When I listen to myself pray, and when I listen to others pray, it seems that most of what we say to God revolves around what we want. Sometimes our lists are heart-rending: healing from a deadly disease, comfort from the loss of someone we love, rescue for a marriage on the rocks. More often, they are day-to-day: a passing grade on the exam, strength to get through another day at work, safe travel. Sometimes they are trivial: a victory on the football field, our favorite team in the playoffs. Sometimes the list is long. Sometimes it is repetitive. But most of our prayers are filled with the things that we want God to do for us.
I wonder, what does God want?
Maybe he wants a great cathedral constructed in His honor, a building that rises out of the concrete and towers over the city with majestic spires and stained glass windows. Perhaps he wants a more modern structure that resembles the headquarters of a major corporation or a shopping mall. Something designed to make a statement to the world that God is important and you better not forget it.
Maybe He wants music. Perhaps God wants classical music like Ode to Joy, or Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, or Handel’s Messiah with its Hallelujah Chorus. Or, maybe he prefers contemporary music: amplifiers, electric guitars, drums, drums and more drums. Perhaps He wants dancing including African and Native American chants. Maybe God prefers Blue Grass or Country. Who knows? I sometimes wonder what we will sing in Heaven,
Maybe God likes His own sounds: thunder in the heavens, the whisper of wind in the wings of a bird, echoes in a canyon, a babbling brook or the powerful rush of Niagara Falls.
The Bible gives some pretty good clues about what God wants.
In Isaiah’s day, God made it clear that He was fed up with efforts to impress Him with religious behavior. He said, “When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer. … Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:12-18).
When I think about how I feel as a parent, this makes perfect sense. I am happiest as a parent when my children are together, when I hear them laughing, when they enjoy one another and go out of their way to help each other. Of course, I want them to love me. But somehow I feel like they love me best when they are loving each other.
Many people assume that God measures our love for Him by how religious we become. But John set us straight when he wrote, “One who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20).
The bottom line is this: God wants us to get along with each other. He wants people to be kind to each other, to do good things and help each other. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments. … This is my commandment. That you love one another, just as I have loved you.” (John 14:15;15:12).