I heard an interesting quote today.

“God is not moved by need. He is moved by prayer.”

This could be interpreted in different ways, and on one level, I disagree with it. I believe God’s heart is incredibly moved by need. His heart is not cold when he sees people mourning loved ones or experiencing natural disasters or terrorism or poverty or all of the other horrible things people experience. You know the way witnessing those things can stir up compassion and heartache in you? Those feelings you feel are but a reflection of the tender heart of the God who created you in his image: with the capacity to love, to care. He cares tremendously.

For the Lord comforts his people
    and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.

But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me,

    the Lord has forgotten me.’

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
    and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…”
-Isaiah 49:14-16

Perhaps it is true, though, that God is not generally moved to action by need alone. If there is in fact a God who is good, then clearly this statement must be true. Otherwise there would be no war, no famine, no murder, no human trafficking, no infertility. He would stop it before it begins, or at least nip it in the bud soon after. That’s what a good God would do, right? (Though we think him heartless whenever we think of him wiping out any evildoers…) It’s the age old problem of how a good God could allow evil to exist.

The quote causes me to really take a look at what I believe is the primary answer to how a good God could allow evil to exist. It boils down to Free Will. Not just because it is our choice to sin that brings about the evil in the world. But after the harm’s been done, free will applies then, too! Our choice? Do we want God to come? Do we want his comfort and his company, like we’d want a friend’s? Do we want him to step in with his help and his power? Do We Want Him? He lets us choose.

The Lord is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” -2 Chronicles 15:2

He is not going to force himself on us. If we don’t want him to come in and heal our broken places, he won’t. That is why prayer matters. Prayer is us saying to God, “My choice is yes. I choose for you to come.” And isn’t it incredible that he would? That we are even given the choice, when he doesn’t have to come at all? Or that the God of the universe wouldn’t just do what he wanted (and he wants to come!) but rather waits for us to ask, to choose if we want him around or not?

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” -Matthew 7:7-8

Prayer is not about saying some magic words to make something to happen, a superstitious ritual to get a genie-God to grant our wishes. But the prayers of his people, who love him, are powerful and effective. What good parent doesn’t want to take care of their child, long to comfort them in their heartache? What parent doesn’t wish they could trade places with their child who is sick? What parent doesn’t delight to give their child the gifts that will thrill their hearts, under the Christmas tree and on the ordinary days, too? This is God’s heart for his children.

“…Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” -Matthew 7:9-11

But He is also smart enough to tell the difference between when we’re “inviting him in” just to get what we want, or when our heart truly wants him. He knows that he himself is what our hearts really need, He is what would delight our hearts more than any of the things we’re chasing after, and he longs for our truest good and fulfillment. He doesn’t want us to chase after the wind and keep finding ourselves empty.

We also don’t like it very much when someone wants us just for what we can give them, and neither does God. But if his child is really asking for his presence and his help? He’ll move heaven and earth. Yes, sometimes his answer to our prayers is “no,” or “wait” because that is what is best for us. And sometimes it might be “no” because we are asking from rotten motives. Are we just grasping for our desires with smooth talk, just pushing buttons on a vending machine, or are we really asking him to come into our lives?

Because if you ask him to come, really and truly? He will. I think most of us sense this, deep down, and sometimes we don’t ask because we’re afraid that he might just come and turn our lives upside-down. Maybe even require something of us. And he will do all of that. But he will come to those who invite him. And it’s beautiful and life-giving and soul-saving and immeasurably worth it. It’s his deepest desire, to be with us. It’s who he is. It’s why he came, so many Christmases ago. He is Emmanuel: “God with Us.”

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.-Isaiah 41:10

Today at church the second Advent candle was lit and our pastor reminded us to ask ourselves the question amidst all of our “preparations” for Christmas…Are we really preparing for Him? Are we spending any time getting ready for His coming? Will we take this time during Advent to look into our lives and hearts and ask ourselves why we need him come, where we need him to come? Do we want him to come? If so, then invite him in, and expect him to come!

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. -Revelation 3:20