John 7:37-39 – Come and Ask for What You Need

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (New International Version)

Anyone Can Come

Let’s take Christ’s words at the end of the Jewish Festival of Booths (or Tabernacles) at face value. Jesus said that if anyone is thirsty, they could come to him and drink. This is an unconditional statement with no caveats, qualifications, or fine print to it. Jesus did not say if anyone is spiritual enough or strong enough or committed enough that then they could come to him.

The only qualifications one must have in coming to Jesus is to be needy. To be thirsty and want a drink is it, period. No interviews. No jumping through any hoops. No red tape. No having to go through one of the disciples to get to Jesus. No obstacles whatsoever. Sheer need and want gets anybody an audience with Jesus.

“Thirsty” is Christ’s simple metaphor for need. Whenever we long to have our needs met, there is always the opportunity and possibility of going to Jesus. And we know that all of us are thirsty because every single person has needs that aren’t getting met. These important and vital words of Jesus to us encourages us to admit and say to him, “I need you, Lord.”

And what is the Lord’s response to such a humble expression of need? “Please come here to me and drink till you are full.” No judgment. No condemnation. No big sighs. No snarky comments. No disappointed looks. Our confession of need accesses divine compassion and help. Who will help?

Anyone Can Receive Help through the Helper

The Holy Spirit will help. Christ ascended and gave us the Spirit. On this day before the Christian celebration of Pentecost, we are reminded that Jesus delivered on his promise to give help. There is no better assistance in all the world than having a permanent live-in guide, helper, and advocate who is continually alongside us, even in us.

Ask. Seek. Knock. That’s it. We have a popular commercial figure in my city, a lawyer, whose one-liner is, “One call. That’s all!” And help will come. All we need do is express our needs and wants. And yet, that is so awfully hard for so many people. It seems weak or selfish to come right out and say what we need and what we want. Yet, if we are to embrace any sort of Christian discipleship, straight forward asking will be involved.

Believers simply can state their needs to be breathed on by the Spirit and have their thirst satiated. If we make it more complicated than that, we lose the incredible simplicity of the gospel – that it is good news for needy people. Yet, we sometimes make it complicated by not coming out and saying what we need. Why do we do that?

Why Don’t We Come?

For many people, they have never been given permission to do so. They were never encouraged to express their needs and wants. However, it is perfectly acceptable to state what you want, and what you really need. Ask for what you want, and you may be surprised at how often you get it.

The lack of asking goes much deeper than this. Our fear of vulnerability and being judged by God (and others) prohibits us from asking for what we really want. We must come to the point of seeing that vulnerability is crucial to having our needs met. Only through being open enough to share what you need will relational connection happen. A relationship with Jesus is based on such humility and vulnerability. Without it, there is no relationship.

We also might be afraid of not getting what we ask for, so we don’t ask, at all. Or, conversely, we may be afraid of receiving our asking! On some level, it’s more comfortable to stay in a familiar situation. We think we want something different, but we’re worried about the downside of getting it. We fret and wonder about it, not trusting ourselves. So, we become paralyzed, unable to say what we really want or need.

All of this comes down to our own image of self. It’s as if we don’t believe we deserve to be treated well. But the reality is: This isn’t about whether you deserve to have something; it’s about your needing or wanting it. Plain and simple. There’s no shame being in want or need.

Some people are so used to putting others first and meeting another’s need that they become stymied by their own inability to state what they need. So, they try and feel better by meeting everyone else’s need. And when they become bitter about being emotionally depleted, when they are thirsty for someone to meet their needs, they don’t ask for help. Because they feel they can’t.

Anyone Can Ask, Seek, Knock

You can and you must. Jesus says so. We don’t always get what we want in life. But we won’t get it if we don’t ask. It’s good to focus on what you want or need in life, instead of questioning whether you’re worthy to receive it. Jesus said:

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8, NLT)

So, what are you waiting for!?

