Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Grace and Persistence

"Church Doors" by hortongrou

“Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything'? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Luke 11:5-9)

Why does God value persistence? When Jesus said to "ask" and "seek" and "knock," He spoke in a tense that implied continuous, persevering action.

Why must we persist?

Does God like seeing His kids bloodying their knuckles on the Pearly Gates? Is He so overworked that He can't answer right away?

Does He need for us to prove just how badly we want the thing we're asking for? Must we earn our answers with "sincere enough" desire?

Or do we just wear Him down by our whining and wheedling, like spoiled children whose parents finally give in so they'll shut up?

What's gracious about that?

Like so many other parts of the Bible, texts like this one used to give me a lot of trouble. I didn't like the God that they seemed to present. I thought that Jesus was saying, "God is like that unwilling friend who doesn't want to help." But He wasn't saying that at all.

As usual, my difficulties existed only because I was reading the Bible as a man-centered book, not a God-centered one. A man-centered soul views God in all of the insulting ways mentioned above (unwilling to give, forcing us to jump through hoops), and does its best to manipulate Him. It also pridefully congratulates itself whenever God answers its prayers, and boasts to others about how its persistence paid off.

Heaven help us!

The fact is, people are pretty persistent, even stubborn. If we give up on one desire, it's only because we've decided to substitute a different one that we think will serve us as well. The child who begs for an ice cream may switch to begging for candy if the ice cream is denied. Either way, he persists in his demanding. Give me pleasure!

Humans are demanding by nature. We never stop asking, never stop seeking, never stop knocking. More pleasure…more comfort…more this…more that. We're like nursing babies…always hungry, and not subtle about it (Prov 30:15-16 NKJV). Meanwhile, we're dealing with a God who works on His own timetable. He has a master plan, with minute details beyond anything we can even imagine, and yet with a sweeping scope that covers all of the grand pageant of time and eternity.

He has made everything beautiful in its time (Eccl 3:11)

God is the one who decides when it's your time, and mine, to see our answers come, to see our desires fulfilled.

My times are in Your hand (Ps 31:15)

Sometimes, our desires are for exactly the thing which God wants to give us, but we're going to have to wait. And while we're waiting, trust me…we will not stop seeking, craving, striving. Do we really need more persistence?

Or should we be asking what God wants us to do with the incredible persistence that He has built into us? Does He merely want us to keep asking, seeking, and knocking, as if tenacity alone were enough? Or does He want us to keep asking, seeking, and knocking at His throne?

Is it the fact of persistence that matters to Him, or is it the orientation of our persistence that He cares about? Because if we are, by nature, endlessly searching, and we stop seeking our desires in God, then by default we will start looking elsewhere.

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Ex 32:1)

The root of all idolatry is the desire to find what we want somewhere other than from God, or sometime other than when He is willing to give it.

Next time you and I find ourselves tempted to give up on a prayer, let's ask ourselves some important questions:

  • Has God given us a definite "no?" That can happen (2 Co 12:8-9), and when it does, then it's right to surrender our desire.
  • If God hasn't told us "no," but we're discouraged with His lack of answers and want to quit, are we truly giving up on the desire, or are we seeking satisfaction in some other form, from somewhere else?

The question is not, "How persistent can we be?" as if we should exercise a man-centered trust in our inner strength. The question is "Who deserves our persistence?" That's where grace comes in! Grace orients us to God, when our natural tendency is to focus on ourselves. The man in the parable did not go anywhere else in his tenacious search…he kept knocking at this door, even when it seemed like his friend didn't care. God, in His grace, assures us of His love, so (the parable asks by inference), how much more persistent should we be than the man with the uncaring friend? And grace, not the brute force of our will, is behind every answer, whether it's the "yes" we long for, the "no" we dread, or the "wait" that keeps us hanging. All work out for our good.

While we are seeking, where do we seek? Are we before the throne, or are we buried in the TV advice-mongers? Are we dipping into the Living Waters, or into the chocolates?

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)

See how Peter's faith and his persistence went hand-in-hand? He didn't persist because of faith in his own tenacity. He persisted because of faith in Jesus. When we put faith in our own endurance, we are idolaters. When we put faith in Jesus, our persistence at His feet comes naturally.

To whom else would we go?

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