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Lessons From Animals--"Grace"

"When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives..."
James 4:3a


Awhile back I lamented that I was having a hard time reconnecting with my parents' cats. You may be relieved to learn that I did finally establish a tentative rapport with Fe. Unfortunately, I had to resort to bribery--I began bringing bits of food outside to feed her. They say the surest way to a man's heart is through his stomach; this is certainly true of animals as well.

If I ignore you, you'll go awayThe problem with such tactics is that your relationship is now built on a foundation of food: the cat comes to you because you give it food. Fail to bring the food, though, and you'll find that you just broke the basic tenet of the relationship--you didn't live up to your end of the bargain. Fe's reaction to such times: "No food? Very well, I'll see you next time. Be sure you don't forget."

Well, that's no fun. And it defeats the purpose of bringing the food out in the first place! I was looking to build a genuine relationship. But if I'm just the guy bringing out goodies--and that's all she sees me as--then that relationship isn't there.

Is it possible that, sometimes, this is why God chooses not to answer our prayers? I'm sure we know many of the other reasons--the timing isn't right, what we're asking for isn't in our best interest, God has a different plan for us, etc. But what if, sometimes, God looks down and says, "I'm not the genie in the bottle, folks! Don't take Me for granted. I'm looking for a genuine relationship from you!"

The Apostle Paul certain knew that God did not always answer prayers, and knew that God had good reason for it. In 2 Corinthians 12:7 - 9, he writes:


To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.


In this passage we see at least two reasons why Paul's prayer wasn't answered. The first is that the trial itself had purpose: to keep Paul from becoming conceited. The second, though, is that God wanted Paul to rely on Christ and His grace.

We define grace as "unmerited favor": it is the receiving of that which we did not deserve. Earlier, Paul had written in 1 Corinthians 15:10--"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect." Paul knew the power of grace; it had changed him and shaped him. Grace is why Jesus came to earth to reunite us with God; we hadn't done anything to merit or deserve it, but God so desired a relationship with us that He did it anyway.

James 1:17 tells us, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights," leading us to say that God is the giver of all good things. But that's not all He's good for! Don't lose sight of why God gives us these good gifts--of why He grants us grace. He wishes to be in genuine relationship with us. And that relationship is the best gift of all.


In Christ,


--Pastor Dan


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