Name it, Claim it?

Bible-Based Help with Faith, Answered Prayer, & God’s Blessing

Grantley Morris

Understanding Prayer

* * *

Prayer is powerful and God is generous. Does this make it impossible for “name it and claim it” to be taken to non-biblical extremes?

Biblical Faith vs Fraudulent Faith

When the Bible speaks of prayer, it usually means praying to God, not to idols or to the devil. Similarly, when it talks of faith, it means faith in God, not faith in oneself or in fate or in money or in the devil. Biblical faith is not just believing; it is believing the right thing.

Faith in God is taking God at his word. That is very different from twisting God’s word into something he has never promised and putting your faith in your own concoction. That is not faith in what God has said; it is squandering your faith in words you have fraudulently stuffed into God’s mouth. Even if wasting your faith on things God’s has not said is an innocent mistake, the result is the same; just as it is whether you foolishly leap off a cliff or accidently fall.

Biblical faith is an expression of love for God; not of greed. It flows from a yearning to please God and glorify him; not a desire to exploit him and exalt ourselves. It is furthering God’s purposes, not our own. This is why faith to endure pain and poverty (Hebrews 11:35-38) is placed in the same category (and chapter) as faith that resulted in deliverances from unpleasant things. It is why, when Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ” (Philippians 4:13, JKV), the context is clear that he was referring to the ability to endure times of impoverishment as well as times of having more than enough (Philippians 4:12).

Faith in God is beautiful because it is lovingly trusting his wisdom and goodness. Biblical faith is about submitting to God. It is equally about fighting “fleshly lusts, which war against the soul,” (1 Peter 2:11, KJV). This is encapsulated in these famous words:

    James 4:7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Sadly, in our arrogant, self-centered society this quote is often decapitated by hacking off the first sentence.

Trying to use faith and prayer to get our own way at the expense of God’s best might be some form of witchcraft (regardless of whether we tack Jesus’ name on the end of it) but it is by no means Christian.

Like Jesus agonizing with God in the garden, faith is submitting to God. It is saying, “Nevertheless, your will be done, not mine.” It is a stubborn determination to settle for nothing less than God’s best; never an attempt to get our own way at the expense of God’s best.

One of the most unpleasant things about parenting is when a child is lovingly told she cannot have something she foolishly craves that will end up endangering her, and she keeps whining and complaining and resorting to every tactic she can muster to coerce or pressure her parents into relenting. Regardless of whether she points to other parents who are less wise and caring, or to other children who are more responsible or are in situations that are slightly different from her own, she will do everything her conniving heart can dream up to state or imply that her parents are selfish or cruel or unjust. Like us ignoring one Scripture and latching on to another, she will try ignoring one parent’s emphatic no and try going to the other parent behind the first parent’s back in the hope of tricking one or the other into saying yes. To the self-centered child, nothing is too low. All that matters is getting her own foolish way.

Do you really want to break God’s heart by sinking to this type of obnoxious behavior? Do you think such ugly self-centeredness makes the sacrificial Lord proud of his children? Is this the fulfillment of the highest of all God’s longings – that we love him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength? Is this the height of faith, or the depth of doubting God’s love, goodness and wisdom, and treating our wonderful Lord as an enemy instead of the one we long to delight?

Biblical faith has nothing to do with letting greed corrupt us into viewing God as a vending machine; it is letting love soar until we see God as the most wonderful and complex person in the universe, and treating him as such. It is trusting God so much that we surrender to his glorious will; never defiantly trying to wrench from him things that might be contrary to his perfect will. It is not about fighting him to get your own will done, but about joining him in fighting everything in you and in the world that opposes his will.

Neither, however, is faith in God about tacking a wishy-washy “if it be thy will” on to prayer; as if one has no idea whether God is wise, good, selflessly devoted to our well-being, and powerful. Nor should it be done because one is too lazy to find out what God’s will is for a specific matter. But neither is biblical faith arrogantly presuming we are as smart as God and can guess what he is saying without bothering to really listen.

We desperately need to know God’s heart but even if we were to know his heart perfectly, that would be no excuse for arrogantly presuming we have the infinite intelligence to know his strategy without consulting him. Which method will he use to bring about his heart’s desire? Knowing, for example, that God’s heart is always fixed on wanting to bless us, is very different from knowing the precise way he will choose to bring this about at any given time.

