God, what do You want of me? What shall I do; where shall I go? What shall be Your purpose for me, in me, with me? Tell me, Lord and I will do whatever You ask, go where you send me, endure what you desire for me.
It all sounds profoundly spiritual. The heart of the martyr seems to resonate in the words. But sometimes the discovery and the resolution of God’s will requires something more complicated than the default response, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”
I was in the eighth grade and had noticed the “new girl” on the school bus. I don’t recall how I managed it, but in spite of my shy and timid ways I somehow introduced myself. We began to sit together on the bus route to and from school. When the appropriate number of days had passed, a number determined by some form of advanced calculus unavailable to a young boy, we were recognized as “going together,” whatever that meant.
But I do know this, when that girl announced she was having a pool party, I was on the invitation list.
My dad got involved, wanting to help his son’s introverted soul. He took me shopping. We were going to purchase a new outfit just for the upcoming pool party with “my girl.”
I expected that we would go to J.C. Penney or to Sears and Roebuck, but we did not. In those days, the coolest, most expensive, most “with it” men’s clothing store I knew about was called Frankel’s. I had been in there before, but never was able to carry with me enough money to purchase a pair of their socks, let alone a shirt or a pair of shoes.
Dad took me straight in and we began to look at racks of shirts and slacks and shoes and after a few minutes, dad asked me a question, “Well, do you see anything you like?” I responded with, “sure, dad, but what can I have?” And his answer shocked me into awe.
You see, there were six children in the Austin household. Six hungry mouths to feed, six bodies to clothe and I had long since grown accustomed to living by limitation and not by extravagance. I needed dad to give me a price range, to determine my limit, but his response to my “what can I have” was a straightforward, “What do you want?”
What did I want? For cryin’ out loud, I wanted that green and white short-sleeved shirt that just cried, “neato” or “cool,” or some era and age-appropriate exclamation (I guess that “awesome” perhaps would be an equivalent in today’s vernacular).
What did I want? “You mean, I can have whatever I want?” And it was so. That shirt. A pair of white Levis (you have to be a Baby Boomer to get this one) and a pair of Freeman penny loafers that the salesman ceremoniously placed on the counter and personally inserted a penny into each.
We are conditioned by a false theology to come to God as beggars, humbly asking for a crumb from His table of plenty.
When we approach Him for direction we instinctively await His edict, His wisdom, His permissions; His limitations. We were taught to tremble in His presence, to fear Him with whom we have to do. Ours ought to be, it is an inferior position before the Almighty. We are beggars and mendicants; He is in all ways superior to us.
And some of what I have just stated is true: Some of it, but not all of it. God is above us; He is the Almighty God of heaven and earth. He is in every sense, superior to man, His creation.
But He does not insist upon our trembling timidity. God invites us to come boldly before Him, to enter His gates with thanksgiving in our hearts and to enter His courts with joy. God never celebrates in proving to us that He is greater than we but “He made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” God relates with us; He does not Lord over what would be no difficulty to Lord over. The Maker of heaven and earth stoops to look eye to eye with us and condescends, bends to make us of equal stature so that we might engage in intimate fellowship. He calls us not servants, but we are “friends.”
Our misguided, faulty teachings insist that we tell God what we want at the peril of His eternal condemnation and judgment, but in so believing we reveal only gross misunderstanding of what it means to walk with God.
And so we wrongly learn to never presume to tell Him what we want; instead we timorously ask Him what we can have.
But my earthly father, my dad took me into the most expensive store in town and asked me, “What do you want?” The unspoken and obvious completion to the question was “you decide and I will pay for whatever you choose.”
So I chose: White Levis, green short-sleeved shirt and penny loafers. Oh, and a nifty belt that coordinated with the burnished brown of my new penny loafer shoes. Since dad had asked and was planning to fit the bill.
I recently engaged my God in prayer regarding a singular and enduring issue. I asked Him, “What do you want me to do?” I repeated the prayer I have prayed for far, too long, “What is your will? What shall I do? What do you want?”
And shockingly, surprisingly, but clearly I heard Him turn my question on its ear and repeat it back to me. He asked, “What do YOU want?” In all this “store of potential and possibility with all this remarkable finery, what do YOU want?” He continued, now truly surprising me, “…. and whatever YOU want, whatever YOU desire, I will bless it, I will fit the bill.” But nobody had ever trusted me with this degree, with this measure of choice. No, I couldn’t be trusted to decide, to not just want but to speak out my want, my desire, my choice in such lofty and consequential matters. Oh, the abysmal poverty of our wrongheaded theologies!
In a moment’s time, theology and reality suffered a head-on collision. The repercussions of that impact were monumental. I already knew, in my reservoir of theological understanding that God could, that He might ask such a question: “What do YOU want?” But I had never considered how the implications of His question would spawn wonder and insight into the greater depths of who God is. He is more, far more than mighty Potentate of the Universe. God is more than Creator and Sustainer of all that is. God is greater than man’s visions of a giant Deity, some uncaring, unflinching monolith of power and strength and explosive, destructive energy. God is our Friend; He is our “called-alongside-cannot, will not desert, forsake, leave us God.
He comes to us, His Spirit draws, woos us. He bids us come to Him, lean on Him, learn of Him, become like Him. And we come and we discover, we die and we live but still, we so seldom fully understand. We hear His voice and we rejoice in the sound of His calling while we refuse or we fail to hear what He is saying.
The moment arrives and we ask and as we ask, He asks, “what do YOU want?” “What if you will choose and I will bless your choice? What kind of relationship would you then believe you might have with the sovereign and omnipotent God of all that exists?”
“Perhaps and maybe you would call me “Friend.”
He said to the Son, “Ask of Me and I will give You . . .” And the Son called Him Father.