Several times in preaching on the need for total dependence upon Christ, I have told the story of a dark period I went through about thirty years ago. This was during an economic downturn in our city when business was failing, and it seemed everything I worked for was ready to collapse. I won’t go into the details now, but that period spawned a real test of faith in which I seriously questioned if God had forgotten His promises.
When I was just a child, my dad taught me to be faithful to the Lord’s work and to always keep up with my tithes and offerings. My first job was working for him, and out of the $10 I received each week I always deducted the proper tithe along with a little extra for missions. I was faithful to do this and I believed if I did there would never be a time I was without.
Up until this difficult time in my life, I never had any serious troubles. Married life was good, finances were good, church was as usual, and faith was never severely tested. The brewing financial storm and prospects of failure changed all of that. Those were the most serious days of prayer in all my life. During this time, I sought solace in the pages of scripture trying to find any passage that would ease my anxiety. One day I was reading 1 John 3:22 for the nth time when the verse popped out on the page: “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.” I took this as intended—an absolute promise.
As Christians, we are never in a bargaining position with God over our salvation. Salvation is an irrevocable gift purchased by the blood of Christ and given to us freely. The ability to keep the gift is neither ours as salvation is unconditional no matter how unfaithful at times we may be. However, the realization of peace, assurance, and loving companionship are conditioned upon how we respond in obedience to God’s commands. Please note I said realization of these not the reality of these. For a Christian, an unspiritual mind causes the perception to become perceived reality. John said that whatever we ask we receive with this condition—we must keep His commandments and do what pleases Him.
My determination was to stop the pity party and obey the verse. In fact, I had been obeying the verse, at least in part. I was doing but not asking, or should I say not doing and asking with faith believing. To make a long story short, God turned everything around. My fears were unfounded, and the next year was one of the most financially outstanding of my life.
I wrote this little essay in conjunction with Psalm 77. Note how the psalmist was overwhelmed at the beginning with his personal problem. He was at the point of giving up on God and believed God had given up on him. We don’t know what put him in such despair, but it hardly matters because there are numerous issues that park us beside the psalmist. The situation looked bleak, but as Charles Spurgeon said there would be a good outcome because the first verse starts with a prayer—“I cried unto God with my voice…”
It took ten verses for the psalmist to work through the emotions of his problem. Finally, he took the focus off self and put it on the Lord. He remembered in the worst of times God was always there. In verse 10, he said: “This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High.”
Whatever you fear may make the way bleak and nigh impossible. The best course is not to focus on you and the problem, but to focus on God who solves problems. Always remember to keep His commandments and do what is pleasing in His sight. These are the conditions to receive what you ask.
Pastor V. Mark Smith