Because prayer is such a vital subject, I have written much about it in various webpages that are not specifically devoted to the subject. So that you won’t miss these portions, I have gathered relevant excerpts from other webpages and placed them below.

Faith or Fantasy?
As the Bible uses the term, faith is not about manipulating God to get what we want. It involves trusting God enough to submit to his loving wisdom.

Christian faith is about dying to self; not about ‘dying’ to get our own selfish way. This statement is not an endorsement of defeatism – resigning ourselves to never getting our hearts’ desire – but of delighting in the perfection of God’s will and putting more faith in him than in ourselves when it comes to knowing what is best for us.

There’s a vital difference between faith and presumption. Presumption is about seizing some Scripture and rashly claiming it as a promise for ourselves without first seeking God’s heart on the specific situation we face.

Why have so few Christians with supposedly great faith literally walked on water? In this case, the disciple famous for flapping his gums before engaging his brain acted with great wisdom. He walked on water not because he was claiming some Scripture such as, “I can do all things through Christ,” or “ . . . if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart . . .” or “Everything is possible for him who believes,” and so on. Peter’s faith was not in some general Word of God, but anchored on God’s specific word to him for that precise situation. He said, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water” and then did nothing until Jesus replied, “Come” (Matthew 14:28-29). That’s real faith, because it was based not on treating God as a machine that dispenses goodies when the right buttons are pushed, but based on intimacy and loving submission to God.

Peter was not desperately trying to apply some general promise of Scripture, hoping that it might work in this specific instance; he was stepping out on a personal word from his Lord. Until we receive a personal word from God, so-called faith is often hit-or-miss. What we claim to be faith tends to be more our hope that we have guessed the will of God, than faith in God himself.

I know that God is good – and this inspires me to pray – but I also know that although God has infinite wisdom, I don’t. If I don’t receive a special word from God for a particular situation – and I usually don’t – then a hope that I’ve correctly guessed God’s will is all I’ve got. It’s better than nothing, but the ideal is to keep praying until we truly hear from God and then put our faith in what he says by thanking God for answered prayer before we see it.

    1 John 5:14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (Emphasis mine.)

In fact, a deeper look reveals that unless we take seriously the importance of not falsely claiming God has promised us something, we could anger him.

There is no specific Scripture anyone can claim for walking on water but there is one for, as it were, walking on air:

    Psalm 91:11-16 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

Does this mean we can step off a precipice, knowing by faith that God will protect us with his angels? Would this be the height of God-honoring faith? No! Rather than being a daring faith experiment, Scripture portrays such an attempt to ‘name and claim’ as a temptation from the Evil One himself. It is a serious satanic ploy to deceive and corrupt:

    Matthew 4:5-7 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

Not even the Messiah had the spiritual authority to seize random verses as a springboard for ‘faith’. Even though the specific scripture seemed quite appropriate for the Messiah to apply to himself, not even the eternal Son of God could ‘name and claim’ it, and remain undefiled.

The scripture Jesus used to highlight the sin the devil was tempting him with was a reference to how the children of Israel treated God in the wilderness.

    Deuteronomy 6:16 Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah.

Here’s how Psalms describes the consequences of putting God to the test:

    Psalm 78:18,21,31 They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved. [prayer]  . . . When the LORD heard them, he was very angry; his fire broke out against Jacob, and his wrath rose against Israel . . . he put to death the sturdiest among them, cutting down the young men of Israel.

Numbers puts it this way:

    Numbers 11:33 But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague.

Here’s Paul’s description of the consequences of putting God to the test:

    1 Corinthians 10:9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did – and were killed by snakes.

Whatever way you look at it, putting God to the test is a grave offence and yet this was what Jesus’ retort to Satan implied he would have been guilty of, had he tried using that Scripture as a basis for expecting a miracle.

Do you suppose Christians are granted some sort of divine license to do the very thing Jesus refused to do, or that we have immunity from the serious consequences of committing the grave error of testing God? If so, what was Paul doing warning the Corinthian Christians not to fall into it?

Jesus’ response to Satan quoting the Bible highlights how everything must be done in reverent submission to God, including how we use his holy Word.

As further confirmation, I will provide just one more biblical example of how what can seem to be claiming a divine promise can actually anger God.

