People put their time, money, and hope in winning the Lotto believing that they don't have a chance of winning unless they play. Why do we want to win the Lotto anyway? I'm told (by those who never have won big) that it will make all my troubles go away. I am counseled to think about all the good that I could do in this world when I become a big winner. I am asked, "What would you do if you win?" as a way of engaging my imagination in the possibility. I hear that some folks even pray over their Lotto purchase, telling God how much they pledge to share with Him if He allows them to win.
Has buying a Lottery ticket become more characteristic of us than praying? I think so. We live in a society that has removed prayer from public schools and now looks to the Lotto as the funding panacea for those very schools. Am I opposed to playing the Lotto? Not really. What I do repudiate is misplaced faith! Simply playing the lottery is not harmful but hoping in the lottery is, it damages the soul and it doesn't really fund public education. I find that I am willing to do small things when I believe there is a chance of reaping great rewards. For me, greater treasure has come by placing my hope in prayer then I ever could "win" from the Lotto.
Jesus, in the gospel of John chapter 16 verses 23 and 24, gives some instructions on prayer specifically prayer in His Name. Prayer is a simple thing that has the potential for reaping great rewards. Why don't we pursue prayer with the same enthusiasm as the Lotto? I think the answer is twofold.
- We place our faith in other things.
- We misunderstand prayer.
The objects of our hope and faith is determined by our affections. Jesus taught us in Matt 6:21 that what we set our heart upon, what we love, what we desire, is what we truly consider our treasure. So when I buy a Lotto ticket I am saying that I desire, have affection for, love, the opportunity of winning big. Therefore I hope for it. Our affections drive our faith! I believe in what I love.
Prayer will not make all my troubles go away. Prayer will not grant me three wishes. So why should I pray? What if you lived next door to someone who was an attorney, an accountant, a doctor, a personal coach, and counselor. What if this neighbor was the special adviser to the President of the United States. Would you ever, from time to time, be tempted to ask for advice or a favor as you were both out back trimming the hedges or washing the car? Of course we would, it is a small thing that we're able to do. Now what if this neighbor then told you that the very reason he was living next door to you was because he was most interested in your struggles and challenges and those of your fellow neighbors? Do you think you would want to get to know this neighbor better? Of course we would, our admiration for him would increase and our trust in him would increase. Now what if this neighbor gave you a special phone number that went directly to the White House and he told you that when the President answered just tell him what you need and that you are calling on his behalf? Would you make a call? Of course we would, it is a small thing that we are able to do.
Do you want to follow Jesus? If you do you have such a neighbor in the heavenly realm. Do you understand that His mission is to bring you and me to God? That to accomplish that mission He had to allow Himself to be killed on our behalf? He tells us in John 16:23 & 24 to ask of God the Father on His behalf. Just as our good neighbor gave us access to the President, Jesus gives us access to God. To put John 16:23 in modern vernacular we could say, Jesus said, "take your requests to God and tell Him I sent you". The perfect man, Jesus, is giving us His perfection to wear when we talk to God in prayer.
There is a lot of hype today on religious TV about faith and how important it is. It is important but it is not the first step to God. Jesus taught that humble repentance is more important than confident self-righteousness, Luke 18 verses 9-14. That those who are forgiven of much are those who love much, Luke 7:39-50. So from these passages we should see that faith includes repentance and love. If we repent of our sins and receive the forgiveness of God we will love Him. If we love Him we will trust Him. So it should follow that if we repent more we will appreciate Jesus' sacrifice more and love Him more. As our love for Him grows our faith in Him also grows. How can we repent more? It begins by seeing our sins not a acts that are offensive to God, although they are, but seeing them as a lack of affection and love for the one to whom all our love and affection is due. Mark 12:30 says, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.