All of a sudden, Advent (Latin ‘coming’ or ‘arriving’) is here. And although we celebrate Christ’s coming, we also remember that we are waiting.
Kids wait for gifts on Christmas morning. Big kids (like us) wait for time off at the end of the year. And all of us wait for Jesus to return and make everything wrong right again.
What Do You Really Want?
Let me ask you something. What are you waiting for today? Don’t think about it too much. What are a few things you want?
Maybe it’s a better marriage. For your kids to come back to the Lord. To just get through the next exam. Better health. A nicer car or house. To find a boyfriend or girlfriend. To get a career or job you really love. To get closer to God.
What are you really really longing for?
The good news is that God cares about everything on our lists. If we’re honest, some of those things might not be all that good, so God can’t grant it. Or, we might want something good too much.
Of course, there are other reasons why we might not get what we’re waiting for, but even if he can’t safely give us everything we want, we know he’s a generous, caring God. After all, ‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights’ (James 1:17).
In a fallen, broken world, the issue isn’t whether we’ll be waiting or wanting, but how. And as long as we’re waiting, God invites us to ask for what we want.
So, how we can ask well? Without treating God like a vending machine or Santa Claus.
In other words, how can we ask God for what we want without using him?
Jesus Shows Us How To Ask Well
Ironically, as we remember Christ’s birth, we find a lot of help from a time just before his death. At a time he really wanted something and asked his Father for it. By looking at his interaction with the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46; Luke 22:39-46), we can learn how to ask God for what we want without using him.
- Get away from the crowds (Luke 22:39, 41). Jesus left Jerusalem and went to the Mount of Olives, close to the city, yet quiet and removed. The Garden was a familiar spot for him, the perfect place to connect with God. We can talk to God anywhere, of course, but a quiet, familiar place can really set the stage.
- Come with reverence (41). Jesus knelt down, perhaps partly because he was in deep distress, but also because he understood the character of his Father. There’s nothing magical about kneeling, but it is one way to practically acknowledge that we are small, and God is great.
- Come with trust in God as your Father. With the cross looming over him, Jesus addressed God as ‘Father’ (42). He understood God would provide for him and do what was best, even if he didn’t like the outcome. Can you trust that God has your best in mind even in a tough spot? Even when it might not go as you hope?
- Come with humility and respect for God’s wisdom. After addressing God as his Father, Jesus continued: ‘If you are willing… Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.’ (42) Even though Jesus was God, he submits his will to the Father’s and ultimately wants whatever God wants.
- Just ask for what you want. ‘… remove this cup from me’. (42) (‘This cup’ referred to God’s judgment against sin that he was about to endure (see Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15)). I love how Jesus just asks for what he wants. No long, flowery oratory or manipulation. (‘You know, dad, if I stayed around for awhile, we could get a lot more done…’) When we want something and come with respect for God and put his will first, then we can just ask God for what we want in a direct, to-the-point way.
- Do it in the strength God provides. After Jesus prays ‘there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him’ (43). The thought of facing the cross and God’s wrath against our sin was terrifying, but God gave Jesus everything he needed to hold up. When we’re facing really hard times and need to battle in prayer, God will give us strength, too. ‘… according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being’ (Ephesians 3:16).
- Keep praying, especially when it gets harder. Matthew’s version of the account (26:36-46) tells us that Jesus prayed the same prayer three times, and Luke says that ‘being in agony, he prayed more earnestly’ (44). A few chapters earlier, Luke relates the parable of the persistent widow to remind us that we ‘ought always to pray and not lose heart.’ (Luke 18:1-8) So we can – and should – keep asking for what’s on our hearts and not become discouraged and give up.
- Involve your friends. Jesus had consistent time alone with his Father, but in his time of deepest need he involved his friends, too. He brought Peter, James and John and asked them to ‘watch and pray’ with him (Matthew 26:41). Sometimes, our pride gets in the way and we don’t want to ask for prayer support. But if Jesus can do it, I figure I can, too.
I remember the time when our son, Matthew, was first diagnosed with autism. I can’t really compare it to what Jesus was facing here, but it was still a very dark time for us. I prayed, and prayed… and prayed that God would take Matthew’s autism away.
Even though he’s made a lot of progress, this is a prayer that God has chosen not to answer. At least not in the way I want him to. But I can say that I’ve experienced the peace and strength that’s come with submitting to God’s will, and following (however imperfectly) the basic pattern Jesus sets for us here.
I don’t think this is necessarily a step-by-step formula, but there does seem to be a real pattern here that will help us ask boldly for what we want without using God.
As we enter another Advent Season, I hope that Jesus’ example will help you wait, want, and ask with more joy, trust and faith.
- What do you really, really want?
- What part of Jesus’ example would most help you as you continue to wait and want?
PS Next time, I’ll share two practical ways you can tell if you’re learning to ask in the way that Jesus does.