In scripture after scripture after scripture, the God who cannot lie promised to give certain land to Abraham’s descendants. In fact, it was divinely promised so often and so vehemently that we know it as the Promised Land. Nevertheless, no matter how fervently God’s chosen tried claiming this emphatically affirmed divine promise, no-one’s prayer for the land was answered for over 400 years (Genesis 15:13,16; Exodus 12:40). The enormous delay before any of God’s people could claim the promise for themselves was in no way because of any deficiency in the prayers or faith of all the generations who missed out. As is often the case in prayers going unanswered, it was a matter of timing. In this instance, the primary reason was that God fulfilling his promise involved judgment on the people currently living in the land, and our loving Lord kept having mercy on them until eventually their depravity was too immense for any further delay in judgment (Genesis 15:16). God’s timing and our impatience are usually poles apart.

Finally, God responded to their passionate cries to him (Exodus 2:23; 3:7-9) and he raised up Moses. But then things turned even worse. Not only were they prevented from going to the Promised Land, they were forced to slave even harder for their enemies; having been denied the straw needed to avoid being beaten (Exodus 5:16-19). This time, claiming the promise did not work because the Lord wanted to do a deeper work in the Egyptians.

Still later, the time arrived when they could claim that divine promise, but at that critical moment they caved in to fear and failed to step out in faith. Soon after, however, they repented and stepped out on the promise. But this time, doing so angered God.

    Deuteronomy 1:41-45 Then you replied, “We have sinned against the LORD. We will go up and fight, as the LORD our God commanded us.” So every one of you put on his weapons, thinking it easy to go up into the hill country. . . . in your arrogance [‘presumption’ is how Numbers 14:44 puts it] you marched up into the hill country. The Amorites who lived in those hills came out against you; they chased you like a swarm of bees and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah. You came back and wept before the LORD, but he paid no attention to your weeping and turned a deaf ear to you.

They were not trying to fraudulently claim a divine promise for themselves by twisting a general promise about victory over enemies (e.g. Genesis 22:17; 24:60; 49:8). They had God’s repeated declaration about this precise real estate and the promise had been given specifically to them, not some other biblical figure. Nevertheless, having missed their window of opportunity their timing was wrong again – so wrong that any attempt to claim that promise was not a commendable display of faith in heaven’s eyes, but an act of foolish disobedience. It was not until forty years later than anyone could claim that promise without arrogance or presumption.

Our first example was from the very life of our Lord. Our second set of examples is likewise as relevant today as ever. These instances have nothing to do with anything abolished by the cross but with the way God loves his people. His heart never changes.

God loves you just like he yearns for you to love him – with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. The infinite intensity of his love for you, however, in no way lessens his love for other people. It cannot diminish his need to consider how granting your wish will impact others, nor his need to consider how it will impact your long term spiritual well-being.

You Have Not, Because You Ask Not?

Here’s a Scripture that is so tempting to sever from its context:

    James 4:2  . . . You do not have, because you do not ask God.

Don’t you love that! Here’s our chance to get more and more – or is it? It certainly is possible to miss out simply because lack of faith in God’s willingness to provide keeps us from asking God. That’s a danger we need to avoid. That’s not the thrust of this Scripture, however. There’s a more sinister trap far more likely to ensnare Christians living in affluent countries. Let’s read more:

    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 wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

By, “You kill,” James had in mind the perspective that moved John to say:

    1 John 3:15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

Near the beginning of his epistle, James said we cannot expect answered prayer if we waver in faith (James 1:5-8) but he was referring to asking for something highly spiritual – godly wisdom (James 1:5; 3:13,17). Trying to entice God to answer prayers to foster our selfishness, however, is such a lost cause that, rather than suggest more faith, James denounces the practice.

He continues his tirade against praying for wrong things or with wrong motives:

    James 4:4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

The next verse, as translated in the King James Version and the New International Version, initially seems strange:

    James 4:5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?

This translation is reminiscent of what Paul says:

    Romans 1:28-29 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.

Interpreted in this light, James is saying that we are all subject to an intense urge to envy. How true that is! Our natural tendency is to slide into the pit of regretting what we don’t have, rather than rejoicing in what we have. Give Joe Average a hundred million dollars and he’d be over the moon with excitement about how rich and blessed he is. Then give ten billion dollars to hundreds of people around him and it will not be long before, regardless of his millions, he is feeling deprived.

