Getting What You Want

Matthew 7:7-11

Pastor Jeff Nave

Northshore Church

Sunday, January 6, 2012

9:00 AM & 10:30 AM

Community Group Questions:

 

1. How do you typically respond when you don’t get what you want? How is this different from your response when you do get what you want?

 

2. Read together with your group Matthew 7:7-8 and James 4:2-3. What conclusions do you form from the contrast between these two passages of scripture?

 

3. What does it sound like when you ask God for things? Take the risk of talking openly about prayer; when do you pray and what are some of the words you use?

 

4. Read Psalm 37:1-4 together. Is there a desire that God has fulfilled for you? Have you started wanting anything specific as a direct result of your relationship with God?

 

 

Sermon Notes:

 

Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas?

Do you typically get what you want, or are you often disappointed and dissatisfied because you just never seem to get everything you want from people, or circumstances…or God?

 

The Bible is clear in it’s cautions against materialism. Perhaps the clearest example of this warning comes from Jesus himself when he cautions that it is possible to gain the whole world and lose one’s very soul. If you are seeking God and believe that his word is a guide for your life, you are under no illusions about what our Lord calls the deceitfulness of riches. (Matthew 16:26, Matthew 13:22 KJV)

 

But wanting in itself is not wrong. Desiring something that we believe will bring us pleasure or happiness is not always out of step with our commitment to Christ. If we want something more than God, would openly reject God in order to receive the object of our desire, that’s bad.

 

But it is God’s desire for us to experience joy even in this fallen world, so wanting what we believe will bring us joy is not always off the mark. In fact, it is the wanting that often motivates the efforts that bring about the meaningful experiences that lead us to greater maturity and understanding.

 

A famous poet once wrote:

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,

Or what's a heaven for?"

 

Evidence suggests that Robert Browning was sincere in his Christian faith; and while not all of his poems would fit neatly into a sermon, it is likely that what he had in mind is in keeping with our eternal hope for the heaven promised to us by God. We were created to seek more, to grow and to want. It is an important part of our relationship with God to express our wants to him. 

 

Let’s consider the words of Christ recorded for us in the New Testament Book of Matthew, chapter 7, verses 7-11.

 

Matthew 7:7-11

 

7 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

9 "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?

10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?

11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

 

That’s good news, is it not? “Ask away,” says Jesus, and whatever your heart desires will be yours.

 

Doesn’t it work that way? Well, why not?

We hear so-call preachers and prophets on TV, radio and the internet promising just that. “The Bible says ask and you shall receive, so God has no choice. When we do the asking, he has got to do the giving.”

 

But we all know it doesn’t work that way, even if we wish that it would.

 

A very superficial reading of the Bible can appear to reveal contradiction on the subject of wanting and asking for things from God. Because the same New Testament that records the words of Christ on asking and receiving, records the words of his younger brother James as well. Let’s try to reconcile what Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you;” with what is written in the book of James, chapter 4, verses 1-3

 

James 4:1-3

 

1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?

2 You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.

3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

 

So which is it?

 

Does God work like some supernatural gumball machine? Put in your prayer request and out come the things you want?

…or is there more to it than that?

 

First of all, we have to realize that the Bible is not some cosmic rulebook that we can use to back God into a corner. God is the maker and ruler of all things and he is not bound by anything. He has, however, chosen to provide us with a reliable written record of his relationship with men and women from the very beginning.

 

His word is a faithful guide for those who seek him and it reveals to us his plan to save us and bless us and make us into people who are a blessing to others. God’s plan for you, for me, for each of us, from the very beginning has been to bless, to give, to fill us with joy until that joy overflows into the lives of others and causes them to want what we’ve got.

 

Surely we can take Jesus at his word when he says that he has come into our lives not just to save us from sin, but to give us a full life.

 

He said this exactly in the book of John, chapter 10, verse 10

 

John 10:10

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

 

So in this New Year that has dawned upon us, let us consider how we might find in God all that we want.

