What Do You Want?
‘What do you want?’
My son Zechariah is two years old. His age is significant to this scenario because if you want to see yourself spiritually, hang out with a two-year-old. A few weeks ago, I snuck away to shower, which is usually a commodity for a stay-at-home parent. After a few minutes, Zechariah came to find me. I knew what to expect from him because anytime I am doing anything without Zechariah, he demands to be included. His following reactions, though comical, are exactly what we look like to God sometimes. Just like two year old’s, we get irritated with God’s responses because we don’t truly understand why we’ve asked God for the things that we’ve asked him for. I have found myself in these exact places when making requests to God, and perhaps you have too. These three scenarios should cause you to question the nature of your requests to God, to better understand God’s responses. First, and most often, we make requests without any real expectation, secondly, we make underestimated requests, and lastly, we make requests out of fear.
We Make Requests Without Any Real Expectations.
Without any preparation of his pajamas or towel, Zechariah wanted to be included. Like most children his age, when he wants something, he gets tunnel vision about whatever that particular ‘want’ is, and it becomes hard for him to see anything else other than what he wants. Once he had established his desire to be with me in the shower, he proceeded to argue with me, saying random and irrelevant things. Two-year-olds talk well enough to argue, but not well enough to make any valid points. I don’t believe he anticipated actually getting in the shower, he was more focused on arguing his request than receiving my answer. Similar to this situation, we want things enough to ask for them, but we don’t often prepare ourselves to receive them. Without preparation, we will find that God’s ‘yes’ tends to feel like a ‘no’ because we don’t feel like doing the work. Just like Zechariah’s tension with being told that he should come with his pajamas, our tension with God in these situations is usually rooted in our prideful attempts to demand 100% from God, while only offering minimal obedience from ourselves. Our minimal obedience is not just an inability to do what God tells us, it also stems from a lack of faith in that what God commanded of us will actually yield what he said it would. From this, I’m reminded of the death of Lazarus in John 11:39, where Jesus said “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Or with the disabled man in John 5:6-7, Jesus says, ‘Do you want to get well?’ ‘Sir,’ the disabled man answered, ‘I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I’m coming, someone goes down ahead of me.” We see in the instance of Zechariah, Martha, and the disabled man irrelevant responses, answers to questions they were never asked, simply because they weren’t prepared to do what was asked of them. And they were so fixated on their problems, that they missed the point. If anything, their irrelevant responses delayed what was already theirs. With faith, Zechariah just needed to go get his pajamas, Martha just needed to move the stone, and the disabled man only needed to pick up his mat and walk.
We Make Uninformed Requests
Back to my son, Zechariah, he brings back his pajamas, gets in the shower, and freaks out. His height was not compatible with the angle of the showerhead and he was not happy. It really didn’t take long before he and I both understood that he didn’t know what he was asking for. This leads to my next point, where we ask God for things we know nothing about. Thankfully, unlike me, God searches our hearts and understands the deep roots of our desires even when we don’t, oftentimes keeping us from the things we think we want but would destroy us if we received them. If God had given me the career or the spouse I thought I needed 8 years ago, it would’ve destroyed me. His perfect, predetermined will protects us from those underestimated requests. Observe Mark 10:37-39. James and John ask Jesus, “Allow us to sit at your right and your left in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup I drink, or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We are able,” they told him. My toddler, myself, James, and John wanted positions with no foreknowledge. Think about it, James and John unknowingly asserted that they could drink from the cup of divine wrath that Jesus would drink from. I believe that if God hadn’t held back on my selfish desires like he held back on theirs, and given me himself instead, I would spend an eternity drinking from that wrath-filled cup too. The bottom line is that we often times marvel at the cups that we would never ask to drink from, if we knew what was in them, and our selfish requests could lead us to some dangerous cups indeed. Martin Luther assures us, “For what God gives I thank indeed; what he withholds I do not need.”
We Make Requests Out Of Fear
Fast forward to the end of our shower fiasco. By this point, Zechariah still hasn’t released his death grip on me. Now he’s horrified, asking to get out. Instead of removing him, I kept him in the shower because I needed him to understand how irrational his fear was in light of me holding him. I am also thankful that God does the same with us. This brings me to my last point, where we blindly make requests out of fear. Matthew 14:22-32 covers the well-known story of when Peter and the disciples encounter Jesus as he walks on the water. At first sight, they are absolutely terrified. Peter being Peter asks out of fear, “Lord, if it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus replies, “Come.” The scripture goes on, “and climbing out the boat, Peter started walking on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord save me.” Beyond the obvious image of Peter being fearful of the storm, the scripture tells us the disciples were afraid of who or what Jesus was, even as he was simply walking on the water toward them. At the end of the matter, Jesus did more than call Peter out of the boat, he called him out of fear. Peter must’ve thought his fear would be coddled by Jesus allowing him into the water, but Jesus used the water to meet him in his fear instead. Similar to me keeping Zechariah in the shower with me in spite of his fear, I have found that God removes my fear not by simply taking it away, but he denies the requests that I make to cushion my fear, often using what I fear to prove his power supersedes it. We would do well to remember that unlike us, God goes for the roots, even when we fearfully ask him to pluck the leaves.
We’re Not So Different
Now that it’s clear how much we are all spiritually impetuous toddlers, let me encourage you with how great God is in all of our shortcomings. Jesus patiently responded to Martha, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” And to the disabled man, “Get up, pick up your mat and walk.” The takeaway from this is that even when we make requests without expectations, it will never constrain God’s ability to be a patiently powerful God, still graciously giving us what we ultimately needed. In the next scenario, Jesus patiently rebuked James and John, reassuring them that they would indeed receive from him, but not what they selfishly desire. The takeaway from this is that God never withholds anything that is truly good for us, and in giving us himself we receive the greatest thing we never asked for anyways: him. Finally, Jesus approached the disciples walking on water, and called Peter out of the boat, knowing that his request to walk on the water was nothing less than an attempt to compensate for his fear. Our final takeaway is that God is fully aware of the real issues under the surface of every request. When we’re fixated on fear, we tend to ask God for skin-deep fixes, but he insists on doing surgery every time. Moving forward, in order to better understand God’s ways and his responses, we should ask ourselves what’s at the heart of what we really want and thank God that at every level, he’s more concerned with what we need.