Wednesday, May 25, 2022

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (18)

If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”

Olympic hurdler and bobsledder Lolo Jones wants a godly husband, and she’s been asking God for one. So far, no success.

“Where are you God?” she wrote recently on Instagram. “Your word says John 14:14. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. I’m asking God to please honor the desire of my heart. Your word says two are better than one. Ecc 4:9-12”

Now, I will agree that two are indeed better than one in certain situations, as Solomon wrote, and the marriage relationship is not an unreasonable place to apply the principle. But what does it mean to ask for something “in the name” of Jesus? Does it simply mean to append his name to our requests to fulfill the natural desires of our hearts?

A Bobsledding Unicorn

If you have ever seen Lolo Jones, you would not think she ought to have great difficulty getting male attention, even of the very specific “godly” kind she is seeking. But appearances can be deceiving. I give her full credit for her desire to obey what she reads in her Bible, especially in the area of steering clear of pre-marital sexual relationships. A 39-year old virgin is a rare thing these days, and a spectacularly attractive, athletic 39-year old who wants to please God is pretty much a unicorn.

But Lolo is also bringing a complicated package to the table for any truly godly man looking for a helpmate. She lives in a media and social media spotlight, and it is hard to imagine that is not at some level by design. She is a professional athlete who competed as recently as 2015 for the US national bobsled team and still maintains the necessary physique, runs an anti-poverty foundation of some sort, and self-promotes online at the level you would expect, with her physical attributes very much on display. All these things take significant blocks of time and energy. There doesn’t seem a lot of room in Lolo’s life at the moment for a man who would do much more than serve as an aid to furthering her post-Olympics media career, and it’s difficult to conceive how, apart from completely abandoning the life she has constructed for herself, she could function effectively as a wife, mother and biblical partner to a man with aspirations to further the cause of the kingdom of heaven in this world.

That’s not to say her goal is impossible, but its difficulty is compounded by a significant number of Lolo’s own daily choices.

Virtual Husband Shopping

There is also the not-insignificant matter of the sort of men she is seeking out, and where she is husband-shopping:

“Tonight I blocked the guy I was talking to for 8 months. My heart just couldn’t take it anymore. He gave me so many mixed signals. He would talk about marriage and kids but then keep me in the friend zone. He would never make time to see me. My heart is so heavy.”

I may just be old-school, but it seems to me a largely-virtual relationship is, to say the least, an unpromising prospect. I wish Lolo all the best in the attempt, but one would think the chances of finding a godly man are significantly greater in church than online or by text messaging, and even better when one is engaged in regular Christian service activities that involve others. Looking for a marriage partner is not a reason to start looking for ways to serve God, of course: that’s the tail wagging the dog. But it’s next to impossible to find a truly godly man unless you make it your habit to frequent places where godly men are likely to be found.

A Prayer Asked Wrongly

James says there is a sort of prayer God does not answer because it is essentially selfish. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” The word translated “passions” carries for the reader a negative association in the few instances it occurs in our New Testament, but its usage in the Greek of its day was morally neutral. Epicurus used it to describe pleasures derived from virtuous actions as well as non-virtuous: legitimate desires of the human heart, like marriage, companionship, children and domestic happiness. A desire can be quite morally legitimate and still be essentially selfish when it is something you want only for its own sake. God is mysterious and gracious; he answers my selfish (and sometimes even trivial) prayers with an almost alarming frequency. But he has certainly not put himself under any obligation to do so.

When we read promises like “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it,” we need to examine more carefully what “anything” entails.

What sort of requests was the Lord talking about?

“In My Name” and “On My Behalf”

In John 14 the Lord is speaking about what would happen when he went away to prepare a place for his disciples. In his absence they were to act as his agents. They were to pursue his business and continue the work he had begun, taking the message of the gospel to the world and teaching new disciples to practice the things he had taught. And he promised them that any disciple who trusted him would be able to do not just the works that Jesus did, but even greater works, the object of which was to glorify God by drawing attention to his Christ.

It is in this context that the Lord finishes with the promise to his followers that “if you ask anything in my name, I will do it”.

So then, when we read the words “in my name” we might be better to substitute the words “on my behalf”. That is what the Lord is promising. When we are truly engaged in his business and acting in his interests, he will back our play every single time.

Marriage and the Glory of God

Does that apply to things like marriage? Could a marriage serve the kingdom and glorify God? Absolutely. But in order to meet the lofty standards of the verse to which Lolo is appealing, that relationship would have to be entered into by both parties with the desire for the glory of God as its primary objective, rather than a perfectly natural desire for a pleasure that is essentially of this world and is passing away.

David the psalmist famously wrote, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” What he didn’t add was that making the Lord the focus of your pleasure will change your natural desires in ways you might not anticipate. I cannot guarantee that a Christian woman who makes the Lord her delight will always find a husband coming her way. What I can guarantee is that in the process of making the glory of God the focus of her life, she will find something even better.

Image courtesy KDSanders at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

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