Sunday, February 6, 2011

One Thing I Ask

This past week I listened to Francis Chan's message at the 2011 Desiring God Conference for Pastors. I've been feeling weary lately, and I've been conscious of the fact that this is a mix of my own sin, and living in a fallen world with a decaying body. As I began I was feeling the need for spiritual refreshment, and I was conscious of the fact that listening to my iPod while driving was one way to seek God.

What I heard blew me away. His talk was less of a direct exposition, or even an overtly topical sermon, and more of a collection of stories about prayer. Francis shared very openly about his struggles and successes, and more importantly, about the greatness of the God he prays to. Story after story came about God's crazy love for us, and the countless ways he shows his love by withholding things we ask for but don't need, and by giving us even the frivolous desires of our heart, just to show us how much he loves us.

In the course of the talk he referred to David's words from Psalm 27:4 'one thing I ask'. He stopped and asked us, the cyber audience, if we were to record every one of our prayers for the past month, what would our one thing be? What would the dominant note of our prayer be?

This spurred some healthy self-examination on my part. What have I prayed about for the past month? Well, in my devotions I've been on a Bible reading plan that has me in multiple places in the Bible every day, so I tend to begin my prayers thanking God for his revealed character in each of the portions of Scripture I read. I close my eyes and worship him for who he is. Then I move to confess my own sin and praise God for the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is followed by prayer for my wife and kids, for holiness, joy in the Lord, strength (for my wife), and for submission to parental authority, feeling loved by parents, seeing the gospel (for my kids). I pray for people in my truth application small group, focusing especially on things they've requested prayer for. I pray for whatever else and whomever else God brings to mind. I pray through one page of our church's photo directory, trying to pray for things I've learned about in conversations at church. And intermingled between all of these things I keep coming back to my 'one thing', the earnest desire of my heart right now: that God would guide and provide. I'm currently seeking work and even guidance about whether I should relocate. I'm open to whatever God has, and I earnestly plead with him for help. I desire to get a job that will allow for a true working sabbatical from pastoral ministry, something that will be meaningful, a living situation that will be a blessing, a season with more family time and less stress, a season of recharge, so I can then be led to the right pastoral fit where I can pour myself out for Jesus for the rest of my life. And then it hit me: my one thing is not David's one thing. David's one thing, the dominant note of his prayers, even in the midst of unsettled life circumstances, was simply this: 'that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life'. His one thing was that he would be near Christ.

I want my one thing to be that I'd be near to Christ. When you think about it, this is what we all need. I want lots of things, and I think I know what would be nicest, but if I don't have God in those things, I won't have anything. But if I have God with me, I can have joy in the worst of life-situations, the least ideal of schedules, because I have the one thing my heart ultimately desires, the one thing I was created for. As Augustine said, 'Lord, you made us for yourself, and our hearts find no rest until we rest in you'.

Will you pray for me along the lines of this one thing? Will you pray that my prayers would have this one thing as the dominant note? Chan pointed out that it takes faith to pray with this as our one thing. It means we are spending less time figuring out what we need and telling God, less time demanding specifics, and more time seeking our Father. But surely, this is what we need.

Last night my wife and I sat down to pray. We've been reading Kevin DeYoung's 'The Good News We Almost Forgot' out loud together, once in a while, as a way of focusing together before praying. We find these little four page comments on the Heidelburg Catechism to be short enough to be manageable, and meaty enough to be beneficial. Last night's chapter was called 'The Granddaddy of Them All' and unpacked justification for us. And so we read and then we talked. We marveled together that God's blessing on us is not contingent on our performance before him. Neither of us tend to take a legalistic approach to our salvation, but we do err by taking a legalistic approach to our blessings from God. If we are good God owes us, and if we are bad, he'll get us. And so a story came to me:
I love my son. I delight in him. I love to be with him. I love to play catch with our baseball gloves and hockey and anything else his five year old heart desires. Some days he is repeatedly defiant and disobedient and they go something like this: he speaks disrespectfully, and I sit him down, train him, love him, discipline him, get him to ask for forgiveness, tell him I forgive him, and hug him. Then we go and play baseball. He pushes his sister, and so I repeat the discipline process. Then we return to our game. He disobeys again, I discipline again, I play again. The cycle continues, and I get tired, but I keep loving my son. And that's how God relates to me. He delights in me. He is my father. The only difference is, he is a perfect father who never gets weary and never loses his temper. Even as he is disciplining me, he is preparing to bless me, because I'm in Christ and he delights in me. Nothing can change that.
Back to the one thing: even when my prayers score a B- and fall a little bit short of having the ultimate, Biblical 'one thing', my God still loves and accepts me. He still gives good gifts to a son who doesn't deserve them. One of his good gifts was the Francis Chan message and the exposure of my sinful prayers, or at least the sinful aspects to my prayers. He is blessing me with himself even as he is correcting me. He is not out to get me. He delights in me. I'm so thankful that I'm his child. It makes me want my one thing to be more of him. Maybe this is what God means when he says that his kindness leads us to repentance. What a great God we have!


  1. Hey Ian

    Good post. Just wanted some clarification:

    You state "If we are good God owes us, and if we are bad, he'll get us."

    Are you saying that's been your current way of thinking? Or are you saying that's how it should be?

  2. Thanks for the clarifying question. I certainly did not mean 'if we we are good God owes us, and if we are bad, he'll get us'. I sure hope I didn't communicate that!!! What I meant was this can be my practical way of living, unspoken, unconfessed, in error, but underlying. This is the attitude that I meant to dispel in the post. I hope that helps with clarification.
    Do leave your name next time!
    Thanks again,