(This poem will be, Lord willing, the heart of the new children’s book I am working on. Along with this poem being illustrated into a fun little story, it will also include tips for parents about how to pray with their young children and pages that will be useful for going through this model of prayer with your child.)
Recently, some of the deep pain I experienced during the breakdown of my first marriage has resurfaced and I am going through a journeyÂ at the moment to process some of this pain and see what God has for me to learn through it. It has been over five years since my divorce, and it is around 8 and a half years since my first wife and I separated. God has done great healing in my heart over many of the griefs associated with the end of my first marriage, including providing me with forgiveness and grace for my sinful part in what caused it to collapse. Even so, many years later, I am still working through the pain, trauma and wounding that the long period of separation brought into my life and heart.
I once heard an analogy about pain and grief that has stuck with me and continues to ring true to my experience. I thought I’d share it with you.
Pain is like muck inÂ a lake. As the wavesÂ settle after a traumatic event, it may seem like the water becomes clear and still, but often it is just that the muck sinks deep down to the bottom of the lake and rests there for a while. We might know it is there, but the clarity of the still waters is so refreshing it is better for a time to let it be.
Sometimes we might be tempted to go digging around in the deep part of our lake looking to dislodge theÂ muck that needs to be dealt with. We might be worried that we are simply avoiding pain and keeping it repressed and that that would be unhealthy. Sometimes that may be true, but generally, I would discourage digging around in your pain. God knows the right time and season that we are prepared to work through our grief. The most important thing to do is keep seeking God and listening to his Word and letting his Spirit convict you and teach you and guide you.
Psalm 139 is a great reflection for this. Verses 1-4 says: “You have searched me,Â Lord,Â and you knowÂ me.Â You know when I sit and when I rise;Â you perceive my thoughtsÂ from afar.Â You discern my going outÂ and my lying down;Â you are familiar with all my ways.Â Before a word is on my tongueÂ you,Â Lord, know it completely.” God knows our hearts so much better than we do. He knows everything that is going on at the bottom of our lake and he knows when and how we should deal with it. Rather than digging around trying to dislodge something you might not be ready to deal with, the best thing to do is to pray the words at the end of Psalm 139: “Search me,Â God, and know my heart;Â test me and know my anxious thoughts.Â See if there is any offensive wayÂ in me,Â and lead meÂ in the way everlasting.”
Seek God and always allow him to search and lead you. God knows when it is the right time for the muck to be brought up from the bottom of your lake. He may do that directly through the prompting of his Spirit, or he may do that through life circumstances. God is sovereign over every part of your life.Â He will use an event or a conversation or some interaction as a stick that goes down into the water and stirs up the muck at the bottom. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, you may suddenly feel overwhelmed with the pain and emotions you thought were long gone, or at least, deeply buried.
When this happens, don’t fight it. In fact, see it as God’s kindness as he has sovereignly allowed for this muck to be stirred up at this time rather than any earlier when you may not have been able to deal with it. When the stick of life stirs up the muck in your lake, know that God probably has some healing in store for you. The important thing is to not ignore it. Let yourself feel the pain and be free to express it without embarrassment. The water that just recently looked so clear and still, now is swirling around with brown muck. It is unpleasant. In fact, it is really shitty. You may just want the pain to end, but don’t ignore it. This is just a season that you have to go through. Give yourself some time and make space in your life to allow God to do his work. Spend time in prayer and the study of the Bible, seeking God for what he wants you to reflect on or realise. Journal, draw, write, paint or even blog about what you are feeling. Talk through it with a wise and godly friend who can sit with you in your pain and continue to point you to the truths of God as they become relevant. It may be worth seeking professional counselling or meeting with your minister to give yourself the time and space to work through the pain.
Most importantly, keep bringing your muck to God. As it is dislodged from the bottom of the lake and comes to the surface, scoop it out and give it to God. Allow the truths of his Word to speak into your pain – to vindicate injustices done, to correct lies we believe about God, ourselves and others, and to remind you of the promises of God’s redemptive work, both in this life and especially in the New Creation, where God says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.Â There will be no more deathÂ or mourning or crying or pain,Â for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
Then, as God brings you healing, insight, comfort and redemption, eventually that season will end. The waters will calm down and once again they will become still and clear. God will not have removed all of the muck. He knows us and knows how much of the process we can take. As he allowed the muck to come up, he will also allow some of the muck to sink back down. Be content with this. Not everything will be dealt with at once, and even if you spent your whole life in daily counselling, not everything will be dealt with in this lifetime. Pain and loss are a part of this broken world, and it is only when Jesus returns that this “old order of things” will have fully passed away.
Pain is like muck at the bottom of a lake. It is messy and unpleasant. It takes time to work through. It makes us long for the New Creation.
For me, in this season of swirling, muddy waters, I am daily feeling the pain of griefs that hurt me years ago. But I am also going through this season with great hope. I know that God loves me and will walk me through this time. I know God will not allow me to face anything that would completely crush my faith and joy as I keep putting my trust in him. I also know that God will do powerful and redemptive things through this time. I’m actually looking forward to it. The healing may be small. It may not deal with everything. But it will be exactly what I need for this time and this season. In that hope, I can walk through the pain rather than avoid it.
In fact, in the midst ofÂ this pain, I can scoop out the muck in my lake with joy.
For God, who said, â€œLet light shine out of darkness,â€Â made his light shine in our heartsÂ to give us the light of the knowledge of Godâ€™s glory displayed in the face of Christ.Â But we have this treasure in jars of clayÂ to show that this all-surpassing power is from GodÂ and not from us.Â
We are hard pressed on every side,Â but not crushed; perplexed,Â but not in despair;Â persecuted,Â but not abandoned;Â struck down, but not destroyed.Â We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus,Â so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.Â For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesusâ€™ sake,Â so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.Â So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
It is written: â€œI believed; therefore I have spoken.â€Â Since we have that same spirit ofÂ faith,Â we also believe and therefore speak,Â because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the deadÂ will also raise us with JesusÂ and present us with you to himself.Â All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgivingÂ to overflow to the glory of God.
Therefore we do not lose heart.Â Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardlyÂ we are being renewedÂ day by day.Â For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.Â So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,Â since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
My brother Tony recently performed an experiment to see if God would prove his existence to him.
He describes what he did and what his experiment taught or confirmed for him.
