Some Bible verses don't fully make sense until you've experienced life a little. Here are three that have to do with our relationships with God and people.
“...You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
This passage puzzled me for years. If God knows what I need, why does he wait until I ask? Conversely, when I do ask, why would he refuse something about which I’m passionate?
I understood better after we took in two foster girls, ages 10 and 12. The younger girl constantly asked for things. We were sad about how often we had to say no because so many of her requests were unwise, such as wanting candy for dinner. But before the first year was over, she figured out the types of requests we’d grant, and we were saying yes far more frequently than no.
That’s when she confided: A former foster family had given her candy for dinner even after saying it was bad for her. She concluded they didn’t really love her, but just wanted her to stop pestering them.
The older child had the opposite temperament. She often treated us as if we didn’t exist and rarely asked for anything. Once my husband and I were driving the girls somewhere when the older one announced, “Boy, it’s hot in here.” Clay replied, “You’re right, it is hot,” and waited. A minute later, she said, “Wow, it’s hot in here.” Clay again replied, “Yes, it is hot, isn’t it?” A few moments later, the younger girl asked, “Dad, can you turn on the air conditioner?” Clay said, “Sure,” and turned it on.
The older girl huffed, crossed her arms, and pouted. Clay said, “Honey, I knew that you wanted me to turn on the air conditioner. I love you and would gladly have turned it on for you if you had asked. But you don’t even want to have enough relationship with me to ask.”
I then understood James. Asking for things makes us vulnerable, but God wants us to ask for what we want because he desires relationship with us. He wants us to learn from his answers the types of requests he’ll grant and why, so we understand his love for us and others. He’s not willing to be simply an impersonal, wish-granting genie.
As for our older foster daughter, she slowly began to take emotional chances and today we have a loving relationship with her.
“‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
When I read this for the first time as a teenager, I took the first part to mean don’t say unloving things or throw stuff; the second, don’t hold onto anger too long; and the third, keep away from Ouija boards and horoscopes. The last part of the verse seemed unconnected to the first two parts.
I got my first practical lesson in what I was missing as a newlywed. My husband and I had a tiff one night. We weren’t getting anywhere by arguing and I was tired, so I announced I was going to bed. Clay said, “No, you’re not. The Bible says not to let the sun go down on your anger.”
Stunned, I plopped onto my wooden rocking chair trying to decide if the passage really meant work things out before you head to bed. It seemed to. I silently argued with God: “But you know I’m tired and he’s a night person so I won’t be able to argue as well.” The meaning seemed solid, though, so I stayed up until we patched things up.
Years later as I prepared to teach on this verse, I saw three insights from that night.
Patching things up when we’re tired and want to go to bed can actually motivate us to get the issue resolved more quickly.
Heading to bed in the midst of an unsettled argument was a step towards imitating my parents’ example of ignoring whomever they were mad at for days, something I’d pledged never to do. The command I least wanted to obey was the command I most needed to obey.
- Obeying God’s Word forced me to learn godly ways of handling conflict and kept the devil from gaining a foothold in my marriage, and thereby a foothold in our ministries.
A decade later I met with a woman whose faith in God was failing. She hadn’t been to church in two years. Why? Because she couldn’t stand to sit near her husband, whom she blamed for financial woes.
It was clear to me that Satan got a foothold in her faith the moment she decided God didn’t know best when it came to releasing her anger. Since then, she’d lost confidence that God knew best in any of her hardships. And that made her doubt that an all-knowing God could even exist.
Time clarified this passage: Resolving anger before bedtime is best, and forgive quickly lest you grant the devil footing in your relationships, ministries, and faith.
“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Initially this verse seemed to contradict other passages: “I try to please everybody in every way” (1 Corinthians 10:33); “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good” (Romans 15:2). I wondered, if you’re supposed to please a boss or leader (Titus 2:9), doesn’t that mean you’re seeking their approval?
I tried to reconcile the passages by aiming to please others without sinning.
After many jobs both working for others and having others work for me, in secular, paid ministry, and volunteer positions, I saw I’d misunderstood in ways that led to sin.
Yes, I’m to bear with others’ failings and aim to please them in ways that build them up and help them. Yes, I’m to work in a way that meets the needs and desires of my bosses and clients for their good, so long as it doesn’t interfere with what God is calling me to do. Yes, I’m to act and speak in ways that show God’s goodness.
But my motives cannot be mixed: “Nor did we seek glory from people” (1 Thessalonians 2:6).
When I aim to bless others, I must not also seek glory from them, whether in the form of acclaim, praise, or validation. These I must seek from God alone (1 Corinthians 4:1-5).
Why? If I’m looking for glory from people:
- I may be impatient with those who work for me
- My confidence will rise or fall on others’ judgments, whether or not true
- Pride and jealousy may take root
- I’ll be easily manipulated
I will one day stand before God and he will bestow on me the true glory, the only glory that lasts, the only glory that counts.
Jean E. Jones is co-author of the upcoming, Discovering Hope in the Psalms, from Harvest House. She’s written for Today’s Christian Woman and HomeLife. She authored Zondervan’s #1 recommended free resource for The Story curriculum: The Story: Personal Journal & Discussion Guide. She resides in southern California, where she writes Bible studies for churches and is research assistant to her husband, Clay Jones, Associate Professor in the Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics Program at Biola University. She blogs at www.jeanejones.net.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: November 1, 2016