When you are desperate, you will make two choices in dealing with the situation. You will either take action or you will ignore it. If you get serious about your desperate need, you might even give up your season tickets to your favorite football team.
Thatís what I did last year and wouldnít you know it, our local high school football team won the state championship. They won the title last year without my presence in the bleachers for the first time in several seasons. I willingly gave up my season tickets and football season in exchange for prayer. Although the traditional means of sacrifice is fasting, I found that this was something that I knew would be a huge personal sacrifice for me. The key word is that it was personal. Solely related to me and how I live my life. I wanted to use something personal to me to show the Lord that I was serious about the prayers I had been praying.
In case you hadnít guessed it already I am a huge Georgia High School football fan. I have been a football fan since my dad took me to my first game back in the 70s. For the past 20 years I have been a supporter of high school football in the town where I currently live. In recent years I have been a season ticket holder for my favorite team.
My priorities during football season changed last year when I was praying about some needs in my life. I felt that my prayers were getting nowhere and lacked the sacrificial element to show God that I was desperate about these needs I was praying about. One night as I was wallowing in frustration during my prayer time, I sensed the Spirit leading me into a sacrifice that the Lord would honor. When the thought first came to me about giving up my season ticket, I passed it off as one of my silly notions and went on to other things. I didnít think God really cared that much about my football season! The more I prayed and the closer I got to the deadline for purchasing my season ticket, came that feeling that wouldnít go away. I sensed that maybe the sacrifice would be of some significance to God. To some, this would not be a sacrifice but for me it was a huge commitment to make. When the season ticket renewal application came in the mail, I let it sit on my desk for a while. Finally, I made the decision. The season ticket application went into the shredder. (Just to make sure I wouldnít go back and dig it out of the trash can.) The 2004 season would be prayer, not football.
On nights I would have gone to the game, I got dressed and drove to the church instead of the football stadium and prayed during the games. I didnít moan about missing the games in my prayers or remind the Lord of the personal sacrifice I was making. I really hadnít planned on sharing this experience with anyone until now. I believed the Lord knew the sacrifice was for me. I continued to pray the prayers of desperation for my needs as my football team went through the season undefeated. By the end of the season, my football team had won their first state championship since 1988.
Thereís just something ironic about it all donít you think? How was it possible that they win the state title without *me* there?
I will be honest and tell you nothing happened immediately. In fact, not much has changed at the moment. Since last season, there were many times I felt that my sacrifice accomplished nothing. We canít always understand Godís timing or the pieces He is putting together that we canít see. Several months later, one of the prayers was answered and now a relationship is being restored in my life. It was a situation that only God could do to restore it. I give Him the full credit and glory for it. There were other things that I prayed which havenít been answered yet but if that one thing was it, I believe it was worth the sacrifice of a football season ticket.
DESPERATE TIMES BRING DESPERATE PRAYERS
Desperation can make a person do many things. It can bring out the best or it can bring out the worst in people. Some people even discover their religion again while others allow desperation to put them into a depression.
We can clearly see desperation when Hurricane Katrina recently devastated the Gulf Coast. Daily images of people who lost their homes and needed food reminded us that we all are not far away from being desperate. Today we might be living in comfort but a disaster could change things overnight. We live on the fragile edge of life. Itís easy to sing songs about being desperate for the Lord when our bills are paid and we are employed but those songs have a different tune when we are broke and unemployed.
There have been countless times when I have seen people get desperate and then they decide to get serious about their relationship with God. When crisis comes, they start coming to church more and praying more. You donít see them in church for months but when they are in trouble or their children are in need, they have no problems finding the church and positioning themselves for the pastorís attention in the prayer line. Some people are a bad doctorís report away from an awesome prayer life. Financial problems will bring others to their knees. It is probably no surprise that some people stay in crisis because thatís the only time God hears from them. Itís amazing how desperate times suddenly improve the quality of our prayer life. You could easily call this ďfire extinguisher religionĒ because some people never find it until there is an emergency. Iím not saying that God wonít forgive you if you have a change of heart but doing so just because circumstances are not in your favor is a shallow experience and youíll never know Christ as a personal friend but just as an occasional acquaintance. (Matthew 7:21) You donít have to ďput inĒ time in church work to be anything to God. The thief on the cross didnít attend the first church service or become a church member to inherit eternal life. (Luke 23:39-43) Although church is an important part of our lives, itís not all about church or the stuff we do, itís all about Him.