If you have not read his blog entitled, “Two Jars”, you must stop reading now and clickÂ HERE,
as this blog is a personal response to my brother’s blog.
Tony, your blog was really interesting, moving and caused me to reflect on my own experience of God.
Honestly, I am sad God did not move the stones. Unlike the hypocritical theists you refer to in your blog, I do not have any problem with the idea that God could or would do such a thing. In fact, one of the first questions I asked after reading your blog was, “Why didn’t God do it?”
For you, I can see that the experiment and its result was very significant and genuine. I also see that for you, the result does not prompt in you the same question it does for me. For you, it “puts to rest my belief in a particular type of God” and “It was like I had asked if this world was actually the matrix. The answer was that this is real; the earth, sky, my family and me are all very real.” In this blog, all I would like to do is encourage you to be cautious about what exactly you “put to rest”.
Before performing theÂ experimentÂ you prayed this prayer:
â€œYahweh, if you are there and real please grant me this sign. Please empty the jar I have filled with stones and fill the empty jar next to it.â€
Your prayer was simple and innocent and I believe genuine. But by praying this prayer did you think that you were painting God into a corner? Or even, painting yourself into a corner? What I mean is, was your prayer a question or a test? Read your prayer again. Did you allow for God to simply say, “no”?
Now, I don’t mean this as if you were being petty or childish, but was the subtext of your prayer something like, “Yahweh, if you are there and real, then you will give me a sign. I ask that the sign that you use to prove your existence to me be to move these stones from one jar to another.”?
Again, I don’t imply that you prayed that mockingly like the Pharisees saying to the crucified Jesus, “Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believeÂ in him.” (Matthew 27:42). I only suggest that, by concluding that a particular type of God was put to rest by your experiment, you had some huge expectations behind it all. And by your “Matrix” analogy, these expectations were as great as if you were questioning reality itself.
The reality is, all you have done is put to rest the particular type of God that proves his existence to us on command with experiments that we set up for him to complete. Did you allow for the possibility of God saying, “I want to prove my existence to you another way.” or “Despite your noble motives, it will not be good for you or others for my existence to be proven to you through such an experiment, so I’m going to answer no on this occasion.” Have you joined in with Nick Cave singing, “I don’t believe in an interventionist God”Â a little too soon?
You experiment actually reminds me of NikitaÂ Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union in the early 1960’s, who argued for an atheist state (not that I’m saying you’re doing this) by suggesting that if God was real then the first man in space would have seen him:Â “Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any god there.” (this is often misquoted as something the astronaut, YuriÂ Gagarin actually said himself). But like you, only a particular type of God was put to rest by this experiment – the type of God that is visible to those who travel beyond the earth’s atmosphere. But to throw out God completely by this experiment – or by yours – is sort of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
The first issue I want to address is, are you right to expect that if God exists he will prove his existence to you by an experiment like the “two jars”?
This seemsÂ fundamental to the whole experiment and your acceptance of this premise seems to come from a couple of biblical examples of people doing similar “testing prayers”.
In your blog you refer to Kings and Judges, obviously referring to the stories of “Elijah and the prophets of Baal” in 1 Kings 18, and “Gideon and the Fleece” in Judges 6. You flesh these examples out a bit more in your previous blog, “Pray em if you got em”, where you also include a third example fromÂ Isaiah 7:10-14, where God actually rebukes King Ahaz for being reluctant to ask for a sign. You write, “In fact the testing prayer is very biblical. In the Old Testament such tests are common.” I’d have to disagree with this. These are three of thousands of examples of prayers throughout the bible and I would have to say that “testing prayers” are actually exceptionally rare. They are never commended as a general way in which we should pray and these three examples are quite unique.
In your “Two Jars” blog you ask the question to the Christian reader, “How can they claim the truth of books like Kings and Judges while predicting from the get go that I would not find the stones moved?” Now, I didn’t predict that the stones wouldn’t be moved, but I will answer why I think these stories from Kings, Judges and Isaiah, should not be used as a template for us to ask similar “testing prayers”.
Elijah’s Testing Prayer
For those who don’t know the story, Elijah is a prophet who sets up a test. There are two bulls. The prophets of Baal can pray to Baal. He’ll pray to Yahweh. Whichever “god” sends down fire from heaven to burn the sacrifice – they are the real God. This is Elijah’s prayer as found in 1 Kings 18:36-37:
At the timeÂ of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: â€œOÂ Yahweh,Â God of Abraham,Â Isaac and Israel, let it be knownÂ today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.Â Answer me, OÂ Yahweh,Â answer me, so these people will knowÂ that you, OÂ Yahweh,Â are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.â€
The most obvious thing to note from this story is that this whole episode is not about testing God, it is about the people. Elijah is not unsure of who is the real God. He knows Yahweh is God and throughout all the stories of Elijah, including this one, he goes where Yahweh tells him to go, says what Yahweh tells him to say and does what Yahweh tells him to do. That’s what the “prophets” did. He even says in the prayer that the whole two bulls experiment was something he set up at the “command” of Yahweh. This is God’s test, not Elijah’s. It’s something God told Elijah to do because he intended to answer it in the dramatic way he did – not to prove to Elijah that he was real, but to show the people of Israel that he was real. This is much more akin to the story of God turning Aaron’s staff into a snake in Exodus 7:8-12:
Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron,Â â€œWhen Pharaoh says to you, â€˜Perform a miracle,â€™ then say to Aaron, â€˜Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,â€™ and it will become a snake.â€Â So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as Yahweh commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake.Â Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers,Â and the Egyptian magiciansÂ also did the same things by their secret arts:Â Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaronâ€™s staff swallowed up their staffs.
Basically, my point is, God did not tell you to set up the “Two Jars” experiment and so you shouldn’t use 1 Kings 18 as an example of an equivalent “testing prayer”.
Â Gideon’s Testing Prayer
The story of Gideon and the fleece from the Book of JudgesÂ is much more interesting and seems to be more of what you based your test on (in the fabricated part of your blog, you talk about doing the test twice, each time overnight, and the second time in the opposite direction – just like Gideon).
Unlike Elijah, Gideon’s tests are his own idea and they are specifically set up because of his own personal doubts that God is speaking to him. As he says in Judges 6:17, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a signÂ that it is really you talking to me.”Â Gideon wants to know if God’s Word to him is real and he actually tests God three times (before the fleece tests, he asks to set up an offering which God then causes to be consumed by fire).