(There is an alternative interpretation of James 4:5 but it leads to the same understanding of what “resist the devil” refers to.)

Despite our natural predisposition to be driven by envy, however, James immediately continues to explain that through Christ we can live in victory over this insidious temptation:

    James 4:6-7 But he gives us more grace.  . . . Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Had you realized that the famous Scripture, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” though applicable to other situations, was actually referring to resisting the temptation to envy (verse 5) and to overcoming the temptation to pray “with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (verse 3)?

Few of us pause long enough to realize that this famous quote is referring to resisting the devil’s enticement to use prayer to try to manipulate God into giving us things that end up not being in our best interest spiritually. The attraction of devilish practices such as witchcraft is that they seem to offer supernatural help in feeding selfish desires. The devil does not display our Heavenly Father’s reluctance to grant us things that end up hurting and enslaving us.

There is nothing wrong with having favorite Scriptures. Sometimes we can even take verses out of context and the result still be true. To avoid distorting God’s revelation, however, it is likely that the verses we have not underlined are the ones we most need.

Christians are typically well aware that lack of faith often hinders Jesus’ longing to miraculously meet our physical needs:

    Matthew 13:58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

The equally serious, but seldom recognized, hindrance to God pampering us with material possessions, however, is the human tendency to push aside the true God and instead worship money, pleasure and/or ease, and ruin our lives by making them our god.

We see the divine dilemma exposed when Jesus fed the multitude. This was no treat to titillate the taste buds. The situation was so serious that some were in danger of fainting on the long walk home (Mark 8:3).

Moved by compassion, he who denied himself bread in the wilderness miraculously provided for these people but – as God’s longing to meet our physical needs often does – it backfired.

    John 6:14-15,26-27,34-35,49-51,66 After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
                Jesus answered, “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. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. . . . “
                “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. . . . Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. . . .”
                From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

In contrast to some preachers, Jesus withdrew, rather than let people seek God for the wrong reasons and he ended up making it so hard for them that those with materialistic motives left him.

We, too, are in danger of degrading God by worshipping him as a Cash Cow instead of honoring him as the Holy One whose passion is righteousness and selflessness.

Too many of us break God’s heart by putting him in a no-win situation: if God lovingly refuses to indulge our greed, we resent him; if he gives us what we clamor for, we destroy ourselves by becoming infatuated with the temporal rather than the eternal.

God is generous. He longs to shower his gifts upon us, but our sinfulness and spiritual immaturity often stymies him. And even if we could be trusted with wealth, those we seek to bring to the Lord could see what we have and be fooled into thinking they are heading for a pleasant eternity when they are not saved at all but have merely “come to God” for material gain.

Jesus kept warning would-be followers to count the cost (Examples), but today’s tragedy is that some Christian leaders have abandoned Jesus’ method because lowering the price of following Jesus swells the number of fans who will throw money in their direction. The terrifying thing, however, is that the price is not theirs to lower. They are like salesmen who astound everyone by their number of sales, when it is yet to be revealed that they have infuriated their boss by criminally selling his goods at way below cost price. They have sold their souls to temporary fame and fortune and – far worse – seduced others into following them to spiritual ruin.

Without exaggeration, the most sadistic of all crimes is to let people feel assured of salvation when they are not in spiritual union with the Holy One. It means they are headed for endless torment without the slightest inkling that they still need to be saved. Blissfully ignorant of the eternal disaster awaiting them, they have been conned into building their house on sand.

James – The Epistle Many both Love and Hate

    For those who want to exalt themselves and use their faith and tongue to order God around, James is a great book to quote selectively. It speaks of the power of the tongue, the power of unwavering faith and says you have not because you ask not. A less flippant reading is more sobering.

    I have elsewhere pointed out how dramatically, “You don’t have, because you don’t ask,” changes once one cares enough to read the next sentence (James 4:2-3). Likewise, “resist the devil, and he will flee from you” no longer feeds the ego when you read in the rest of the verse, “Be subject therefore to God” (James 4:7). Again, “he will exalt you” is the tail end of the sentence beginning, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord,” (James 4:10).

