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!