Why Doesn’t God Answer Prayer?

 

Many of us find ourselves asking if prayer is real.  We pray for healing, or for new jobs, or for other things, and God doesn’t seem to do anything at all.  But then again, God isn’t a genie in a lamp from whom we can demand wishes.  Although this is just a short clip, I think that it answers, at least in part, a question that a lot of us ask.

Leader or Servant? – Why Character Matters

“Leader or Servant?”

(Why Character Matters)

September 23, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

Proverbs 31:10-31                 Mark 9:30-37             James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a

Have you ever seen someone use authority well?

Sometime around 1995 I was working in research and development on a new type of control system for residential forced-air heating systems.  We had developed the technology in the laboratory and were ready to install several systems, in various parts of the country, run them in the homes of real people, and collect data on their operation.  One of the homes in which our system would be installed belonged to an executive in major furnace manufacturer which was one of our industry partners.  Everything was proceeding on schedule and under budget until we were within a week or two of the installation.  We had our plane tickets in hand.  The equipment was already on site.  But everything got jammed up when our company lawyers couldn’t agree with their company lawyers over who was liable for what.  As engineers, it was completely out of our hands.  All we could do was watch as faxes and emails went back and forth between us and our partner.

Until our Vice President, who oversaw the entire research department, stepped in.  One day, in the middle of this impasse, he stopped in to ask why nothing was happening.  So, we told him.  By the next day, the contracts were completed, signed, and the project was back on track.  When I asked my manager what happened, he said that our VP had simply called their VP, they both called their respective lawyers, told them that they wanted it done, and POOF!  It got done.

I’ve always remembered that story because it reminds me that a key responsibility of leaders is to work for, to serve, their subordinates.  Our VP rarely involved himself in the daily affairs of engineers, but he reminded us that when we really needed his authority, he worked for us.  By virtue of his position, title, and power, he could get things done that we couldn’t hope to do.  We had no ability to argue with our legal team or to overcome their objections and concerns, but all he needed to do was to tell them to get it done… and it was done.

In each of our scriptures today we see different types of godly leadership that we can apply to our lives in church, at home, and in our schools and workplaces.  We begin at home, in Proverbs 31:10-31, which is the one chapter of the Bible that is known to be written by a woman.  Proverbs 31:1 says that these words are:

31:1 The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him.

And so, even though King Lemuel put the words on paper, he made sure that everyone knew that these were his mother’s words.  We continue reading in verse ten where it says:

10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff  and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

This passage is sometimes criticized as a description of the expectations placed upon women, but I don’t see it that way.  Instead, I find that this describes a woman of strong character who is, as much as possible in the culture in which she lives, a full and dedicated partner, with her spouse, in the life of their family and in building a life together.  She is, without question, a leader in her community who dedicates her time and effort to lifting up her family, her household, the poor, and her entire community.  She and her husband act as a team.  Their efforts, together, build the respect in the community for both of them and although he must have some sort of employment, she seems to earn just as much for her family and provides for them in ways that he cannot.  Neither of the members of this partnership would do as well without the other.  She is able to do what she does because of him, and he is able to do what he does because of her and each would be severely handicapped without the other.  Because of her hard work, her leadership, and her compassion for others, she is honored and praised by her family, and by the leaders of her community.

But what is it about this woman that makes her good and honorable?

Is it just because she works hard?  And what can we learn from this and apply to our own lives?

In James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a, we hear this explanation:

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so 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.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

James simply says that character matters.  If you are wise and understanding… prove it.  If you are smart, then your life will show the world that you are smart.  The way that you live, the deeds that you do, the friends that you keep, the actions that you take, the humility that you show in your interactions with others, is the proof that the world will witness.  At the same time, bitter envy and selfish ambition is proof that you are earthly, unspiritual, and even demonic because envy and selfish ambition are not the proof of wisdom, but the hallmarks of disorder and evil.

In contrast, the wisdom that comes from God is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, impartial, sincere, and full of good fruit.  It is the peacemakers, James says, who produce great harvests of righteousness in the lives of others.  Fights and quarrels are the result of conflicting human desires.  Our desires, greed, and covetousness drive us toward evil, violence, and death.  We claim that God doesn’t hear our prayers, but the James says that the real reason our prayers go unanswered is that we ask with the wrong motives.  We ask God to give us stuff so that we can spend what he gives us for our own pleasure and not for the things of God and for God’s kingdom.

James’ recipe for success, is to submit to God.  Men and women must both submit to God.  We must resist the devil, resist evil, come to God, and only then will God come close to us.  We must purify ourselves, our motive must be pure, so that we are not double-minded.  We cannot want what God wants and want what we want.  We cannot pray that God would bless his ministry and grow his church and use his blessings for our own pleasures.