Describing it this way, it’s seems a perfect example of your “Jars Test”, but I question whether Gideon’s is a good example of us to follow. All three of Gideon’s tests are done in the context of Gideon being uniquely visited by God and being asked by God to perform a very specific task (“Go in the strength you haveÂ and saveÂ Israel out of Midianâ€™s hand. Am I not sending you?” – Judges 6:14). There are may parallels in the commissioning of the reluctant Gideon in Judges 6:1-24 and the commissioning of the reluctant Moses in Exodus 3. If you keep reading Gideon’s story, after the fleece tests God has a couple of tests of his own (see Judges 7:1-7). He whittles down Gideon’s army from 32,000, down to only a measly 300 men. Why does he do it? Well, in 7:7 he explains that he want to make sure in this battle it isÂ abundantlyÂ clear that God is at work. This seems to be a big theme in the entire Gideon story and it may be why God is so gracious to Gideon to grant his request during “testing prayers”. It is not the Gideon doubts that God exists. Gideon doubts himself: “How can I save Israel? My clanÂ is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.â€ (Judges 6:15). God specifically wanted to show Gideon that God will go with him and God will win the battle that Gideon is being commissioned to lead.
We must also take into consideration the cultural time period this story falls within. It is the time of the Judges. There is no king leading the people in God’s truth. There is no mention of the Old Testament Â scriptures beingÂ accessibleÂ or readÂ publiclyÂ or privately. Gideon is in hiding as a foreign enemy threatens his life, and God want to send him out to be the leader of the Jewish people. The parallels between Gideon’s situation and yours are pretty limited. You both doubt God (and maybe yourself). But that’s about it. Just because the “fleece” test is how Gideon responds to his doubt, does not mean that is how God expects you to respond. Just because God responded to Gideon’s test with a miraculous answer, does not mean God has set up a bidingÂ precedentÂ in which anyone who ever sets up a similar test should expect to be responded to in the same way. There are many, many, many examples throughout scripture of people who have doubts about God and they respond to those doubts in a variety of ways. Some, like Abraham, take matters into their hands. Some, like the psalmists, cry out to God in confusion. Some, like Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (though his prayer is more about his anguish than his doubt), pray to God for a way out and receive the answer “No”. The problem, which I see many Christians do as well, is to come across an interaction with God mentioned in the Bible and apply it as prescriptive rather than descriptive.
Prescriptive vs Descriptive
To say an action of God is prescriptive is to say that God is promising to do this thing in the same way every time. An example of a biblical prescriptive text is something like 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sinsÂ and purify us from all unrighteousness.” or Acts 2:38 “Repent and be baptized,Â every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.Â And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” and if you want an Old Testament one, you can see Joel 2:32 which is quoted also many times in the New Testament: “Everyone who callsÂ on the name of Yahweh will be saved.” These along with many other passages, are God’s promises. They can be relied on and I believe they will never fail.
The problem arises when you read a story like Gideon’s fleece and take it to be prescriptive. It is not. It is descriptive. When a passage is descriptive it means that it accurately describes what God truly did at a certain time in a specific circumstance. It shows that God is able to do that thing and so it may reveal something of God’s character, his power, his values, or his agenda. But it makes no promise that God will or should act in the same way, even if the exact same circumstance happens again.
For example, in Genesis 2, Adam needed a partner. So while he was asleep, God took one of his ribs and used it to form Eve. Now, that story is not prescriptive. If you are looking for a wife, you should not read that story and pray, â€œYahweh, if you are there and real please grant me this sign. Please take one of my ribs while I am sleeping and make me a wife.â€Â And if you do decided to do that, you should not conclude that the God mentioned in Genesis does not exist because you wake up and are still single. That may sound like a silly example, but sadly Tony, it is not! I have chatted with some Christians who have become completely disillusionedÂ with God because they have prayed for a marriage partner and God has not provided one. But God does not promise that he will provide everyone with a marriage partner – even though the Bible includes many specific examples of him doing exactly that. This is the vital difference between understanding when a passage is prescriptive and when a passage is descriptive.
So why didn’t God move the stones when you asked him to so that you could have conclusive proof he exists? I don’t know. But I do know one thing. He never promised he would. Maybe he knows it would not have proved anything to you. Maybe he knows it would have developed in you aÂ superstitiousÂ faith. Maybe he wants to prepare your heart and your motives before he revealed conclusively his existence to you. You seem to think God could not possibly have any good reason to not move those stones – unless he doesn’t exist or isn’t the sort of God that can move stones – but I would suggest the God of the Bible (if that’s who you were calling out to) is a God who knows all things, can do all things and works all things towards his ultimate goal. As Gandalf the wizard says, “Even the very wise cannot see all ends.” Well, that does apply to us, but it doesn’t apply to God. He sees all ends and he determined that it was best to answer your “testing prayer” with a “no”. That doesn’t seem out of character to me, and I have been walking in relationship with God for nearly two decades now. He has answered many prayers of mine, and he has said “no” to many others – like for example, my prayer for God to prevent my divorce. I had to remind myself that although God’s clear biblical intention is for divorces to never happen, he makes no prescriptive promise anywhere that he will miraculously prevent them, even though I know that he can and does for many Christian couples.
A Wrong Sign
The final suggestion I wanted to make was that God wants to answer “yes” to the first part of your prayer, even if he answered “no” to the whole “moving stones” experiment. It may be that God is saying “Yes, Tony. I am here and real and I will grant your request for a sign.” But God knows what the best sign for us is.
Think about if I said, “Tony, prove you love me by paying off my credit card!” Now, you definitelyÂ could pay off my credit card out a motivation of love, and you do want me to really know how much you love me, and you know that if you did what I asked I would feel loved by you… but you still say to me, “Sorry, Simon. I do love you, but I won’t pay off all your credit cards.” In fact you may chose to respond that way out of love – even if I didn’t feel it. Even if I felt hated by that response!
Now, apart from not simply wanting to bail me out of debt when I should work that out myself, one of the reasons why you might not play along with my testing experiment, is because you want me to know that you love me for other reasons. You do want me to be confident of your love, but not because you paid off my credit card, but because of your kind deeds, your thoughtful words and your genuine affection for me as your brother (I’m guessing here, by the way). You don’t want my confidence in your love to be based on the wrong thing – or an arbitrary thing. You don’t want it to be built on the wrong foundation.
