"I pray. I read the Bible. But it isn't working."
How many times have you heard that? I've heard it many times, and I've said it even more. It's finally grabbed my attention as one of the most flawed sentences in the "Christianese" dialect.
IT isn't working? Is there a secret formula to suddenly having peace? Is God a vending machine that spits out answers when we insert our prayers? When we hear no response, is the vending machine out of order? When we don't feel any Spiritual high after reading God's Word, are our Bibles simply out of gas? When we don't "get anything" out of our pastor's sermons anymore... maybe we need to check his batteries?
Well, let me make a proposition to the Westernized version of Christianity. Claiming that a flawless God isn't working, is like claiming the car is broken when we haven't even put the key in the ignition. It's like claiming the police are blind when they pull us over after running a red light. It's like claiming that the judge isn't doing his job right after he sentences us for our crime.
It's putting our blame on somebody else's shoulders, because we are just too proud to admit that it belongs to us.
God never stops 'working.' The Holy Spirit's reserves of powers never dwindle. God's promises do not have an expiry date. It used to be that claiming to be a Christian implied one's belief in these statements! Why would we want to follow a mediocre King? Why would we want to serve a somewhat-powerful god?
It's not what anybody wants. And yet, when we say that He cannot deliver His promises, we are saying that He is not the capable God that we read about in the Bible. When we state that prayer doesn't work for us, we are stating that God's power is not strong enough to attend to our personal needs. In other words, complaining that devotions don't work is how we, like almost everything else in our lives, liken God to an instant, personal machine.
But His thoughts are not like our thoughts. He time is not like our time. He remembers the time before the earth even existed. He remembers what it was like before there were stars or galaxies. He was there before there was any such thing as physical reality. He answers to no one, but one day every thing and everyone will answer to Him. He deserves it all, but we demand it all.
So praying isn't working, eh? I've had the same problem. So I took a step back, and sure enough, the problem was myself. The problem still is myself, and the problem will always be myself. Once we have triumphed over Satan in the initial decision to follow Christ, then we are the only things left standing in our own way. We are the last obstacles standing in between our greed-filled minds, and a growing relationship with Christ. Still don't think you're the problem? Here's the proof.
Mark 11:24 - "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."
John 15:7 - "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you."
Hebrews 11:6 - "And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him."
Jeremiah 33:3 - "Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known."
There you have it, the keys to the Kingdom. He has told us to believe that He will give us what is best for us. He has told us that without faith, we cannot expect to grow in Him. In order to draw near to God, we need to believe in Him, and in His promises. He has told us that when we call to Him, He will answer us and reveal to us the mysteries of His plan. Not when we mutter to Him, not when we whisper a quick prayer as we drift off to sleep, not as we hurriedly sing the same words before every meal with our minds focused only on the food. No, He will answer us when we call to Him. It's as a desperate longing. It's an audible cry, a physical shout, or a heart's deep yearning.
"Call to me." That phrase does not sound like the way Canadians pray. For the most part, our prayer pattern follows the template of, "Dear God. Thank you for this day. Please be with us as we go about our business. Please help us have a good day. Amen." And there we go, once again, inviting God to follow us as we pursue our own agendas. He can observe. He can "come with us" as we go about our daily business, and if He feels up to it, he can help "make it a good day."
When did we become the master? We became the master the moment we retreated within our own heads, and began seeking our own will. "My kingdom come, and my will be done on earth as it is in my imagination, Amen."
There is a little thing missing from our devotions, most of the time. I know it was missing from my daily Jesus-Time for an entire year, the first time I tried to read the Bible through. I dreaded every night, but stuck to it simply for the bragging right. The second year I went for it, I realized that reading the entire Bible through should not be a bragging right for a Christian, just like reading the Harry Potter books isn't a "bragging right" for Potter fans, nor is reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy a "bragging right" for Tolkien fans. Claiming to be a fan of anything without having read the material or familiarizing yourself with its foundation is both embarrassing and ridiculous.
Reading the Bible should be nothing less than mandatory for a follower of Christ. That's something that sounds incredible to the ones who crave God's Word. To those who despise taking the time to devote to God... it sounds like detention. And that's where the problem lies.
Is the Bible something that we can't wait to open, or an idea that warrants an eye roll? Is God's Word something we crave, or something we shrug at? Is church something that makes us amped to wake up on Sunday morning, or a chore that we endure by checking our watches frequently? Is prayer something that we enter into throughout the day, or a rehearsed rhyme that we recite at Thanksgiving and Christmas?
We should be craving His presence. Desiring His Word. Searching for His wisdom. Seeking His character. Thirsting for His Justice. Hungering for His Will. To grow closer to Him and conform to His Will should be our utmost ambition. We should embody the lyrics of the old hymn:
Give me Jesus, Give me Jesus. You can have all this world. Just give me Jesus.
If we are wanting to reap the benefits of a close relationship with Christ; if we are looking for peace and comfort and forgiveness, we cannot be fulfilled after halfhearted Bible readings or absent-minded prayers. If we enter into God's presence in anger and frustration and refuse to leave our selfish thoughts at the door, then how can the Holy Spirit minister to us? If we can only focus on ourselves and can't find it in us to talk to our Maker, how can there be room for Him to transform us into the image of Christ? The problem is never Him. It's always us. And it takes a true God-seeker to admit that.
Psalm 14:2 - "The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God."
Acts 17:27 - "His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us."
Do you desire God, or do you tolerate Him?
If you find that you're barely tolerating the whole reading and praying thing... then no wonder your devos aren't "working."