A little while back, something disheartening struck me about my prayer life.
I began to pick up on a pattern in my prayers and realized that most of what I was asking God for revolved around the list of things I needed Him to do.
Ordinarily, this is not a bad thing. After all, Jesus said in Matthew 7:11, “…our Father in heaven gives good gifts to those who ask.” What was lacking in my prayers, however, was a true enjoyment of God’s presence, a closeness with Him where I was conversing and quieting things down long enough to be still.
Let me use a parenting analogy to explain what was happening.
It’s as if your son or daughter cuddles up to you and tells you how much they love you, then quickly follow it up by saying, “Oh, I need 50 bucks.”
Then the next day, they walk in and give you a big bear hug and tell you how much they appreciate you as a parent and quickly follow it up by saying, “Oh, I need a new iPhone.”
Then later that night, they look deep in your eyes and tell you how pretty you are, and quickly follow it up by saying, “Can you get me the new Nike Air Jordans III”?
That’s what our prayers sometimes sound like to God. It’s no longer about the relationship, but about the stuff we can get from Him. It’s for this reason that I state that you’ve more than likely been asking for wrong thing!
So, in this blog post, I want to guide you through a story in the Gospel of Luke, chapter seventeen, and through it, impress on your heart this big idea:
GET IN THE HABIT OF SEEKING WHOLEHEARTEDLY AFTER GOD, NOT JUST THE GIFTS FROM GOD.
Here’s the story. Let’s pick it up in verse eleven of Luke chapter seventeen. “Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
From this Biblical narrative, there are three ways you can go about seeking after God, and not just stuff from God (how to ask for the right things).
1: LEARN THE ART OF PRAYING IN HUMILITY
First thing you need to know about these 10 men is that they had a skin disease that was the most feared disease in the world in their time. A modern translation of leprosy is the phrase, “eruptive skin disease.” It was deadly, incurable, and contagious. It was also the kind of disease that made you a social outcast (ceremonially unclean). As in, if you had it, you were banished from society because of how quickly it could spread and infect the whole community.
In fact, the law in Leviticus (13:44-45) prescribed that anyone identified with this disease must not only keep their distance, but must cry out “Unclean! Unclean” should they come within a few feet of anyone.
So, this social banishment meant the only community of friends a leper could have, were other lepers, which explains why there’s 10 of them huddled up and calling out to Jesus on the outskirts of town from a safe distance.
What I’d like you to notice is how these men call out to Jesus for help. They don’t ask him to heal them, rather, they ask that He simply have “pity on them.” In other words, though they recognize that He has in Him the power to grant them what all the doctors in their day had not been able to grant them, they’re also thinking, “What are the chances that someone as important as HIM would give people like US the time of the day?”
So, you can hear the hope in their voices, mixed in with a sense of unworthiness.
From them, we learn that prayer is NOT an exercise in self-congratulation where we recite how hard we’ve working to God in order to win God’s approval. So, your prayers shouldn’t sound like this, “Lord, you know how much I’m trying to do the right thing and trying to help others, so I could really use your help with these other needs in my life.”
That’s not prayer, that’ a negotiation. Yes, we are to approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, but confidence ain’t arrogance! Confidence is recognizing that I am seriously lacking in every way, yet, I am fully welcomed by God. Therefore, a better attitude in prayer is one where you learn to pray this way - “Lord, I’m here first and foremost to acknowledge that anything good in me is a result of your loving grace poured into my life.”
It’s this kind of attitude in prayer made in a spirit of humility that touches God’s heart. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” So, the first step in seeking after God, and not just gifts from God is to learn the art of praying in humility. The second is….
2: TAKE A HUGE LEAP OF FAITH IN OBEDIENCE
Verse 14 says, “When [Jesus] saw them [the ten lepers], he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.”
Does it NOT strike you as odd that instead of walking over to them to physically touch them and heal them, or simply verbally declaring them healed (Matthew 8:3, Mark 1:40-41), Jesus instead orders them to go present themselves to the priests in the temple?
Let me tell you why this command was odd.
First of all, in their condition, these 10 men are not supposed to be in town around people. It is why they were congregating along “the border between Samaria and Galilee.” Secondly, the only time they would even dare make themselves known to the priests is AFTER they had been healed of their diseases (according to Leviticus 14). The priest would inspect them thoroughly, quarantine them for a few more days to ensure they were completely healed, and if they passed that inspection, only then would the priest approve them to be readmitted into society.
But at the time of Jesus’ command to them “Go”, they had nothing to show the priest! They were not yet healed! So, what Jesus tells these men to do is tantamount to you coming to me to ask for financial help and I say, “Go show yourself to the bank manager at in town.”
“Okaaaaayy??? Did you put money in my name there?”
“Nope. Just GO!”
What Jesus is doing here is instructing these men to act by faith; to act on a reality that has not yet arrived. In order to get healed, they would first need to be obedient to what He just instructed them to do.
And that’s just what happened next!
As the obeyed, somewhere along the way on their journey to the temple, something supernatural began to happen to their bodies. Every sore. Every ache. Every boil. Every infection. SUDDENLY. INSTANTLY. MIRACULOUSLY. ALL TEN AT ONCE. HEALED! It’s what verse 14 is saying, “…And as they went, they were cleansed.”