Likewise, God may not want your belief in his existence to be based on a “stone moving” miracle. He may want you to be confident that he is real, but he may want the foundation of your faith to be something else. In fact, like the “love” analogy, he may be more content that you don’t believe in him at all, rather than you believe in him based on a sign like the “two jars”. Why? Well, maybe for God, believing in his existence is not really the be all and end all. Sure it’s important – vital even, but atheism doesn’t send people to hell. Think about it… even Satan is a theist. As Jesus’ brother, James wrote, “You believe that there is one God.Â Good! Even the demons believe thatâ€”and shudder.” (James 2:19) God is much more concerned about us being reconciled with him, and maybe moving the stones in the jars would have gotten you only as far as a demon – believing that God is there – but no closer than that.
The Promised Sign
The third passage that you quote from in your blog, “Pray em if ya got em” as an example of “testing prayer” was from Isaiah 7:10-14. Here it is:
Again theÂ LordÂ spoke to Ahaz,Â â€œAsk theÂ LordÂ your God for a sign,Â whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.â€Â But Ahaz said, â€œI will not ask; I will not put theÂ LordÂ to the test.â€Â Then Isaiah said, â€œHear now, you house of David!Â Is it not enoughÂ to try the patience of men? Will you try the patienceÂ of my GodÂ also?Â Therefore the Lord himself will give youÂ a sign:Â The virginÂ will be with child and will give birth to a son,Â andÂ will call him Immanuel.â€
Now here, God wants King Ahaz to ask him for a sign. Why? Well, not because “testing prayers” are something God wants us to experiment with. It’s because he has a sign that he wants to give him: The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel. As you know, the apostle Matthew picks up this passage and in Matthew 1:18-24, he says that this sign that God promised to give to King Ahaz is fulfilled in Jesus.
Maybe Jesus isn’t as immediately impressive as stones moving from one jar to another. Maybe from the outside, you can only investigate Jesus through old manuscripts that you have serious doubts about as well, and the experiences and lives of those that already have a relationship with him – which seems pretty shaky ground as well. IÂ concede, the record and the testimony of the gospel seems pretty weak compared to a miracle in your own backyard. But that is what God choses to use and he uses it every day to bring people from being a stranger to God to a friend.
The Sign of Jonah
Jesus himself was confronted with people wanting a miraculous sign that he really was from God. Understandably so, as Jesus made crazy claims like, “Before Abraham was born,Â I am!” (John 8:58). In all four gospels this issue of a “testing prayer” in regard to Jesus is discussed and grappled with. If you want to get your head around what does the God of the Bible say about asking for a sign to prove his reality, then these wouldÂ definitelyÂ be passages you would have to at least factor in. I will include two times in Matthew that Jesus tackles this question:
Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, â€œTeacher, we want to see a miraculous signÂ from you.â€Â He answered,Â â€œA wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.Â For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish,Â so the Son of ManÂ will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.Â The men of NinevehÂ will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah,Â and now oneÂ greater than Jonah is here.Â The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she cameÂ from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomonâ€™s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.” (Matthew 12:38-42)
The Pharisees and SadduceesÂ came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.Â He replied,Â â€œWhen evening comes, you say, â€˜It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,â€™Â and in the morning, â€˜Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.â€™ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.Â A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.â€Â Jesus then left them and went away. (Matthew 16:1-4)
Jesus calls the Pharisees, “wicked and adulterous” for asking for a sign, but clearly he doesn’t do this because God’s not keen on giving signs, as he goes on to say that he plans on giving them a sign – the sign of Jonah. I think their wickedness and especially their adultery points to their “wicked” motivation which is not inspired by a love for God, but a desire to test Jesus to see him failÂ publicly. Jesus sees through their motives and tells them that the only sign they will get is the sign of Jonah. And what is the sign of Jonah? Well, in Matthew 12:40 he makes it clear that it’s his death and resurrection. Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and then emerged, and Jesus will be in the tomb for three days and will then emerge.
God understands our need for a sign. He understands that we can’t just swallow epic claims without testing them first. As you write, “I think if you are going to claim that ‘Magic happens’ for example then you ought to be able to show it happening.”Â I think Jesus gets that, but like the analogy of the “proof of love”, not just any sign will do. God has set up one major sign that he wants to be our primary foundation – the resurrection of Jesus. This is supposed to so be the base block of Christianity, that if you take it out the whole thing falls down like a theological game of Jenga. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.”
It is the Resurrection that is the sign of God’s existence (as raising the dead is far more impressive than moving stones), but at the same time, on top of that, it also points you to Jesus’ authentication as the one to be followed and worshipped. AsPeter preaches in Acts 2:32 & 36 “God has raised this Jesus to life,Â and we are all witnessesÂ of the fact…Â Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both LordÂ and Christ.”, and as Paul preaches in Acts 17:30, “[God]Â commands all people everywhere to repent.Â For he has set a day when he will judgeÂ the world with justiceÂ by the man he has appointed.Â He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
Now I know that the Resurrection of Jesus has never been a very compelling sign (especially as it is not happening today in your backyard, but happened 2,000 years ago in another part of the world). In a comment on my previous blog, “How God Proves His Existence”, you wrote, “I donâ€™t really understand how to respond to the biblical accounts of the resurrection. I put them in pretty much the same category of documentation of witches and werewolves or demonic possession or all sort of eyewitnessed events that just donâ€™t correspond with my reality.” I understand and sympathise with this. I wish I could show you some magic tricks to prove God’s existence. I wish Jesus would dance like a monkey at my command so I could get him to prove himself to you. But he’s not a trained monkey, he’s an untamed lion, and I trust him when he says, “no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah”. So, I will continue to bang on about Jesus and continue to point you to him and to the Resurrection, even if you never find it compelling.
My Prayer for You
I was very moved by your desire to give God an opportunity to prove himself to you. I know you expressed some form of relief and even joy at the fact that your experiment failed – which does lead me to maybe question the sincerity of your motives – but either way, I do think God hears and responds to our prayers, even when they are half-hearted or prayed with mixed motives. I’ve always been confident that what matters is not the strength of your faith, but the strength of the thing that you are putting your faith in.
And so, if there was an element of your prayer that was putting your faith in God to respond to you, God is big and strong enough to hear and answer.
