There are times when we find ourselves in places of desperate need. Perhaps you lost your job and money is in short supply. I lost a job once. Money was tight. I took a job at a Radio Shack to ensure that some money would be coming. But eight dollars an hour, for a young family with one income, car payments, credit card debt, and a mortgage, was hardly enough. It only slowed the draining of our savings. God was ultimately faithful, but some of my prayers during that time were less than trusting. I wanted God to intervene right then, right there with a better job. Money was flying out the door, even as we simplified and tightened our belts. As much as I don’t want to admit this, many of my prayers began with . . .
“If you really are God . . .”
All of this came rushing back to my mind as I read in John chapter seven. Verses one through nine tell us about a conversation between Jesus and his (half) brothers. You see, after Jesus shrunk his following at the last Passover (see chapter six), He began ministering in Galilee, away from Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.
One day his brothers caught up to him and told him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” (John 7:3-4)
If you want a following, you’ve got to “put yourself out there” (as every Amerian idol contestant and Bachelor/Bachelorette contestant loves to say – uhg…) But here’s the kicker. They said this to Jesus, not because they believed in him, but because they didn’t believe.
This is where my mind was thrown back. Those moments where I was pleading that God prove himself to me, weren’t moments of belief, but moments of disbelief! How’s come?
My demands (any time you say, “If you really are God,” you are demanding a display of proof ) were no different than what Jesus’ brothers were doing here. The brothers were very familiar with Jesus. They grew up with him. And as the perfect oldest brother, they beheld him with contempt. (I am an imperfect oldest brother, and my younger sisters held me in contempt for a long time.)
I have grown up with Jesus. I have been in church, around Jesus talk and Jesus followers from my nursery days all the way to the present moment. I’ve heard every Jesus parable, every Jesus testimony, everything you can imagine to say about Jesus, I’ve probably heard it. I even read literature that isn’t flattering to Jesus, just so I can learn what the rest of the world is saying about Jesus.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know . . . but when things got bumpy, when money started bleeding out like a severed artery, everything I thought I knew about him was put to the test. And to my surprise, I was no different than his brothers.
“If you really are God . . .”
When we pray, demanding proof, we are disrespecting the character of Jesus. We hold him in contempt of our own small, pathetic sense of justice.
In our judicial system contempt means “willful disobedience to or open disrespect for the rules or orders of a court (contempt of court) or legislative body.” Open disrespect. When a judge holds a person in contempt of court, he or she has openly disrespected the rules of the court or the character of the judge. When we pray, demanding proof, we are disrespecting the character of Jesus. We hold him in contempt of our own small, pathetic sense of justice. And we protest:
- I’ve been a good worker . . .
- I’ve never cheated the company . . .
- I’ve represented Jesus well with my coworkers . . .
- I don’t deserve this . . .
Even if those are true for us (and they hardly ever are), our sense of justice is still skewed. We are not the judge, HE is the judge. And he is a GOOD, HOLY , and JUST judge. For us to hold the Judge in contempt only demonstrates our complete and utterly backwards understanding of justice and fairness.
However, the good news is that he’s not only a good judge, but he’s an understanding judge. Jesus knows my weakness. He knew his brothers’ weaknesses. And even though they (and me and you) held him in contempt by demanding that he prove himself, he is gracious. We know that in the end, even Jesus’ disbelieving, contempt-filled brothers received the grace of God in Christ.
James and Jude even ended up writing inspired letters that ended up in our Bibles.
For me, he was faithful, even when I was faithless. Take a lesson from me and Jesus’ brothers. Keep your relationship with Jesus fresh. Don’t operate out of yesterday’s grace. Yesterday’s grace is a great reminder, but today’s new mercy and grace, what Christ wants to do in and through you today, is what keeps you from stale, contemptible familiarity that leads to disbelief.
Don’t demand proof. Instead, desire deeper communion with Jesus.