There's this pastor in Georgia that I know who sends out a weekly email, updating people about what's going on at his church, what the Sunday series is going to be about, and basically "hyping up" the services week after week in order to try and keep people interested and engaged. There is nothing specifically wrong with this; in fact, I applaud his use of email to convey a lot of the information from his church out to people in a timely and environmentally-friendly way. However, there is one word that he chooses to use...and over-use...time and again in his email messages that at first was a little unsettling to read, but has now become something of a theological sticky wicket for me every time I read his emails.
As in "PLEAD for GOD to SHOW UP MIGHTILY!!!!" "PLEAD for MEN to STAND UP AND BE MEN!!!!" "PLEAD for GOD to MOVE IN OUR CITY!!!!" "PLEAD TO GOD for THE TIME, TREASURE AND TALENTS TO BE SHARED!!!!!" Etcetera, etcetera, hyperbole ad nauseum.
Some might state this plea is perhaps coming from a sincere heart and someone who is passionate about their beliefs. Others might begin to hear the voice of a televangelist in their mind, e-NUN-cee-AYTING EV-uh-REE UH-th-ur SIL-la-BULL. CAN I GET an AMEN? Still some might simply ask what's the big deal about pleading?
What makes me uneasy is this: is it necessary to plead with God?
As the parent of a toddler, I have come to understand the nature of pleading a little bit better: it's to insure that we, as the one asking, think we are being heard. Nothing more, nothing less. When Kai asks for yet another toy while out shopping, I hear him. Loudly, at times. When I tell him no and then he somehow manages to even more emphatically ask all the while stretching the word "please" to incorporate 17 syllables, he must think I either didn't hear him, or that I didn't hear him clearly enough the first time. But the reality is that I'm not far from him. I hear him. There's no need for passionate theatrics. If I choose to act on what he's asking for, it's because that was my plan to do so.
The thief on the cross who was crucified next to Christ? He didn't plead with Jesus; he simply asked Him to remember him (Luke 23:42).
The widow from the parable in Luke 18:1-8 who persisted in her request for justice? She received it not from her pleas but due to her diligence.
The multitudes who came to Christ to seek healing? They asked - asked - the Son of David for mercy.
In fact, one of the only recorded times in the four gospel that there is an account someone pleaded with Jesus, it was to ask Him to leave (Mark 5:17), not to stay. When the Roman Centurion "entreats" Christ (Matthew 8:5), he did so out of respect, asking in faith for the healing of his servant. It was the position of Christ's authority the Centurion was honoring, not begging for attention.
We sometimes feel through the guilt and weight of our mistakes, our sins, that asking for forgiveness isn't enough. Part of this is human nature; we genuinely can't conceive of the redemptive beauty and grace offered to us. And part of this comes from the guilt, shame, and pain that we feel; we cry out because we are broken. The parable from Luke 18:9-14 where the Publican asks for mercy - in his own way and in his own words echoing what David wrote in Psalm 51:1-7 - hits us between the valves of our hearts because these words are expressing repentance with regret, asking for forgiveness and strength to not make the same mistake(s) again.
So I have to ask myself: why does this pastor feel the need to plead with God, thereby role-modeling to others that pleading is what is to be done? Yes, admittedly, at times I feel the desire to try and draw God's attention to my prayers through perhaps being a bit more...animated...than I should, but where does this stem from? If nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, why do we sometimes act like the centuries between creation and our time today has increased the distance between us? If we ask, believing in faith and in accordance with His will, God says it will be done (Matthew 21:22). If we seek God, He will be found (Acts 18:27).
Passionate theatrics, just like an inappropriate "Caps Lock" in an email, are not needed. God hears us. He is not distant, or out on vacation.
Nor, thank you I Kings 18:27-28, is He sleeping or otherwise indisposed.