Also, despite everything I’ve just said about the Resurrection being the primary foundational “sign” of God, I do believe God is active in this world here and now. There are several experiences I have had that are, for me, clearly God working miraculously, and there are thousands more that I experience week in and week out, where I see God at work (though in a less miraculous way). God has proved himself to me, fully and completely, which is what makes me so sad that he hasn’t done the same for you.
But like unfairly-named “Doubting” Thomas, God sometimes provides us with a clear, undeniable sign of his existence and work in Christ. I don’t know if that’s what you really need in order to see and respond to the gospel. If it is, then you have my prayerful support.
To be brutally honest, I don’t think you were wise, biblical or fair to set up the “two jars” experiment. But I do believe God has heard the first part of your prayer: “Yahweh, if you are there and real please grant me a sign.”
I am praying that God will one day either give you a sign, or make the “sign of Jonah” compelling to you. I know you think that GodÂ spectacularlyÂ failed your “two jars” test and it has allowed you to “put to rest” the idea of a real, personal, interventionist, biblical God. But I am writing this blog to you to encourage you to let God answer your “testing prayer” in his own time and in his own way.
I hope your testimony will be to one day recall your experiment with fondness and that you can share how you prayed a simple prayer that God heard and answered, even if it took longer than one night and was in a way you didn’t expect.
Until then, I will try to remember to pray on your behalf.
Yahweh, I know you are there and real. Please grant Tony a sign, so he can know that too.
I love you, my brother.
p.s. If you’re wondering what the image is from at the top of the blog, it comes from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Enjoy the video below.
Consider theseÂ scenariosÂ You’re driving around a busy shopping centre car park on the weekend before Christmas and there is not an empty spot to be found. Or maybe you’re late for an important meeting and you don’t want to have to park miles away. “Come on! Please!!” you mutter with frustration as you search for that elusive space. But then you realise there is a much more spiritual solution. You recall your Creator and turn to him in prayer. “Dear God. Please find me a park!”
If you’re a Christian (or even if you’re not) you’ve probably been in this situation. Praying for a car park is a perfect example of seeking a spiritual solution for a pretty petty “first-world” problem. But is it really a wrong thing to do? Is it ethical? Is it anÂ inappropriateÂ use of prayer? Is it theologically correct? Is it spiritually edifying? Now even spending time thinking about such questions may seem to some people the bigger waste of brain activity, but I think that it raises some interesting issues and it has been the subject of some fun debate among some godly friends of mine, so I thought I’d throw in my thoughts on the topic.
What is Prayer?
Well, I could write a whole blog on this very important question, but I thought I’d explain just briefly that from a biblical perspective, prayer is not something magical. It does not have a power in and of itself. It is not a method of manipulating God or moving orÂ evoking spiritual power for your own ends. It is not a form of New Age positive thinking based on the “law of attraction” where your thoughts tell the Universe what you want (as popularised by such books as “The Secret”).
Prayer is pure and simply, talking to God. It doesn’t need to be long and wordy. It doesn’t need to be in a specific form of words, or in a specific spiritual space, or prayed in a specific body position (hands together, eyes closed, on your knees, etc) It is simply talking to God. It can be a request, or a confession, a word of praise or thankfulness, a declaration of truth, or it can simply be a pouring out of the heart and a sharing of the soul. Jesus himself prayed often to God the Father and, although most of the time he prayed privately (Luke 5:16), we do have a record of some of his prayers (see for example John 17). He also taught us principles about prayer and gave us what is commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer” as an example of a prayer that uses those principles. He taught us, “when you pray, do not keep on babblingÂ like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.Â Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you needÂ before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7-8) So Jesus grapples with (or at least, doesn’t ignore) that question about, “if God knows everything, what’s the point of prayer?” Clearly, for Jesus, God does know everything and yet he still encourages us to pray.
One of the key reasons for this I think is that prayer is an exercise and and expression of what we believe about God. It is a display of our faith. It shows us (and others, if we pray with others present) who we are and who God is. Now, that may seem like a bit of an anti-climactic purpose for prayer, but remember, as people created in the image of God, that is what we are primarily created for – to know, enjoy and display to truth about God. Prayer, along with love of our neighbour, have got to be the two most potent ways in which we bear the image of God and express the truth about him in our life.
Now, if that was all a bit wordy for you, what I’m basically saying is… prayer reveals what we believe about God. The content, frequency and motivation of our prayer says many things. As Jesus points out in that passage above, those that “babble” when they prayer, show that “they think they will be heard because of their many words” and that they don’t really trust that God “knows what you need before you ask him”. Our view of God willÂ inevitablyÂ effect how we pray andÂ what we pray for, and so in the reverse, our prayers can be a great indicator of what we truly think about God.
Now, to get back to the topic, if that is true, what does it say for us to pray for a car park? What might it reveal about how we view or treat God?
1. Treating God like your Valet (serving your every convenience)
If you pray for a car park it may reveal that you treat God like your personal valet in the sky. Your prayers are mostly about making sure you don’t have to walk further than you would like, and doesn’t really take in to account the fact that God has the right to answer your prayers with a big fat “No”. Your expectation, is that because God loves you and he is kind and generous, then of course he would want to make sure you got the most convenient spot in the whole parking lot. In your mind,God is your heavenly servant and you expect nothing but health, wealth, blessing, prosperity and that perfect sweet car spot.
If that sounds a bit like you, I’d encourage you to remember that the Jesus that we worship called us to die to ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. And what are we following him into? Well, look at his life. Hardly, an example of a “convenient” life. He was rejected, mocked, tortured and murdered, and he did it all for the good of others. His way is not a path of perfect car spots and “your best life now”. He received persecution and hardship and he promised that anyone who would follow him with integrity would receive the same (SeeÂ John 15:18-20,Â Matthew 24:9, 2 Timothy 3:12 & 2 Corinthians 4:7-18).
Be wary of forgetting who is the Creator and who is the created. God may have other plans that are slightly more important than saving you a few seconds walking time. In fact, one of those plans might be making you park further away so that you have to walk and get a bit moreÂ exercise! In God’s economy, character and Christ-likenessÂ is much more of a priority than convenience. The harder, longer, more complex, more challenging, more painful, less “fulfilling” path may just be the path that God wants to take you on for his glory and your ultimate good. Are you willing to take it? Are you willing to even pray for it?
