Okay Word of God lovers, here’s a conundrum for you. As you begin to walk down the corridor in the hall of fame of faith in Hebrews 11 you pass a big sign right after you stroll past the bust of Enoch who didn’t die because he pleased God so well. The sign reads, “And without faith it is impossible to please him [God]…” “Oh! Every Christian already knows that!” I can hear you saying. Do they now?
Let’s see. Faith is a requirement for pleasing God. It stands to reason that, as with holiness, you won’t be seeing much of God without it; now or later (if you know what I mean). Now, I won’t get into a biblical word study on either the Hebrew or Greek word for faith but suffice it to say that faith entails believing (as hard as it may seem) that what God says overrules the way things are. Faith is the process of going from one to the other.
Sometimes that process is painful indeed. James says you ought to be happy when you suffer through tough times because it is strengthening and maturing faith (1:2-4). Then he takes it a step further by admonishing us that there cannot be any doubt involved (1:6). Now, if you already know all this then here is the conundrum: Why do we ask God to remove each and every difficulty that He wants to use to perfect our faith?
Think about the tough things you have been through in life. Sickness. Financial hardships. Brokenness in the family. You got down on your knees and begged God to take them all away didn’t you? I know I did. Did He? And, more to the point, should you have really wanted Him to take all the troubles away?
One thing is for sure. No one is born with faith. It is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8) somewhere along life’s journey. But it is not a ready-to-serve kind of gift. It is a gift of potential. You have to allow God to work with it. Despair, fear, and anger all work to ruin that gift. Amazingly, things like suffering and apprehension are the things that actually perfect it. So, why are we always praying for God to take away the very things that are actually going to insure that we are pleasing to Him?
David didn’t say, “Yeah, whenever trouble comes I pray a mighty prayer and He responds by leading me around that horrible valley.” No, I think he said something more like, “yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me.” Right?
Yes, I do know what Jesus said about praying and asking and seeking and finding. I also know what He told Paul when Paul prayed/asked/pleaded/begged God to take away some horrific “thorn in the flesh.” “My grace is sufficient…” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Isn’t it something that the very things God wants to use to ensure that we please Him and find ourselves in His presence are almost always the very things we pray for Him to take away? How in the world can we please God without faith and why in the world are we incessantly asking Him to remove the very things that make sure our faith grows and matures? Don’t we want to please Him?
From all I can learn from Scripture and reliable historical sources (like Josephus) all of the Apostles lived and died hard lives. Don’t you think they remembered what Jesus said about prayer? Since they all suffered mightily it makes you wonder…either they got used to disappointing results from their many prayers for deliverance or they didn’t pray for God to continually lighten their burdens like most of us are prone to do.
C.S. Lewis wrote: “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand” (from A Grief Observed).
Do you get it yet?