As Christians, we scold ourselves a lot, not the least of which is about prayer.
Have you heard this one?
“God isn’t Santa Claus, you know, and He gets tired of our putting a wish list in front of Him all the time.”
While it’s true that God isn’t Santa Claus, the implication that He emits an exasperated sigh whenever we approach Him with our requests, belies the encouragement we are given to do so in Philippians 4:6:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
The Santa Claus association also reduces the trusting belief of the average believer to childish demands, implying that we are focused on Me Me Me all the time when we express our fears about finances, health, relationships, or life direction — key areas all humans struggle with.
“Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:7. This clear invitation to bare our hurts, needs, wants, and desires before the One who loves us doesn’t come with caveats, like — “Don’t pray for a new car. That’s selfish. And don’t pray for small, insignificant things. That wastes My time.”
All Prayers Matter
While it’s easy to look at other people’s prayers — especially if they have been vulnerable enough to share them with us — and discount them as immature, shallow, unimportant, and just plain wrong — it is not our job to police the thoughts of others, and the beauty of grace is that we can pray for something even with the wrong motivations, and Jesus does not impatiently thrust us aside, exclaiming,
“Come back when you have something worth talking to Me about!”
When we ask for a new car, and our motives are truly selfish, we may or may not get the car — but complementing the answer will be gentle teaching on the part of the ultimate Teacher, who is constantly forming and shaping us into better, wiser, more loving beings. (This is an aspect pointedly overlooked and ignored by the Prosperity Preaching crowd, which makes hay, and money, by preying upon people’s desire for material wealth.)
Unlike humans, Jesus does not resort to petty scolding, shaming, berating, censuring, and reproaching. In case we haven’t noticed, negative techniques, while they can bring about a temporary change, generally don’t work for the long term — and long term, as in eternity — is a big thing with God.
Jesus Does Things Differently
As an example of Christ’s way of doing things, John chapter 6 relates Jesus’s feeding the 5,000, in which He takes five small barley loaves and two fish, gives thanks, and executes the ultimate doing a lot with a little performance. People were impressed, so much so that the next day, finding Him gone, they seriously went looking, bundling themselves into boats and rowing across the lake to the other side — no easy feat.
They were looking for Jesus. Sort of.
“I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill,” was the first thing He told them in verse 26.
Signs and wonders always fascinate us, and throughout the Gospels, people seek them:
“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.” Jesus told a royal official seeking a cure for his dying son in John 4:48.
When we consider this as a reproof, it looks harsh, because the man’s response is, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
It’s a prayer any of us would make, and Jesus’s statement, as opposed to scolding, is simply stating a fact — a true fact, as further verses show:
“The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, ‘The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.’
“Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ So he and all his household believed.”
Notice the juxtaposition?
He Does Not Condemn Us
Jesus knows, but does not condemn us for, our sincere desire that He prove His power, grace, mercy, and love for us through His actions. It’s a sign of our spiritual immaturity, but our loving Father knows how to raise children.
Let’s go back to John 6:26-27, in which Jesus points out that His “followers” were satisfied with something far less than even signs and wonders — they would settle for bread and fish — extremely temporary desires that need to be fulfilled again and again:
“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you,” He says.
In other words, seek the Creator, not the creation; the One Who answers the prayer, as opposed to the prayer’s answer. It’s a fine, but important distinction, one that may take a long, long period of frustrated, unanswered prayer before we see the importance of striving — asking, seeking, knocking — for.
Because once we get bread, once it’s eaten, it’s gone. Jesus encourages us to seek “the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.” (John 6:50)
This bread will sustain us through everything, and it is ultimately what we should — but frequently don’t — seek, because we are temporal creatures, battened and battered about by our circumstances, and seeking relief from pain, anxiety, and fear.
That relief is there, but to avoid going up and down with our circumstances — happy because this prayer was answered, but unhappy because it wasn’t answered quite the way we wanted; relieved that the check came in, but panicking about the money needed for tomorrow’s bills — we have to focus less on the answer to our prayers, and more on the One doing the answering.
“Your forefathers ate manna and died,” Jesus tells the Jews. “but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:58)
Let us pray — confidently, trustingly, and many times with the wrong motivations — but let us rest in the hands of Him who loves us enough to guide us, teach us, hold us, and love us.
He’s bigger — and better — than Santa Claus.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Quite frankly, I have told God more than once, “I’m less interested in growing in maturity than I am in Your answering my prayer.”
We are free to be honest with Him — that’s what grace is all about.
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