2.Â Treating God like your Superhero (solving your every problem)
Maybe you don’t pray all the time expecting God to give you every little convenience. Maybe, you rarely pray to God at all. Only on special occassions. When you’re reeeally in trouble. Like just before a big exam that you haven’t studied for, or when your looking at an increasingly cloudy sky and you’ve organised a BBQ at the park, or when you really, really need to find a car park because your late for your best mate’s wedding. Praying to God in these situations, and these situations alone, is like treating God like your personal Superhero. You ignore him pretty much all of the time, but when things are tough, or you’re in danger, or you really need some divine intervention, you send up the SOS prayer, and like the Bat signal shining up in the clouds, you expect God to swoop down and save the day.
Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with praying to God in times of distress or trouble. Jesus modelled this in praying to his Father in the garden of Gethsemene before he faced his arrest and crucifixion. Also, it is true that God is able to save us and has more power than the greatest of Superheroes. The problem is that, when we only pray to God in these situations we are still ultimately treating him like a servant. We chose when we want to engage with him, we relate to him on our terms, and when we are done using his very important services, like a plumber who has fixed the leak in the bathroom, we thank him and show him the door.
The idea that God wants your whole life, seems way too extreme. But that’s what Jesus says. When asked what the single most important thingÂ God wants us to do, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:36-38). Not simply call him to solve all your problems, but love him with all your life. As Kyle idleman, author of the challenging book, “Not a Fan” says, “In the Gospels, Jesus never seemed too interested in fans. Is that how you define your relationship with Him? An ‘enthusiastic admirer’? Close enough to Jesus to get the benefits but not so close to require sacrifice? He was looking for followers. Not just any follower though, but a completely committed follower.”
If you find that you treat God like a Superhero or a plumber -Â not just in praying for a car park, but in the rest of your life as well -Â I’d encourage you to get a bigger and deeper picture of God. I completely treated God like this forÂ the first 16Â years of my life, partly due to my own pride and apathy, but also partly because I never knew that I could enjoy an intimate, personal, real relationship with my creator. Like Batman, he was moreÂ “symbolic” thanÂ real. It was onlyÂ after I discovered that Jesus came to make that real relationship possible, that I gave my wholeÂ life to him and turned from being simply a fan, to a follower. So, next time you cry out to the heavens for help – whether it beÂ when you can’t find aÂ car park orÂ your house keys or the meaning to life – use that moment to think about how you’re treating your Creator.
3. Treating God like your Puppet Master (directing your every decision)
You may not treat God like your servant or your Superhero, only calling on him when you really, really need him. You may go in the total other direction and treat God like your Puppet Master. What I mean by this, is that because we know God loves us and knows all things, we can sometimes expect God to guide and direct every single aspect of our lives. You may have a really solid conviction about God’s sovereignty – that God is not limited in his power and ability and so he is ultimately responsible for every action. That is what the Bible teaches. God rules everything. He is sovereign. And so, it may seem perfectly natural for you to ask God to open up a car park for you. He can make drivers move where he wants. If he wanted to, he could even make carsÂ disappear to give you that perfect car spot! He’s God! Why not ask? And on top of that, God wants us to bring everything to him in prayer. As I explained above, Jesus said to love God with EVERYTHING! That means he wants us toÂ surrenderÂ ever part of our life to his purposes and his plan. So if all that’s true, doesn’t that also mean God wants us to ask him where we should park our car? Doesn’t God know the very best place for us to park, and if he knows, why would a loving God keep us from such information??
Well, the danger of such a conclusion is that it’s based on really good premises of God’s love and care and sovereignty. The problem is that it develops in Christians an unhealthy immaturity and dependancy on God’s direct and daily guidance. Now, I’m not saying God can’t or doesn’t guide Christians through the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:26-29 is a great example of God doing this), but there is no instruction in Scripture to ask God about every little detail of your life. The Bible has much more to say about developing godly wisdom and making intelligent responsible decisions, whilst holding on to your plans lightly, knowing that God may have other ideas.Â For example:
“Do not conformÂ any longer to the pattern of this world,Â but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.Â Then you will be able to test and approve what Godâ€™s will isâ€”his good, pleasingÂ and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2-3, emphasis mine)
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give,Â not reluctantly or under compulsion,Â for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
“You ought to say, ‘If it is the Lordâ€™s will,Â we will live and do this or that.'” (James 4:15)
Someone who gets this unhealthily wrong is John Eldredge, in his book “Walking with God”. Now, I have actually met John and enjoyed some aspects of his most famous book “Wild at Heart”, but in “Walking with God”, he suggests that Christians should be asking God for guidance about every aspect of our life. Things like, â€œShould I go to the ranch thisÂ weekend?â€ (pg. 30-32), â€œWhat passage shouldÂ I read in my Bible today?â€ (pg. 44), â€œWhichÂ chapter in the gospel of John should IÂ read?â€ (pg. 44), and, â€œShould I ride the horseÂ today?â€ (pg. 80).
On that last example, he tells of the story of how he had asked God whether or not he should ride and felt God say “yes”, but along one path his horse got spooked by a pile of wood and bolted, ending in an accidentÂ which breaks his nose, one wristÂ and dislocates the other wrist requiring surgery. His conclusion to this tragedy is not that he heard God wrong, but that after getting a “yes” to going for a horse ride, he should have asked God exactly where he should ride. “That’s a really important part of listening toÂ God, by the way. Ask the next question. SoÂ often we get an answer to the first part of aÂ question but fail to ask the second half. . . Don’tÂ just get a first impression and then blast ahead.Â It might have been good for us to ask, ‘WhereÂ should we ride?'” (pg. 81) (For a more in depth critique of “Walking with God”, click here)
This sort of relating does not inspire childlikeÂ humilityÂ and intimacy with God. Rather, in the end, it simply inspires immature dependancy and fear of maybe missing out on “God’s perfect plan for your life”. I used to be a lot more worried about that. I used to be afraid of stepping outside of God’s will and so missing out on what God might want for my life. I used to think God has a very specific plan for my life that I had to seek out and try to discern.
Then one day, Richard, a godly friend of mine, encouraged me by saying, “Simon! Don’t worry so much! God is your heavenly Father. You’re his child! He loves you no matter which decision you make. Even if he does have a plan and you make a wrong choice, he will use your mistakes. Just try to make the best choice you can and let God look after the rest.” It was sound and comforting advice.
