There’s a simple word that’s been rattling around in my brain for months: thriving.
I really believe that God intends for His children to thrive. Jesus said, “I have comes that they may have life, and have it to the full.” I want that to be the experience of every member of the Columbia community. I want to make that happen. And that’s the problem. Because I can’t do that. Only God can.
During our years in Africa, I met many people who were genuinely joyful. They didn’t have a lot of material possessions. Many of them had very difficult lives. But it seemed that nothing could get them down. What I noticed about them was that those people prayed, quite a lot. Here in Canada? The people I know who are thriving are people who know God personally. They’re people who pray.
I’ve come to the realization that I like to do things for God. I like to talk to people about God, and I want to know God’s Word really well. But I don’t slow down nearly often enough to simply commune with God. And the result is that much of my activity is a frantic striving, instead of a calm, purposeful following after Jesus.
And so I am learning to pray. The two things I’m learning are that God is willing, and God is able.
God is willing
I think that a major reason many of us don’t pray very much is because we don’t believe God wants to respond to our prayers. We may have developed a distorted view of God, viewing him as a mean ogre, who will only dish out a few crumbs of goodness if we work hard enough or suffer long enough. Perhaps when we consider our lives, we look at our sin and mistakes and think, “God would never listen to me – I’ve blown it way too often.” He’ll only answer if I work my butt off and prove that I’m worthy – you know the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.”
I can guess that some of us have formed these ideas because we’ve prayed in the past, and not received the answers we were hoping for. In an effort to understand our experiences we can develop explanations that are badly mistaken, ideas that create distance between ourselves and God.
Jesus dealt directly with the idea that God doesn’t want to respond to our prayers in Luke 11:1-13. It’s the parable of a person who knocks on is neighbour’s house at midnight to ask for food to feed a hungry house-guest.
Read Jesus’ parable carefully. God is not like a friend who doesn’t want to be hassled late at night. As if God gets into his pajamas and crawls under the covers at bedtime! And yet I believe some of us read this passage in precisely this manner. We think that God doesn’t want to be bothered with our concerns. But Jesus says just the opposite – “Ask and it will given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”
And in case we still don’t get it, Jesus compares human fathers to our heavenly father. Most fathers want what is best for their kids. How much more so God in heaven! And like any good father, God wants to be with us – to be known by us. That’s why Jesus mentions the Holy Spirit being given to those who ask. Prayer is not a transaction – it’s a relationship. God does not want to just give us “things.” He wants us to experience all of who He is. He is willing.
God is Able
So if God is willing to respond to our prayers, then why is it that we don’t always receive what we ask for? Perhaps, we think, there is another problem. Maybe God isn’t able to make a difference. The truth is that God can handle anything – he’s the Creator of the universe, he can raise the dead, calm the storm, feed the 5000! Nothing is too difficult for God. But he waits for us to recognize his power and ask for his help. Of course that doesn’t mean that every time we ask, we receive what we want. People suffer illnesses and die, circumstances don’t work out the way we plan, with the result that some of us determine to rely more on ourselves, and less on God.
Too often that is the path I have chosen. I don’t like to admit it, but I’m not a great prayer warrior. I’m much more of a “work warrior.” With all my heart, I want to help Columbia become a thriving college that’s Christ-centred, Kingdom-focuses, world-impacting.
But I can’t make it happen – only God can. Only God is able.
Where are you at today? We know God calls us to work hard, and do our best with the gifts and resources He’s given us, but He wants us to do life together with him. To live an abundant life, to experience God’s blessings, to receive the Holy Spirit requires us to ask God. Don’t hold back. God is willing. God is able.
[adapted from a message given at CBC’s chapel service on January 8, 2015]