Disney’s live-action Aladdin is due to hit video release here in September. While I have not seen it, I do know that I, as a child in the 90’s, loved the original animated movie, so I’m willing to give this a shot. If you have never seen either one of the Aladdin movies then I don’t know what you are doing with your life, because the animated is a movie classic that had some really great talent and takeaways. Anyways… I bring this up because I have been in a lot of conversations lately about prayer, and what it really means to pray to God. You may be asking yourself “John how does Aladdin have anything to do with prayer?” Allow me to explain. I believe how we view God, reflects how we interact with Him. I have a lot of analogies on how a lot of people view God, and one of them is the view of God as this all-powerful genie that is here to grant us wishes.
Aladdin: You’re a prisoner?
Genie: It’s all part and parcel, the whole genie gig.
[grows to a gigantic size]
Genie: Phenomenal cosmic powers!
[shrinks down inside the lamp]
Genie: Itty bitty living space!
A lot of Christians have this Aladdin attitude towards prayer. They rub the magic lamp and hope God will then give them whatever they request. You see, a lot of “Christians” are comfortable with making requests for things that they want God to provide, but they miss out on so much more. They only come to God when they need something, and make no room for him in other areas of their life.
God is not a prisoner, but we tend to give him only itty bitty living space in our lives. I can see where we got the line of thinking that God will give you whatever you ask for, maybe it comes from our limited understanding from several verses where Jesus explains that we will receive whatever we ask. Let us look at one of these verses.
If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.
I believe Jesus wants us to ask God for things, but the key things here is that Jesus wants us to actually believe that God will provide. To trust in Him. I’m not saying that asking for things is bad, but I know this isn’t Jesus’ primary reasoning for prayer. He is asking us to come to the father with things, and God will give us what we need, and to believe that He will take care of us. So I believe that God provides, but why don’t we always get what we want?
Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given 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. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul had a problem, a physical ailment of some sorts, and Paul tells us he prayed to God three times about the situation and God gave the answer – He would not heal Paul. God says to Paul, ” My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” When you think of people who know their stuff, who speaks the truth with knowledge and wisdom, you think of Paul who was a writer of fourteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. You would think Paul would have the ultimate favor of the Lord, but when it came to physical healing, God answered, “No.”
Jesus says “ask and we shall receive”, but God clearly said no to Paul. PAUL of all people. So which is it? Does God come, poof, and then grants our every wish or does He answer, “No” sometimes? If God told Paul “No” He will not hesitate to tell us “No” as well. Now we are faced with a problem; what about those verses about asking and receiving? We must be missing something.
Let us look at the verses.
Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.
1 John 3:21-23
And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son..
In these verses John tells us that if we align our heart and prayers with God’s will, believe that Jesus is the Son of God, keeping His commands to love one another, and give glory to Him alone, then our prayers will more than likely be met with our desire…because it will be God’s desire. This does not necessarily mean we get what we want, but God will give us what we need.
In the case of Paul, it was not God’s will to heal him. God knows Paul’s heart and knows that no one wants to be in physical pain. God knew Paul would be more of a servant with his “thorn in the flesh” than without. Therefore, instead of healing, God gave Paul the grace sufficient to live with his infirmity. God will always get us out of the swamps of life. Sometimes He will pick us up out of the marsh and place us on dry ground. Sometimes, however, God will allow us to get dragged through the swamp to get us to the dry land on the other side. Sometimes the lessons of these trials are what we really need.
I know that one of my weaknesses is boasting in myself. I can go on and on about how awesome I am….and then like in Aladdin, the enemy kicks you down, and you no longer the cool prince and you find yourself sinking into the bottom of the sea, rubbing the lamp hoping and praying to get free. It is those times of humility that I come to humble myself before the Lord, thankful for another chance. These are the times when despite all else, I know God is there, and I’m thankful that I have more thank a genie with a limit of three wishes.
I frequently look back in the past, where I was grasping for straws. When I was young in my faith and saying “why God? Why are you allowing me to go through this?” A rough childhood, homeless teenager, rocky marriage, and more. I know that God knew I would be able to get through those things, and in the end, I would give Him the glory for the victory. Because of these, I get to Pastor teenagers going through this stuff as well, and council couples going through a rocky relationship, and tell the stories that many are afraid of telling because it might make them seem weak.
We do not know what God has in store around every corner, but I know we can trust him. The movie Aladdin ends with Aladdin using his last wish to free the genie from his entrapment, so I feel this is kind of fitting to end this with a prayer for freedom. You might have read this blog post, never really understanding the power of prayer or even Jesus. You might feel like the genie yourself. Powerful and in control, but deep down you feel small and trapped, wishing for a way out. Realizing that you are not really free, and just waiting for someone to release you from your bondage. I pray this prayer of freedom for you.
Father God, lead me, guide me and walk beside me through this journey. Break every chain and every stronghold in my life. Set me free. Free from bondage, free from sin. Free from temptations, stress, fear and other people’s expectations of me. May they see good work in me and glorify You.
In your Son Jesus’ name Amen