Speaking

“I wish I had a million dollars.”

It’s one of George Bailey’s (many) famous lines from It’s A Wonderful Life, as he taps on the lever of a whatchamacallit that’s supposed to grant wishes[1].

He doesn’t ever get his million dollars, but at the end of the movie he does get some 8,000 dollars to pay the bank back the money his uncle lost.

–But that money doesn’t have anything to do with the wishes he made on the rinkydink charm in the soda shop.  It has everything to do with the prayers made by all his friends and family on the night when he needs them more than ever.

So, how much power do our words to God have?  If we say them the right way, under the right circumstances, what can happen?

I became fixated on the movie Aladdin when I was growing up.  The idea that words could be spoken that granted wishes–that was real exciting!  And not just for me, apparently.  There are all kinds of stories about spells and wishes.

I have yet, however, to hear someone say, “I am a duck,” and turn into a duck.  And it seems like if you could say one thing and cause it to happen by your words, then you could say anything and cause it to happen by your words.  You could say, “I can fly,” or “I can go back to being twenty years old” or “I am in Hawaii”.

But I’ve never seen it happen.  (Unless somebody already is in Hawaii.)

In the supernatural way of looking at things, our words only have power if they are received by God or Satan.  Otherwise, we are limited to the natural realm of how things happen.

I don’t know what Satan does with words that are spoken to him and I absolutely, certainly do not want to find out.  But I do know that one day, Jesus will open His mouth, not to speak, but to breathe, and the breath of Truth, without a single word, will utterly demolish Satan. (2 Thessalonians 2:8, ESV)

What can a God so powerful do with the words spoken to Him?  Does He listen to them?  Can I cause Him to do what I want?  Is there a way I can tap into His power and use it for myself?

. . . . . God is not a good luck charm or the lottery.  I can’t find the right lucky charm to get Him to do what I want (because that would become idolatry) or earn enough tickets to increase the odds of receiving His favor (because that would be good works, which we can’t do apart from God anyway).

God is under no obligation to do what any one of us says because He is, well, God.  And besides that, we are not righteous.  And besides that, if we were righteous, we would realize that He is always the final authority and His decision is always best, no matter what we think of it.

–And God does not promise He will listen to us.  This is something I didn’t hear in Vacation Bible School, but there are times God says He won’t listen:

And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” (1 Samuel 8:18, ESV)

They cried for help, but there was none to save; they cried to the LORD, but he did not answer them. (Psalm 18:41, ESV)

The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
and his ears toward their cry.
The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth. (Psalm 34:15-16)

If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened. (Psalm 66:18, ESV)

The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous. (Proverbs 15:29, ESV)

If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. (Proverbs 28:9, ESV)

“Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, and though they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.” (Jeremiah 14:12, ESV)

“When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. (Isaiah 1:15, ESV)

We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. (John 9:31, ESV)

You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:3, ESV)

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7, ESV)

And yet, there is this promise:

“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13, ESV)

My words aren’t about only my words, but actually about my heart.

Is my heart in submission to God?  Is my heart devoted to God?  Am I willing to receive God’s ideas over my own, or do I want to “force” Him to do what I want?

Is the point of my words to get closer to God, or is it more like Jimmy’s Stewart’s wish that he had a million dollars?  Why should I expect God to cater to me, when He became a servant in this world?  How can I say I know better what to do on this earth than He, when His goal is to lead as many people as possible to salvation?

So, do my words have supernatural power?  No, not at all.  I am a mortal and a sinner, doomed for Hell if I didn’t have a Savior.

But I do have a Savior, a Savior who gives me His righteousness so that I can pray to God and be heard!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And can God direct me to pray for something so that He can work supernaturally in my life?

Oh, yes.  Yes, yes!

I don’t feel God leading me to pray for a million dollars.  But I do feel God leading me to pray for a child I correspond with who’s from Bangladesh.  She has been raised Hindu and needs Christ to awaken her to His love.  I pray for that supernatural love to pour into her life.

I love the end of It’s a Wonderful Life because, in the allegory, it is God who gives George Bailey the $8,000 he needs by gathering all his friends together.  But what’s even better is that, even if God didn’t choose to solve George Bailey’s problem in this way, and he was arrested on Christmas Eve to spend years in jail, George realizes that his life is much more precious than $8,000.

That’s a supernatural gift from God, and that is a good representation of the power of prayer.

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. (1 Timothy 2:1-6, NLT)

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[1] I could not figure out what Jimmy Stewart was doing in the movie, but t

hanks to Dan Schneider, on his article “A Defense of It’s a Wonderful Life”, http://www.cosmoetica.com/b295-des235.htm

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Oliver Twist, Bill Sykes

You may remember the classic Charles Dickens’ story of Oliver Twist –the orphan who remains true and good in spite of being beaten, belittled, and starved in the 1800’s.  When Oliver finally comes into the compassionate care of Mr. Brownlow, ruffian Bill Sykes kidnaps him and forces him to help with a robbery, but Oliver refuses.  When the robbery goes awry, Oliver is the one who gets shot, and it is Mr. Brownlow who comes once again to his rescue and adopts him into his care.

While we’d like to imagine ourselves as Oliver Twist, always choosing to do the right thing despite terrible circumstances, in reality we are a whole lot more like Bill Sykes—all of us.  The Bible tells us,

There is none righteous, no, not one (Romans 3:10B, KJV).

This is not to say we have never been wronged.  I suspect if we interviewed Sykes, we would find his childhood environment full of injustice and unhappiness, too.  But, like Sykes, we are trapped in more than what others have done to us.  We are trapped in the noose of our own sin.  And we need to be adopted, not because we deserve a happy ending, but because we desperately need a new start.

Bill Sykes needed such an adoption, right up to the point when, trying to escape on a rope, he accidentally hanged himself.  Trapped on that roof, the police closing in on him, faced with the truth of his identity as a thief, abuser, kidnapper, and even murderer, he saw no way out except by way of a rope.  He chose to save himself with what ends up killing him.

Sykes is a pretend character Dickens made up.  But Sykes is also very real, for we are all villains, all unlovable, all hopeless.  And we, like Sykes, can find nothing in ourselves to save ourselves, and all escapes we attempt will end only in failure and, sooner or later, death.

But . . . what if . . .

What if Sykes found out he could be adopted?  That he could be fathered?  That, even at his age, with all his unforgivable mistakes, there could be a Father who could forgive him, who would forgive him?  What if he knew about the God of the Bible?

Sykes is a pretend character set in 19th century England, and so far as we can tell he has no understanding of God.  Yet there is nothing pretend about this.  Throughout the world, throughout the centuries, millions of people have gone without knowing God, despite His creation, and for many, despite His Word.  They do not know there is a God who stands ready and willing to adopt them.  They do not know that Jesus will pay for anyone who believes in Him.

They do not know that, even as they throw the very rope that would destroy them, it is not yet too late to have a Father, it is not yet too late to receive forgiveness, it is not yet too late to be redeemed, it is not yet too late to begin again, it is not yet too late to open our hand and say, “Here I am, Jesus.  Will you forgive me?  Will you save me?  Will you be my Father?”

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

(Jesus, quoted in John 3:36, NIV)

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

(1 John 3:1, NIV)

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Photo by Pizzodisevo, profile on http://www.flickr.com/photos/globetrotter1937/

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.