A Lesson From Prayer

This is not a lesson on prayer. This is a lesson from prayer. Sometimes God teaches us things through our own prayers. As we talk to him, he shows us something new. This is a lesson I learnt from a recent experience praying to God about something.

See, there was something I wanted. Something in my life that I really wanted to happen. I’ll leave you to speculate about what it was, because it doesn’t matter what it was. The point is that I wanted it. I really did.

And yet, as I talked to God about it, I somehow found myself saying, “God, I only want this if you do too.” From where I mustered the faith to say such a thing I don’t know, but there I was, telling God that it was more important to me what he wanted for me than what I wanted for myself. There was something so therapeutic about the very act of saying this to God, because it meant that I wasn’t trying to attain this thing by my own power or finesse. Believing that the outcome was in God’s hands, believing that he was in control over whether or not I got what I wanted, I had no choice but to believe that if I didn’t get it, it’s because God didn’t want me to have it.

And what a difference that makes. Because a “no” from God is so much easier, so much more tender than a “no” from just… life. It is so hard to handle the idea that the thing that has prevented you from getting what you want is nothing other than the blind, mindless processes of chance. But if this thing was withheld from me by an intelligent agent, a personal being who was consciously aware of my desires, and who does things for reasons, and not only that, but whose reasons include the fact that he loves me and is deeply and intimately concerned with my life. That is something I can handle. That’s something I can be okay with. That my “no” comes from God proves that I didn’t need what has been withheld. A “no” from God comes with a smile, and with the promise of a better alternative. As the old adage goes, that God answers every prayer in one of three ways: ‘Yes,’ ‘Not yet,’ or ‘I have something better.’

But that’s where the fears started coming in. What exactly does God consider “better”? Given that God’s ways and thoughts are so much higher than mine, what if his ideas of what would be best for me consist of things that I would consider abhorrent and miserable, and will only understand the benefit of in the next life or when I’m like 80? What if it’s best for me to go through decades of suffering? What if he needs to teach me a painful lesson? What if God wants me to live a truly hard life, overcoming some serious, heart wrenching battle in order to humble me or something? And while I’m slightly exaggerating, don’t write off questions like these. It’s not a stupid thing to wonder about. A life of suffering is literally what God, in Acts 9:16, explicitly had planned for the Apostle Paul.

And can anyone say, “Job”?

This stuff isn’t beyond the realm of realism. Earthly exemption from suffering (of whatever kind) is never promised in the New Testament. What God promises is to empower us to experience joy through pain. And that’s great, but it doesn’t come easy. It requires a journey. And that journey is terrifying. And what doesn’t help is Christians coming around you with empty promises, saying “God’s gonna do this, and give you that,” when they’re often just platitudes based more on hearsay and the hopeful thinking of folk theology than on God’s own words to us.

Yeah, some days I really was worrying about stuff like that. Because, while I knew that God, according to Romans 8:28, was doing everything for my ultimate benefit, I feared what kind of journey that might entail – and what kind of crazy, ridiculous, deep trust in him I might need to find in order to be okay with whatever journey he has planned. And so, at this point, for God to say “no” to my prayer, would to me have been taken as more evidence that God’s plans for me might be radically, painfully different to my own.

Well. I found the answer about an hour before the “no” came. One night, the door was shut to the thing I wanted. But, to the Devil’s dismay, that door shut itself right after a church service. And I guess God used that service to prepare me for the impending denial. Because as I was standing in worship that night, I can’t remember what song we were singing, but for some reason it reminded me of Romans 8:32, which says:

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

It’s funny how God works. Because he usually doesn’t answer your questions. He just distracts you from them. Our questions are stupid, and so rather than answering them, he gives us something better to think about. While I had all these fears running around my head about the scary things God might put me through, I was hit with this… thing… from the Bible.

God gave me his Son. How could I not trust him? He has already given me his best. The very best thing he had in his possession, he has already given me.

Now I guess the usual lesson we take from that would be the fact that, “Jesus is enough.” And that’s true. But that’s not what God was showing me that night. He was simply showing me that he was worthy of absolutely all of my trust, because he is the kind of God that would give me his greatest and most prized possession.

On that day God withheld something from me. And I don’t like speculating about what his reasons for that might be; how could I possibly figure that out? But the fact that he has already given me his very own Son, tells me what isn’t the reason he withheld it from me:

He didn’t deny me this thing because it was too good a gift.

It’s not because it was too good for me. It’s not because I’m not worthy of it. It’s not because I don’t deserve it. How could it be? If he denied be some earthly gift because of my lack of merit, how the heck could he possibly give me his priceless, glorious, eternal, majestic, only begotten Son? If he gave me his Son, then I just know for a fact that he’s not in the business of withholding things from me because they’re too good. The giving of his Son showed me what kind of value he places on me, what kind of a giver he is to me. He’s not holding out on me things that he knows will bless me. He doesn’t look at me and look at the gift and think, “Hmm, nah this is to valuable a thing for me to give away to him.” That’s not what’s going on, because that’s not what he did with his Son – the best thing that anyone has given to anyone.

How could I not trust him?

We shouldn’t fear the Devil for what he might do to us.

We should fear the Devil for what he might persuade us to do.