Psalm 23 – God Is Bigger Than Your Valley

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You, Lord, are my shepherd.
    I will never be in need.
     You let me rest in fields
    of green grass.
You lead me to streams
of peaceful water,
    and you refresh my life.

You are true to your name,
    and you lead me
    along the right paths.
 I may walk through valleys
as dark as death,
    but I won’t be afraid.
You are with me,
    and your shepherd’s rod
    makes me feel safe.

 You treat me to a feast,
    while my enemies watch.
You honor me as your guest,
    and you fill my cup
    until it overflows.
Your kindness and love
will always be with me
    each day of my life,
    and I will live forever
    in your house, Lord. (CEV)

Psalm 23 is a familiar place in Holy Scripture, even for many who are not followers of God.  Far from just a funeral prayer, this psalm contains a singular and timeless message:

No matter the circumstance, nor whatever the need, God is enough. The Lord of all creation is bigger than your darkest valley.

That’s what I remind myself every time life hands me a knuckle-sandwich. God is here. God is with me. Despite all that is wrong, unjust, and askew in this old fallen world, the Lord’s will and way overcomes everything.

Divine beauty has a way of breaking through to the most challenging and desperate of experiences. We have everything we need with God. Spring reminds us there is always the hope of new life. The anticipation of trees budding and flowers blooming help us remember that the dull hibernation of winter shall break out with glorious warmth and color. Everything will change, even if it doesn’t seem like it, at the time.

The Lord provides no matter the need.

God protects despite the overwhelming dilemma. Divine power overshadows the darkest of valleys. The presence of God is everywhere. Even though we sometimes sit flummoxed about how our financial budget is going to budge or whether we have the continued energy to deal with that person or situation, with the God of the Bible, we shall never be in want of anything.

Today is a good day to punctuate your schedule with a prayerful reading of Psalm 23. As you can well see, it only takes a minute to read, maybe a few to read carefully and slowly. Use your cellphone alarm or some other means for some set times today. When the alarm goes off, take a few minutes for Psalm 23 to decenter your thoughts from worry, anxiety, and the fatigue of the day. Let it center you in the sovereignty and grace of God. Maybe use a different translation each time you read.  Here is Psalm 23 again in another version of the Bible:

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.

     He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
 Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever. (NLT)

Amen.

Psalm 4 – Rhythms of Trust

God, you are my righteousness, my Champion Defender.
    Answer me when I cry for help!
    Whenever I was in distress, you enlarged me.
    I’m being squeezed again—I need your kindness right away!
    Grant me your grace, hear my prayer, and set me free!
Listen to me, you elite among men:
    How long will you defame my honor
    and drag it down into shame?
    Will you ever stop insulting me?
    How long will you set your heart on shadows,
    chasing your lies and delusions?
May we never forget that Yahweh works wonders
    for every one of his devoted lovers.
    And this is how I know that he will answer my every prayer.
Tremble in awe before the Lord, and do not sin against him.
    Be still upon your bed and search your heart before him.
Bring to Yahweh the sacrifice of righteousness and put your trust in him.
Lord, prove them wrong when they say, “God can’t help you!”
    Let the light of your radiant face
    break through and shine upon us!

The intense pleasure you give me
    surpasses the gladness of harvest time,
    even more than when the harvesters
    gaze upon their ripened grain
    and when their new wine overflows.
Now, because of you, Lord, I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once,
    for no matter what happens, I will live unafraid! (TPT)

This is a psalm of David. It is a heartfelt and confident plea for deliverance.

David had a track record with God. For most of his life, David had a spiritual and relational rhythm of looking to God, trusting God, and resting secure in God.

Small Faith

I’m not sure where the idea popped up amongst some Christians that faith and trust in God means everything in life is going to be hunky-dory and a bowl of cherries. That was not true of any godly character in the Bible. In fact, it seems the more integrity one has in Scripture, the more they faced trouble and suffering.

