He said "Don't," but I did. He said "Do,", but I didn't. He said "Stop," but I kept going. He said "Keep going," but I stopped. He said "Give," but I kept. He said "Keep," but I spent. He said "Go," but I stayed. He said "Stay," but I went. He said "Louder," but I stayed silent. He said "Be quiet," but I shouted. He said "Now," but I waited. He said "Wait," but I did it anyway. Over and over I sinned. Over and over He forgave. And that is "Good News"!
The woman at the well said to Jesus “Sir, please give me a drink…” (John 4:15). She asked Jesus to fill her physical cup with physical water to meet a physical need. She admitted she needed something and she hoped Jesus would give it to her.
We must go to Jesus in the same way, recognizing and admitting our physical needs and asking Jesus to meet them.
But the importance of our spiritual needs is far greater than the importance of our physical needs. And for these needs we extend to him the empty cup of ourselves–a life that is empty because we are trying to meet these needs in our own power out of the resources of the world.
The woman at the well needed water. In the quiet honesty of Spirit-led introspection, what do we most need from Jesus? He has already offered us joy, peace, confidence, health, prosperity, protection and a person relationship with himself. We are invited to request as much of each of these as it takes to fill our lives.
So why are we still empty?
The answer may be slightly different for each of us, but basically we remain empty because we do not have enough faith in Jesus to fully believe two of his promises. Jesus said “If you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, come to me and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28) And in Luke 12:29, 31 He said “Don’t keep worrying about having something to eat or drink. But put God’s work first, and these things will be yours as well.”
He has offered, but He will not fill our cup without our permission.
Prayer and love tend to unite people. Perhaps we need to do more of both at church on Sunday. Prayer should be a never-ending two-way conversation. Perhaps my most frequent prayer request should be "Lord, teach me to pray properly and what to pray for." Maybe knowing exactly what to pray for is what James had in mind when he said we should pray for wisdom. (James 1:5) What does God do when I pray and ask for something that is against His will? Nothing! He simply ignores such requests and gives me what is spiritually and eternally best for me. But if my prayers always include a sincere request to learn to pray better, He will grant that request and I will not offer as many ill-conceived petitions. In order for a prayer to be effective, the attitude must be correct before the words are spoken. To "say" a prayer without having the proper attitude is simply "word uttering" and is worthless. Passionless people pray powerless prayers. My prayers must not be so much an attempt to get God's attention, but rather a response to the fact that He has already gained my attention. He knows me completely before I pray, but I need to clearly identify and express my wants and needs so He can show me the difference between them.
A man hired a carpenter to build him a house. He described the house he wanted and told the carpenter "Give me a list of everything you will need. I will get it all delivered." Six weeks later all the material was assembled and the carpenter went to work. A week later the man drove up to the site with a spray can of red paint. He started walking around the stacks of lumber marking some of them with the paint. The surprised carpenter asked "What in the world are you doing?" "You cannot use any of what I am marking. If it has red on it, don't use it." The carpenter did as he was told and finished the house as best he could with the limited material. When the owner saw the house he was disappointed and complained about the carpenter's work. Do we do this with God? He has provided all that is necessary to make us into the person He intends for us to be. Then we withhold part of ourselves - our attitudes, preferences, opinions, prejudices, habits, likes, dislikes - and wonder why we are not as happy and content as we would like to be.
Regular faith allows us to look back at past unpleasant times and say "God, I see now that you were teaching me and growing me. I understand now at least part of what you were doing. Thank you." Great faith allows us to look at current unpleasant times and say "God, I guess you are teaching me and growing me. Keep it up until I have learned all I need to learn. Thank you!" Somewhere I read "Faith and obedience will remove mountains of evil. But they must go hand in hand." I like this thought, but is faith without obedience really faith? The primary purpose of strong faith in God is not so that He can do more work through me, but so that He can do more work in me. My lack of faith hinders my effectiveness as his servant and it also blocks my becoming like him. I do not need to develop a plan for my life...month...week...day...hour. Instead I need to discover God's plan, which has been in existence for thousands of years. I need the faith to believe his plan is better than mine and the courage to put it into practice. Faith says to God "If it is your will I will attempt the impossible and accept the uncomfortable."