I admit that this is difficult stuff.  James is ruthless and his teaching pierces the hearts of the best among us.  But his message is clear.  A pure heart is a heart that is dedicated to God… alone.

And so, what does any of that have to do with leadership?  How does a heart dedicated to God look to the outside world, or to our church, or to our family?

And for that, we turn to Mark 9:30-37 where we hear the answer from Jesus.

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus says that the hallmark of true, humble, peace-loving, pure, godly leadership is servanthood.  Leaders are called to be servants first and tyrants last.  These are the things that reveal our character.  David fell when he considered his desires ahead of Uriah’s, but also ahead of the needs of Bathsheba, the needs of his nation, or the will of God.  The illustration and visual aid that Jesus uses is the welcoming of little children.  With few words, this speaks volumes about leadership.  Jesus says that leaders do good, even for those who can do nothing for you in return.  This is as far from “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” as you can possibly get.  This says, “I’ll scratch your back, even if you don’t have any arms.”  This says that leaders help others, not because they expect something in return, but simply because they can.  The Vice President of Research had little (something but not much) to gain by helping us break the logjam on our project, but with one phone call, he did what several engineers and two or three managers couldn’t get done in weeks.  He wasn’t a particularly godly man, as far as I know, but I have always remembered this example of leadership.

This is why character matters.  Real leaders are not just leaders.  Real leaders, godly leaders, must be servants at heart.

As leaders, our personal desires must take a back seat to the needs of those whom we lead and serve.

Our priority must always be the mission, but also the care of those under our authority, whether or not they like us, whether or not we like them, and whether or not they can do something for us in return.

And don’t think that you are off the hook because you aren’t a leader.  All of us, in one way or another, are leaders or, at the very least, are training for leadership.  All of us, at one time or another, find ourselves responsible for others.  We teach Sunday school, we parent children, we babysit, and so on.  Many of us are what the military refers to as unofficial leaders, or back-channel leaders.  We are people who others look up to, and respect, simply because we are older, or have done our jobs longer, or because we are known to be honest, or diligent, in our work.  Leadership doesn’t have to come with an official title.

All of us are leaders.

All of us must lead with a servant’s heart.

Because…

…character matters.

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Purpose. Words. Action.

“Purpose. Words. Action.”

August 26, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43                      John 6:56-69              Ephesians 6:10-20

Have you ever gone on a vacation?

Or, have you ever turned a corner in a part of town that you don’t visit often, and discover that there’s a new building that you’ve never seen before?

Often, for both vacations and construction, as well as almost everything else, things seem to happen suddenly, almost magically.  We even talk about it that way.  We say things like, “We’re going to disappear for the weekend.” Or, “We just took off for a quick holiday.”  But, even something as simple as a weekend getaway doesn’t “just happen.”  We had the idea that we might want to do that, we coordinate schedules, we take time off of work, kennel the dogs, get a cat-sitter, we plan where we’re going, make reservations, pack suitcases, get the car serviced, or at least buy gas, and only after all of that do we “disappear for the weekend.”

Getting from point A to point B takes planning and preparation.

But it also takes purpose.  Before you go on a vacation or build a building, you must have a reason to do so.  It might simply be that you’re tired and need a break, but something made you decide.  You had something in mind as a goal even if your only goal was to relax.  A new building is, from the very beginning, designed with a specific goal in mind and, as a result, a church looks very different than an office building, or a factory, or a doctor’s office.  This idea is so common, that we have an expression for it, “Form follows function.”

The church is no different.  And so, when we read the story about the construction of the temple that Solomon built to honor God, we discover not only the purpose for which the temple was built, but also the purpose that God has for his people and for his church.  (1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43)

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven 23 and said:

“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. 24 You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it—as it is today.

25 “Now Lord, the God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before me faithfully as you have done.’ 26 And now, God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true.

27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. 29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— 42 for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.

I think that it’s worth noting that God promises Solomon that his descendants will continue to sit on the throne and be blessed by God only if they are careful in all that they do and walk faithfully with God as David did.  We must be careful in what we draw from this because none of us are likely to be descendants of King David and this promise is therefore not directly aimed at us, but all the same, as a general guideline, this tells us a lot about how God might choose to disburse his blessings upon his people.  We cannot reasonably expect that God will bless what we do, if we are not careful in what we do and walk faithfully with God.

