According to His will....how many of us forget that part in our prayer life?
In a recent sermon at church on the book of John, the question was posed; How many of us think on Jesus as a Genie, here only to grant our every wish?
Prayer, of course, takes on many forms, including prayer for whatever happens to be needed or desired at any particular time. Restored health for ourselves or a loved one, a financial blessing - over and above enough in some cases. And when we're not getting what we want and it seems our prayers aren't being answered, it becomes common practice to get frustrated and begin to question. Some people even turn away from God, blaming God for what they see as non-deliverance on their prayers, and even accusing Him of not caring.
The prayer of Jabez, for example, is all too often wielded as a Biblical magic wand to be waved around when a new boat, car, holiday, house, or piece of land is desired. This is a common example of a good and just passage of the Bible, in some instances, being completely taken out of context and twisted to suit greedy materialistic thinking.
The prayer of Jabez goes like this (1 Chronicles 4:10); "Jabez cried out to the Lord of Israel, 'Oh that You would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let Your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.' And God granted his request."
You know, in all of this we have a part to play as well. God isn't just here to be at our beck and call. And yet, how often do we think on Him in exactly that way? This prayer that Jabez prayed could have come from anyone; a believer, a non-believer, an upstanding citizen, a murderer, a teenager, or an old man. And based on the books, thoughts, and interpretations written about this prayer by dozens and dozens of people it seems almost as if it's encouraging us to pray like this; ask God and He will give it to you...the Bible says so!
...Yeah, you knew it was coming. But, what is so often overlooked in this passage from 1 Chronicles 4 is verse 9. The materialistic focus stays only on verse 10 and the fact that it is written that Jabez asked and God granted. But verse 9 says this; "Jabez was more honourable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, 'I gave birth to him in pain.'" (Underline added by me.)
Jabez was honourable...that was his part to play, and he played it. It's the role set out for us all! Perhaps if the person making this request was not like Jabez, even if it was one of his not-so-honourable brothers, the outcome would have been vastly different. Jabez had the right motivation, an attitude that began with his very life and how he lived it, and which flowed into his prayer life. James puts it plainly (James 4:2-3); "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. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."
How are our motives stacked up, I wonder? There's a lesson in that for all of us, for two important reasons...
*2nd - (Yes, I'm starting with the second thought!) We can keep in mind that whilst it is encouraged that we pray to God for the things we want, need, or desire, how dare we do that very thing if we are not prepared to do our part? It's like a teenager praying for good exam results but with no intention of studying. Or saying to a friend; "Do this for me and I'll do nothing for you in return." Doesn't seem fair, does it?
*1st - And most importantly, we need to always pray ACCORDING TO HIS WILL!! People forget the according to His will part. Greg Laurie (an American Pastor) said in a podcast on prayer that (and I'm paraphrasing) it is true that the Bible says "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will open to you. For everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks the door will be opened." (Matt. 7:7-8), but if two or three more people are gathered and asking for something completely stupid God is NOT going to grant that request - because it would not be according to His will! It would, most likely, not be God's will that our neighbours cows burst into flames! It was not God's will that the Apostle Paul be healed of his affliction (2 Corinthians 12: 7-9a); "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.'"
So we can sit around all we like, thinking of all the things we think we deserve, or have earned because we are good Christians, or a good parent, or have had a hard life, but whatever comes our way will do so only according to God's will.
And His timing! Psalm 27:14 says; "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." I think this especially applies when we are facing health issues, those of our own or of a loved one. It's so hard sometimes to wait on the Lord, when all we want is for the pain to stop, or when we want a loved one to live, despite debilitating pain caused from terminal illness. I know many people who have lost a family member or close friend and all they wonder is why God allowed this. Sometimes there is no answer to that...there is only faith. Faith is not having the answer to that question but KNOWING that God knows what He's doing.
Sometimes we just don't have the answers. Sometimes the questions mount up until we feel buried by them. Lord, I ask that Your Spirit continues to be our source of comfort and knowing that in You we can always trust, even when nothing else makes sense. Remind us that our faith in You will not go unrewarded, and that no matter what trials or challenges come our way, Your arms of protection are always there to guide us onward and catch us if we fall. In Jesus' Name, we thank You, amen.