Monday, October 24, 2011

Asking - part II

Jesus made a pretty bold statement when he was on the planet: "Ask anything in my name and I will do it"  (John 14:14).  A wide open statement.  Ask anything.  Anything.  Anything at all and He will do it. 

What is He trying to tell us?  What did he mean?  Did He really mean anything?

I really think that He meant what He said - anything.  However, that "anything" has a condition on it - in my name, or as another translation puts it, "according to" my name. 

One thing Jesus is NOT saying is that if we tack "in Jesus name" on before we end our prayer, He is obligated to answer that prayer.  I am not sure where the tradition of adding this phrase on the end of a prayer came from, but I do know that He did not mean us to use this as a "magic" phrase that will get us what we want.

So what did He mean if He didn't mean that?  I believe a part of the key is found in James 4:

1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. 

The setting of this section of the letter from James is about fighting, being self centered and trying to get the things that you want.  He makes a pretty bold statement at the end of this section: you ask for things but you don't get them because all you want to do is spend it on yourself.  The statement is pretty straight forward - when I ask for something that is me centered, that is for my benefit, that is for my pleasure, that fills a worldly longing deep down in my soul - I am not going to get it.

I mean, if I pray that God will use me to serve others, do you think that God will refuse to answer that prayer?  If I pray for a new car because I am not content with the one that I have or I am sick of having to repair it all the time, God might think it best to not provide me a new car to "get me out of a jam".  If I pray that I will understand what the Spirit is trying to tell me to help me be more obedient, I think that God will grant that request.  If I pray that God will give me a different job because I do not like the environment that I am currently working in, God probably will not honor that request.

Here is the problem.  It sometimes takes a TON of work to determine the "why" for what I am asking for.  Why am I asking for a new car?  Why am I asking for the ability to serve?  Why do I want a new job?  If there is any hint of me in the request, then God is not obligated to answer us; or more appropriately the answer will probably be no.  Before I ask, I have to examine my heart.  I have to determine if my heart is in the right spot (me or God centered).

If it is, ask for anything!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Two Questions

I often struggle with my prayer life.  The biggest struggle that I have is asking God to do something, asking him to intervene in a situation, asking him to provide something.  Perhaps this is because my upbringing focused a ton on the sovereignty of God to the exclusion of asking him for things.  I mean, if God is sovereign and he does what he wants, when he wants, why does it matter if I ask for something?  I am going to get what I am going to get.  Life is going to be what life is going to be.

Mind you, I am not upset by this.  I totally believe that God is loving, that he cares for me and that he has my best interests in mind.  I know, and believe, that whatever happens in my life is for my good - all things work together for good to them that love God to them that are called by his name (Rom. 8:28).  I don't believe God is out to get me in a negative sense, like some cosmic disciplinarian.  He wants me to be holy, to experience the kind of life that he designed me to experience and to worship and love him for it and I know that takes work (rooting out my sinful patterns and behaviors).  I totally get this and totally believe this.

That is what makes asking God so hard for me.  I know he is going to provide what I need - he promised.  I know that he will care for me - he promised.

Having said all that (sorry), there is something that happens as a relationship develops that allows one to ask.  I haven't really figured this on out yet, but I know something is out there.  How?  Take a look at Mark 10.  There are two vignettes in the life of Jesus that are recorded in this chapter.

Vignette #1 - Two of the apostles come to Jesus to ask him something:

 35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
   36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
 37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” 

If you read one chapter before this, you see what there was an argument between the disciples regarding who was the greatest.  This really weird question seems to be a follow-up to that whole discussion.  Notice Jesus response - "What do you want me to do for you?"  There response to his question was - give us a prominent place in your kingdom.  We want to be the big cheeses - next to you of course.  Needless to say, Jesus did not, nor could he, grant this self centered request.  Frankly, they should have known better than to make this request because Jesus had just taught them about greatness in the kingdom (the greatest = the servant of all).

Vignette #2 - The blind man on the road from Jericho

  46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
 48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
   So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
   51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
   The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
   52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Jesus asks the same question of this man - what do you want me to do for you?  Bartimaeus answer to Jesus question is self centered also - I want to see; I want MY eyes opened.  Jesus grants his request and heals him.  Of note though is Jesus' assessment of the man - he had faith.  He had the faith to believe that this Rabbi was the Messiah (indicated by the use of the title Son of David).  He had the faith to believe that Jesus could heal him.  Jesus didn't say that his request healed him, but that his faith did.  Period. 

Ponder this for a while and I think that in my next post I will look at James 1 and see what he has to say about this asking thing.  Sorry about the long post.

Sunday, October 09, 2011


I was driving home from church this morning.  I taught a class at another campus, so I had an opportunity to have a longer drive home than usual.  I was looking a the many trees that are changing color along the freeway.  It was a beautifully sunny day, so the colors were vibrant!  The reds seemed to be more red; the yellows more yellow; the oranges - terrific.  The creativity of the creator was on display for sure and my soul was moved to worship him for creating this so that I, and the others on the highway, could enjoy it. 

I couldn't help but wonder if there are going to be days like this in heaven. I know that every day God's creativity is on display - the Bible speaks that what can be known of God is revealed in His creation (Romans 1:20).  I also know that heaven is not going to be black and white.  The Bible speaks of heaven having trees that line a river of life, it speaks of jewels and gold, it speaks of bright light of God - it speaks of God's creativity on display for His created beings.  Are there going to be fall colors in heaven?  I don't know for sure, but after days like today, it wouldn't surprise me!!!

Take some time to stop and enjoy the day that God has created especially for you.  Appreciate the beautiful colors that he has painted for you.  Thank him for the eyes that can see the trees changing, that can see the beautiful sunsets of fall, the harvest moon that soon will be coming.  Worship Him for what He has created for you to enjoy!!!!

Sunday, October 02, 2011


One of the most incredible gifts that God has given us is our memory.  Memories can either be good, neutral or bad.  Memories can either liberate us and provide us energy to move forward in tough times or they can be boat anchors that weigh us down and prevent us from growing and developing.  

For those of us who had great times growing up - playing with our brothers and sisters, visiting grandma who gave cookies, learning to ride a bike, vacations with families, school sports - we look back and have "fond" memories of growing up.  For those of us who had tough times growing up - poverty, rough family circumstances, death, strained relationships - we look back and wish that we didn't have these experiences that we had to remember.  The experiences of our lives, and the memories of them, shape us as human beings: our response to the current circumstances to life, our response to others, our view of God and our view of others.

Why are memories important?  For someone who believes in Jesus, we are called to remember.  Throughout the Old Testament, God instructed his followers to remember.  He instituted annual feasts and celebrations so that his people would remember what He had done.  He asked people to put up standing stones as markers so that when people walked by them they would remember what He had accomplished.  Jesus, while He was on this planet, instituted a time of remembrance (we call it communion; the early church celebrated it as a love feast).  God was and is BIG into memories.

Why?  Why is it important to remember?  Why does God want us to return over and over again to what He has done?  Two of the reasons that I come up with: good memories will carry us through the bad times.  If we believe that God was faithful in the past and we are reminded of that over and over again, we will have the expectation that God will be faithful to us.  Understanding the character and nature of God by remembering what He has done will help us understand what our character and actions need to be. 

I also believe that, in spite of all the bad memories that we have, God wants us to remember that He is for us, that He is walking with us and that He loves us.  I don't know where life finds you right now, but I do know that God wants you to remember who He is, what He has done and therefore what He is going to do in you, through you and to you!