What do you want?
Ohana Gathering, U of N Kona, May 7, 2009
What do you Want?
There’s a story that comes out of the desert, a myth you may have heard about. It’s the story of a young man, who, in the world’s eyes is of little importance. He has no political power to speak of, he has no money and he wants his life to change.
And somehow, maybe it’s coincidence, it does, when he comes across a lamp. When he picks up the lamp, a genie (supernatural being) appears to grant him his heart’s desires.
Disney made the story popular in the animated film Aladdin, the story of a young Arab man, down on his luck with a dream for greatness. Aladdin is a street rat, a slumdog, he has no money or power, but knows deep down, in his heart he is a king. All Aladdin needs is a chance. The opportunity to display the greatness inside of him. He needs help to make his dream come true.
And with a little supernatural help, his life changes. The genie gives Aladdin three wishes – he can ask for anything he wants. And so the story goes.
The story is a fantastic one. The kind of story normal people like you and me enjoy. Those of us familiar with the story have imagined being given the same opportunity, imagined we had found the lamp, and thought about what we would ask for – 3 wishes and anything we want. What would you ask for?
Money. Enough to be comfortable for the rest of my life, with 10% going as a tithe to the church, of course. A house on the beach. A life supply of Mac Donald’s cheeseburgers, an endless supply of bul go gi or kim chi. Knees that weren’t so chubby, kids that weren’t so crabby. A husband. A wife. Perfectly straight teeth. The ability to speak every language. The ability to fly. A new car. Some really fancy tennis shoes. Oh, and, of course, world peace.
Can I only have three?
It’s a fun game to play – a fantasy.
But beyond the three wishes, we like the story because it’s a story about identity. Deep down we know that there’s something more to our lives. Something deeper, or bigger, or greater. Something that even now, as satisfied as we are, as far as we’ve come in our journey with God, there’s something more we reach for.
Tonight I want to talk with you about identity. And I want to ask you a question.
There’s a story in the Bible that really surprises me. It reminds me a lot of the story of Aladdin, but it’s a story that is actually true. It’s about another young man who was created to be a king. In fact, he was born for that very purpose, and he had some very big shoes to fill. Solomon, whose father David was known as the man after God’s own heart.
When David died, Solomon had a whole kingdom to rule – an army of brave and powerful men even though he’d never fought a day in his life. And he had a nation of men, women and children who would look to him as a father, even though he had no family or children of his own. Solomon had no life experience that sufficiently prepared him to lead Israel.
In fact, one of the first decisions Solomon made as King was to marry the daughter of Pharaoh, as a sign of peace with Egypt. To Solomon it was a smart political decision. But spiritually, the decision was a disaster waiting to happen. At very least, the marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter was an error in judgment. God always warned the men of Israel not to marry foreign wives so that their hearts would not turn to other gods.
And then there was the mater of where the Israelites and Solomon were offering sacrifices to God. The Bible tells us they were offering their sacrifices at the high places, in the same places where other nations worshipped their gods. Solomon and the rest of Israel were supposed to offer sacrifice to God at Jerusalem, in front of the ark of the covenant, where the tabernacle was.
So here was Solomon, a young king, making some bad decisions right from the start of his reign. He was sort of on the wrong track. But the Bible tells us that despite his imperfection, Solomon’s heart was in the right place.
1 Kings 3: 3-4 says:
Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. The King went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place. Solomon used to offer 1000 burnt offerings on that alter.
I think what happens next in Solomon’s story is astounding. God confronts Solomon, except not in the way we might expect. God doesn’t appear in judgment to punish or discipline Solomon in order to push him back onto the right path.
Instead God comes to Solomon in a dream and says, “Ask me Solomon – what should I give to you?” It’s a surprising question. Reading the story we might say, well, God, you should give him a spanking, some sort of punishment, a slap on the wrist for making those bad decisions. But God doesn’t. He tells Solomon that he wants to give the young king a gift: anything he wants, with no strings attached.
Like Aladdin, Solomon is given an incredible chance. The chance he needs to change his circumstance.
Solomon’s request is amazing too, and it pleases the LORD. He admits to God that he’s only a child, doesn’t know how to be a king, that he’s in way over his head (too much responsibility).
“Give your servant wisdom,” he asks, “to govern your people, the ability to tell right from wrong.” (1 Kings3:9).
God grants Solomon the wish. And he tells Solomon that because he didn’t ask for riches or long life, God wanted to give those things to Solomon as well, sort of as a bonus prize, and then God promised there’d never be anyone who was as wise or great as Solomon. And there hasn’t been a king like him since.
What’s fascinating is that when Solomon wakes up from the dream he immediately leaves the high place and returns to Jerusalem where he offers sacrifice in the right place, before the ark of the covenant. We often say, “it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance.” And here is an example from the Old Testament where that is the case. God’s kindness, his gracious gift, led Solomon into the change he needed in his life. Suddenly, Solomon had all the wisdom he’d ever need to lead Israel. And it started with a simple question.
E for Everyone
You know, it’s interesting to ask people what they really want. It’s a question that reveals something about a person’s heart. What they think about and what they really value.
I had the privilege of traveling around the world, into areas of extreme wealth and poverty as part of film crew for the documentary E for Everyone: The Mouse and the Elephant, which you saw playing on the screens when you came to the meeting tonight. For the documentary, we asked hundreds of people from around the world questions about what they need and what they want.
It’s sobering and humbling to hear people from all walks of life, different religions and cultures, share honestly with you, about the desires of their hearts. We learned by making the film that people all over the world, beyond the things they need, have deep desires and passions that connect with who they are.