The more I read the Bible, the more I see that God does not have a specific plan for every moment of our lives. He has a broad fence that he wants us to keep within, but within those guidelines he gives us a lot of freedom as to where we will live, who we will marry, what job we should do, what course we should study and even, what car spot we should park in! The question we should be asking isn’t “What is God’s plan for my life?” but, “What is God’s plan. And how can I use my life to be a part of it.” God does have a plan for this world – it’s to build his kingdom, bringing more people into it and growing those people to be more like Christ. Get that plan in your sights and then you may not stress about getting guidance from God about which car spot you should park in!
4. Treating God like your Heavenly Father (providing your every need)
Now, up until now, I may seem to be fairly down on the idea of praying for a car park. Well, I wanted to offer one more possibility of how praying for a car park may actually reflect that you have a godly and healthy relationship with God. It doesn’t need to reveal that you treat God like a Valet, or a Superhero, or a Puppet Master. It may show that you simply treat God as your Heavenly Father.
Some people think that we shouldn’t pray to God about small mundane things like a car park because God must have bigger things on his mind. This is the picture of the distant Father God who is reading the paper and couldn’t possibly have any time to spare or interest in your petty little problems. But that is not the picture the Bible gives.
Although as I pointed out earlier, God has big plans for the Universe, he is also intimately concerned about his children. Consider these wonderful passages:
“OÂ Lord,Â you have searched meÂ and you knowÂ me.Â You know when I sit and when I rise;Â you perceive my thoughtsÂ from afar.Â You discern my going outÂ and my lying down;Â you are familiar with all my ways.Â Before a word is on my tongueÂ you know it completely,Â OÂ Lord… Â For you created my inmost being;Â you knit me togetherÂ in my motherâ€™s womb.Â I praise youÂ because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;Â your works are wonderful,Â I know that full well.Â My frame was not hidden from youÂ when I was madeÂ in the secret place. When I was woven togetherÂ in the depths of the earth,Â your eyes saw my unformed body.Â All the days ordainedÂ for meÂ were written in your bookÂ before one of them came to be.”Â (Psalm 139:1-4, 13-16)
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under Godâ€™s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.Â Cast all your anxiety on himÂ because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)
“Do not be anxious about anything,but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.Â And the peace of God,Â which transcends all understanding,Â will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
“Jesus said to them, ‘When you pray, say:Â Father, hallowed be your name,Â your kingdomÂ come.Â Give us each day our daily bread.Â Forgive us our sins,Â for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.Â And lead us not into temptation.’Â Then he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread,Â because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.”Â Then the one inside answers, “Donâ€™t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I canâ€™t get up and give you anything.”Â I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the manâ€™s boldnessÂ he will get up and give him as much as he needs.Â So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you;Â seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.Â For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.Â Which of you fathers, if your son asks forÂ a fish, will give him a snake instead?Â Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?Â If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!'” (Luke 11:2-13)
This last passage especially shows us that if you’re a Christian, then you can call God “Father” and he loves you and is concerned for you like a good father should be. Sure, like any father, he doesn’t want us to abuse the relationship we have with him or take him for granted, but when we are anxious or have a problem, he cares for us and so wants to hear our prayers. He may not take away the circumstances that are giving us anxiety, but as the passage from Philippians says, he will give us peace that will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Also, in the Luke passage, Jesus gives an example of a prayer in which he encourages us to ask God for “our daily bread”. Clearly God is not simply concerned about the big issues in the world with no time for our simple, daily needs.
God loves followers of Jesus as a father loves his children. He cares about what is causing them grief, even when it is petty or small on a cosmic scale. Think about when a child breaks their favourite toy. Does a kind father just say, “Get over it! Don’t you know there’s a war in Chechnya going on??” No, they care for them – maybe helping them see that it’s not the biggest problem in the world, but mainly comforting them and showing that daddy cares. Now, if the child is 45 and chucks a tantrum over breaking a toy, then maybe the father of that person tells them to “build a bridge”, but that’s because we rightly expect more from people as they supposedly grow in wisdom and maturity.
I think God also expects us to not be anxious about petty things and care more about important things as we grow in faith and maturity, but that’s another sign of God’s fatherly care for us – he disciplines us. Â As Hebrews 12:7-11 says:
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.Â For what son is not disciplined by his father?Â If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline),Â then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.Â Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spiritsÂ and live!Â Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.Â No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peaceÂ for those who have been trained by it.”
So feel free to pray for a car park if you are stressed and want to go to God with your problems. Know that he cares for you and that he has the ability to provide every need that you may have. But also know, he is in the best position to really know what your needs are.
Maybe you need a perfect car spot. More likely, maybe you don’t.
Maybe some elderly man needs it more than you. Or a single mum with three screaming kids.
Maybe, like me, what you really need is to park further away so that you can walk a little bit and get some exercise so you don’t die of a heart attack before you’re 50!
Maybe, God just wants you to use your wisdom and God-givenÂ intelligence, to get the best park you can with the circumstances you have and not grumble about how terrible your lot in life is.
So, next time you are driving around madly trying to find a park and you begin to pray, “God, please find me a…” you might remember this blog and pause, wondering how you are treating God.
Maybe that contemplation itself might be the best gift a good Father can give you.
God says to you, “My child, I don’t usually do this, but I want to tell you what is going to happen to you over the next two years. You are going to get cancer and will need home care from https://homecareassistance.com/west-chester/. It’s going to be bad and it’s going to be untreatable. I could prevent it and I could cure it, and that would give you many more years with your spouse and your young son, but I am not going to do that. Your family and friends will be praying for a miracle and I will hear their prayers and I will comfort them and you in your pain and grief and loss, but in your situation, I will not grant their request for healing. I have other plans for you.
See, I have used the last two decades of your life since you accepted the gospel and my Spirit has been at work in you, to strengthen your faith and forge your character for such a time as this. I will allow this suffering in your life because, and only because, I know that it will not shipwreck your faith. Many other Christians I protect from going through such an ordeal because I know it would completely crush them. It would not bring them closer to me. But in your case, you will come through and finish the race with your trust in me deepened and your knowledge of my love grown. You will have very dark times of doubt and you will cry out to me in frustration and confusion and wonder where I am in the midst of your suffering, but I will always be there and you will discover me in the darkest of pits.
My ultimate concern is not that you have a long life (at least not in this creation), my ultimate concern is not that you see your son grow up or that you achieve your career potential. My concern isn’t even primarily that you have a happy and pain-free life. All those joys will be for you complete in the new creation. For this life, my ultimate concern is that you know me, and that others know me through you.
