A Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church. Find another day here.
Wednesday June 24, 2020
1 John 5:13-15
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
“Ask and you shall receive” is simultaneously one of the most well-known and yet at the same time misunderstood sayings of Jesus. Many people, including infamous purveyors of the heretical “prosperity gospel,” have used those words and a few other choice passages of scripture, including ours today, out of context to essentially argue that if we have enough faith then God will give us whatever we want. As with all “effective” false teaching, the message of the prosperity gospel is not entirely untrue. After all, the best lies are always ones that mix a little bit of truth with a little bit of error so that we struggle to entangle the two from each other. The truth of prosperity gospel teaching is that God does indeed want to give His children not just good, but excellent, gifts. Over and over, the Bible tells us that God is a good Father who delights in giving good gifts to His children. James tells us that He is the giver of “every good and perfect gift.” Jesus tells us that God the Father will “give good things to those who ask Him.”
So, if God is good and He enjoys giving good gifts, how can prosperity teaching be wrong? The issue here is understanding the context of Scripture, including the very idea of what is meant by “good.” You and I, and the rest of humanity with us, have remarkably poor ability when it comes to identifying and defining what is good. What I determine to be good, like the announced return of Major League Baseball in what will apparently be season shortened by more than 100 games, may not be good for you. In fact, with the average age of Major League Baseball fans now approaching almost 60 years old, according to Sports Business Journal, odds are that very few people my own age are aware of, or care about, the resumption of America’s pastime. Or take food, for another example. What I absolutely loathe, for instance my life-long hatred of pretty much all cereal— especially Honey-Nut Cheerios, may be one of your favorite go-to snacks. But the trouble with identifying goodness goes far beyond our personal preferences for how to best spend our leisure time or our favorite treats; it extends into our ability to discern what is ultimately good as well. When a young man approached Jesus with the most important question that could possibly be asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus balked at being addressed as good. He responded, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” The man didn’t know Jesus from Adam, and yet he called Jesus good in an effort to gain a favorable response. How many times have we seen a news report following some sort of terrible atrocity where a news reporter interviews the shocked next-door neighbor who in disbelief says something along the lines of “He was always such a good guy, I would have never thought he could have done such a thing.”
The good things the prosperity gospel tells us that God wants for His children are things like wealth, health, and happiness. It suggests that if those aren’t the constant hallmarks of our lives, that we either don’t have enough faith or we have done something to offend God. However, we don’t have to look far in Scripture, or in life, to see that many of the people who appear to have these three “gifts” in spades live their lives far from God. Conversely, we all know many saints of remarkable faith whose entire lives have been marked with sickness, poverty, and hardship. How can a good God lavish prosperity on the unrighteous while ignoring the plea of the just? Beyond the fact that there is none who is innocent, no one who is innately good, the simple, and at times unsatisfying, answer is that God knows and is interested in what is ultimately good for His children. He is not interested in our temporal prosperity as much as our eternal euphoria, which can only be experienced on His terms.
Our passage tells us that the key to receiving true riches from God is asking “according to His will.” God does not adjust His will to conform with our simplistic requests, but He transforms our desires to align with His eternal decrees. Author C.S. Lewis put it this way, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” God does indeed want good things for us, and they are so much better than the things we think we want for ourselves. God desires our holiness over our happiness, deep faith over deep pockets, and eternal bliss over fleeting satisfaction. These excellent gifts, of priceless value, are offered to those who turn to Jesus, who accept the perfect gift, the gift of the Son.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, You are the greatest gift that we could ever ask for, more valuable than anything we could hope to obtain. We confess that too often we do not see You for what You are, and we have spent so much time pursuing in vain things that can never fully satisfy. We pray that You would conform and transform our hearts, our passions, and our desires, to align with Your perfect will for our lives. Help us to treasure You above all others. We ask in Your perfect Name. Amen.