    To the disappointment of those who love to boost egos, this divinely inspired writer emphasizes the importance of humility (e.g. James 4:6, 10) and patient endurance. In fact, some parts of this oft-cited book seldom rate a mention in many Christian circles. For example, unlike many of us today, James did not see Job as an embarrassment to be relegated to a forgotten pre-Christian era when people had less spiritual understanding, nor as a warning of the danger of fearing anything. On the contrary, James exalted Job as the Christian’s role model because of his patient endurance.

    Job lost everything – his children, his wealth, his health, his dignity – and he was powerless to do anything about it. Even his wife and friends condemned him. There are two highlights in the book. The first is early on when Job, reeling at the devastating loss, did not sin by blaming God, but instead worshipped; blessing God (Job 1:20-22). The second and greatest high point was at the end of Job’s ordeal when he received a deeper than ever revelation of God’s greatness. As a result, Job loathed himself for his human ignorance and powerlessness, relative to Almighty God (Job 42:1-6). Despite the fact that he had already been streets ahead of most of today’s Christians, Job finally realized how superior God is. This is the man James parades as a spiritual hero.

    Here’s another sample of James’ spiritual insight that clashes disturbingly with many Christians’ view of life, exposing their thinking as un biblical:

      James 4:13-16 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow let’s go into this city, and spend a year there, trade, and make a profit.” Whereas you don’t know what your life will be like tomorrow. For what is your life? For you are a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. For you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will both live, and do this or that.” But now you glory in your boasting. All such boasting is evil. (Emphasis mine)

    Though thoroughly consistent with the entire book of James, this passage puts popular Christian thinking alarmingly at odds with biblical revelation. James’ understanding of God’s supremacy clashes so dramatically with popular Christian thought that, despite being superficially familiar with this quote from James, you might need to prayerfully read it several times until the implications hit you.

    James does not so much as hint at a rare exception in which God might supernaturally reveal to someone that a certain event will take place. Nevertheless, I am willing to concede that something of this magnitude might occasionally occur without it being someone’s arrogance or wishful thinking. This unmentioned rarity aside, however, this Scripture is saying that it is sheer arrogance to pronounce that anything – big or small – will definitely happen. So much for “name it and claim it.” We don’t even know if we will be alive five minutes from now. God is in control, not us. What matters is not our will but God’s will. Moreover, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, James reveals that forgetting this foundational truth is not just arrogance but sinfully disrespecting God. It is, in fact, defying God.

    Some might label the apostle Paul as dogmatic, forceful or even arrogant. Not even he, however, made proud, ‘faith statements’ about what he would do. Instead, he repeatedly said such things as:

      Acts 18:21  . . . I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem, but I will return again to you if God wills  . . .

      1 Corinthians 4:19  . . . I will come to you shortly, if the Lord is willing.

      1 Corinthians 16:7  . . . I hope to stay a while with you, if the Lord permits.

    Note also:

      Hebrews 6:1-3 Therefore leaving the teaching of the first principles of Christ, let us press on to perfection – not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, of faith toward God, of the teaching of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. This will we do, if God permits.

      Proverbs 19:21 There are many plans in a man’s heart, but the Lord’s counsel will prevail.

      Proverbs 27:1 Don’t boast about tomorrow; for you don’t know what a day may bring.

      Acts 21:14 When he would not be persuaded, we ceased; saying, “The Lord’s will be done.”

      (Emphasis mine.)

    On the other hand, there is one Scripture that seems to say if we put our faith not in material wealth but in God, we can make decrees or faith declarations that will come to pass:

      Job 22:24-28 Lay your treasure in the dust . . . The Almighty will be your treasure . . . For then you will delight yourself in the Almighty, and shall lift up your face to God. You shall make your prayer to him, and he will hear you. . . . You shall also decree a thing, and it shall be established to you. [“What you decide on will be done,” is the NIV rendition of the last few words] . . .

    You might think that Jesus should be our ultimate role model. I have heard it claimed that this is not so: Jesus, living as he did prior to his atonement, was living under the inferior covenant. That might raise your blood pressure a bit but perhaps you could at least suppose that everyone agrees that the apostle Paul must have been living in the full revelation of God. Apparently not. He’s an embarrassment to these people, because of all the things he suffered, including even hunger (Scriptures).

    Some of these people assert that spiritual revelation has continued to increase beyond the New Testament and that they are now living in greater revelation that the New Testament apostles. One manifestation of this is their ability to exercise their spiritual authority by making faith declarations or decrees and speaking things into existence.

