Here’s a theological 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]…” Every Christian already knows that. Do we really?
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. 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 (Romans 4:17). 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 (James 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 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). 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 (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). So, why are we always praying for God to take away the very things that are actually going to ensure that we are pleasing to Him?
David didn’t say, “Whenever trouble comes I pray a mighty prayer and He responds by leading me around that horrible valley.” No, he said, “yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me.” Right?
Yes, I know what Jesus said about praying and asking and seeking and finding. I also know He was tortured unmercifully and crucified despite petitioning the Father to “let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39).
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.
The author of Hebrews makes an almost breathtaking claim about Jesus that sheds light on this conundrum:
Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8).
It’s not wrong to ask that the cup of suffering pass away. But Jesus followed up His request with, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). And suffer He did. And it was the Father’s will. And Jesus accepted it and learned from it. Do we dare follow Him?
Our love for, appreciation of, and service to God is not supposed to be conditional upon His giving us what we ask for (which is almost always to take away anything in life that is uncomfortable). The one thing God has promised that He will always afford those who trust Him is “with.”
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…(Psalm 23:4
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3).
Before Jesus taught His disciples to pray “deliver us from evil” He taught them to pray “your will be done…(Matthew 6:9-13). We seem to put deliverance before God’s will. Maybe that’s why we spend so much time confused and angry with God when the pain doesn’t go away. Things might find a way of straightening out if we prioritized God’s will in our lives.
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).
What I want most is for God to listen to me and grant me my petitions. What I need most is for Him to be with me no matter what hardship lies ahead.
I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know (Job 42:3).