Tom Pittman's WebLog

2013 July 12 -- Praying in Faith

Most of the people I know have a very simple faith. Their God is a sort of "cosmic bellhop" that any time they want to ask for something pleasant or nice, He is obligated to give it to them. They even have Bible verses to support this conviction, for example (one of them gave me) this list: Matt.7:7-11, 21:22, John 15:7, Eph.3:20, James 4:2-3, 5:16-18. Although the first of them appears unconditional, taken in context, every one of these verses places a condition of faith on the request. What exactly does that mean?

I think the faith condition is clearest in James 4:3, "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." The faith condition is not successfully wishing and hoping and "believing what you know ain't so," as one wag put it, but getting your desires in line with God's. The First and Second Great Commandments (I call them 1+2C) require putting God's agenda first, ahead of our own, and making everybody else's agenda equal to our own. It is a complete denial of selfishness. If you ask God for what advances His agenda (not your own), He will give it freely. The next verse in the Matt.7:7-11 passage, verse 12 is what we call the Golden Rule. It provides a context for asking and getting good things from God: You are expected to use those good things for the benefit of other people.

One of the young ladies in my church calls herself "an incurable romantic," and is convinced that if she asks God for it, God will give her a perfect marriage with a loving (that is, romantic, affirming) husband. Maybe that is God's will for her and God will give it to her, and maybe not. I suspect that most of the starry-eyed teenage girls in the churches pray for the same outcome, yet (statistically) half of their marriages end in divorce. Did God break His promises? I don't think so. God never promised a perfect marriage to any of us. Jesus said we could expect "tribulation" (major difficulties) and division -- and indeed, that is what happens to good Christians around the world, Americans less than some of the others, but it's already getting worse for even us.

It would appear that getting in line with God's agenda means a reasonable expectation of hardship and broken relationships, including in marriage. So if you are praying for that perfect romance, it's probably not "in faith."  When Bad Things happen to Good People, they become better people, more focussed on helping other people in difficulties. If that same young lady were to get her perfect marriage, then she would most likely become as caught up in her selfish enjoyment of those romantic feelings as she is caught up in the anticipation of it today. Imagining a romantic future for herself does not lead her to abandon her selfish ambitions for the benefit of other people, but rather the reverse. Therefore (it would seem at least in her case), both God's agenda and the Golden Rule are best served by inflicting hardship and disaster on persons of faith. Is this woman an exception? Maybe, but the odds are against it. I myself lack sufficient faith to be asking God for hardship, but I suspect I should be. There really isn't another kind of faith.

Jesus prayed "in faith" for the cup to pass from him, and it did, but not without the hardship of the cross. Are we better or more deserving of goodies and comfort than Jesus Christ? I don't think so.


"Relationshipism" compared to 1+2C

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