    You might have noticed a problem with this, however. Rather than this being “new revelation” it is actually pre-Christian, since the quote just mentioned is from the Old Testament. Even more disturbing, it was not spoken by Job, who had God’s approval, but by one of his accusers of whom God declared:

      Job 42:7-8  . . . “My wrath is kindled against you . . . for you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore . . . go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept him, that I not deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job has.”

    My plea is simply for a little humility. As I believe I have already made clear, I am not saying no one can ever hear from God and then pronounce it as fact. Abraham, for example, received God’s promise regarding a child and had every right to declare that it will happen. In fact, because God had spoken, he had no right to doubt it. This, however, is a world away from coming up with our own declarations that turn out to be nothing more than our own presumptions based on some general Bible statement such as “I can do all things through Christ” (which, by the way, is almost always taken out of context).

    Faith in God walks hand-in-hand with humility. Faith in self, however, is an entirely different beast.

    The Mystery of Prayer

        Jeremiah 33:3 “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

      Have you ever thought how strange the above Scripture seems? If God wants to show us things, why doesn’t he just do it? Why does God in Scripture over and over plead with us to ask him so that he can bless us? He obviously longs for us to have these things or he would not beg for us to ask him for them. And yet still he refuses to act until we dig our heels in and determine not to give in to all the superficial indications that God has little desire to bless us.

      In Jesus’ parable about how God wants us to pray, the widow was spurned over and over by the judge. She ended up with everything she had hoped for, but only because she refused to take rejection as the final answer (Luke 18:1-8). Clearly, this is the never-give-up, always-believe-that-God-will-bless-you attitude that God wants to build within us. The Lord, who always has our best interest at heart, knows that more important than instant answers to prayer is that we develop an unshakable conviction in the integrity of God’s character – a conviction that will withstand the strongest assaults from the evil deceiver who longs to slander the Perfect One.

      Our Lord is a prayer-answering God of compassion. Every indication to the contrary is a divine invitation for us to grow in faith so that not only is our Lord glorified but we will be praised forevermore, just like that Canaanite woman who had felt so despised.

      My friend Leona loves gardening. She told me, “When young plants that still have shallow root systems look wilted, I immediately want to revive them with a good dose of water. They quickly perk up and I seem to have done the right thing. If I always water them as soon as they seem to need it, however, the plants will never seek the water already available to them at a deeper level. Instead of developing a strong root system as God had intended, they will eventually die from root rot or fungus. For their sake, I must resist my urge to ‘rescue’ them the instant they seem to need it, or I will literally kill them with kindness. Too much of a seemingly good thing is not a good thing.”

      I keep getting the sulks when I don’t get instant answers to prayer. I keep thinking a loving God should shower me with constant blessings without me even having to ask, much less having to fight for years and years for them. I feel hurt, not merely because I don’t get what I want, but because I keep falling into the trap of wrongly guessing how a wise and loving God would act if he really wanted to build up my faith in his goodness and wanted to help convince me that I am special to him.

      It turns out that for God to act the way I want, would be like Leona giving in to her longing to pamper her plants. God’s pampering would seem to do wonders in the short term but it would actually stifle my faith. What would seem like building faith would actually be building a dependence upon circumstances and feelings, not building faith in the love and integrity of God. Faith is not about thinking of God as little more than a machine, but thinking of him as the passionate, tender-hearted person he truly is. It is not believing God is a vending machine – you push a button and out come goodies. Faith is about believing in the love and goodness and dependability and wisdom of your glorious Lord, no matter how many challenges to that belief occur in the short term. True faith comes not from being doted on but from having to hold on when all the outward signs keep screaming that God must be selfish, stingy and uncaring.

      God spoiling me would truly spoil me.

      We desperately need to involve God in every aspect of our lives. That does not mean insulting God by relegating him to a back seat and hoping for a divine miracle. If we try to treat God as a supernatural dispensing machine, an emergency kit, an eternal fire insurance policy, a status symbol or a spiritual fashion statement, we do not merely offend and depersonalize God; we damage and depersonalize ourselves.

