“Peter, do you love me?” Three times asked. Three times answered. (See John 21) Once for each time Peter had denied his Lord. You’d think the lesson had been learned. But when Peter had a vision filled with food that he refused to eat, it took another three times before he got the message.(Acts 10) We could say that Peter was consistently stubborn. But maybe Peter is not so different from us.
Fear not. Do NOT be afraid. Be strong and courageous. The Bible is filled with such messages. Over and over, God’s people need reminders to look beyond fear and find faith. Go and preach the Gospel. Go out into all the world. Go make disciples. Love one another. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Pray without ceasing. Run the race. Don’t give up. Ask. Seek. Knock.
God is not annoyed or afraid of repetition. He uses it when speaking patiently to us. He welcomes it from us in prayer. Sometimes, I feel like I’m “nagging” God about certain things. After all, He already knows my needs, so why am I bringing the same request for the 19th time this month? Except God not only knows about my need, He knows my tendency to get discouraged and distracted. God doesn’t need to hear my request again, but He wants to hear me ask. More than that, He wants to hear me ask with confidence, knowing that He HAS heard and WILL provide– in ways and times I cannot know.
God hears. God knows. God cares. It’s worth repeating! It’s worth asking– again!
I’m getting a double whammy this week–two Bible study groups; one studying Daniel and the other Job. Some of you will groan just reading the first sentence. Along with the book of Revelations, these are two of the most difficult and misunderstood books in the Bible. And for good reason. The book of Daniel doesn’t just contain the favorite stories of Daniel in the Lions’ Den and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, it also contains prophetic visions that seem to foreshadow two distinct sets of events– one set that happened in the time between Daniel’s life and the birth of Christ, and another set of events yet to come.
The book of Job is puzzling– there are no good clues as to when it took place, or exactly where, or even if it is real or a parable. There is a curious interchange between God and Satan that is unlike any other passage in scripture. Finally, it is filled with difficult dialogues from Job and his friends, as they try to make sense of his suffering as God stays silent. When God finally speaks, He doesn’t directly answer Job’s questions or his friends’ misleading statements.
What happens when I don’t understand what God is doing (or seemingly NOT doing) in my life or the lives of others? What happens when the world doesn’t make sense, and the Bible doesn’t seem to shed any light? What happens when I pray, but God seems silent?
I think the answer has a lot to do with where I am in my relationship with Christ:
I can panic, lose faith, or become angry and insolent. If I don’t know God or don’t trust him; if I doubt his goodness or wisdom or power, I may run from his word and his presence.
I can lean on my own understanding. I can substitute my own limited wisdom for God’s, and try to “explain away” all the things I don’t quite understand. I may ignore the Bible passages I don’t understand, in favor of doubling down on the ones I think I know. I can insist on my own interpretations of difficult or disturbing passages, even if someone points out inconsistencies in my logic, or context clues that disagree with my view.
I can lean on someone else’s understanding, listening to their views without question or without reading and praying through it myself. If someone else has an answer, shouldn’t that be enough? Even if I still don’t fully understand, at least I have an answer…
I can ignore the question–after all, do I really need to know about God? Isn’t it enough that He exists and He is good? If I say it loud enough and often enough, won’t that make the questions go away?
It seems that there is a better way– God never promises us easy answers or complete answers to all the questions in this life. We can be angry or grateful for that truth, but most of all we must accept it. God will answer many of our questions–maybe not in the time and manner we expect. And some of them we won’t understand this side of heaven. But the Bible is clear in calling us to pursue answers, and be honest when we don’t understand. God may not give us a simple answer, but He promises to give us wisdom– wisdom to seek, and wisdom to wait; wisdom to trust, and wisdom to keep knocking.
Ask, Seek, Knock, Wrestle, Search, Pray, Plead, Study, and Learn.
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
I’m really bad about asking for help. I don’t mind asking for advice or opinions– I can listen and take the advice or ignore it; accept someone else’s opinion or not. But asking for help puts a certain obligation to accept whatever help is given. It also announces that you have a need; that you are struggling and can’t do “it” on your own. This is especially true in situations where we are embarrassed to admit to shortcomings, inabilities, or perceived failures.
Asking is difficult for most of us. Not just because we must swallow our pride and admit to a need, but because we must hope that whoever we ask will be willing or able to meet that need. Asking becomes more difficult when we don’t know who we can trust. Admitting weakness to someone who is kind is a small risk–it may bruise our pride, or cause the other person to pity us. Asking for help from someone who is deceitful, arrogant, incompetent, or abusive is a recipe for disaster.
Sometimes, we are afraid to ask for help because we sense that there is no help to be given. We wallow in despair, thinking all is lost or hopeless. But fear and despair are not wise counselors–they cannot help us out of our problems; they can’t even see beyond the current chaos or the next panic. Sometimes, we are too proud to ask someone else to do what we feel we should be able to do– others can manage, others can triumph “on their own”– not realizing that they had help along the way, or that they need help in other areas where we are strong.
And sometimes, we don’t want the kind of “help” that is offered. We want help to stay in our comfort zone, even if it means bondage to addiction, or losing an opportunity that comes only with hard work or sacrifice. We want someone to lie to us, keep us comfortable, or flatter us, when our greatest need is someone to challenge us, coach us, and give us the truth, even when it stings. In fact, if we have grown lethargic, entitled, and arrogant, we won’t ask for help– we will demand a lesser form of help that enables us to stay as we are, and not help us become who we were meant to be.
So consider this as you pray today– the God of the Universe– creator of galaxies and microcosms, ruler of eternity, the God who hears every sigh of every human on the face of the planet and knows who made it and why, the God who gave His only Son to fulfill the law and restore your soul–this God is waiting for you to ASK Him for help, for guidance, for wisdom, for your daily needs, for forgiveness that only He can give completely. And He promises to give good gifts– joy, peace, hope, love. He will not scorn us in our need– He already knows it, Why are you waiting?