Do you ever wonder why your spiritual life is sometimes boring? Why, if you think about it, you don’t always feel like going to church, reading the Bible, or praying?
“Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24b)
When Jesus said this, He wasn’t urging His disciples to ask for a million dollars to make them happy. Even though it isn’t specifically mentioned, there is a qualification about what we may rightly ask God for. James 4:3 tells us, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” There is such a thing as asking wrongly—to gratify our sinful desires—and God will not give us these. Yet Jesus did have a significant reason in commanding us to ask God for what we need.
Imagine a friendship in which you are the only one who ever writes letters or emails. You might be tempted to think the person you’re writing to doesn’t care about you, or worse—that they aren’t even there. Our relationship with God is the same. When faith is one-sided—when it only involves our doing things without a discernible response from God—we are at risk of subconsciously questioning His concern or even His existence completely, and hence, being bored and distracted. Who wouldn’t be bored reading something that may not matter and mouthing words that we think aren’t heard? Yet God does exist, He cares very much that we know He is real, and Jesus has told us specifically what we must do to have a vibrant, real, and ongoing relationship with Him!
The secret to not being bored in our relationship with God is for it to be two-sided. When we ask for things and God gives them to us, our faith in Him is strengthened. We see that we aren’t just speaking into thin air when we pray—that this isn’t, like the skeptics would have us believe, all in our minds— that God is genuinely there, that He responds to our requests, and that He cares about us. We get to really see Him at work in our own lives experientially, not just read about it in the Bible. As a result, because we are confirmed in our conviction that God is real, our spiritual walk becomes more vibrant and we become truly happier—our joy becomes fuller. So what must we do to have this kind of relationship with God?
The way to cultivate a relationship with God is simple. We are to read His Word, fellowship with others who are also into His Word (such as going to church and Bible studies, reading Christians books, listening to sermons on the radio or online, and the like), and pray. If we do the first two things, we will be more likely to pray wisely—we will be more concerned with what God cares about than with “gimme, gimme, gimme.” And when we pray rightly, God will answer.
We already know what we shouldn’t pray for—to gratify our sinful desires and lusts. But specifically, what should we pray for? One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to pray back Scripture. So if Romans 12:1-2, for example, says:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God,”
we would pray:
“Dear Lord, help me present my body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to You, which is my reasonable service. Help me not be conformed to this world, but help me be transformed by the renewing of my mind, that I may prove what is Your good, acceptable, and perfect will.”
This is a fail-safe way to know that we are praying His will. If we ask God for what He already desires for us, we know that we are praying according to His will. Furthermore, we know that He is happy to give us what we ask for.
Yet life has its more stressful moments. You may be frustrated, you may be tired; I have experienced in my own life is how gracious God is, and how willing to meet us at our own point of need. I cannot tell you how many times I have been unable to find something and have simply cried out in desperation, “Please help me, Lord” and have instantly glanced to where the item was (even though I had already looked everywhere I could think of), or asked God to cause a small piece of something that had gotten into my foot to go away and it did. The point is not that we shouldn’t do whatever we humanly can to fix the situation; this is common sense. It is, rather, that God wants us to know He is real and is there and cares about what is going on in our lives at the moment, and is gracious to show Himself to us in whatever way will personally convince us of this.
Praying for something and receiving it is one way our faith is strengthened, but sometimes God strengthens our faith in other ways. Recently, our furnace broke. After he finished, the technician began telling me how he “died” back in 1980. He described his out of body experience in which he actually spoke to God (a short, “This isn’t fair to my mother,” who had already lost several children), and being sent back. He was completely sincere, and explained that since then he has been convinced God is real and tells his customers about this experience. We tend to look on accounts like these with cynicism, yet hearing it directly from someone who experienced it also strengthened my faith.
Ultimately, each and every one of us will face God personally. The purpose of having a vibrant and real relationship with God is so we can face Him at that moment. If we have trusted Christ for our salvation and know and love Him now, we can trust that He will not forget or abandon us then. All of our life is a preparation for that day—for that moment. My mother had a plaque hanging by her bed which read, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last,” and the verse “Your life is hid with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3) This is absolutely true. We have only one life, and it will very quickly be over, before we even realize it. Most importantly, it is certain that our only hope is being hidden with Christ in God.
Help us ask You, that our joy may be full in the knowledge that You are real, that You love us tremendously and undeservedly, that You are willing to meet us in our point of need, and that our life is, indeed, hidden with You in God. Amen.