How to manipulate God

Q: Can any 2 believers gather together, declare their gathering is “in Jesus name” and thereby compel the Lord to join them?

Whenever two or three of you come together in my name, I am there with you. (Matthew 18:20 CEV)

When I was young in the faith (read: immature), my approach to God’s Word was like that of an attorney who pours over the fine print in a contract to identify beneficial provisions and hold God accountable to fulfill them for me. In so doing, I was trying to use God in a selfish and manipulative way to do my will.

Bricklayer

The Bible software I use, has available 32 English translations for exploring scripture, some of which are mapped to the Greek texts for further study. Often while studying, the Holy Spirit will prompt me to compare all 32 translations to get a better understanding of a scripture. His Spirit prompted me to read every translation of Matthew 18:20 and one in particular jumped out at me; a subtle difference from the other 31 translations.

For where there are two or three being gathered together G4863 in  my name, there I am in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20 ABP+) 

Notice the appearance of the word “being” in the ABP+ (Apostolic Bible Polyglot annotated) version? The word suggested to me that gatherings are  purposeful and appointed by the Lord. In fact, the definition of the Greek word “sunago” (G4863) is “to lead together, that is, collect or convene; to entertain hospitably”. When the brethren gather together, it is at the leading and invitation of Jesus, in whose name we gather, where Jesus is the host of the gathering and remains “in the midst” (center, middle) of the gathering. Jesus is the very “mortar” that joins the entire assembly together!

The unique translation of the ABP+ version is consistent with Matthew 16:18 wherein Jesus said “I will build MY assembly” (YLT) and Psalm 127:1 which says “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (ESV). Likewise, the apostle Peter refers to the saints as “living stones”, who by submitting themselves to Jesus are assembled by Him into a spiritual tabernacle and occupied by Him (1 Peter 2:4-5).

The gatherings of men are a far cry from gatherings “in Jesus name”. Typically, a man will call a meeting for a designated time and place and once gathered, invoke the “name of the Lord” to convene the meeting and thereby “invite” Jesus to “show up” to man’s meeting. So is Jesus an invited guest to a meeting called by men, or should Jesus convene the meeting within His authority and serve as Lord of the gathering?

My dear wife and I have attended any number of religious meetings that were dry and Spirit-less, where once in a blue moon, the people would get excited when “Jesus showed up”. In our experience, meetings convened according to man’s will where Jesus shows up, are very rare because men are rarely willing to sit down and shut up long enough to let Jesus get a word in edge-wise. Conversely, when we wait on Jesus’ to convene meetings His way, He’s there from start to finish!

Q: Can 2 believers obligate the Lord to give them whatever they want by agreeing together in prayer?

I promise that when any two of you on earth agree about something you are praying for, my Father in heaven will do it for you. (Matthew 18:19 CEV)

Just as our gatherings together are to be God-ordained, so should our prayers be according to God’s will, after all, Jesus taught us to pray “Father … thy will be done”.

Q: Can a believer worship God to the point of exhaustion and then ask God to grant the desires of their heart?

Do what the LORD wants, and he will give you your heart’s desire. (Psalms 37:4 CEV)

Surely our delight is IN the Lord Himself, not in the things of this world. As Helen Lemell wrote in the old hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”(1922):

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

If a person emerges from what they claim is “delighting IN the Lord” (Psalm 37:4) and prays “Dear God, let me win the lottery”, I dare say their real delight is in mammon, not God.

In the decades since I first received Jesus as Lord, when I selfishly tried to use scripture to leverage the power of God to do my will, the Lord has taught me to “take up my cross and follow Him” which means I have surrendered my will and the desires of my flesh for the completion of Christ’s work in me. When scripture is viewed through the cross, where we are made one with Christ, the Word takes on a vastly different meaning.

There is certainly the power of God when praying and acting on the scriptures, but only when doing so according to the will of God.  I’ve been involved in enough vain works (Psalm 127:1) to last a lifetime and I certainly do not want to wind up like the sons of Sceva, who invoked Jesus name without authority (Acts 19:11-20):

And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. (Acts 19:11-20 ESV)

How grateful I am that when I mishandled scripture in my youth and sent up selfish prayers, my Father showed me grace by not granting my demands. I hope now only to pray like Jesus did: “not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42 KJV). As for meetings, well, I have begun asking those who invite me whether a man has called the meeting, or the Lord has called it and I ask the Lord whether or not he wants me to accept the invitation. Suffice it to say, I attend very few meetings.

PS, I do not recommend the Contemporary English Version (CEV ©1995 American Bible Society) of the Bible, several scriptures of which appear in the post above. In making a readable version, the authors have created what I consider a casual and misleading translation.