Your wish is my command
“If your day is hemmed in with prayer, it is less likely to come unraveled.” — Cynthia Lewis1
Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam, and he struck his hands together; and Balak said to Balaam, “I called you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have persisted in blessing them these three times! So flee to your place now. I said I would honor you greatly, but behold, the LORD has held you back from honor” (Num. 10–11 NASB).
King Balak asked a fortune-teller named Balaam to curse the Israelites. However, Balaam refused, saying, “I cannot do anything other than what God says”2 and blessed Israel as God had told him to.
Balak was persistent, saying, “Isn’t there any way for God to change his mind?” But of course God did not change his mind; no matter how many times Balak asked, Balaam obeyed God and blessed the Israelites. That made Balak angry, and he said, “I had intended to treat you well, but now I won’t.” Balak’s attitude was: if things go my way, I’ll worship God, but I don’t need a God who does not do things my way.
Actually, isn’t this the attitude of many people nowadays, especially here in Japan? Many people think: If God grants my wish, I’ll give him money and buy an amulet at the shrine, but I don’t know about a God who doesn’t grant my wishes. I do not need such a God. In the first place, is such a God really God? It’s as if their relationship with God is a transactional one. If they go to a shrine known for “romance” and are disappointed in love or if they go to a shrine to pray for good grades and fail in an examination, they will never go to that shrine again.
This is not just about Balak and people going to shrines in Japan. There are a lot of people with a transactional view of their relationship with God in the Bible, for instance Naaman (2 Kings 5:11). People want God to do their bidding. Balak wanted somehow to get God to do what he wanted. And when it didn’t turn out, he got angry and said, “I don’t need that kind of God!”
However, if God did what we wanted, speaking in the extreme, “prayer” would be giving God orders. This would make us greater than God: “God, here’s a request. And after that, you can do this.” And if we don’t get the answer we want, we might say, “Why didn’t you do it? I told you what to do!” And finally, we could end up saying, “Well, I guess there is no God.” Even if one does not go that far, we can approach God as if we’re making a business deal, saying, “Grant me my wish, and I’ll offer such-and-such to you.” That does not show faith in God and is not a posture of praise.
All of us, Christians and non-Christians, have this tendency. But it is a big problem when Christians, who should know God, think like that. Christians, even myself, can get angry and say, “Why did you not hear my prayer?” when our wish is not realized. And if my wish comes true, I applaud God and cry, “Hallelujah!” However, if we really know God, even if we do not have our prayers realized, we should always applaud God and cry, “Hallelujah!”
Even though I know this in my head, it is not easy to put it into practice. Looking at Balak’s attitude, it almost seems like I’m looking at myself in the mirror. But a mirror is for seeing what I look like so I can fix things. And since there is a mirror here, I need to accept what I see and take steps to move forward, even though it might be one step at a time. Once again, I plan to pray to God because He is my Lord.
1. First Reformed Church of Portage, “A Day Hemmed in Prayer,” January 12, 2020, https://frcportage.org/a-day-hemmed-in-prayer (accessed May 31, 2022).
2. The Bible quotes from here on are the author’s paraphrase of the NASB.