Saturday, 10 June 2017

Will God give us whatever we ask for?

Harry Potter discovers a mirror in the room of enchantment! It is not a normal mirror. When he looks into it, he sees himself with his parents. He was orphaned as a baby. He spends hours gazing at the image in the mirror. And it is only when Dumbledore explains that he realises what is going on. The mirror shows you what your deepest desire, your deepest wish is. It is the mirror or Erised, which is desire backwards.

Jesus speaks here of desire, when he says (v7), 'Ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you'.

He doesn't just say it here.
In Matthew 7.7 he says, 'Ask, and it will be given you' (Luke 11.9)
In Matthew 21.22 he says, 'Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive' (Mark 11.24)
In John 14.13 he says, 'I will do whatever you ask in my name'.
In v14 he says, 'If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it'.
In 16.24, he says, 'Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete'

I wonder what is your desire, your deep desire.
If you looked in the mirror of Erised, what is it you would see?

When Ron, Harry's friend, looks in it, he sees himself as head of school and winning the Quidditch competition.
And maybe you would see yourself famous, a star, recognised, somebody who is significant, who matters.
Or maybe you would see yourself with your trophy husband or wife, Alpha Romeo, £10m or the house with a river at the bottom of the garden

Or maybe your desire is for something that is a little bit deeper.
Maybe it is that the pain that you have been living with goes away - or the pain that you see someone you love going through day after day would go away. TV showed a family, who were trying to find treatment for the mum who suffered from dreadful cluster headaches. You saw her when the headaches struck. She curled up in a ball on the floor and screamed.
Maybe your desire is that your sick child will get better, or that granny won’t die.
Maybe you are walking under a cloud of stress or guilt. Or you suffer from depression. You long to be set free. Or you long that your marriage is transformed, or that in your loneliness you meet someone, or that someone you have lost would be there. I remember someone who struggled with relationships, and she used to say, 'All I want is a friend'. Or maybe you long for a child.

And if we think of things like that, then how can Jesus possibly say, 'Ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you'

Isn't he having a laugh? Isn't that a very cruel joke? Doesn't it raise hopes only for them to be dashed down? Isn't unanswered prayer, in the light of those promises, the single greatest piece of evidence that God does not exist?

I was talking with a couple last week. And he looked at his wife and said, 'She used to believe, but then her sister got sick and died, and now she can't believe'.

I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I do think that there is something for us in our passage today.

1.       Jesus says, 'Ask for whatever you wish ..'. So do ask.

Be real with him. He knows already what you desire. Tell him, because he delights to hear you. Ask him to take the pain away. Ask him to heal the person you love. Ask him to give you a deeper love for him. Ask him for the friend or the child.
And if you’re not really sure what you desire is right, still ask him for it. But you can qualify it. Jesus, I’d love that house. But if it is going to take me away from you, then I’ll let it go.
This is about a relationship.
I catch myself very often thinking about something that I would like to see happen, but I don't actually ask for it to happen.  

2.       Allow Jesus to change what it is that we wish for.

Jesus says, 'If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish ..'

In other words, if we live in Jesus, and if Jesus' words come and live in us, then we will be so close to him that our thinking will begin to follow his thinking, our desires will echo his desires and our wishes will reflect his wishes. We will be one with him, and he will be one with us. We will be praying with him.
It is like some twins. They know what the other is thinking, they know how the other will react, they know what the other really desires.
It is not just because they have been pre-natal room mates and have lived so much of their lives together. It is also because they share the same DNA. What is in one is in the other.

And when we spend time with Jesus, the Spirit of Jesus grows in us. He is in us and we are in him.

There is no quick fix here. We need to spend time in prayer. We need to read his word, so that his words come and live in us.
Try and learn verses of the bible, like this one. And spend time thinking about what that verse says. Meditate on it when you are in bed, the lights are turned out and it is dark. Allow the word to live in you.
And come to Communion. As you eat the bread and drink the wine, invite Jesus to live in you. As you eat the bread and drink the wine, remember that he does live in you.

And as we live with Jesus, in Jesus, for Jesus, as we spend time with him, trust him and learn to obey him, it really will change our way of thinking.

