by Mark Schindler
Have you ever considered how you would live your life if you could relive it? A film with just this theme, Groundhog Day, gave one man this opportunity. Along the way, it illustrated some very interesting aspects of the development of character. It also helps us to see how we can live a truly satisfying and effective life.
Phil Connors, the main character, a weatherman at a local Pittsburgh television station, was a totally self-centered, mean and unfriendly man who thought that everyone existed only for him.
In Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities, he was forced to spend another night there after a blizzard closed the roads back to Pittsburgh. The next morning Phil woke up to discover that it was Groundhog Day all over again! Completely confused, his dilemma was further complicated by the fact that only he realized it! To everyone else, it was the first time they were living the day!
Groundhog Day kept repeating itself endlessly. Each night he would go to bed only to wake up at 6 am on February 2.
His reactions to his predicament are enlightening. Through the first few days of his now redundant existence, his life was in total confusion! Had he gone completely mad? Was this only a dream? Or was he actually reliving the same day over and over and over again?
Realizing that he was stuck in time, he tried to cope with it. Suddenly, there were no consequences for his actions! He could rob a bank without getting caught because he knew exactly where everyone would be and what they would be doing. And if he did get caught, he would just go to jail and reawaken in his bed at the hotel at 6 am on Groundhog Day. He could gorge himself with all the food and drink he wanted and not have to worry about the results because there was no tomorrow. It was always Groundhog Day! He could do whatever he wanted to satisfy his lusts!
Knowing just what everyone would say and do in every situation, he could manipulate everyone around him. He could have whatever his heart desired! But months of self-satisfying, hedonistic "February 2nds" turned to just one thing—despair!
Deciding the only way out was suicide, he drove a truck off a cliff, killing himself in a fiery crash. The only problem was the next morning he woke up at 6 am on February 2! He tried every way he could think of to do himself in, to free himself from his misery, but he always woke up again on Groundhog Day!
Now he was not only reliving the same day over and over, but he was immortal and totally miserable!
A Sense of Satisfaction
One day, walking along the same street with the same people, doing the same things for the umpteenth time, he stopped by an old beggar man, who had always been there, and offered him some help. He found even this small service for someone else brought him a sense of satisfaction.
Phil began to look for people to help. The more he helped, the happier he became. Now he was not only using his time serving people, but he also spent his spare time improving himself and his skills to be of even more service to others.
Soon, Phil Connors' whole day consisted of helping others or preparing himself to help them. He no longer cared that he was stuck in one day because his life was being fulfilled in constant service to others. And as the apostle Paul writes in Philippians 4:11, Phil found joyful contentment in his situation by serving others.
Have we come to this point? Though we can serve in many ways, one area where we often miss a golden opportunity to help each other is in prayer. We can all pray—it requires no special skills or equipment, just a little time, effort and consideration.
In a sermon last year on prayer, John Ritenbaugh said, "Christ never used the power God had given Him to satisfy Himself. He always used the power of God in a way that was consistent with the purpose of God, in a way that would glorify God. Because He was so attuned to God, He knew what God would do in a similar situation, so God always responded!"
Does God always respond to our prayers? If not, why not? Maybe one of the main reasons is because, much like Phil Connor, we are too busy trying to satisfy our own desires, even in prayer!
Asking for Our Fancy
Psalm 78 recounts Israel's constant disobedience to God. In explaining their problem, Asaph writes, "And they tested God in their heart by asking for the food of their fancy" (verse 18).
Never satisfied with what God gave them, Israel always pushed Him to see how much they could satisfy their own desires! Could we be doing the same thing when we pray? Is our focus always toward God's purpose and the welfare of others?
Just like Christ, we have the same kind of power in our grasp every time we come before God's throne in prayer. Do we use it to satisfy ourselves or to further the purpose of God? If Groundhog Day is any indication, we will not find true contentment until we use the power we have in absolute service to others.
Just how much time does God expect us to spend praying for ourselves? Jesus gives an outline prayer Matthew 6:9-13, but He spends most of the remainder of the chapter telling us not to worry about our own lives and our personal concerns. He already knows what we need (verse 32). But, He urges us, concentrate totally on His Kingdom and His purpose. In effect, He tells us how we should be filling in that outline prayer: by asking for the needs of others and His purpose!
Should not our outgoing concern for others start when we are in the very presence of God? In verses 5-8 Jesus instructs us how to pray, using the pronouns "you" and "your," but when He tells us what to say in verses 9-13, He changes the pronouns to "us" and "our." God gives us more than a hint here that our lives should be given in outgoing concern for others, beginning at His throne in prayer. And if we are praying for others, and others are praying for us, then we will all be pleasing God.
Effective, Fervent Prayer
God tells us to pray when we are afflicted, but not necessarily for ourselves (James 5:13-14). Remember that Job was released from his affliction when he prayed for his friends who had been judging him (Job 42:10). God tells us to pray for those who hatefully use us (Matthew 5:44), even those who are causing our affliction.
The prayer of faith will save the sick (James 5:15). Whose prayer of faith? It certainly takes faith for the sick to call for the elder, but is it the person's prayer for himself or others' prayers of faith for him? James says we should be praying one for another so we may be healed (verse 16).
One of the most effective and fervent prayers in all history, recorded in John 17, is Jesus Christ's prayer before He was taken to be crucified. About to suffer as no man ever has, we might expect Him to pray for His own desires. But because He followed God's will perfectly, His whole prayer rings with appeals for God's Work and people, including us.
If we are ever to be content in any situation we find ourselves in, then we must get our minds totally off ourselves and onto God's purpose and each other. And the best place we can start is with the power that He has given us in prayer.