What are you looking for when you go to God? I often find myself convicted even at the start of this question because most of the time, my answers don’t seem very sufficient. What do I want from God? Well, I’d like good grades, safe trips for my parents, healing for my sick friends, etc, etc. Ultimately, though, it never feels very satisfying. I go to a God who created everything, who set the world in motion and keeps it there, who has literally raised people from the dead, and I say such mundane things as “If I could just get an A in that class, Lord, that’d be awesome.” I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been asking God for the wrong things.
This isn’t to say that asking for good grades is necessarily wrong, or that a person shouldn’t do it. Philippians 4:16 tells us it’s fine to ask God for such things as good grades as long as we do it with humility and thanksgiving. The content of my requests aren’t really the problem, but the heart behind the request shows whether I’m asking correctly or not.
Look, for example, at John 4:46-54. Jesus is in Galilee, and a royal official comes to Jesus and asks Him to heal his son. How different are my requests from this? Not too different at all, actually. Indeed, there are plenty of sick people that I pray God will heal. But Jesus replies to the man with an unexpected answer, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” This is far from an unreasonable request, but Jesus challenges the man, and almost makes it sound like a refusal.
If we go back a couple chapters, we find Jesus in Jerusalem during the Passover feast. While He was there, he zealously cleansed the temple from the merchants and the money-changers in the court of the Gentiles. If 2:23 and 3:2 are any indication, Jesus performed other signs as well. While John has no explanation for the kind of signs Jesus performed in Jerusalem outside of the temple cleansing, it was apparently enough that “many believed in His name,” and certainly enough that a Galilean official had heard about Him and thought He could heal his sick son. With all this in mind, we get a little glimpse of the heart of the official coming to Jesus.
The man isn’t coming to Jesus in faith, but in expectation of a miracle. He doesn’t care who he’s talking to so much as he cares about what the person he’s talking to can do. So Jesus rebukes him. He says “unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” Unless I perform for you and do everything you want me to do for you, you won’t believe.
And to reiterate, the official’s request is not a bad one! I’m positive that in the 3 years of Jesus’ ministry, this was not the dumbest request to pass by Jesus’ ears. But even so, without a right view of Jesus, there is no request that we can make that doesn’t deserve the same rebuke.
God isn’t some kind of monkey on display, doing whatever trick we want Him to do if we ask nice enough. When we talk to God, the first thing we should realize is that we have almost no control over anything. The entire reason we ask God for things in the first place is because we know they’re out of our control. Genuine, heartfelt prayer begins with humility. But it’s a humility that must itself be genuine and heartfelt.
It’s almost worse if we try to fake humility. In Isaiah 7, God tells the king of Syria, “Ask a sign of the LORD you God; let it be as deep as Sheol (Hades/The land of the dead/The afterlife-ish) or as high as heaven” and the king says, “I will not put the LORD to the test.” God’s response to that isn’t “Good job, you’ve learned the system.” His response is, “Is it too little to weary men, that you must also weary God?”
What does this show? You can make requests to God with a wrong mindset, and you can refuse to ask anything of God with a wrong mindset. Both can be done incorrectly. Both are incorrect when all we’re thinking is what we can get from God as we pray. When I pray, the last thing that should be on my mind is whether I can get something out of the relationship. Just the fact that I can pray at all is incredible. To be able to talk to the very God whose power is shown infinitely throughout the universe as a Father, as someone who cares and loves deeply and knows better things for me than I can even imagine. It’s certainly worth all the humility and thankfulness God calls for.
In the end of John 4, the official’s son is healed, but it’s not because Jesus was performing like a street musician to prove Himself. It’s because the official’s heart changed and actually believed Jesus could and would help him.
So what do you go to God for? Is it because you want something from Him?
Or is it because you actually need Him?