satisfied by the offerings of this world. At the very best, they are only temporary, and most are only temporal, or specifically ‘of the world.’ Until we establish the mindset that our real satisfaction is grounded in our relationship with God, we will never experience anything more than fleeting joy and peace from the things of this world.
To be truly satisfied, we have to understand the source of our identity.
Our identity and righteousness are both a product of Jesus Christ.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)
In Christ, we are a new creation, and we are a creation that should derive our satisfaction from the relationship we possess with God Almighty through the redemptive blood of Jesus. We have been redefined! The “old” this verse is referring stretches way beyond our personal redemption from sin; it should extend to a new way of thinking as well. Because “the new has come” into our life, we should think with a new mind, live with a new and renewed sense of purpose, and we should seek a new satisfaction that is grounded, not in sin, but in the relationship and promises of Christ Himself.
No longer should our hope and satisfaction come from wealth or flawed relationships with people. We should not seek to be ‘satisfactorily-amused’ by the fleeting things of earth, but we should long to be eternally comforted and content in Christ by engulfing our lives in the will of God.
“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
– Colossians 3:3 (ESV)
It is only in that relationship, hiding ourselves in Christ, that we will ever truly find peaceful satisfaction that is not based in greed or envy. And, it is only in that relationship where we will experience God’s best…something which cannot be reproduced here on earth.
Our satisfaction does not lie in ourselves. The thirst that we experience comes from a dissatisfaction with the very best that the world has to offer. It possibly comes from the very best that religion has to offer, or the church has to offer. That thirst can only be satisfactorily quenched by a strong and growing relationship with God, through Christ. So when you come to your manmade well seeking a drink…be sure to look for Christ. I assure you that He will be there waiting to engage you in a conversation of relevance.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!