But even more importantly, I think, is that after Solomon prays that God’s name will “be here” in that place, he prays that God would hear the prayers of the foreigners who have come from far away because they had heard of the greatness of Israel’s God.  Solomon prays that God would answer the prayers of the foreigner so that…, and here I need to interrupt myself.  Whenever we encounter words such as “so that” or “therefore” we need to sit up and pay attention because those words signal a conclusion that summarizes everything that came before.  And so, having built a great temple for the God of Israel, and having prayed that God would be present in it, and that God would answer the prayers of his people as well as the prayers of foreigners from far away, Solomon declared that the reason for all of it, is so that all the people of the earth would know God in the same way that the people of Israel knew God and that they would know that the temple that Solomon had built was a place where God was present.  Solomon wants the world to know that this is not Solomon’s temple, but that it is God’s Temple.

Fast forward three thousand years and that same purpose is easily transferable to us.  The purpose of this church, and of this people, is that all the people around us would know God the way that we know God and that everyone who encounters us would know that this is a place of prayer where they can meet God and experience his presence.

The purpose of the church has not changed.

Having established the purpose of the church, let’s return to the story of Jesus as he explains the idea of sharing his flesh and his blood in John 6:56-69.

56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”  And if you remember, last week we learned that John described Jesus by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  And from that we understand Jesus’ references to flesh and blood to be a connection not only to his bodily sacrifice, but to the words that he said and the things that he taught.  Jesus emphasizes this in the passage that we just read when he said, “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.”  We see this again when Peter says, “You have the words of eternal life.”

Even Jesus’ own disciples knew that this was a difficult teaching.  We must feed on the word of God to sustain our spiritual lives, just as we must eat food for our physical bodies to survive.  Jesus has the words of eternal life.  We must always keep this in mind as we set out to be the church and to save the world.  We cannot save the lost, or rescue the hurting, or be a lighthouse of hope, or even truly feed the hungry or clothe the naked unless we share with them the words and the Good News of Jesus.  What good would it be to save physical lives and, at the same time, make no attempt to rescue them for eternity?

But what else?

We know the purpose of the church, and we know that we need to consume the word of God and we know that we need to be about the business of saving the world by sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, and his words, with them.

But what else?

And again, Paul has something to say about that, this time in his letter to the church in Ephesus. (Ephesians 6:10-20)

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Paul emphasizes that our choice is more than just sharing or not sharing, and even more urgent than just reading the word or not reading it.  Paul explains that this isn’t the same as choosing between a stop at Sunoco or a stop at BP for fuel.  This is not a picnic, or even a friendly competition.  When we choose to follow Jesus Christ, we are thrust into the middle of an all-out war.  There can be no casual observers because once we put on the uniform, we have taken sides.  As followers of Jesus, we are identified as such and become the enemies of his enemies.  For our own self-defense, and for the protection of our families, friends, and fellow believers, we must arm ourselves for the fight that rages around us.  Paul urges us to put on the armor of faith, defend ourselves from the enemy, and fight against him with everything that we have within us.  Stand your ground against evil, stand for truth, be righteous and stand for righteousness, be ready, spread peace, have faith and arm yourself with the Spirit of God.  At the same time, pray for your leaders, pray for your pastor, pray for our missionaries, pray for one another, and pray for all of those whom we might reach with the message of God’s rescue.  All of these have already been identified as the enemies of Satan, all of them will fall under the attack of his armies, and all of them are in need of God’s protection.  Your prayers, for yourself, and for others, is needed, necessary, and helpful in the fight against evil and for the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ.

In short, if we know the purpose of the church, and if we are fed with the words of Jesus Christ, we must also know that stopping there simply isn’t good enough.  There is work to do.  We are at war.  And every single soldier is needed for the battle.

Let us encourage one another.

Let us pray for one another.

Let us ready ourselves.

We are at war.

We must take action.

Let’s fight to make a difference.

 

 

 

_________

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

He Got ONE Wish

“He Got ONE Wish”

August 19, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14                     John 6:51-58              Ephesians 5:15-20

How many wishes do you get if you release a genie from a lamp?

If you’ve ever read “A 1,001 Arabian Nights”, or even if you’ve watched a lot of Bugs Bunny, most of us would say that you “normally” get three wishes.  But if you read more about genies you will find that they are often tricksters who are angry and unfriendly toward humans.  But obviously, both Bugs Bunny and “A Thousand and One Arabian Nights” are works of fiction.  In the real world, there’s no reason to argue over the number of wishes because no one gets wishes granted.  As Christians, we are accustomed to praying for the things that we need, but we are, or we should be, regularly reminded that God is not a genie that grants wishes.

So, what’s with the sermon title?  “He Got One Wish.”

Who did?

And for that let’s begin with our first scripture for today.  As we have been reading bits and pieces of the story of King David, we knew that there would, eventually, be an end to his story.  And so, in our first scripture for today we hear of the end of David’s life and rule over Israel, but also about the transition to his son, Solomon, whom God chose as David’s successor. (1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14)

2:10 Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David. 11 He had reigned forty years over Israel—seven years in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his rule was firmly established.

