In a comment to an earlier post, Pam said:
How do you personally reconcile the two thoughts — embracing trials and praying God’s deliverance? I grew up in a church that strongly teaches pain and suffering are to be endured – almost to martyrdom, as some sort of penance, even as a way of offering a prayer up for others (i.e. if I have brain cancer I should just suffer and offer it up for someone else’s salvation). Now that I more fully understand what Jesus did for us, I don’t go along with that. I’ve learned to pray God’s word into my life and others. But some of the teaching on “favor” seems to go overboard the other way. Just wondering about your thoughts on that…
Tough question that I’m not sure I can answer in a morning blog. More like a book is needed — along with a great deal of study — to do an adequate job. You see, embracing trials and praying God’s deliverance are both true. As believers we need to be discerning. Through my years as a Christian, I have heard the prosperity gospel preached and I have heard teachings on walking in divine health and a host of other things. Christian maturity teaches us to test what we hear with the Word of God. The whole Word. We should not take one verse and make a doctrine out of it. We do so at our peril.
I think the greatest problem we Westerners have with this is that we associate an “abundant life” (God’s favor) with a prosperous life and/or a life without physical or emotional trials. I don’t believe that a study of the Bible reveals that as true at all. As long as we live in a fallen world where sin and disease are unloosed, we will have trouble. Jesus Himself told us so: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, TNIV) Jesus said we will have trouble, and He didn’t say that the instant we pray we will be taken out of that trouble. He said we’ll have trouble but that He has overcome the world. So we take heart in Him, even as trouble swirls around us. The Word also teaches that God goes before us and behind us and on all sides. He is always with us, even to the end of the age.
I do not believe Scripture teaches us that we are simply to endure hardship. Persevering is so much more than merely gritting ones teeth and getting through another miserable, hard, awful day. Martyrdom isn’t the goal. The abundant life is having joy, no matter the outward circumstances. I believe that if Western Christians took a look at our persecuted brethren in countries around the world that are hostile to Christianity, where believers are put to death or imprisoned for their faith, we would have a better understanding what the true “abundant life” is.
The Word tells us to pray about everything, to pray without ceasing, to pray with belief. Our responsibility is to pray for the sick. It’s God’s responsibility whether or not that prayer is answered with healing or not. If there is anything in this life I am sure of, it’s that nothing happens to me that isn’t either caused or allowed by my Heavenly Father for my benefit. He causes or allows people or circumstances to enter my life so that I will continue to be refined, continue to be honed to be more like Jesus. That’s the reason I was born: To become molded into the image of Christ, day by day by day. I won’t get there until I’m in heaven, but I should be moving in that direction all the time.
Pray for patience, and I can guarantee you that God will send people into your life who will test your patience to the very limits! Because how else can we know that we are patient unless our patience is tested? Pray for wisdom, and your wisdom will be tested. Human nature tends to object to those lessons. Usually when we pray for something, we already have in mind the way we think God should answer us. I’ve rarely seen God work in the way I’ve figured out that He should.
A few years ago, when I was in a very hard place in my life, I stood in my office, crocodile tears splatting onto the floor mat under my feet, and I whispered, “Why, God? Why is this happening to me?” (Meaning, of course, that “I don’t deserve this!”) In a voice so full of love, He spoke to my heart, Why not you, beloved?
That’s right. Why not me? Who am I to tell the God of the Universe how He should use me or teach me or refine me?
Did Jesus deserve the cross? No, He even prayed that the cup might pass from Him. Prayed so hard He sweat blood. (I’ve never prayed that hard. I’m like the disciples who couldn’t even stay awake and watch for one hour.) But ultimately His prayer was “Not My will but Thine.” He went to the cross and died — and all along the path to Calvary, God showed His favor to His Son. And because of it, I will spend eternity with Him.
Yes, I believe in God’s favor. I just don’t think it always looks like we think it should.
In the grip of His grace,