I have a dear friend who is striving to dig deeper in her faith…to figure out what she really believes and why she believes it. In the process, she is struggling with the ever-perplexing topic of prayer. After sharing some examples of conversations, I could completely understand why.
You see, in general, our culture has strayed from a biblical perspective on prayer. We’ve left behind prayer as an opportunity for worship and gratitude to the Lord and whittled the discipline down to supplication alone. In both the Old and New Testaments, God calls us to pray. Often He calls for us to “stand in the gap” and pray on behalf of others. Intercessory prayer is one of the most precious God-given opportunities to take part in His great work on earth. However, I think we’ve missed that God most often uses prayer to change and mold our hearts, minds, motives, and desires. Because of our genie-in-a-bottle mentality, we expect God to demonstrate His love and faithfulness through answering our requests. This “name it and claim it” approach is not new but seems to be growing subtlely in practice and popularity. (I can go into how this approach evolved from misinterpretation of several Scriptures, but then this post will become too long. Email me or comment if you want me to elaborate and explain.) Let me illustrate the problems this mentality and approach cause.
A particular FB thread shared the concern of a new mother whose baby may have some medical issues. Responses included promises that the baby would be healed because God is faithful, a statement to go and receive God’s blessing of healing and that the infant would be healed, and celebration of what the doctor will tell them tomorrow at their appointment (predicting positive news.) There are some major issues here. First of all, they are giving this woman false hope. They are claiming to believe that they know best by saying that the baby will be healed. What if healing is not God’s plan for this sweet infant? What if He plans to accomplish amazing things through the medical trials of the child and his parents? And is God only faithful if He heals? That seems to be the message implied.
I’ll be honest in sharing that this thriving baby inside my womb has given me reason to celebrate and praise God. I feel loved because He blessed us with this miracle. And many have commented on God’s faithfulness because He has sustained this pregnancy. However, would He be any less faithful if I had miscarried? Would I be any less loved if He had allowed this baby to join Him in heaven? Did He perhaps demonstrate His love and faithfulness to me even more by carrying me through our previous losses?
The truth is that God is faithful. Period. He is faithful through the good and the bad. When He answers our personal prayers, He is not any more faithful or loving than when He reveals a different path or plan. When He allows a tiny struggling infant or a cancer-stricken victim to pass away rather than be healed, He is not any less faithful or compassionate. As long as we’re residents on this fallen earth, we will not understand the magnitude and scope of His purposes and plans for our lives. As singer Babbie Mason wrote in one of her songs, “When you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.” Remember who God is and trust His ability to lead us through the valleys. Some of the most mature and godly Christians I know say that they grew most in their faith and experienced God most intimately when in the midst of devastating circumstances.
I don’t mean to sound so negative. There is much power in prayer. By all means, people should be praying for this particular family. Praying for the baby’s healing is one request. Praying for peace, wisdom, strength, emotional stability, connectedness for the husband and wife during the wait, a feeling of God’s presence, determination to trust Him no matter the outcome, wisdom for the doctor…these are all requests that can be lifted up to God’s hearing ears. But we MUST not forget that, as Jesus taught us to pray, we ultimately ask for God’s perfect will to prevail. And we must be careful what we say to others. We absolutely do not have the authority to make promises on God’s behalf. And while healing is a miracle that will no doubt bring glory to God, potential bad news tomorrow is just as much an opportunity for God to reveal Himself.
The largest problem with comments such as I shared above is that a crisis of faith can result when circumstances don’t end up as we believe they should. If we claim that someone will receive healing because God is faithful, what does this say about our faith and our Lord when He doesn’t choose to heal? Do you see how damaging this can be for a young believer or a curious seeker?
So my question tonight is, “How do you measure His faithfulness?” Suppress the Sunday school answer that’s popping into your mind and dig deeper into your heart. What do you really believe? I unknowingly struggled with this very issue a couple years ago (read post “A Beautiful Mess” for more details), so I now know that our hearts can harbor convictions that are contrary to what our minds “believe.”
I think it’s so important to encourage each other by sharing our own experiences of God’s faithfulness, particularly during past times of hardship. I know my readers air on the private side given my ratio of emails to comments, but I ask that you please consider publicly sharing a brief experience in your own life of when and how God was faithful, through prayers answered to our satisfaction and through realizations that His plans were above ours. When outcomes didn’t fit your expectations, how did God become more real to you? I pray our testimonies will bring glory to God and hope to those who may be enduring dark moments.