3:1 Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.

The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.”

David’s son Solomon becomes the king of Israel and offers sacrifices to God.  One thousand sacrifices to God were offered on the altar at Gibeon alone.  And that night, after that sacrifice, God came to Solomon in a dream and instructed Solomon to ask for whatever he wanted.  It is as if God was offering Solomon one single wish.  And Solomon knew what it was that he wanted.  He had watched his David, his father, lead the nation of Israel.  He knew how hard life had sometimes been.  He had seen the trials that his father had faced, he had heard the stories of David’s victories, but also the stories of David’s time in the desert running from King Saul.  Solomon had seen David’s faith in God lived out in real life.  Solomon saw, firsthand, the conflict between David and Absalom and he knew of David’s great desire to build God’s temple.  Solomon knew that David’s faith, and David’s God, were very real.

And so, Solomon asks God for a discerning heart so that he might govern well and know the difference between right and wrong.  But the surprising part of the story isn’t what Solomon asked for, but the things for which Solomon didn’t ask.  Solomon didn’t ask for sex, or money, or power, or victory over his enemies, or health, or for a long life.  Solomon’s only request was a gift that would benefit the people of Israel more than it would Solomon.

And God is pleased.

Let’s stop here for just a moment because this is a lesson worth remembering.  God allows Solomon to ask for whatever he wants.  Solomon asks for a gift that benefits others.  And God is pleased.  We are often reminded that God invites us to ask for whatever we want or need.  But far less often are we reminded that God is pleased when we ask for gifts that benefit others.

And with that in mind, let’s remember where Jesus fits into what we are talking about as we read from John 6:51-58.  Jesus said,

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

The confusion in this passage arises because the people thought that Jesus was talking about eating literal flesh but, in our understanding, Jesus was talking something else.  Some have taught that this was the origin of the idea of using bread to represent the body of Christ in communion, but a better understanding is to remember that John began his gospel by saying that Jesus was the Word, and the Word became flesh.  And so, the two ideas that we need to remember from this passage is first, that we must consume the word of God regularly so that we can live.  It is the word of God that sustains our lives and it is the word of God that will lead us to eternal life.  Second, remember that Jesus knew that the sacrifice of his life would make it possible for us to live forever.  Like Solomon, Jesus, as the son of the king of the universe, could have chosen anything that he wanted, but he chose to suffer so that he could give us the greatest gift of all.

It pleased God that Jesus chose a gift (the gift of suffering and death) that benefitted others.

So, what does that mean for us?

For that, let’s read Paul’s instructions to the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 5:15-20).

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul says that as followers of Jesus Christ, we need to be careful of how we live.  We must be wise, like Solomon, and make the most of every opportunity.  We must not be foolish but understand what the Lord’s will is for our lives and for the world.  As we look at this and consider the scriptures that we read this morning, we remember that Solomon was wise because he chose the gift that benefitted others.  And we remember that the will of God, demonstrated through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, was to rescue all of God’s people from sin and death.  Paul says that it is foolishness to get drunk on wine and live a life of debauchery, which is a caution against living a life of excess and selfishness.  God’s will is not to make you rich, or for you to ask him for sex, or money, or power, for victory over your enemies, or health, or for a long life.  God’s will is to save the world.

We are called to be pure and holy, to follow God’s direction, to regularly consume the word of God, to lift one another up, to be joyful, to be thankful, and to be wise enough to make the most of every opportunity.  We are called to be wise, and our examples today showed wisdom when God’s people chose to do what was best for others.

1 John 5:14-15 says, “14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”

Did you hear that?  “If we ask anything… according to his will, he will hear us.”

God is not a genie.  But God does answer prayers.  He is pleased when we ask for things that will help others.  John said, “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”   God will give us anything that we ask that aligns with his will.  And his will, his mission, is nothing less than to save the world.

The hardest part in all of this is, to align our desires with God’s desires.  To stop being selfish and asking for the things that we want, things like money, sex, power, victory over your enemies, health, or for a long life.  And instead start wanting the things that God wants, to be pure and holy, to encourage one another, to lift one another up, to be joyful and thankful, and to rescue as many of God’s people as we possibly can.

God is pleased when we ask for gifts that benefit others and which aid us in rescuing his children.

So, let’s not pray that our church would be bigger, or have more money, or be more popular.  Instead, let’s start praying that our church would become a lifeboat, or a light house, a place of rescue, a hospital of hope for the hopeless, and a light in the darkness so that the people around us who are hurting and lost can find a place of healing, hope, and rescue where they can hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and feed on the bread that brings eternal life.

If we could ask God for one wish, for just one answered prayer…

that ought to be it.

 

 

 

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.