As Christians, when we hear the word ďdesperateĒ we get the image of thousands of people in a third-world country attending a revival meeting in their villages. It is wonderful to see the massive crowds of people who want to hear about Jesus. They will walk miles to attend these meetings. Many of them have no hope other than what they experience in these meetings. We get excited when we see these people who are hungry for God and we cry out for God to send this kind of revival to America. While all this is wonderful, you have to wonder if these people were brought to the United States and experience what we have, would their desperation be the same? For years I have heard preacher after preacher speak of a revival coming to America. We are told that the ďgreat revivalĒ is coming. When? Is it really still coming? What will be the decisive blow that will bring America to its knees? We all thought that the terrorist attacks of September 11th was the event that would bring this revival. I remember thinking this would be it and for one Sunday, it seemed to have an effect. There was no debate about the separation of church and state or hesitation about prayer. However, the rise in attendance of churches following the 9/11 attacks quickly faded. This event didnít bring that ďgreat revivalĒ that many have promised. The recent tragic natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina impacting the Gulf Coast has also not brought us to desperation. Instead of turning to God, people look to the Government for answers and seek to place blame rather than deal with the true need in peopleís lives. The true need is the need for a Savior. With no true desperation, there is no revival.
You need only look at the church attendance in America and you will see that church is more of a social gathering rather than a desperate people seeking God. Church attendance has been reduced to the level of civic club meetings. Many people donít want to ďdoĒ church anymore because they say there are too many hypocrites or the music is too loud or the preacher is funny-looking. Such pettiness has replaced the true focus of many. Arenít we a bit petty? Just a threat of rain keeps some people from going to church. We expect to have nice pews and air conditioning or we canít worship the Lord. I remember in my childhood when many of our churches didnít have these comforts. We would be blessed to have a fan blowing around the hot air. Today spiritual things are no longer the priority but have surrendered to our busy schedules and activities. (Mark 12:30) Church isnít the priority in our lives like it was. Instead of us planning our activities around church, we try to plan church around our activities. Parents are setting a bad example when they place more emphasis on playing sports rather than church. We would rather have the next Michael Vick than a Billy Graham.
JACOBíS WRESTLING MATCH (Genesis 32 & 33)
Jacob faced a desperate situation in his life. He knew that he was going to have to confront Esau, the brother whom he had stolen the birthright from years before. Jacob couldnít call Dr. Phil or Oprah to mediate this dysfunctional situation. Jacob feared revenge from Esau and that Esau might kill him.
Jacob prayed and became so serious about his praying that he wrestled an angel for several hours. This wasnít wrestling like we see on TV. There were no fireworks or flashy entertainers. Quite honestly, Jacob was no match for this messenger of God. Even with the odds against him, Jacob pleaded for the angel to bless him in spite of the fact that the angel dislocated Jacobís hip. It seems there was more to this than just breaking Jacobís body in this supernatural wrestling match. It also broke Jacob. When it came time to meet Esau, Jacob was willing to give of his property. It must have been a sacrifice but Jacob didnít complain.
Imagine this picture. Jacob sees Esau approaching with 400 men. Heís probably thinking that heís a dead man for sure or thinking, ďSo much for my intense praying and wrestling with an angel!Ē As a last resort, Jacob puts the women and children in front and then goes out toward Esau and bowed seven times as Esau approached. This showdown kind of reminds you of an old western, doesnít it? Itís certain there will be a shoot out and somebody is going to go down. Instead, Esau runs to meet Jacob and gives him a big bear hug. Esau is actually glad to see Jacob. Jacob is still willing to give Esau all the sheep and cattle he could want and still desires to bless him. Maybe he wasnít sure and still wanted to play it safe. He wasnít going to gamble with this moment over some sheep and goats. When Jacobís desperate need turned to serious action, it resulted in a restored relationship with his brother.
ARE WE WRESTLING OR TRASH TALKING?