 

I want to share with you some precepts from God’s Word that should guide us in our asking and seeking. Ladies, and maybe some men, who are fans of Kay Arthur Bible studies will be familiar with that term, “precept.” It means a general rule that guides action. I like it because the prefix, “pre-,” reminds us that it is something we should consider before we act.

 

Points

The first of these precepts I want us to consider this morning is:

 

Wanting in itself is a part of a bigger process.

 

When we realize that our wanting the best that this life has to offer is consistent with God’s desire for us to experience the fullness of his blessings; in this life and the next, we will begin to see that our wants and desires should be a part of the process through which God is shaping us into the men and women he wants us to be. 

 

Every part of who we are, what we think and what we do needs to be transformed by God. When we become aware of a desire that we can shape into words, God should be the first person we share it with.

 

The second of my precepts is:

 

Remember who you are asking.

 

God is not a Shopping Mall Santa; and yet we treat him like one when we toss up superficial prayers as a last ditch effort when everything else we tried has failed. We want God to take our wants and our needs serious, but do we take him serious?

 

Jesus shared his prescription for personal prayer with his followers in Matthew, chapter 6, verses 6-8

 

Matthew 6:6-8

6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

 

When we are expressing our wants, our desires, our needs to God, we must take the time to focus our attention, choose our words carefully and address him with the respect due the God of the universe, who doesn’t need us to tell him anything,…

 

BUT wants us to.

 

That’s the next precept:

 

God wants us to share our desires with him--even the ones we’re afraid he won’t like.

 

There are some things we simply may not have. But God doesn't hold it against us if we ask; in fact, he wants us to ask for everything we want so that he can teach us through his yeses and his nos. There are some wants and desires that are not godly or healthy. If we make a practice of bringing every desire to God, we allow him to respond to our wants as he wills.

 

Hiding any desire or want from God is foolish. First of all, he knows everything that is in our hearts already, so we're not fooling him. But more important is the reality that not bringing to God those desires that we wish to keep secret, blinds us from his response and makes us vulnerable to other influences.

 

There are some desires that even unfulfilled, can destroy our lives and will certainly rob us of the joy God wants for us. If we want something really bad, but keep it a secret; just turning it over and over in our minds with no input from God or others, what was once only a desire becomes a secret obsession. We can’t hide the truth from God, but we can lie to ourselves. We can begin to fool ourselves into thinking that something we sensed was wrong might not be so bad after all.

 

God’s word tells us in

 

1 John 1:9

9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

 

Confession is just the process of telling the truth about what is in our hearts; what we wish for and desire, as well as choices we’ve made that are not pleasing to God. Bringing all our wants to God allows him to purify our wants, to deliver us from obsession with things that will ultimately bring us harm.

 

Another important precept for us to consider is:

 

What we want always costs something.

 

Some of you may bristle at this statement because it sounds kind of harsh, and more like more like a secular than a biblical truth. But the law of sowing and reaping is foundational to the biblical truths that govern our lives. It’s true that God is generous and gracious to us and his word says so, so often that we can’t examine each instance in the time we have this morning. But all of God’s grace and mercy is available to us because it cost Jesus everything. Because God is just, we were separated from the fullness of his love by our disobedience. Salvation is ours for free, but it cost God a broken heart and the death of his son. So we are offered salvation for free, but we are required by God to live our lives according to the universal and biblical law of sowing and reaping.

 

Consider with me the words found in Mark, Chapter 10, verses 42-45

 

Mark 10:42-45

 

42 Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.

43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

 

These verses are a part of a curious episode in Jesus’ private ministry to his disciples. James and John, brothers and prominent in the New Testament record of the twelve disciples, came to Jesus with a really big want. They asked him to allow them to sit at his right and his left hand in his eternal, heavenly kingdom.

 

Jesus told them that the answer to their very specific question was “no.” But the rest of the story often gets left out of the telling. If you’re familiar with this episode and have read, or heard a sermon based on, the account here in Mark or the similar passage in Matthew, you may have come away with the impression that Jesus scolded or corrected James and John for their audacity.

