The Very Simplest of Prayers: ‘Shall I Go Up?’

As I have slowly begun the process of surrendering large areas of my life to Christ’s control, living among and ministering alongside believers far more faithful than myself, it has been my observation that God is well pleased to do the vast majority of His work through the agency of individual believers who are prepared to surrender absolutely everything to Him at a moment’s notice.

The most powerful people I know wake up every morning and immediately acknowledge that without God working in them and through them, they are nothing, they have nothing and they can do nothing (John 15:5). At the most basic level, even the ability to wake up and put two feet on the floor is an amazing testament to God’s faithfulness to love, preserve and protect us.

Surrendered people understand this. They wake up grateful to the Lord for the unwarranted gifts of life and breath, they walk to the shower thankful that their legs still work “well enough” and they breathe out praise for the good gifts of hot water and soap. Gratitude informs their daily routines, even the repetitive and monotonous ones. Rightly considered, it is an unmerited blessing to be physically and mentally able to clean dishes, return phone calls, shop for food, empty the trash and so forth. (As I write that last sentence, I can think of several individuals who would rejoice at the ability to accomplish these mundane tasks.)

But head knowledge and heart attitude, as they say, are two very different things.

Lately, though I am 100% clear in my mind that I deserve neither life nor breath, I have nevertheless found my heart “going down to the River Jabbok ” (Genesis 32:22-32) yet again, wrestling with God over something as petty as my ability to live my life according to my schedule, with nothing in the way of interruptions or “rabbit trails,” thank you very much. In short, I have been dismayed to find that God is not limiting His influence in my life to the neat sections of time that I have set aside for Him to do with as He pleases; He is now gently asking to be the Lord of how and where I spend my time…all the time.

My previous wrestling matches with God have been over such “big-ticket items” as alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual licentiousness, money, difficult relationships and suitability for Christian service. I suppose it might be considered evidence of sanctification in my life that I now find myself at odds with the Lord over something as “small” as my weekly schedule. Some might even consider this “battle” to be ridiculous, even laughable. “You know that God owns every second of your time here on Earth, and yet you want to bicker with Him because He does not seem to acknowledge what you’ve set up in your daily planner?”

Yet, as silly as this contradiction seems, I also notice that I am not alone in the battle. Close at hand, I see my wife trying as best she can to juggle an astonishing array of time commitments, but I also see plenty of other people who “struggle to appreciate” those seemingly-random interruptions of their plans. As 21st-century Americans, we take so much for granted that we just blithely assume that our plans will go forth unhindered…yet nothing like that ever appears within the pages of Scripture. Quite the opposite, in fact; God seems to regularly break into the plans of His people, testing their faithfulness to choose between His plans and their own. I’m not sure, but I would bet that I have quite often missed an opportunity to be a blessing to someone because I was late for a meeting at church.

It is precisely at this point that I find myself living in deep envy of King David, who had such a close, intimate relationship with the Lord that he was able – at least most of the time – to surrender everything to God’s good plans for the nation of Israel. In particular, I find myself desiring more than anything to have the clarity and specificity of instruction that David regularly received from God. The key, of course, lies in the ongoing willingness of David to “inquire” of the Lord before he made most of his decisions.

1 Chronicles 14:8-17 (ESV)
Philistines Defeated

When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over all Israel, all the Philistines went up to search for David. But David heard of it and went out against them. Now the Philistines had come and made a raid in the Valley of Rephaim. And David inquired of God, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?” And the Lord said to him, “Go up, and I will give them into your hand.” And he went up to Baal-perazim, and David struck them down there. And David said, “God has broken through my enemies by my hand, like a bursting flood.” Therefore the name of that place is called Baal-perazim. And they left their gods there, and David gave command, and they were burned.

And the Philistines yet again made a raid in the valley. And when David again inquired of God, God said to him, “You shall not go up after them; go around and come against them opposite the balsam trees. And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then go out to battle, for God has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines.” And David did as God commanded him, and they struck down the Philistine army from Gibeon to Gezer. And the fame of David went out into all lands, and the Lord brought the fear of him upon all nations.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all were able to receive specific instructions like this directly from God? Well…perhaps we are, if we will simply develop the habits of paying attention and prayerfully making inquiry.

This past weekend, for example, I had several plans “wrecked” by the Lord. I had to leave work early on Friday to serve someone in great need; I left in such haste that I forgot to pack the power cord for my laptop. Saturday brought a few surprises as well, items that I had not planned on dealing with that had to be dealt with immediately (or so I thought). Sunday morning, instead of stuffing my face with donut holes and Diet Dr Pepper, I spent first service driving an injured friend to the emergency room. By the time I sat down in “my” seat for second service, I was already in a heightened state of, “For crying out loud, what’s going to happen next, Lord?” And this all took place before our good friend Gary Long passed out and brought yesterday’s sermon to a crashing halt.

So I had not planned to spend Sunday evening at Boone Hospital. Neither had I planned to be checking a friend into rehab that very same day. It goes without saying that I am exceedingly grateful to God that our friend Gary is doing fine and expected to make a full recovery. I welcomed the opportunity to tease him about “ruining the offering” during second service and was glad to have him poke fun at me in return. God is on the move all around us, He has graciously given me eyes to see it, and slowly – ever so slowly – my white-knuckle grip on the way I spend my time is relaxing somewhat into trusting God that He is good, His plans are always better than mine and His graciousness runs so deep that it is His mercy that I am ever permitted to make plans for my life in the first place.

Normally, a weekend like this one just past would have sent me into a state of anxiety, mild panic and confusion. The desire to manipulate and control is so tightly threaded into my heart that unforeseen events and circumstances can begin to cause my heart to rise up in fear (and even rebellion). As of July 2012, I am still learning to surrender my time to the Lord, but as I meditate on David’s intimate relationship with God and the strength of his life, I find that simply inquiring of the Lord restores both order and purpose to the messiest of schedules.

“Shall I go up?” is a simple, four-word prayer that we can offer to God when he has the “audacity” to ignore our plans and instead choose to use us to move His Kingdom forward. Presented with a break in our plans and an opportunity to exhibit trust and faithfulness, may we always seek His wisdom as the rollercoaster of life bends and twists in ways that we do not at once appreciate.

Proverbs 16:9
The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

Proverbs 19:21
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

John 15:1-5
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

James 4:13-17
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

Habakkuk 1:5
“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.”

Job 38:1-5, 40:1-2
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you will make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know!” … And the Lord said to Job, “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

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