      What is more appalling: to turn from the true God to worship a false god, or to turn the true God into a false god by the way we think of him and treat him? Isn’t it just as hideous to worship a false god we have manufactured in our imagination and fraudulently called it the God of the Bible than to worship a false god another religion has already fabricated? Calling a concoction of our own making the God of the Bible is simply more dishonest. It is so deceitful, in fact, that it is terrifyingly common even to deceive ourselves and not realize that instead of revering and seeking to please and serve the real God, we have actually replaced him in our minds with a grotesque caricature of who he really is. Do we exalt the most beautiful, lovable, tender-hearted and glorious person in the universe or do we defile him in our hearts by seeing him as a cash cow to milk for all we can get?

      God is highly personal, with passions and feelings so deep that alongside him we are hard and cold. He is the most beautiful and sensitive person in the universe. If we are so callous as to try to use Almighty God for our selfish purposes, rather than as someone to please and delight in, we are unsuited even to superficial human friendships, let alone anything more meaningful.

      Since every little thing we do helps shape our lives and our future, we need to be fully submitted to God in every area of our lives; doing every little thing his way.

      I fully understand if you recoil from submitting to God to this extreme. You have very legitimate concerns that I am about to address. Nevertheless, if you have yet to realize that the biggest single factor determining the nature and success of future relationships is the nature of your relationship with God, then you, more than anyone, need to be reading this section.

      Let’s not camouflage the truth: most believers know so little about God that, relative to the heart-meltingly beautiful, trustworthy friend he really is, many suppose him to be a killjoy; an arrogant, self-serving bigot; an impractical, out-of-touch egomaniac quite unworthy of our adoration. Of course, we are too respectful to ever express it this way. We try hard to force ourselves to like God but beneath the religious niceties, the way many of us think of him is much closer to the above than we dare admit.

      I am not for a moment suggesting that you serve such a monstrous perversion of the real God. Like getting to know anyone, discovering the real God is a thrilling, never-ending journey, but as you keep pushing yourself forward on this journey of discovery, you won’t be able to stop yourself falling in love with him and longing for him to be in charge of your life. For much help in discovering how wonderful God really is, see Receiving a Personal Revelation of God’s Love for You and the pages it leads to.

      With the sharpest mind in the universe, the Lord of the universe is intensely personal and infatuated with your well-being. Obeying God on every little point is not just the smartest thing we could ever do; it is actually the most exciting and ultimately safest thing we could ever do –even if we were to die in the process. For insight into how safe and beautiful God’s will for you is, see Enjoying God’s Will for You.

      Let’s continue to attack all pretense with ferocious honesty: many people who call themselves Christians are not nice people. You would be a fool to marry them. To be judgmental or look down on anyone is an atrociously unchristian delusion that is such a terrifyingly seductive temptation that it snares vast numbers of us. Each of us must run from this trap in horror. Otherwise we will end up like Jesus’ highly devout enemies who honored God with their mouths but dishonored him with their lives. Their snobbish arrogance might have fooled few others but it blinded them so appallingly that they ended up crucifying their Lord. In contrast to those who use religion as a mask, anything that truly makes you a better Christian makes you a better, more gracious, more forgiving person. To be critical, judgmental, moody, self-centered, controlling, manipulative or lazy is to be unsuited for any relationship.

      So both in terms of accessing infinite knowledge and understanding, and in correctly nurturing your development as a person and becoming more Christlike, your relationship with God is of critical importance to choosing the best partner and having the best marriage. Whether we live stunted lives or reach our full potential hinges on what we put highest in our affections. God holds everything together. Unless he is pre-eminent in our lives, sooner or later, everything else will collapse.

      Let’s use some probing questions to see if we are on track.

      Throughout your life, how devoted have you been to seeking deep intimacy with God and hearing from him and obeying him on every little point? He alone truly knows what is best and what ultimately is in your best interest, and rarely does that line up with what we find easiest. Too often things turn sour and we blame God for what is simply the result of our willfulness – us being content to do things our way rather than diligently seeking God’s way.

      How much are you yearning to give God pleasure, rather than wanting your own pleasure? Are you God’s servant or do you often treat him as your servant? How much have you died to self and let Christ rule in your thought-life and your circumstances? How much do you seek to glorify God in your daydreams and fantasies, in your choice of music and reading, in your television viewing and Internet usage, in your conversations and where your eyes wander? (As you are beginning to realize, these things end up powerfully influencing and shaping our self-image, our likes and dislikes and our relationship/marital expectations.) How much are you cultivating the fruit of the Spirit – selfless love, rejoicing in all circumstances, being peaceable, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Each of these is critical to healthy, fulfilling relationships. (For help with this, see Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit.)

