Monday, May 18, 2020

Anonymous Asks (93)

“Is it wrong to wish for something?”

There was a time when the Lord Jesus wished for something with all his heart. Luke says he prayed for it earnestly, in agony, to the point where “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground”.

Here is what he wished for: “Father ... remove this cup from me.”

An Earnest Wish

The “cup” was the suffering he was about to go through on the cross of Calvary, when he would bear the sin of the world. He longed for something that, had his prayer been granted, would have cost you and me our salvation.

But it wasn’t wrong. It was a perfectly legitimate wish. The Lord had no sin of his own. He was under no obligation to suffer. He owed us nothing whatsoever. Everything he proposed to do for us was an act of grace from beginning to end. And he knew precisely what his sacrifice would cost him both physically and spiritually. The thought was almost unbearable: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin.” That’s a tremendous price to pay, and no one could make him pay it.

But Jesus would not make such a decision unilaterally. So he added these words to his prayer, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

No wish offered in that spirit can ever be wrong. A will surrendered to God’s will is always pleasing to the Father.

Getting Austere

You know what austerity is, right? We don’t see it much these days, but it’s a set of economic policies which a government has to put in place when the previous government has borrowed too much money and national debt is starting to get out of control. To go on spending the wealth of the next two or three generations would be immoral, not to mention unsustainable, so traditionally governments would try to cut back on expenses for a period of time. That would mean the schools would have to trim their education budgets, that some highways which were going to be resurfaced one summer would have to be resurfaced during the next, that the army would not get those cool new high-tech tanks they wanted for a few more years ... stuff like that. Everybody would have to make do with less. An “austere” government is a government that spends the very least it can get away with.

We sometimes get the idea that God is austere; that he wants us to learn to be holy even if it makes us miserable. We may come to think that being a Christian is all about what you give up; about the things you avoid doing rather than the things you start doing.

That is not the teaching of the New Testament. There’s a beautiful passage in Romans that refers back to God’s answer to his beloved Son when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and it goes like this:
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
A God who would give us Jesus is not austere. His desire is not just that we would serve him and become like his Son, but that we would have joy in doing it.

No Good Thing ...

Psalm 37 tells us, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 84 says, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” God is not austere.

So is it wrong to wish for something? Well, that depends on two things: (1) what you are wishing for; and (2) the spirit in which you wish it.

The first one is pretty straightforward: it’s wrong to wish for things that are wrong in themselves, and it’s wrong to wish for things selfishly. James says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” I think we all get that.

On the other hand, there are things which are not wrong in themselves, but which do not fit in with God’s purpose for our lives. The Lord’s wish in Gethsemane fell into that category. And yet his desire could never be wrong, because the spirit in which he wished it was perfectly submissive to the will of God.

That’s even in the Lord’s prayer, isn’t it? “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done ...” We are in no danger of displeasing our Father when we offer our prayers to him conditionally, always remembering that he knows what the outcome of any wish would be in the event it comes to pass.

We do not, and we need to keep that fact firmly in mind when we pray.

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