Grace and Favour

I got a quick question about asking God for favour yesterday and thought I could give a more substantial and clearer answer here. So here goes.

Here’s the question: Is it wrong to constantly ask for favour? And my answer is neither a simple yes nor a simple no, but rather, it depends! On what does it depend? It depends on us. It depends on what we mean by favour. It depends on what we’re actually asking. It’s like this: biblically to talk about God’s favour is to talk about His grace. And God’s grace is all about Christ and His Cross. When we just talk in terms of favour we can easily forget that and leave Jesus out of our thinking. But grace is Jesus, so when we remember that God’s favour is another way of talking about God’s grace, that reminds us that we’re not just talking about some principle of niceness, but we’re talking about Jesus giving Himself for us and to us. God’s favour is Jesus coming for us. God’s favour is being united to Christ. God’s favour is being blessed ‘with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ’ (Eph. 1:3). So if we’re going to talk about asking for favour, let’s keep all that at the front of our thinking.

So, bearing in mind what favour really is, I’d say there are two main ways that people can ask God for favour – let’s call them the Me-centred way and the Christ-centred way.

Me-centred Favour

The Me-centred way is about asking favour for me. It’s about what I want from God. And, more often than not, it’s about physical and material blessings. Now, that can vary a lot, from the blatant false gospel of the prosperity preachers to much more acceptable requests. But if my prayer life becomes all about what God can do for me to make things more comfortable for me in the here and now, then I’m probably missing out on something quite important in my prayer relationship. Prayer is about communion (or fellowship) with God. It’s not simply a list of requests of stuff I want.

And the danger is that such a me-centred approach can make my relationship with God all about what I can get from Him. It quickly becomes about the gifts, rather than the Giver!

Think of it like this: often, when we think about blessings, we think about God sending stuff down to us. And, right enough, that’s how it usually looks to us – after all, we get to enjoy His blessings down here on earth. But, if that’s how we think of blessings, then we can all too easily detach the gifts from the Giver, and God just becomes the One who sends stuff down to us, and after that He’s out of the picture.

Christ-Centred Favour

So, what’s the alternative? Well, it’s to remember what favour really is. God’s favour is God’s grace, and God’s grace is Jesus. So, if I take a Christ-centred approach to asking for favour, then it should radically transform my asking. Why? Because it’s no longer all about me and what I want! If God’s favour is found in Christ, then asking God for favour might not mean the answers that I’d have been most comfortable with. Instead, it will mean answers that lead us to grow in Christ.

God’s favour starts out by bringing us to Christ for salvation, but it doesn’t stop there and then transform into a way of getting stuff from God. No! God’s favour continues to bring us to Christ. Truly experiencing God’s favour will mean growing in Christ and growing more and more like Christ. If God’s favour is Jesus, then more of God’s favour will mean more of Jesus. And that’s good. That’s very good.

And so that’s the good sort of thing we should be praying for. Petitionary prayer isn’t all about getting stuff from God, or even about help in an immediate situation. But we should pray for growth. We should pray for sanctification. We should pray to know more of Jesus and be conformed more and more to His image.

Let’s think about blessing again (with another diagram!). Instead of blessing being about God sending stuff down to us, in a more Christ-centred approach, we see that blessing is about God lifting us up to Jesus. Remember that God has ‘blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ’ (Eph. 1:3). Blessings aren’t things God throws down to us – it’s much better than that. Blessing is being lifted up into Christ. And that means that we are blessed. God has shown us favour. He has given us to Jesus and Jesus to us.

And so that has to be the starting point when we come to God to ask for favour/grace. We start from the fact that we have been united to Christ by faith and blessed with every spiritual blessing in Him. And that means that God is for us. He has blessed us. He has given us His favour. His answer to our request for grace is yes!

So we ask for favour/grace with confidence on that basis. We ask for favour/grace knowing that God has already given us Jesus and wants us to grow in Jesus. But that also means that when we ask for favour, we realise that God knows exactly what we need to grow in Christ, and it might not be exactly what we were hoping. John Newton expresses that really well in his hymn:

I asked the Lord that I might grow In faith, and love, and every grace; Might more of His salvation know, And seek, more earnestly, His face.

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray, And He, I trust, has answered prayer! But it has been in such a way, As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favoured hour, At once He’d answer my request; And by His love’s constraining pow’r, Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel The hidden evils of my heart; And let the angry pow’rs of hell Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed Intent to aggravate my woe; Crossed all the fair designs I schemed, Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried, Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death? “‘Tis in this way, the Lord replied, I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ, From self, and pride, to set thee free; And break thy schemes of earthly joy, That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

The way God says yes to our requests for favour/grace might not be the ways we’d hoped for, but in that case, the ways we’d hoped for would really have been a ‘No’ rather than a ‘Yes’.

Hey, but what about specific situations?

So far, this has all been about growth and sanctification. Does that mean we can’t ask God for grace/favour for specific situations? No, we definitely should ask God for grace for specific situations. The Bible encourages us to ‘come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need’ (Hebrews 4:16). So, in times of need, we should definitely be asking for grace. But notice, God doesn’t say He’ll send a bit of help in times of need, but rather ‘grace to help’, and grace is Jesus. God gives us His favour in Jesus. In Christ we are well beloved sons in the well beloved Son.

So, praying for grace and favour is good and we should pray in such a way, but as we pray for grace and favour we should remember that we can’t separate grace from Christ and His cross. Our prayers for favour should be Christ-centred prayers – not simply asking God for nice stuff, but longing to grow in Jesus and to be transformed into His image more and more. And they should be prayers firmly rooted in the grace of the cross.