Is there anyone who will deny that his view of God is limited? That no matter how exalted his perspective of God, it still falls far short of the reality? Our finite minds have a tendency to handcuff the vast capacity of God-given faith. Two familiar verses, one in the Old Testament and one in the New, should provoke us to enlarge our view of God and to expand the borders of the faith He has given us. The verses are as follows. “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” (Jer. 33:3); and, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think . . .” (Eph. 3:20).
It is not my intention to attempt an exposition of either of these verses in this space, but only to use them to sow some seeds for thought. Someone (I forget who) has said: “Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God.” Similarly, the 17th Century pastor and Bible scholar, Thomas Manton, wrote: “They that look for nothing find nothing; Christ’s greater things are for those that believe.”
First, we must understand what these scriptures do not promise and what the quotations do not suggest. They are not invitations to Your Best Life Now as promoted by the title of a book by Joel Osteen. They are not promises that if we just exercise faith we will become super successful or super rich. They do not promise temporal gain of any kind. Those who use such verses to encourage the greed and lust of believers and/or unbelievers alike are sadly misguided if not self-serving charlatans. The truth is that both verses contain a governing clause that absolutely precludes the interpretation suggested in this paragraph: “things, which thou knowest not” and, “above all that we ask or think.” Many, many people know about, think about, and ask for natural wealth or temporal success in various forms, and they petition God with many such requests. The fact that those prayers remain unanswered testifies neither to the falsehood of verses upon which they may base their petitions, nor does it exhibit the weakness of their faith. However, it does testify to a lack of understanding of what those verses teach. Again, the youngest child who can talk has the ability and the desire to ask God for natural things. These verses point us to a much higher realm than the temporal.
Second, we should understand what these verses do promise. 1) That the Spirit of God will sanctify our petitions. Have you ever been praying in one vein only to have your heart and request turned to another vein even as you prayed? That is the work of God through His Spirit to show us things which we did not know. 2) That God’s answers will go beyond our ability to petition. “Hast thou not seen [in retrospect] how thy desires e’er have been granted in what He ordaineth?” asks the hymnwriter. With the perspective of time, we see that God has answered prayers according to what a sanctified life desired rather than a momentary lust. We prayed for the temporal, but God gave the eternal. How much better is such an answer. 3) That we may understand God, things eternal, and things beyond the experience and understanding of the natural mind. To know God, to understand salvation, to comprehend God’s ways and purposes are all beyond human comprehension. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit” (I Cor. 2:9, 10a). 4) That we may have a personal, intimate relationship with the Lord: “to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge” (Eph. 3:19a). 5) That we may experience genuine godliness: “that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19b). Though we know that Christ indwells every believer, we have scarcely begun to comprehend the infinite and eternal ramifications of that reality—to be indwelt by God!
No human mind would ever formulate these ideas. They come from the mind and heart of an infinitely powerful and gracious God as gifts to His redeemed children. Though we should petition the Lord concerning our temporal needs, may we expand the magnitude of our prayers to pray for truly great things—things by which God will be glorified in us.
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