Ever heard a sermon that sounded great, but left you wondering how to actually live it out? I know I’ve heard – and preached – more than my fair share of them.
Wouldn’t it be nice to know whether – or not – you’re really getting it so you can see where you still need to grow? And, so you could celebrate progress God has granted. What if there were some simple tests that could help you see where you really are?
In my last post (‘During Advent, Jesus Shows Us How To Wait & Ask‘), Jesus showed us how to ask God for what we want while we wait for it. Which is waaay harder than it sounds. Because usually we treat God like Santa Claus or a vending machine. I make my request, or put my money in, and get what I want right away.
But even after we think we understand how to ask God the right way, it’s hard to know if we’re actually making progress. And because asking God for what’s on my heart is such a huge part of my everyday life, I’d really like to do it better and better.
So, in this post, I offer two simple ways to know if you’re learning to ask God for what you want in a more mature way.
Two Simple Tests
Last time, we looked at Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Where he was at his lowest (before the cross).
But his actions afterwards prove he really understood what it means to pour out our requests to God while we wait. This is how we know if we’re making our requests to the real God, or, just a god we’ve created in our own image.
Test #1 – Do You Really Accept It When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want?
When we look in on Jesus in the Garden, he’s praying fervently for God to take the cross away from him. But he knows that this is God’s plan for him, and his interaction with the chief priests and elders shows that he accepts it fully:
Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness. (Luke 22:52-53)
Then he allows them to arrest him and take him away. Without complaining, anger or accusing God.
After our kids were a few months old, I remember begging God to help them sleep ‘just a little longer’ (= the whole night). And when it didn’t happen, I got so grouchy. I was totally not accepting God’s answer of ‘not yet’!
Where in your life are you struggling to accept God’s answer of ‘no’ or ‘not yet’?
Test #2 – Will You Serve Others Even When You’re Hurting Yourself?
Have you ever thought about how you’d respond if you had been in Jesus’ place?
I’m pretty sure I know how I’d respond. Because when things get tough for me, I often retreat from others and look after my own needs first.
But when Jesus is staring down the cross, his response is stunning.
49 And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.
Instead of congratulating his disciples for having his back, he rebukes them and heals the very person who’s sharing in the arrest that would lead to his receiving the full wrath of God against our sin.
Later, on the cross when God has forsaken him, he keeps loving others and putting them first:
- ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’. (Luke 23:34)
- ‘When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said… to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home’. (John 19:26, 27)
This is the second way we know if we’ve learned to wait and ask like Jesus. Instead of focusing on ourselves and becoming self-absorbed, we continue to love the people around us even when it’s tough.
My wife is really good at this. I’ve seen her drop what she’s doing to talk to friends in need on a moment’s notice, even when she’s having a hard day. She’s focused on others and their needs because she believes God is actively providing for her.
When God doesn’t give you what you want, do you move toward others, or, do you retreat and focus on your own needs? What would it look like to make progress here?
An Advent Prayer
Lord Jesus, during Advent all of us are longing and waiting for so many things. Please help us to wait patiently and ask you for what we want in ways that honor you. Ways that are completely honest yet completely respectful. Help us to accept your answers when we don’t like them, and to keep loving others out of the strength you provide, until you return.