So what are we doing to obtain the blessings of God on our lives? Iím not talking about the blessings that some ministers preach that comes in the form of a new car, bigger house and increased wealth. Prosperity preachers ruin the work and are the false prophets of our time. Desperation leads to the source of it all Ė a right relationship with God and having his favor upon our lives - not new cars or bigger bank accounts. His favor upon us doesnít necessarily mean that we will be immune to problems, trials or temptations. So many Christians talk a good game but it is a different story when there arenít any church people around or worship music playing in their ears. Real life becomes a truth serum to the lives of people who arenít really desperate for a deeper, meaningful relationship with the creator. When revival breaks out in the lives of individual Christians, Godís people begin to function as they really ought to. Without this transformation, we will continue to wonder if we can truly make a difference as believers living in an ungodly world. Weíre not seeing the same results as the early church in the Book of Acts because weíre not relying on the same power they did.
Our power will only produce a show or cheap imitation of the real thing. We might be able to fake our way through it and convince people that we are powerful Christians. Perhaps we can sustain this for a while but eventually the source of our power will be revealed. To be honest, we arenít really seeing this power manifested in our lives. Until we get serious, we wonít see any changes to the same routine. The altars will remain empty, people will remain sick and those in bondage will remain that way. This is more than just hyping it up with a bunch of religious talk; we must recognize that this power to save, heal and deliver does not come from our plans and programs. The source is the Holy Ghost. He was sent here to perform this work through us but we are trying to perform the work without Him.
Jacob didnít resort to just talking to the messenger on his night of desperation; he put his all into it and wrestled for his blessing. Thatís pretty brave for someone who is totally outmatched in this bout! Instead of talking a good relationship, we need to endure without the craving for attention from others. God may test the depth of our desire just to see if He can trust us. We donít need more preachers, churches, deacons or any other titles. We need the genuine, operation of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The answer is not in any human methods. The answer is in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit wasnít given so that we have a license to be spiritual superheroes; He was given to empower us to win the lost to Jesus.
WHATíS THE ANSWER?
If we arenít desperate, what do we do to become desperate? Will we be required to quit our jobs, sell our house and exile ourselves as if we are living in a third world country? No. The way we become serious about our desperation is simply to do what we know to do. The key to the answer is always through prayer. Results, not form, are the test of prevailing prayer. We cannot afford to get too busy to pray. The lack of power in our Christian life is a direct result of the lack of prayer. If weíre praying right, weíll be living right. We get in trouble when we neglect prayer. Satan would rather have you do anything but pray. He would even rather have you busy working for God as long as you arenít praying to God.
We have too many benchwarmers in the church building. Many sit in their padded pews each week without sacrifice, no ministry, never agonizing in prayer for souls but they are quick to criticize others and spread their poison of negativity. There is no secret formula or anything you need to try to figure out. Just do what you know to do. Itís that simple. We know we are supposed to pray, study the Bible and go to church. The answer isnít more rules but it is to just do what God wants us to do. God doesnít want it to be a secret mystery that we must figure out. Just do what He expects and He will do the rest.
GO INTO THE REAL WORLD
Before Christ ascended into heaven, He told his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel. (Mark 16:15) Those instructions still remain with us today. This is something that we KNOW to do but are we conscious of it? We may think that this is the preacherís job or for a missionary to do. Our mission field is the real world. The people we see every day. Our family, co-workers and people we have a direct impact on. We were never told to ďconvertĒ people to Christ but we are told to ďpreach the gospel to every creature.Ē Preaching doesnít mean we have to stand behind a pulpit or gather a crowd on the street corner. Nor does it mean we have to engage in debates about it. We can preach the gospel without even saying a word.
These are desperate times and people are looking for the answer. Are we desperate enough to help them find the answer? Do we honestly think we are doing God a favor by going to church on Sunday and going about our business until the next Sunday? If we are sincerely desperate, our lifestyle will change to reflect it. It may require some sacrifice but it doesnít mean that we have to give up everything. Matthew 6:33 tells us that if we seek Him FIRST that He will take care of everything else.
In case you were wondering, I did not give up my football season this year. I did consider it again this year but I did not purchase a season ticket either. I wanted to leave my options open and flexibility to respond to Godís call.