 

But the text tells us that while the other disciples were offended by the brothers’ request, Jesus took the opportunity to teach all of them an important lesson. Not only did he not criticize James and John for wanting a place of honor in the Kingdom of God, he said, “It’s good for you to want to be great in my Kingdom. Here’s what it takes. This is what it costs.”

 

The good news is that the thing we need most of all, salvation from the ultimate consequence of our sin, our rebellion towards God, is ours at no cost. We need only choose to benefit from the forgiveness of sins that God has purchased on our behalf at tremendous cost. God has paid the cost through the death of Christ Jesus on the Cross, so that choosing life only costs us humble acknowledgement that we need him. It’s important for us to keep this in mind when we are confronted with the reasonable cost of the other things we want.

 

Much of our involvement in church and Christian or religious activities is motivated by a desire or want to get more out of our relationship with God, our membership in the body of Christ, to reap the benefits of doing it right. I believe God smiles on these wants and has encouraged us through his word to keep seeking more, and even helps us know what it takes on our part.

 

Maybe you’re already getting all that you want from your relationship with God, and your participation in church. But if you have not found that thing you can do to serve, as Jesus told his disciples that they must, then you are almost certainly missing out on the more that God wants to give to you. Look around your church, your community, your family and act intentionally and regularly to serve others and receive more from God.

 

Everything that happens here at Northshore Church, happens because others have already chosen to serve you; by greeting you warmly as you arrive on Sundays, providing coffee and a snack if you need it, by caring for and teaching your children, and almost everything that happens during worship: music, sound, lights, media, happens because someone is volunteering to serve.

 

We think this is such an important part of your relationship with God, that we have two identical services so everyone has the opportunity to worship a service and serve a service.

 

We want you to get all that you can out of your relationship with God, and another precept that guides this process is:

 

If you’re not getting what you want from God, think bigger.

 

Is it possible that at the times we are most dissatisfied with God’s response to our prayers, he is waiting and wanting to give us something bigger than the thing we are asking for. God is more generous than we can imagine, but we think of him as withholding because we are asking for the little stuff that can get in the way of the really big stuff he wants us to have.

 

Consider with me the words of the Prophet, Jeremiah in Jeremiah 29:11-13

 

Jeremiah 29:11-13

11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.

13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

 

The nation of Israel, held captive as exiles in Babylon, cried out to God for relief from their harsh conditions. God spoke through his prophet Jeremiah to assure them that he heard their prayers and was already planning to relieve their suffering, not with better food or more comfortable conditions, but by defeating their captors and restoring them to their home in the land he had promised.

 

God didn’t want to give them small comforts in captivity, he wanted them to be free and to experience the fullness of his generous love for them.

 

If you are asking God for things, or for temporary comforts, consider the possibility that he is working to change not only your circumstances, but to change you in a way that will allow you to receive something much better.

 

The final precept I would share with you this morning is:

 

What we want changes as we mature.

 

Consider with me the words of the Psalmist in Psalm chapter 37, verses 1-4.

 

Desires of Your Heart

Psalm 37:1-4

 

1 Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong;

2 for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.

3 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

4 Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.

 

This is one of our Pastor’s favorite passages of scripture, and I like it too. Hebrew scholars tell us that the parts of speech and their arrangement in this passage create a rich dual meaning. In one sense, it represents a promise from God to give us the things we desire, and in another, it implies the work of God in the heart of those who are delighted by him, changing what we desire. God invites us to have an active role in this process.

 

Trust in the Lord and do good. That’s a choice we can make. Each day presents us with opportunities to do some good; sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big. The formula in Psalm 37 is: do good as often as you can and delight yourself in the Lord.

 

Delighting ourselves in the Lord is also with in our grasp; it simply requires us to spend time with him, not just asking for the things that we want, although, I think we determined that it’s an important piece, but studying his word and learning more about him.

 

A little hint here: it easier to do if you do it with others, at least some of the time. Our small group bible studies or Community groups are a way to make this happen. There’s more about the groups we already have and those coming soon in your Worship Guide.