To fully benefit from having God as my Father, I must admit that I need him as provider, protector, counselor, guide, comforter and savior. I must admit "I can't," acknowledge "He can," and believe "He will." Only then can I know the full value of having been adopted into his family and having the privilege of calling him "Abba Daddy." John 5:1-18 tells the story of a crippled man. When Jesus asked him "Do you want to get well" he replied that he had no one to help him get into the healing pool. He knew of only one way to get healed. Sometimes I limit God the same way. I say "Lord, I can't be happy unless ____." Then I get discouraged and disgruntled if my specific request is not granted. I need to be willing to say "Lord, do whatever you think is best in my life and I'll be happy no matter what you provide." Should I view Jehovah as a god of joy (and praise him) or a god of responsibility (and serve him?) Of course the answer is "both," since worship is defined as "recognizing and properly responding to God." Service is part of that proper response. Too much emphasis on the joy part can cause a turn inward, always looking for the next bit of spiritual excitement. Too much emphasis on the responsibility portion can result in guilt and lifeless attempts to minister. Our challenge is to find and retain the joy that comes from fulfilling responsibilities.
If I apply Paul’s “I can do all things through Christ…” (Philippians 4:13) to my life, it means I can run errands for a shut-in neighbor and then sit and listen for the hundredth time as she recounts her memories of childhood. It means I can ladle soup in a homeless shelter. It means I can baby sit for a single mother while she goes grocery shopping. It means I can take a four-hour shift beside the ICU bed of a relative I hardly know and do not particularly like. It means I can share Jesus on a bench at Wal Mart. It means I can forgive completely. It mean I can show love to those who criticize me.
Any time my pastor or other church leader asks me to do something I must never say “I can’t” without first asking God if He wants me to. When I am following his will the answer “I don’t want to” is not an option, unless I immediately say “But I’ll do it if He wants me to.” In the Philippians verse the words “through Christ” are the key to life application. If, as I pray, I am led to believe God does not want me to do it I may say “I won’t” but I must never say “I can’t”.
Every time I pray I am attending a family reunion because my Father and Brother are both there.(Hebrews 2:11) My Father provides the entertainment by singing (Zephaniah 3:17). What song is He likely to sing? What about the lyrics below, sung to the tune of "Jesus Loves Me". Child I love you. This you know. In my Word I've told you so. Little one, to me you belong. You are weak, but I am strong. I'm God. I love you. (3x) My Spirit tells you so. Many worship leaders decry the lack of passion and emotion in times of corporate worship (song services). But few seem to be troubled by such absence. James 5:16 says that one requirement for effective prayer is fervency. Can I pray fervent prayers if I don't care about the subject of my prayer? If fervent can be understood as "emotional attachment" I need to allow the Holy Spirit to lead me into a more caring attitude. This certainly applies to my prayer "Father, make me more like Christ." The purpose of my praying must be to converse with God, not convince God. And, like any effective conversation, both parties must listen. After I am done talking in my prayers I must sit and continue to meditate on the things the Holy Spirit brings to my mind. Prayer that is the most pleasing to Him is prayer that is Holy Spirit initiated and guided. Being Spirit sensitive will increase the effectiveness of my prayers. How should I judge the effectiveness of these prayers? By how much I am changed by my prayers. There is truth to the saying that "Prayer changes things", but the things that should be the most changed is the person doing the praying.
In Matthew 5:20 Jesus called his disciples to a spiritual level higher than that of their religious leaders. He was asking the disciples to grow beyond those who led their times of worship and taught in their synagogues.
To the disciples this must have sounded impossible. Those religious leaders very carefully followed the law of Moses and the many interpretations thereof. They were the theologians and seminary professors of their day. They wrote the Sunday School literature and scriptural commentaries. They tithed, attended all the festivals, gave special offerings, prayed three times every day, fasted several times each year, and sacrificed at the correct times and in the appropriate manner. How could these “working stiffs” ever exceed such righteousness?
They could love their neighbors!
Jesus did not fault the actions of these leaders. Their actions were impeccable. But He knew their hearts (Luke16:15). He called his followers to a set of attitudes that were more pleasing to the Father. He called them to love others.
If God were to call us to judgement today, would we want him to judge us on our actions or our attitudes? Which come closer to the meeting his standards?
What should be our primary attitude toward God? Love! (Matthew 22:37)
What should be our primary attitude toward people? Love! (Matthew 22:39)
What actions should we take to show God we love Him? Obey Him! (John 14:15)
What actions should we take to show others we love them? Serve them! (John 13:4-5)
Being alone with God is more than being isolated from others, reading the Bible and praying, sitting quietly and meditating on spiritual things and trying for a few minutes to strengthen the relationship we have with Him.
Being alone with God means being without our “stuff,” entering his presence emotionally, intellectually and spiritually naked. Then allowing Him to change us as He sees fit.
It is possible to be alone with God even when in a crowd, but such intimacy is more likely when there is no one else around. We must cease to be concerned with family relationships, vocational success, recreational pleasure, health, prosperity and all else we consider important in this life. Until we reach this degree of trust these things go with us when we enter his presence. They are unnecessary baggage.
Each time we pray, we should begin with the request for the Holy Spirit to empty us of everything except an awareness of His presence.