It is the pea-brained, small-hearted, and gutless who have the time and privilege of leveling criticism and defamation on the ones sincerely trying to make a difference in this world. On the one hand, it is unfortunate that the spiritually devoted must put up with the petulance of puny people. Yet, on the other hand, the faithful recognize God controls all things and uses anything and anyone to shape them as persons who have grown expansive spiritual faculties, enlarged hearts, and gut-feeling compassion. The wise truly learn from all things.

“Trust the Lord completely, and don’t depend on your own knowledge. With every step you take, think about what he wants, and he will help you go the right way.”

Proverbs 3:5-6, ERV

Big Faith

The godly have become so because they have learned over-and-over again to let God champion their cause and defend their personhood. The faithful reflexively cry out to the Lord with all their troubles. The devoted aren’t shy in boldly telling God exactly what they want and need. They find joy in their spirituality, and they let it support them in stressful times.

God has shown them steadfast love. And they are supremely secure in the settled conviction that God has their backs. They believe it so much that followers of God can lay their heads on their pillows at night and fall asleep – despite the reality there are those who would take their life, if given half the chance.

No Sleep

Insomnia happens for a lot of reasons. Many, like me, have sleep apnea and restless leg disorder, both diagnosed medical conditions. Others can’t get a good night’s rest because of poor sleep hygiene by not planning for adequate sleep, drinking too much caffeine during the day, inattention to a healthy diet, or a host of other habits. Some, like my dear wife, have issues of chronic pain which can make it difficult to sleep well.

And then there are yet others who suffer from racing thoughts, anxiety, and depression. The stress of their waking life is so significant that several hours of deep sleep seems only like some pipe dream. It’s impossible to sleep when the weight of the day is pressing on you. Finding a sense of calm before bed isn’t easy—especially when you can’t unplug from the demands of your day.

I am wondering if many of us will even allow ourselves to unplug and establish some quiet wind-down time. Reading a real book – not one on a backlit tablet device – or talking with a friend or family member are simple ways of easing our anxiety and letting rest come.

Sleep ZZzz

The psalmist, David, had a regular practice of meditating on Scripture, recalling the events of God, and expressing gratitude and praise for answered prayer. Each of us has a built-in spiritual rhythm just like we have a circadian rhythm. Always trying to buck those God-given rhythms will inevitably result in being “off,” at the least, and experiencing debilitating depression, at worst.

Yet, when we learn to move with the unforced rhythms of grace, there is a groove we slip into which serves us well. In other words, allowing ourselves to be human brings health.

David had neither delusions nor illusions about his enemies, friends, others, and himself. He didn’t try to be somebody he was not. Instead, David had firm and confident convictions about God and the place of prayer. A steady diet of David’s psalms teaches us to hold together both faith and doubt, confidence and confusion, perseverance and perplexity in ways which strengthens belief.

Christ be with you: Christ within you;
Christ before you: Christ behind you;
Christ on your right: Christ on your left;
Christ above you: Christ beneath you;
Christ around you: now and ever. Amen.

Acts 4:23-31 – Why Not Us?

Hear My Plea by Rochelle Blumenfeld

The apostles Peter and John were arrested for preaching the good news about Jesus. After warning and threatening them to stop doing this, the ruling council of the Jews released them. This was the apostles’ response….

On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

“‘Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.’

Indeed, Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (NIV)

The early believers in Jesus turned to God in a time of persecution. They found comfort in how God had worked in the past. The ancient church claimed the strength to carry on with speaking about Christ in their everyday lives. When they heard about threats against the apostles, the believers did not get angry or upset about how terrible things were. Instead:

The church decided to concentrate on corporate prayer together.

God is going to do what God is going to do. No government, nation, institution, group of people, or individual person can thwart God’s agenda for the church and world. God is sovereign over everything. We are not. Our place is to participate in God’s agenda through the ministry of prayer and speaking the word of God.

God acted in the past, on behalf of those first believers who came to Jesus and worshiped him with all their hearts. God is still transforming lives. It happened in ancient Jerusalem, throughout the history of the church, and in places today around the world. It can also happen with us.

