Be careful what you pray for.
I can’t remember who first said that to me. Be careful what you pray for or you might get it was what was said. I dismissed that as rhetorical nonsense.
I remember another little pithy saying that always bothered me. It was usually when things were going badly. You’d make some comment about things being bad and it would be said that your tough times “builds character.”
I’ve probably dismissed that as rhetorical nonsense also.
However, I’m discovering that there is a shadow of truth in these two sayings. So I’d like to talk about that for a bit.
Several years ago I can remember praying to God that He would make me more like Jesus. I prayed, “Jesus, I want to be like you. Help me to be more like You.” Now before you get all sanctimonious on me and make some dumb statement about being arrogant or what not, let’s not forget that the Bible states pretty clearly that this very thing is one of things that sanctification is supposed to accomplish; being made more like Jesus. So there’s nothing wrong with asking God to make us more like Himself. We were, after all, created in His image.
In fact, I distinctly remember saying to Him in my prayer that I wanted Him to do “whatever it takes” to be made more like Him.
Seemed like a good idea at the time. But I had no idea what all was involved in this process of being made more like Jesus.
Now before I proceed, please don’t hear me saying that I’m like Jesus. I am not. But I am in Christ and I am being sanctified by the Spirit to be more and more like Him every day and one day, when He returns, those of us who are in Him will be glorified and perfected. He has promised us this in His Word and so He will accomplish it.
What I want to talk about is not me but rather the process.
I’ve recently been reading some of the Puritans. If you’ve never read the Puritans, I highly recommend them. Now, let me be clear. I don’t agree with everything all of them say but overall, they’re quite good and helpful.
Recently I’ve been reading John Flavel’s work ‘Keeping The Heart’ and it is wrecking me with reminders of God’s mercy in both good times and bad times. For me, the part that has helped the most right now has been Flavel’s discucssion on the bad times.
A quote that will illustrate my point:
“It would much support your heart under adversity, to consider that God by such humbling providences may be accomplishing that for which you have long prayed and waited.”
Read that again.
Now let’s go back to where I prayed to be more like Jesus. Yeah, you see what I’m talking about? All this last year, as things disintegrated in our efforts to plant a church and I struggled with so much and raged at God and wondered aloud what God was doing and questioned His goodness etc etc…
And today I read this that maybe what God has been doing all along in all this mess was answering the prayer to be more like Jesus. He has emptied me of all that I found meaningful and of worth; He has forced me to humble myself by taking jobs to feed my family that I didn’t want; He has forced me to my knees in prayer and surrender in a way that I needed yet wasn’t doing; He drove me to His Word to seek comfort; He wrapped me in His arms of love and care to ease the pain of questioning.
What mercy He has shown to me. I believe it was C.S. Lewis that called this “a severe mercy.” In His mercy, God has been answering the very thing I prayed for but not how I wanted it to be done.
Perhaps this is you as well. Maybe you have asked God for something. Maybe the answer hasn’t come in the way you want. Maybe God, in His mercy, is giving you the very thing that you’ve asked for but in His own way.
Know that God is a good Father and gives good gifts to His children. His mercy, His severe mercy may be the very thing you need.
Another thing I read in Flavel’s work that has so impacted me is this:
“It may support your heart, to consider that in these troubles God is performing that work in which your soul would rejoice – if you did see the design of it.”
Here’s what that means: God sees the whole picture. You don’t. Neither do I. That’s why He’s God and you’re not. Nor am I.
It does my heart good to know that I don’t see the whole picture. Cause if what I see is the whole picture, I want my money back! Don’t get me wrong, I see some very good things that God is doing even now. But what I don’t see is the end, when we shall see Him as He is and we will finally be with Him and like Him.
If you are a follower of Jesus, know that He is not silent. He is speaking and moving in your life, perhaps in ways you do not see and most certainly in ways you would probably rather Him not. And He sees the whole picture.
