Monday, April 30, 2012

Break On Through: Part Two

Jesus:  Listen to what I’m saying to you.  Whatever your heart’s desire is, ask for it!  But when you ask for it, have faith that you are going to receive it.  And you will get what you ask for.
~Mark 11:24

How many times have we read this verse, or heard it in a sermon, or saw it quoted in a book and gone away feeling cheated, or confused, frustrated, or even deceived?  We believe that the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of the living God and would defend our truth claim vehemently, however in our own hearts, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we often don’t’ believe it, especially when we come across verses like the one mentioned above.  The fierce truth is that we somehow either think that God is lying to us or tricking us somehow; or that there has to be some theological explanation for why these verses don’t work like they are supposed to; or that we just are not doing it right.

For example, in John 14:12, Jesus says: “Most assuredly (I’m really serious about this) I say to you (listen up, here is a promise I’m giving you), he who believes in me (that’s every believer including you and me), the works that I do (healing the sick, casting out devils, cleansing lepers, raising the dead, supernatural feeding programs, preaching to the multitudes) he will do also; and greater works than these (signs, wonders, acts, etc. that are more impressive or far reaching than Jesus did) he will do, because I go to the Father.” 

You don’t hear it preached in most churches, because most pastors and preachers don’t know how to handle it.  Most of us simply ignore this verse (and ones like it) because it doesn’t make sense to us.  “Surely He didn’t mean that literally,” we reason with ourselves, all the while calling the transcendent, uncreated God a liar in our hearts; or at best we might spend a minute or two daydreaming about how cool it would be if we could go around doing the works of Jesus.

The point I’m trying to make, is that there is often a disconnect between our Western understanding (or lack thereof) and the simple words of Jesus found written in the Holy Scripture. 

Sow how do we get it to work (for lack of better phraseology)?  We must come to the conclusion that either God is a liar, or we are not doing something correctly.  And since most genuine Christians believe that the Bible is the infallible and inspired word of God, we must logically conclude that we are the problem!  “…let God be true but every man a liar.” ~Romans 3:4

Let’s go back to the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18 as we discussed on our last post.  Jesus taught this parable so that people would not give up when they pray, as the Scripture tells us in verse one:  “Then he spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not loose heart.”  Jesus continues with the story of a widow who goes day in and day out to the courts of a heartless judge so that she would get justice from being wronged by her enemy.  She eventually gets what she desired, and not because of the judge’s goodness, but because of her incessant pleading. 

Jesus explains that if we have a Father who loves us and has hand picked us, how much more will He give us what we desire if we will come to Him with such persistent prayer.  Are we not worth far more than the sparrow? Then, the Lord ends the parable with the strangest statement: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on earth?"

So why did He throw the word faith in there if the subject of the parable was persistence in prayer?  Was it to confuse us?  Was it to show his incomprehensible genius?  Was it just another one of those statements that Jesus makes so that we can’t put Him in a religious box? Or is there a connection between persistent prayer and faith?

I submit to you that it is the latter.  Allow me to explain.  The Scripture tell us in Hebrews 11 that it is impossible to please God without faith.  What pleases God most?  Relational connection with His children.  Therefore it is easy to ascertain that God, in His deep desire to have fellowship with His people starves us out of prayerlessness by not answering our prayers immediately so that we will have to engage with his heart in order to get what we want in prayer. I know, it doesn’t sound very spiritual, but He’s so lovesick for us, that yes, he will result to bribery of sorts to get us to connect with Him on a heart level!

In this parable, Jesus is equating faith (our ability to please God) with our persistence in prayer.  In other words, our regular going to God for fellowship and the things that we need and/or desire on our earthly pilgrimage is what pleases Him the most.  When we have an intense need or desire, our heavenly Father desires to be the One who brings  the answer.  He longs for us to connect our fulfilled desire with His answer, but the only way for us to connect the dots in our finite and feeble minds is to spend a considerable amount of time in prayer for a matter, so that when such an answer is given, we know the source from whence it came. 

This interwoven cycle of persistent prayer and answered prayer serves not only to increase our faith when we see our desire fulfilled, but it deepens our intimacy with God, even though it may have begun with selfish motives on our part.  As we begin to see our prayers answered, we begin to know that He really is interested in our little lives!

“And whatever you ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father might be glorified in the Son.”

Read that verse again and notice the last part:  “that the Father might be glorified…”  When the Holy Spirit revealed this to me I was floored!  I was like, “You mean to tell me that when my prayers are answered it actually glorifies God! What!” And He was like, “Yes!” And I was like, “OMG!” And He was like, “Yes I Am.”  So many times we have this incorrect picture of God begrudgingly answering prayers after checking the naughty and nice list like some cosmic Santa Clause.  NO!  Jesus wants to answer our prayers, because it brings the Father glory when He does it!  He wants to be our answer, but He forces us to do it His way (persistently and sometimes for a long time) so that 1) we don’t deceive ourselves into thinking He is some genie in a bottle or Santa Clause character 2) so that we can grow not only in asking Him for stuff, but in genuine relationship and 3) so that through persistent prayer, He can realign our selfish prayers into prayers that actually line up with His will and reflect His name. That’s why he says, “whatever you ask in my name, that will I do…”
Persistent prayer is God’s formula for changing our desires into His will and for preventing us from getting answers to prayers that are not good for us!  It is through the process of persistent prayer that He downloads His desires into our hearts. This may give new meaning to the often quoted verse “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.”

Beloved, it is in the place of persistent prayer, where His desires become our desires, and where our prayer become His answer.

In the Lion, In the Lamb,

mark whitten