Here’s a powerful lesson we can glean from these 10 healed men.
When you are obedient to what God has ALREADY instructed you to do, and your faith moves you to action,God will start to move the mountains in your life.
Please pause. Go back and read that last statement again.
Too often, we plead and cry out to God in prayer for new revelation or an open door, and God is saying, “What you’re seeking me for will be found at the other end of your walking in obedient faith. Child, go and be obedient to what my Spirit in you has already impressed on you to do.”
So, what instructions from God do you need to be more obedient to?
What path do you need to get off in order to walk in obedient faith?
What actions steps of faith do you need to take this week in obedience?
Whatever it is, “GO!”, “DO!”
The third step in seeking after God, and not just gifts from God is to…
3: LIVE WITH CONSTANT GRATITUDE
Verse 15 says, “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Luke, the author of this Gospel is very intentional in pointing out that the one guy who returned was a, “Samaritan.” This is supposed to come across as a shock to his hearers because Samaritans were considered by the Jews as the worst of the human race (John 8:48). Jews despised Samaritans and considered them to be spiritual “half-breeds”.
So, Luke is making the point here that the one who was least expected to be thankful is the one who was most grateful, implying that the other 9 healed lepers (may have been) Jews who should have been the ones who returned to give praise.
So, the question is, why did the other 9 not return? Even Jesus Himself asks the same question in verse 17, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”
The quick and easy answer is that they were doing exactly what Jesus told them to do. Having received their healing, they were going off to show themselves to the priests so He could approve them and readmit them into society.
They got what they wanted from Jesus and chose to move on, but then there’s this one guy who was so grateful, not simply for the healing He received, but grateful to the ONE who healed him. And so, in his gratitude, he goes back and pours his praise and worship and lavishes his thankfulness on the Son of God who just showed a leper love and grace.
This begs the question, what works of Jesus in your life have you taken for granted? What have you prayed for and received, or not prayed for and received anyway that you are yet to truly thank God for?
Incase you’re wondering how to do that, notice that when this healed leper thanks Jesus, this guy was verbally loud. He was also physically demonstrative as he bows at Jesus’ feet thanking him. Sometimes, thankfulness is being vocal to others about God’s goodness in not only providing for you but also saving you from your sins and adopting you into God’s family. Other times, thankfulness for what God has done means being a material blessing to others.
What may be most amazing about this story is what Jesus says to the one leper at the end in verse 19, “Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” That verse in the Greek translates as,“Your faith has saved you.”
So, whereas all 10 of them received physical healing, this one guy, because He sought after God, and not just gifts from God, also received the added bonus of spiritual healing! As in, Jesus extended to Him eternal life! All 10 of them were healed, but only one got saved! He received immeasurably more than he could have asked for or imagined.
As you (hopefully) consider what it looks like practically in your life to seek wholeheartedly after God, and not just gifts from God, I’d like to leave you with this story.
ONCE UPON A TIME
There was once a wealthy man who loved to collect rare works of art with his son, his only child. They had everything in their collection, from Picasso to Raphael, and would often sit together and admire the great works of art.
Unfortunately, the son died several years later. Prior to his death, however, a friend, an aspiring artist had taken the time to paint a portrait of the son. So, shortly before Christmas the same year the son died, the artist friend presented the photo to the father as a gift. The father was greatly moved by this gift and cherished it dearly. He hung the portrait over his mantel and took pride in showing it off to his guests along with other great works of art he had collected.
As is inevitable with time, the father passed away. There was to be a great auction of his paintings. Many influential people flew in from far away distances, excited to purchase one of more of his collection. Center stage on the platform was the painting of the sin.
When the auctioneer walked to the podium, he pounded his gavel and announced, “We will start the bidding with this picture of the son. Who will bid for this picture?”
There was silence. After a few awkward moments, someone shouted, “Hey, can we get on with the show? We want to see the famous paintings. Skip this one.” But the auctioneer persisted. “Will someone bid for this painting? Who will start the bidding? $100, $200?”
More angry voices.
Finally, a voice came from the very back of the room. It was the longtime gardener of the man and his son. “I'll give $10 for the painting.” He wasn’t being facetious; truthfully, it was all he could afford.
“We have $10, who will bid $20?”
“Ugh! Just give it to him for $10. Let's see the masters.”
Finally, the auctioneer pounded the gavel. “Going once, twice, SOLD for $10!”
A man sitting on the second row joked. “Finally! Now let's get on with the collection!”
Rather than move on to the next item, the auctioneer laid down his gavel and said. “I'm sorry folks, the auction is over.”
“What?! What do you mean? What about the other paintings?”
The auctioneer explained, “I am sorry. When I was called to conduct this auction, I was told of a secret stipulation in the will. I was not allowed to reveal that stipulation until this time. Only the painting of the son would be auctioned. Whoever bought that painting would inherit the entire estate, including the paintings. The one who gets the son, gets everything!”
Seek wholeheartedly after God, not just gifts from God!
Husband. Dad. Pastor. Nigerian American. Storyteller. Aspiring Prayer Warrior. Steak Lover. Follower of Jesus Christ reminding you that God the Father still loves you.