Wednesday, May 08, 2024

What We Bring to the Table

Everyone has needs. The man who says he doesn’t isn’t without need, he’s without self-awareness, or perhaps just unwilling to be honest. With respect to need, the only important difference between Christians and unbelievers is that, in coming to Christ, believers acknowledge their neediness and seek to have it addressed. Unbelievers don’t.

That makes us weak, some say. Let’s grant them that. Why not?

Universal Need

Needs take different forms, but we all have them. Even the Lord Jesus himself once needed a donkey and a colt to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah concerning Messiah. He was not ashamed to acknowledge that need and depend on the generosity of others to fill it. The epistles are full of plain statements about need. One of the ways in which we may become living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, is to “contribute to the needs of the saints”. In Philippians, Paul twice acknowledges his own needs, then follows it with the confident statement that God would supply all the needs of those to whom he wrote. One of the major reasons scripture compares the church to a body is the neediness of its parts. Heads and eyes cannot operate independently of hands and feet. All need each other, and all need the direction of the Head.

Still, we do not like to acknowledge our dependence. That may be especially true of men, particularly husbands and fathers, since God has constituted us to meet needs and clearly informed us of our obligation to do it. Mature Christian men recognize that while we do not have anything we did not receive from God, our job in life is to pass that surplus on to others rather than lavishing life’s goodies on ourselves. We take a certain satisfaction in being used that way, and no joy in being found incompetent to provide for and care for those we love. The words “I don’t know how to do that” or “I can’t” do not come easily to Christian males. If they do, we have probably developed bad habits or failed to take up the responsibilities God assigns to us. There are a million things I don’t do well, but I can struggle through many of them in a pinch, and if I can’t, I know how to find someone who can, and make sure the job gets done.

Familiarity Breeds Presumption

Prayer is, in at least one of its aspects, an acknowledgement of need and a daily looking to the Lord to provide. But when, as dependent children, we come to our Father looking for his provision, we ought always to keep in mind that the wisdom of God exceeds our own by so many orders of magnitude as to make any real comparison untenable. In the one case, our Father knows what we need before we ask him. In the other, we may take a long time to recognize what it is we really ought to be asking for. Actual needs and perceived needs are not the same thing, and lusts and desires are something else entirely.

Expecting God to meet a particular need in a very specific way at a very specific time and place is not asking for trouble exactly, but it does mean we are going to find ourselves surprised by the outcome of prayer on a regular basis. Our “cleverness” in attempting to figure out what God is going to do before he does it is not terribly clever at all. It’s probably more like presumption, or maybe walking with blinkers on. He is able to do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think”. Pre-calculating the magnitude of that abundance or the currency in which it will be provided is a fool’s errand. We’ve already been told we won’t be able to.

And yet we often try, and are even disappointed when things don’t play out quite the way we anticipated.

Sharing Responsibility

David de Bruyn recently published a post called “Don’t Pray If You Don’t Vote”, about how prayer is not a substitute for action. Often, the Lord graciously allows us to participate in answering our own prayers in the strength he provides. We ask for our daily bread, but we also work for it. We pray for the lost, and we preach to them. We pray for deliverance from evil, while not giving place to the devil. All this is true, and plain old obedience is one of the most common methods through which the Lord responds to requests. Truly, it is a privilege to be workers together with God.

But once we become aware that God is using us this way, we may begin to expect this type of shared responsibility will be the normal way the Father answers his children, or at least the likeliest. This too is presumption. Age, emotional trauma, physical injury, unemployment, sickness — all have a way of rendering us unable to do the things we used to do, to participate with the Lord in answering our own prayers as we may have done in times past. Again, for men, that can be devastating, but it’s really a blessing in disguise. What was happening is that instead of trusting in the love and goodness of our heavenly Father, we had begun to trust in ourselves. Through long habit, we had inadvertently turned “all things through him who strengthens me” into “all things through strength”, only to find we didn’t have it anymore. It’s more blessed to give than to receive, but it’s also more humbling.

The Lord once fed four thousand with seven loaves and a few small fish, but he fed a thousand more men, plus women and children, with quite a bit less. God works alongside his children, certainly, but the magnitude of an answer to prayer is not dependent in any way on what you and I bring to the table.

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