Take comfort in that, brothers and sisters.
If you are not a follower of Jesus, I want you to know that He loves you. He wants you to be with Him, in Him and like Him. He doesn’t want you to be without Him because He is the greatest gift you could ever have. Trust in Him.
Soli Deo Gloria!
There is a question I wrestle with often. I can think of two specific times in my life when I’ve really wrestled with this question. Once recently and another that happened about 14 years ago. We even talked a bit about this Friday night at our Community Group from church.
Here’s the question:
Is God good?
Maybe I’m talking in my own head here and maybe I’m the only one who struggles with this question but…
Is God good?
Here’s two times in my life I’ve questioned this. 14 years ago my sister died suddenly. Many know that story so I won’t repeat it but it left me with hard questions of God’s goodness. Mind you, I wasn’t a believer at the time but nevertheless, I spent a long time believing God was a cruel killer whose aim was off. I believed with all my heart that, if He was going to kill someone, He should have killed me. I was a godless reprobate that was embroiled in an affair with a married woman, among the many other sins I was openly living in. So He should have gone all Old Testament on me, or so I thought.
So when my sister died, I raged at God telling Him that, if He was really good and just, He would have killed me and not her. Fast forward about 5 years from that date and I came to faith in Jesus. I actually came to a place where I believed in my heart that Jesus is who He said He was, that He was crushed and killed for my sin so that I could have His righteousness. I was amazed then and am still amazed at why He would do that.
God poured out His justice and wrath for sin on His own Son, on Himself, so that we, by faith, could have Christ’s righteousness. If that kind of grace doesn’t amaze us then we really don’t have any idea of what grace is!
But I digress.
I spent a lot of time questioning His goodness after my sister’s death. The other time was much more recent. As people who know me and my family, most are familiar with the story of us church planting and the subsequent failure of that church plant. There are many reasons that plant failed. Some I know and some I don’t yet know. Some of those reasons are my fault and some of those reasons I don’t know whose fault they were.
I’m not even really sure if that’s even fair or beneficial to try and determine fault.
What I mean by that is one thing that came up in our CG discussion Friday night. We’re working through the book of Judges and it’s really good so far. Friday night one of the elders said something along the lines of, “If we believe God is sovereign but not good, then He becomes some cruel bully. We must not only believe in His sovereignty but also His goodness. Otherwise some things just don’t make sense.” That’s not a direct quote but you get the idea.
That statement really started up some questions again in my heart about our plant that failed. I have to be honest here:
I’m still not sure how to feel about that. I’m still struggling with wrapping my heart around what went wrong.
I’m still struggling to see God’s goodness in that pain and failure. And, maybe this makes me selfish, but I’m struggling with why it feels like ministry was taken away from me.
I mean, my wife and I packed up and moved across the country for seminary and to answer God’s call on my life to go into pastoral ministry. We worked our butts off during seminary to run a business and pay bills and start a family and be broke. Then we answered His call again to move again and plant a church and it hurt and it was hard and we feel like we sacrificed a lot.
So there are days that I don’t get it. There are days that I question God’s goodness. I don’t understand why this call to teach His Word burns in my heart and yet I’m not allowed to do it right now.
If God is good then why?
Do you ever ask yourself that question? If God is good then why ___ ?
Which brings me back to our discussion Friday night. If we believe in God’s sovereignty then I think we must believe in His goodness. If God is sovereign but not good, then He’s just some mean master of puppets pulling strings for his own narcissistic reasons. If God is good but not sovereign then He’s more like your granddad who’s sweet and nice and gives you cookies but has no real control over anything.
He must be both sovereign and good or He’s not God.
I find myself grateful that He is both good and sovereign. His sovereignty gives me comfort because I know He sees the end. I can’t see the end. All I can see is what today brings but God sees the end. That end, if we are in Christ, is to be conformed to His image.
Now that is good.
Soli Deo Gloria!