Prayer is like breathing – inhaling more of God and exhaling less of me. Prayer takes the form of first remembering what God did in the past. Then, we pray specifically for our current situation which connects to the larger purposes of what God is doing. All the while we anticipate God will hear and act, just as has been done throughout history.

Remembrance is an important dimension to biblical prayer. Memory is necessary because we have a tendency toward forgetfulness. The older we get the more we tend to forget (probably because we have so much to remember!). So, continually rehearsing what God has done keeps us grounded in Scripture and tethered to what God can do now.

Remembering God’s saving actions and finding our own personal stories in the grand story of redemption helps us to pray in biblical ways.

The prayer of the early believers was a rehearsal of God’s mighty reputation, from creation to King David, to the redemptive events of Jesus. They reminded God of when, in the past, there was divine intervention. The church collectively quoted Psalm 2 about the Messiah. That psalm declares how the nations of the earth plot in vain because the Lord is the One who shall prevail over every hard circumstance. 

God bends each malevolent action toward the redemption and transformation of humanity. God will work out benevolent plans and purposes, even using people who have no acknowledgment of God. God is not surprised by our troubles and our tough situations.

God is never frustrated by people acting badly, because divine providence and guidance is in control, even if we cannot always perceive it or see it in the moment.

Remembering and rehearsing what God has done in the past helps us realize that, during any trouble, God is in control and will accomplish good plans on this earth. The prayer of the believers in Acts made the connection between what God has done and what they needed.

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Interestingly, the believers did not pray for relief from oppression or for God to judge their persecutors. Instead, they prayed for boldness to speak the word of God in the middle of their trouble. They rightly discerned that they needed to pray for courage to speak about Jesus. So, the church prayed for God to act in power, for God’s Word to go forth, and for Christ’s Name to be glorified.

God’s response to the prayer was immediate. The place where the church was praying shook. God did exactly what they asked for – filling them up with the Spirit, so that they spoke boldly about Jesus. Just as God empowered people for service in the past, so it was done in the present. What’s more, God will empower us with the same courage.

It is completely normal to simultaneously yearn for bravery while being afraid of getting a prayer for boldness answered. This is more than trying to overcome feelings of awkwardness or shyness. For the early believers, a very real and immediate danger to speaking up about Jesus was present.

It seems to me we need more people who know how to ask good questions and have the patience and attention to listen well and respond thoughtfully. It does no good to simply dispense answers to questions people aren’t asking. Speaking about Jesus does not mean making spiritual cold calls on strangers. And it certainly doesn’t involve being obnoxious or acting like a spiritual pester pup.

Discussing Jesus mostly means speaking casually, one-on-one, with a friend, co-worker, neighbor, or family member you already know. Too often we might try to fly under the radar and avoid people because we think talking about Jesus is going to be too hard, or out of our league.

Confidence and courage are not telling people what they ought to believe. It is rather like sharing a precious gift with someone. It begins in relationships with people we care about and extends to a relationship with God. It is about discovering God together, and not arm-twisting others to personal ethics or churchgoing.

Yet, it may still all sound too scary. So, maybe we start with this: “Tell me what’s going on.” Then listen. After listening, say, “I’ll pray for you.”  The next time you encounter the person, ask how that situation went.  Express that you’ll pray again. Keep doing it and watch what God will do through you.

When we pray for boldness, and courageously make ourselves available to God, then we are living sacrifices. This is our spiritual act of worship. (Romans 12:1-2) Who knows? Why not here? Why not now? Why not us? After praying, we might find our meeting places shaken, lives transformed, and everyone filled with God’s Holy Spirit.

God almighty, as you sent the Son, send us into the world with your compelling love. Help us by means of your Spirit, to share your good news of love, forgiveness, justice, peace, compassion, and care. Revive your Church, o Christ. Gracious God, work everywhere reconciling, loving, and healing your people and your creation. Open our eyes to your mission in the world. Send us to serve with Christ, taking risks to give life and hope to all people and all your creation. Amen.