We'll pray for the Alpha Romeo and then Jesus will ask us, 'Why do you want that? What do you really want? Something that is beautiful and unique; something that will give you freedom and power; something that will make people notice you? Well, he says, I love you. I will give you something which is beautiful, which truly satisfies, which will give you freedom and that sense of being connected to unlimited power'

And what about the desire that granny won't die. What is that all about? Love, yes. A desire that there is no such thing as death, yes. But perhaps there is a fear of letting go of one on whom we have built our identity and our hope. How can I live without them? And maybe, as you spend time with the Lord Jesus, you'll discover deeper desires: the desire for a security that is deeper and stronger than death.

And what about the desire to be free from pain? I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to live with chronic constant pain. Jesus prays in the garden that God would spare him from the cross, from its shame and pain. So of course, you will pray that the pain will go. Of course, you will ask others to pray with you. Often when we are in pain we are unable to pray and we need others to pray for us.

But there are many who have loved the Lord Jesus, lived in him, have prayed and yet still suffer from constant pain. So we have to trust him that he knows our desires more than we do. Jesus prayed that the Father would spare him from the cross. But the Father knew that Jesus has a deeper desire - and for that deeper desire to be satisfied, he had to go through the pain of the cross.

Paul Miller, in his brilliant book on prayer, 'A praying life' writes that intercession is that place between, 'ask whatever you wish' and 'in my name'. We need to ask, but we then need to listen to Jesus and find out what he would have us ask. And as we ask him for the shallow desires, as we trust him, he will show us our deeper desires. And it is those desires that he will satisfy.

The early teachers of the church said that we had three fundamental desires. The first is the desire for being. We want to exist. The second is the desire for well-being. We want to live well, to be happy, to be fulfilled. And the third is the desire for eternal well-being. When we are happy and fulfilled we do not want to die.
Well, Jesus says, 'Ask whatever you wish in my name and it will be given to you'. Not necessarily here and now, but if you ask it will be given you.

3. What does Jesus desire?
What was his deepest desire? If we took Jesus apart what would we find at his very centre.

a) A desire that his Father would be glorified (v8).
Because Jesus is so at one with his Father, he longs to see him glorified. And the Father is glorified when people become followers of Jesus and when they bear fruit (v8).
b) A desire that our joy would be complete (v11)
Jesus desires our eternal joy. It is a joy that is deeper and greater than any joy that the things of this world can give, even a house with a river at the bottom of the garden. It is a joy unspeakable. It is a joy which will overwhelm and fill us. And it is a joy which comes when we are united with Jesus, just as he is united with his Father

So on this Trinity Sunday I'd like to finish with a brief look at this Russian icon, because I wonder whether Jesus might have seen something like this if he had looked in the mirror of Erised.

Like Harry Potter’s picture it shows three people who are together. It shows the intimacy of the three persons of the Trinity. They are represented by three angels. The Father is on the left, wearing gold, and behind him is a house. The Son is in the middle, wearing the red scarf of sacrifice. Behind him is the tree, the symbol of the cross. And the Spirit is on the right. He is wearing green. He is the life giver. Behind him is a rock, the wilderness, the desert place which so often is the place where we meet with God. They are like Triplets. They are the same age and they have the same face. They each wear the blue of royalty and hold a sceptre of authority. And they are gathered round the table.

The Father, who is the source of the Son and the Spirit, blesses the Son and Spirit. And the Son blesses the Spirit and the Spirit blesses the one who looks at this icon. And the head of the Son and the Spirit are inclined toward the Father (as are the rock and tree), in recognition that the Father is their source.

But the circle is not complete. There is space for another, for the one who looks at this image. And as we come to Jesus, as we ‘abide in him and his words abide in us’, so we become part of this communion. The Spirit leads us to Jesus. We are in Jesus and Jesus is in us - there is a communion cup on the table. And Jesus, as he inclines his head toward the Father, invites us to share in the love of the Father.

When we are with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are ultimately at home. They are the fulfilment of all our desires and wishes. This is the place where we find our final security and peace and fulfilment. And it is when we are here, with Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that we find our eternal well-being and our deepest joy.