This is actually why you will get cancer. Your life, though it will only be for another couple of years, will be a testimony of how a Christian faces suffering. Many will see how you prayed and prayed and came to me and relied on me for comfort and joy and strength and hope. This ordeal will show many how precious I am to you, and how when much of the pleasures of this world is taken away, you still have me and you are still satisfied. That will glorify me so much and encourage so many fellow-believers to continue in their walk with me.
But more than all that, the most profound way that your testimony will be used will be something you will never see in this life. It will be for the sake of your grandchild who you will never meet until the new creation.
Her name will be Talibah. She will be your son’s third child. She will run away from me most of her life and after her second miscarriage she will deny that she even believes I exist, though I will still be seeking her and drawing her to me. When I chose a human soul that I wish to bring into the family of salvation, there is no use in running away from me. The story of Jonah should teach her that, especially after your son will spend so many of her childhood years reading her that and many other Bible stories. But it won’t be the story of Jonah that I will use to reveal myself to her… it will be your story.
At the age of 54, I will bring across her path a record that your sister will write of your last couple of years. Talibah will read of your faithfulness to me through your battle with cancer, of the way you found your joy in me and how I strengthened and comforted you. She will read of how you spoke of your relationship with me as the most valuable thing in your life and how you would not be able to have faced such a battle, without me in your life. She will read your story and I will speak to her through it. I will use your testimony to awaken her soul to the reality of my love for her and to woo her to consider the gospel anew. A year later, she will ask a Christian lady who I will place in the house next door to her, to explain to her how she can be saved and that faithful neighbour, who has never done anything more than make it known that she was a child of mine and show Talibah hospitality, will lead her to put her trust in my sacrifice for her sins.
I will use your story as the catalyst for her coming into the kingdom and in the new creation, you will meet her and she will give you the greatest hug as she thanks you for your story.
This is my plan for your life. My question is, are you willing to accept cancer, knowing that this is how I plan to use it?”
Every Christian I have shared this scenario with, has enthusiastically said that they would be willing to take cancer and have their life be shortened, if it meant their grandchild would meet Jesus through it.
Of course, this is just a theoretical, and who really knows how they will respond to the news of cancer (or any other type of suffering like a separation and divorce in my case)? But I still think, their response is a testimony of how much the Christians that I know cherish their relationship with Jesus and how much they value someone else finding salvation over their own physical comfort, happiness or even physical life.
The reality is though, we do not ever get this in-depth explanation from God. We sometimes see the fruit that our suffering bears and how God uses it for his glory and other people’s good, but often we don’t. Who knows if God’s plans span decades or even hundreds or thousands of years? The stories of Christians over the centuries who have been martyred or have faithfully faced suffering, have inspired many people to consider the gospel.
The reality is: God is good and God is in control.
Those two concepts sometimes feel at odds as we can’t always see the “good” that God will bring out of something and when it just seems bad, we have trouble thinking that God is “in control”.
But those two concepts stand as true and I encourage you to grapple with them, to questions them and to reflect on them… but ultimately, to trust them.
I do wish that God would explain every thing he is doing through every experience of suffering that I see and experience. But in the end, I will trust him and keep seeking him in all circumstances.
I hope and trust by God’s strength, that my story will be one of enduring faithfulness, whether I will see all the good fruit of that story in this life, or the next.
“When they sit around the campfires of the Kingdom, and they tell your story, what will they say?”– John Eldredge
“I thought my life was going to be like ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ and it ended up being more like ‘Lord of the Rings’! But in the end, which is a better movie?” – Simon Camilleri (something I said during the years leading up to my divorce)
“For even the very wise can not see all ends.” – Gandalf (from Lord of the Rings)
I have discovered a wonderful new way that helps me with my TAWG (time alone with God).
I use Google Calendar to send me an sms at 11:30pm every night reminding me to pray. This in itself is a really helpful reminder – like my very own “muezzin” (man in Islam appointed to call to prayer).
When I set this up, I expected it would also be a reminder to go to bed and get an early night as well, but I have learnt that my bedroom is really not a place I can spend a lot of time praying.
I don’t know if it’s the mess or the many things to distract me and draw away my attention. It also could be the fact that ever since my separation and following divorce, my bedroom has symbolized for me a sense of lonliness and I find I avoid spending a lot of time there (this makes going to sleep a problem as you generally should be spending a third of your day in your bedroom). Anyway, I know all that needs to be worked through and I need to deal with my issues in regard to my bedroom, but in the meantime, I need to foster intimacy with God more!
So a solution I have stumbled upon is going for a drive.
In my car I can relax, I can think, I can cry out to God, I can be focussed. It’s great. My car is a place where I often listen to Christian music or sermons and so it has accumulated good, positive, godly memories associated with it. It’s also contained which keeps me focussed and sort of puts my in a “cone of silence” mode where I can go in and pour out my heart.
Come to think of it, it’s a bit like a confessional box or my very own Holy of Holies, where I can go in and do business with God. Or it’s sort of taking Jesus’ advice about prayer when he instructed us saying, “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6) although I realize blogging about it means that it’s not done in secret any more. I trust God knows that I only write this to encourage you rather than to boast about my pathetic attempts at a regular prayer life!
At the moment I am praying about something very specific, which I won’t blog about on here, but I will say that the daily short drive at 11:30pm helps me come back to God with my simple petition without spending all day stressing about it.
I know going for a drive maybe isn’t the best way to do quiet time. It means you can’t read the Bible as well and it’s probably not the best for the environment. It probably would be a lot better for me and the planet if I just went for a walk, or cleaned my room and got over my bedroomaphobia. But I have learned over the years that God is kind and he would rather we did whatever we could to spend time with him in prayer, rather than didn’t spend time with him at all.
So that’s my encouragement to you.
If you’re finding prayer a hard thing to do regularly, then do anything, use any tool, any trick, any creative idea, to make it easier for you to spend time chatting with your heavenly father.
Some will say that waking up at 5:30am every day and getting down on your knees next to your bed is great for developing character, but I reckon you first spend time with God (both in prayer and bible study) and then one of the fruits of that is character. Don’t make it harder for yourself and think that impresses God or proves you really love him.
Just pray! However you can, using whatever method is most helpful. God is big enough to meet us in our weakness and apathy and lack of self discipline.