When we traveled to Kenya I saw some things that I had never seen before in my life. An area in the northern part of the country that is so ravaged by drought the people who live there search out sources of water day after day, simply to survive. We handed water bottles to men and women, naked little kids who straggled along the side of the road we were driving on. They received our gift of water as though it were gold.
And we went to film in the homes of the dying, asking the same questions we asked everyone else. These precious people at the end of their lives, whose bodies were so ravaged by AIDS they could barely speak. Each word they spoke perhaps their last, pain wracking their bodies, their only request that we do something for the families they were sure to leave behind. Food for the children, school fees, any kind of help we could give.
And we spoke with and interviewed young children, with faces so beautiful and so strong, children we simply wanted to hug and hold, who were orphaned by AIDS.
It was devastating for us as a film crew to be so close to such suffering. To see it, touch it, smell it. It was powerful to offer what help we could. To pray. And perhaps more than anything, it was amazing to hear first hand the requests and prayers of people who wanted to live.
What if we had that level of desire when we asked God for what we need to live the life that he’s created us to live?
The Apostle Paul sets an incredible example for us in the book of Ephesians. He writes the letter to the church in Asia from prison. Chained and confined to a cell, perhaps beaten and abused, suffering because of his faithfulness to God, Paul writes to the church the following prayer in Ephesians 3: 14-19:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Paul could have prayed anything from his jail cell. It might have made the most sense to pray without ceasing for his release from prison and the end of his persecution. But he didn’t pray for that.
His one request – his one wish – was that the church of God would understand what it means to be loved by God.
I have had to stop and think about this prayer of Paul’s because it shocks me. Of all the desires he could have had at that point in his life, this was the greatest desire of his heart. But when you think about it, it makes sense.
Earlier in the letter, before he prays the prayer, Paul makes a powerful statement about his identity. In Ephesians 3: 7-9 he says:
Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.
Paul is certain of his identity, his purpose, and his destiny. He wrote the church knowing his single purpose in life was to help people understand the transforming and redeeming love of God. Paul understood that if Christians really had the love of God in their hearts. If Christians really understood it and received it and accepted it, that they would be compelled by that love and empowered to do what they were created as God’s people to do. So it makes sense that it would be his one request of God – his one wish, the thing he wanted most, even from a dirty Roman jail
God appeared to Solomon who was created to be a king, and Solomon asked for the wisdom he needed to be the king he was created to be.
Paul knew what his sole purpose in life was, and he prayed to see that purpose fulfilled.
So what about you? What are you created for? What are you asking God for?
When God appeared to Solomon all those years ago it wasn’t the last time God appeared to someone and asked the question.
God appeared to the human race, but not in a dream. God appeared in real life, in the flesh, in world history through the person of Jesus Christ. And Jesus asked the same question. “What do you want?”
He said it this way: “Ask and it will be give you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7: 7-8).
I believe that God is asking us a question tonight, and it is: “What do you want?”
It’s a simple question. It’s sobering. The question is personal.
Maybe, like Solomon, you feel like you have huge shoes to fill as you think about stepping into your life’s work or your life’s purpose. Or, maybe, like Solomon, you know there are a few things in your life that aren’t quite right. You love the Lord, but still, some things are not quite right. Maybe there’s a prayer you used to pray that you don’t pray anymore.
Whatever your situation is, no matter how you feel. No matter what task is in front of you or what problems trouble you, God is asking you a question tonight. It doesn’t matter how capable you feel or how perfect you are. God is still asking: “What do you want?”
Tonight I want to challenge you to let the question go deep and settle into your heart. It’s a question meant to go beyond the thought of your immediate needs and concerns. Underneath it ALL, when you pull back all the layers – deep in your heart: What do you want?
When I was in Kenya, our film crew took to the road to drive North to a refugee camp. The temperature increased, it seemed, with each degree of latitude we gained as we drove. Hotter. Drier. More desolate, but surprisingly, even to my untrained eye, the land was beautiful. It was itself. Abandoned termite hills were thrust against the sky like skyscrapers, tall as giraffes. Goats grazed on who-knows-what while camels slowly walked by the road, breaking from their routine to watch our vehicle.
- Women with elaborate, colourful beadwork around their necks, carrying bags filled with grass or rice on their heads, and empty containers for water. And Children!
Young boys responsible for entire herds of goats often naked or carrying their shawl in their hands. Shy little girls with stunning white teeth holding empty bottles in hopes they might be filled with water. Never in groups of more than three or four, randomly spotting the road like signposts, like ghosts.
At the sight of our vehicle they would hold out their hands or empty containers, run to the side of the road and yell magi, the Swahili word for water. These precious people were desperate for what we had to give.
Sometimes I wonder, what if we approached God with that same desperation? What if I ran to God with the same expectation those children had to receive? Do I recognize that God himself offers me the deep things that my soul thirsts for? Oh that we would believe for provision from God and receive it like those kids on that Kenyan road.
The question God is asking tonight is very personal, and I don’t presume to know what your answer is. That is between you and God.
But I do want to tell you that I have a suspicion. I think that the answer to the question is connected to your identity, to who you were created to be, to the spiritual foundation of your life.
The answer is connected to your identity, and therefore, it is a question that involves your destiny. What you are created for, the longing in your heart, is an indication of your destiny on this planet and is connected to your desire.
So – what do you want?
God has appeared to us, but not in a dream. He appeared in the person of Jesus Christ. God is present here tonight. And he is asking you, “What do you want?”