Pray The Church To Life: Ask
You Don’t Have Because You Don’t Ask
As I am writing this our church is 12 days away from launching a 7pm service in a new location somewhere in our city but as of now we don’t know exactly where. We made the decision to launch this new service two days ago, so while we may not be procrastinating we sure could have done some better planning. But as we look at some immediate strategic opportunities to introduce a whole new group of people to Jesus we feel like this is what God wants us to pursue.
On top of not having a facility, we don’t have a core group, we don’t have a budget, we don’t have a band. However, we do have a good and generous God who has more than enough to supply every need, and we have a church asking Him to do just that. While I wouldn’t recommend what we are doing as a good strategy for other churches to follow, I will say it is a practical reminder that we need to pray. Because of the short time frame and the incredible lack of resources we are conscious of our dependence and need. Truthfully, we are always completely dependent but so often we don’t realize it because at the end of the day we think we are pretty capable to build the church on our own and without much prayer. We come up with vision and strategy and ideas about how to multiply churches and reach our cities and then we get to work on putting those initiatives into action, often without much prayer, if any.
As we look at Nehemiah in chapter 2 we see a telling, encouraging, and convicting narrative of how God provided resources for the rebuilding of a city. Nehemiah is standing before Artaxerxes and after some brief interaction the king asks; “What are you requesting?” Think about the question and who is asking it. The Persian King is asking his cupbearer what he wants. The one asking has the resources to supply just about anything requested as well as the authority and power to bestow it. But Nehemiah knows something that we so often forget as we labor in the church, God owns everything and can provide anything through anyone at anytime He wants. Before Nehemiah responds to the king’s question he “prayed to the God of heaven.” In that moment, most likely silent and standing before the king, he prays. And this isn’t just a feeble half hearted hope, Nehemiah prays to the God of Heaven. He knows who holds the check-book and so Nehemiah prays and asks God and then he asks the king.
Are you lacking musicians? Do you have potential elders? Are you seeing conversions? Well, are you asking? Now, I don’t embrace a prosperity theology that attempts to turn God into a giant vending machine pumping out treats if you only hit the right buttons. That’s offensive. But it is clear throughout Scripture that God is generous and does provide what’s needed to bring glory to His Name.
God often connects the resources needed for the mission with prayer. For example, Jesus tells us “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9.37-38). I’ll often read a text like this, spend three minutes in prayer, and then go spend four weeks recruiting people. Sadly, I do this with just about everything in the church. I don’t know what to preach so I’ll look at commentaries or check out other church websites for what they’re doing. If we aren’t seeing conversions I’ll read a book on evangelism. When our kid’s ministry doesn’t have enough volunteers I’ll do a passionate appeal to the church telling them that Jesus would serve the kids. Now, to be clear, these are all good and right things to do, but there not sufficient. Where’s the prayer? Jesus sees need and says ‘pray,’ we see the need and plan. Now, don’t drop planning, but perhaps it’s time to fall on our knees and really start asking.
You Don’t Have Because Of Why You Ask
I am grateful for the way James pulls together prayer and provision in his letter in chapter 4 with a right desire in the asking. In James 4.2-3 we read; “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions.” Here we see both the call to ask but to do some with right motives. In other words, God is inviting us to ask Him for whatever it is we believe is going to result in His glory. When we ask for things wrongly to spend on our passion, James means asking for selfish, adulterous, ungodly, self-exalting, God-cheapening reasons. Meaning, you can ask for good things with wrong motives, and by doing so, not receive what you ask for. For example, you plead with God for more people to meet Jesus. Great prayer. But why are you asking? Is this about God’s glory or yours? You ask God to fill every seat in the church building. Good prayer. But why are you asking? Is this for your reputation or for the fame of Jesus?
What we see in Nehemiah is a man asking the God of Heaven to provide resources ultimately for God’s own glory. One of the ways we know this is the refrain in Nehemiah “the good hand of my God was upon me.” Nehemiah isn’t looking to rebuild a city for his name. He isn’t asking for himself. Nehemiah, standing before the King of Persia appeals to the power God for the glory of God. Let us be people who ask, and who ask rightly and when we receive what we have asked for, with Nehemiah say it’s because “the good hand of my God was upon me.”
Jesus Asks On Our Behalf
James tells us to ask rightly, but if we are honest, not matter what we ask for we know our motives are mixed. I imagine this was true for Nehemiah to some extent, and I know is true of me way too often. I honestly don’t believe I have ever asked God for anything without the temptation to spend it on my own passions. This may be true for you as well. But amazingly, what we see in Nehemiah, a God-glorifying prayer-dependent leader, is a precursor to a perfect Leader who would give Himself to prayer for the good of others and the glory of God. Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus asking the Father, the God of Heaven, for the good of His Church who are so needy. As the previous post emphasized, Nehemiah must not firstly be an example for us to follow but a pointer to our Perfect Substitute who prays for us and gives good gifts to us, even when we forget to ask, or even ask wrongly. Think about the comfort that comes from having Jesus pray for the good of the church you serve knowing that He never asks wrongly. Jesus loves the church. Jesus sees the needs of your church. Jesus asks the Father and the Father gives good gifts. Knowing we have such a strong and generous and kind God who sees us through Christ and who over time conforms even our selfish requests to be about His glory and not our own, let’s pray. Ask knowing that God’s good hand is upon us because of the pierced hands of Christ. I am sure there is so much in your church that you need or would like for the mission. You see lots of needs and lots of lack. God may be giving you big dreams for His glory in your city and in this world. Praises Jesus for the dreams He is giving, now pray in the name of Jesus for the resources needed. Go to the God of Heaven and ask Him to supply every need. Ask Him for His glory and where your motives are mixed ask Him to purify those as well. Who knows what would really happen in our cities if the church just started asking.
God of Heaven, I must first confess that so often I see needs in the church and spend way too much time working to fill them and far too little time praying for you to supply for them. I know it is right to labor hard in planning but it is glorious and good and practical to labor hard in prayer. Make me, make us, a people that love to pray. Not only, or even primarily to get things from you, but because we love to commune with you. And yet as the most generous Father, you love to give good gifts for us to enjoy and you provide all the resources needed for your church to thrive. In the church I serve there have been far too many times where we limited what we do by what resources we had. Instead of asking you for more we just did less. We look out at our cities and see how ripe it is for harvest, we see thousands in every neighborhood that don’t know you, and then we look at our church rosters and realize we don’t have the numbers to go get them. We are asking for more laborers. We want our churches to grow and multiply and preach and reach to the end of your creation that billions who don’t know Jesus will fall in love with Him. And as we receive resources may you make us remember that it is only because your good hand is upon us, because of the pierced hand of Christ. All of this we pray for your glory, asking for the good of your people and the fame of your Son.