Stations on the Road to Freedom

Suffering

A change has come indeed. Your hands, so strong and active,

are bound; in helplessness now you see your action

is ended; you sigh in relief, your cause committing

to stronger hands; so now you may rest contented.

Only for one blissful moment could you draw near to touch freedom;

then, that it might be perfected in glory, you gave it to God.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Somewhere along the way I’ve stopped knowing the answers to a whole lot of questions. I honestly don’t know if I’ve become more humble or just more timid – that’s another question I don’t know the answer to.

My Awakening.

 – Written 4th August 2009

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At the risk of sounding like a heretic, I say: don’t spend life searching for God. Spend life searching for truth. Truth is paramount in all things.

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You see, if you spend your life looking for God, you will most probably find him. Whether he exists or not, you will find him. But if you spend your life searching for truth, then if he does not exist, you won’t find him, and if he does, you will.

I am distressed by the number of Christians who sneer at, or at least fear for, those who spend their time exposed to other people’s views – listening to the case for atheism, watching movies or reading novels that say something contradictory to the Bible, studying philosophy… etc. “But it will challenge your faith,” they say, “It’s risky,” they say, even “It won’t be good for your relationship with God”.

What is that? To the people that say this to me, I love you, but you’re wrong.

Tell me, if God really is real, what could I possibly have to fear? What possible risk could there be? If anything, they’re expressing some idea that the truth of God’s reality is weaker in some way than mistaken contradictory musings.

It is a tragedy that Christians might only grant themselves exposure to views that will preserve their faith. This is not hunger for God, or devotion. It is fear. Fear that your precious beliefs are wrong. We need to stop searching for affirmation of our faith and start looking solely for truth. Because the truth is paramount, it is more important than anything. First of all, you must consider from time to time the possibility that God does not exist. Because if the truth is that he doesn’t, then we should throw away our belief in him; it would be right to. If that is the truth, then that’s all there is. God’s proposed existence is not above that.

You see, if God is, then he is “above” truth – he commands it. But that’s only if he really does exist. If there is one thing that God cannot be above it is the truth of his nonexistence. So if I am on the quest for truth and find for certain that God is not real, then that is a good thing, because I have just escaped a lie/error/wish of man. I know, believer, you just got that chill when I said finding out that God is a lie would be a good thing. I understand why you would feel that but it does just show how entrenched you are in your mindset that he is real. And I believe this is closed minded. Consider things from the opposite of your point of view. To say that there is a “risk” of being led to believe that God is fake, then, is deceptively one-sided. It is a possibility. Nothing else.

So why should I not fear? I shouldn’t fear because if God really is real, then the search for truth must lead me to him. It must, because he is the truth. And I can say with confidence that it will, having met him personally. But not only do I believe there is no danger, but I believe there is a benefit. To sit comfortably in your beliefs is like backing down from a fight. Sure, the man who backs down will certainly retain his life – he couldn’t lose, but did he win? Had he fought, and defeated his opponent, he would end up in mainly the same position as he would have had he backed down – alive. But he would have been better for it, more resilient and more assured of his abilities, as well as having an enemy that is dead. You haven’t won anything if you never gave yourself the possibility of losing. This is a long and pretty way of saying that if you allow your faith to be challenged, your resulting faith will be stronger, with less soft areas of fear, and more areas of actual assured knowledge. And that is what I say to those of you who believe that studying other ideas is bad for your relationship with God. It is not. I would say God is a strong advocate of truth. He wants us to find it.

But what I want to do is issue out a challenge. Mainly to Christians but one that applies to all people.

Never conclude.

Never conclude. There is no reason to. How many times in your life have you made a conclusion about how the world is only to discover later that you were wrong? What was that conclusion then, other than an obstacle in the way of your realisation of the truth? Bruce Lee said that, although commonly referred to as a Master, he was not a Master, but a student Master. He said no-one is a Master until they die because not until they die will they stop learning. This is true for our beliefs as well. Life is full of belief and then correction, seeing things one way, then another. But for many Christians it is not the truth that holds their faith steady (because they haven’t consulted the unbiased truth), it is just their stubbornness and closed-mindedness. I’m not saying this is you, but I know it does happen. I know I have been stubborn and unwilling to listen before to arguments that sounded too convincing. But I know that is not the way. It is not the way God wants us to seek him.

Somewhere along the line, many of us decided to conclude that God is real and that we would no longer search for truths potentially outside that notion; because we have that question figured out. And from there we sit down forever more. But that means that even if a perfect proof for atheism came our way we would still believe in God. And I ask you, do you truly believe in something if you haven’t exposed yourself to the opportunity to believe something else? Do you?

I’m not asking you all to search vigorously for the rest of your lives and spend no time living. I just think that there is something wrong with a stubborn belief, even if it’s the right belief. Too many of us are sat down in our Christianity, without the possibility of moving. You don’t have to leave your position of being a Christian. Just STAND UP in your Christianity. There’s a difference between the two. Don’t sit where you believe and say that’s the end. Don’t conclude. Be free and loose to move whether you end up moving or not. Always be open to the possibility that you’re wrong. Allow yourself the freedom to believe whatever is true.

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Don’t conclude. Have an open mind.

Don’t seek God. Seek truth. I’m confident you will find him there.

  • “I am the way, the TRUTH and the life.” – Jesus of Nazareth.

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