      Either God is first in our lives and affections, or he is not our God.

        Romans 6:16,22 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? . . . But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

        James 4:4  . . . don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

        1 John 2:15-16  . . . If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world.

        1 Timothy 5:6 But she who gives herself to pleasure is dead while she lives. (World English Bible)

        2 Timothy 3:1-5 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money . . . conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

        (Emphasis mine.)

      (For still more Scriptures proving that unless God is first in our lives and affections, he is not our God, see More.)

      Life is not about self-indulgence, nor our comfort; it is about loving and delighting in God and glorifying him by giving our utmost to the one who gave his all for us.

      If we are unwilling to sacrifice for God everything else – romance, children, reputation, career, every material thing, financial security, our pet sins, our country, our lives, and everything else you can think of – then we worship not God but whatever we hold dearest. Unless we are like Abraham willing to sacrifice the son who meant more than life to him; unless we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow our crucified Lord who sweated blood agonizing over what he was about to suffer for God; unless we are like the apostles preferring to be tortured rather than back off from total commitment to God; we delude ourselves if we consider ourselves Christian.

      Of course, we must love even our enemies but the intensity of our love for God – our fierce determination to make him our Master – must be as far above our love for anything else as love is far above hate. God must be without rival in our lives, whether it be material things, pleasure, ease, status, or someone’s love.

        Luke 14:25-26 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. . . .” (Emphasis mine)

      This was addressed to large crowds. This teaching is not just for the spiritual elite but for the masses.

        Luke 18:25,29-30 “ . . . Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. . . . “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.” (Emphasis mine.)

      God is love. Above everything, he yearns for intimacy with you. A distorted emphasis on faith has the potential to distract us from this. We can become self-obsessed – infatuated with our faith rather than with our loving Lord, and on us receiving things rather than on companionship with God. We can end up focused on trying to extract from God spiritual trinkets (or even less noble things) rather than on loving God and enjoying him.

      Sadly, many of us grieve the God who yearns for our love by treating him like an unfeeling poker machine; hoping that if we feed in enough prayer and faith we will win some money. My eyes tear up to think of the King of glory, who poured out his blood for us, being treated not even as genie in a bottle or a sugar daddy to be manipulated but as a mindless machine to be used if, or when, we see fit. We cannot depersonalize our Maker without dehumanizing ourselves. Anyone treating God like a machine is like someone who turns his heart to stone, refusing to love, and trying instead to claw emotional satisfaction from objects.

      Appallingly many of us are like a passionately loved wife who keeps breaking her husband’s heart by her coldness because she married him for his money. Instead of reveling in the glory of God’s love and the matchless beauty and wonder of who he is, we lust after trinkets that can never fill the God-shaped void within us. The real treasure lies not in his gifts but in the Giver himself.

      If we miss the big picture we will end up continually fighting God and not even realize it. Whereas God longs for us to sacrifice earthly comfort to store up heavenly treasure that we can never lose, we think he should be helping us accumulate earthly treasure that we can never keep. His infinite wisdom declares, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), but we think the all-knowing Lord should realize he is wrong and that the opposite is true. God’s agenda is not to make his beloved children spoiled brats who shame themselves but to make us exquisitely perfect like his eternal Son. This is so much God’s focus that he guides everything toward that end:

        Romans 8:28-29 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son . . .

        Philippians 2:5-8 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who . . . humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!

        2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

      The eternal glory of Christlike beauty comes neither instantly, nor effortlessly:

        Romans 13:13-14 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

        Galatians 4:19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you

        Hebrews 5:8-9 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect . . .

      Related Pages:

      The Surprising Prerequisites for Answered Prayer: When Faith & Prayer Do Not Work

      Prayer Mysteries: The Joy of Unanswered Prayer

      Other Topics By the Same Author

      [Other Topics] [Bless & Be Blessed by Facebook] [Daily Quotes] [E-Mail Me] [My Shame]

      Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2019 Grantley Morris. May be freely copied in whole or in part provided: it is not altered, this entire paragraph is included, readers are not charged and it is not used in a webpage. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings available free online at  Freely you have received, freely give. For use outside these limits, consult the author.