We all have our wish list – the things that we’d love to have, places we want to go, things we want to do.
Perhaps these are things we include in our prayer intentions or perhaps they’re just goals we’ve set – but how many of these are things that will matter once we reach the pearly gates?
It’s this question that Jesus challenges the people who followed him after they received their fill of the loaves & fish in John’s gospel (John 6: 22-29):
Do not work for food that cannot last, but for food that endures to eternal lifeAfter Jesus had fed the five thousand, his disciples saw him walking on the water. Next day, the crowd that had stayed on the other side saw that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that the disciples had set off by themselves. Other boats, however, had put in from Tiberias, near the place where the bread had been eaten. When the people saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into those boats and crossed to Capernaum to look for Jesus. When they found him on the other side, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’Jesus answered:‘I tell you most solemnly, you are not looking for me because you have seen the signsbut because you had all the bread you wanted to eat. Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life, the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you, for on him the Father, God himself, has set his seal.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do if we are to do the works that God wants?’ Jesus gave them this answer, ‘This is working for God: you must believe in the one he has sent.’
A divine vending machine
It’s not hard to see a bit our ourselves in the people that went looking for Jesus. Each of us has had an experience where we asked and He provided in some important way – the healing of a relative, a job we wanted, money to get through a difficult time. Jesus is clear to us elsewhere in the gospels that there’s nothing wrong with asking for these things, in fact he wants us to turn to him in petition – but the motivation for our relationship with Him must be bigger than this.
If we just look at our relationship with Christ as a transactional one – one in which we ask and He gives, we ask again and He gives again – we turn our God into nothing more than a divine vending machine.
Think back to your time as a teenager. No doubt you had plenty of experiences asking your parents for money, the keys to the car, or something else that was “so important!” If this was the only thing your parents ever heard from you, how long do you think it would take before you were sat down for a “talk”? They want and expect much more from that relationship – as does our God.
Things of this world
The first correction to the above kind of behaviour that Jesus gives us is to refine what we ask for. Instead of asking for things that carry very little long-term benefit, we should think bigger (and longer term).
He’s pointing us back to the “world vs. spirit” dynamic. Praying for things that impact our experience within the world (like money, possessions, reputation) but give very little spiritual/eternal benefit is what Jesus is trying to remind us to mature from. These worldly appetites are never satisfied and often hinder our progress on the climb to holiness and our eternal reward.
So what should we be asking for? What endures for eternity? To better answer these questions, we need to ponder what our transition to Heaven might look like.
Things that endure
Picture yourself meeting Jesus face to face – your earthly life has ended – and He’s asking you to give an account for what you’ve done with your life. What do you think will be important to share with him? What will you want to be talking about? What will seem trivial and unimportant? Answers to these questions are your clues for the things that endure.
For me, when I put myself in that scene, the things that I think will matter most are whether I loved God and made Him first. Whether I loved my family, friends and neighbours and how well I served them. Whether I lived a virtuous life, demonstrating humility, kindness, generosity, compassion, patience. Who I impacted in a positive way. The good I brought into the world.
These are the things that I’ll want to be able to speak about – not the material goods I had, the “success” I had professionally, the titles I carried. To me, THESE are the things that will endure beyond that transition that I’ll be eager to carry with me to Heaven.
Shifting our prayer intentions
So what should we be praying for then? First, we should pray that His will becomes clearer to us. That helps to clarify what it is that we should actually be asking for. For all we know, the job we would have prayed to get may have been in the way of His better path for us!
As we start to get a better feel for His will through prayer, the very virtues and behaviours we’ll need to exhibit to put that will into action should be what our intention goes to. Asking for things like humility, for courage, for perseverance, for patience – the very things that will strengthen our ability to take the action we believe He is asking of us – will then allow us to fulfil the very missions He designed us to complete.
What loving Father would ever refuse this? After all, He wants us to be successful in completing these tasks!
The greatest commandment
More important than any petition – even if it’s the right one based on His will – is simply loving God back. Jesus makes clear that the greatest commandment is to “…love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Matthew 22:39)
How much of our time is devoted to this? How much of our attention do we give to following this commandment? How does this show up in our conversation with God?
That “loving of God” with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength – that is what gets you through anything life throws at you. That is what sustains you through every difficulty you may face, every cross you may have to carry. That is also what allows you to truly live with peace and joy – things we all aspire to have.
That is the food that endures to eternal life. Why not ask for that?