Tag Archive: relationship


Answers to Prayer

Answers to Prayer and Free Will

We sometimes are troubled that God does not always answer prayer the way we would expect, especially since the Bible tells us that we are precious to Him.

Life still appears random, and we ask ourselves if things are just happening as they would happen. We don’t see God’s hand notable in daily life.

Or we are told He does answer prayer, but if we aren’t seeing Him move it’s because we don’t have enough faith.

I wonder if both ideas misunderstand our real situation.

If God is the Creator and outside of time, we may reasonably expect that He is sovereign and can work all things out according to His plan; and if He truly desires our good, that He hears us. But because He desires relationship with created, finite beings, He must grant them free will so that relationship can be consensual. That’s where things get messy.

If the free will of humanity is a real thing, then it’s nonsense to expect a direct correlation between prayers offered and desired results. There will be notable instances, perhaps even miraculous deliverances; but to get what we want every time we pray is to ask the impossible. Some thoughts:

1) Sometimes there are conflicting needs, situations and desires of praying individuals – whose prayers get answered?

2) God knows what we need better than we do, and if God dwells in the past, present and future all at once as the Bible suggests, He sees outcomes we can’t. We are finite beings who live in time, and we often can’t know the long term results of the answer we desire. He does.

3) Besides this, we may consider that the results of our physical actions are limited by our own physicality and mortality; but when we pray, we invoke a power that stands independent of time. Prayer could be a much more powerful force, and a Heart greater than our own must balance our requests against our ultimate good and His plan for the universe.

4) And sometime we ask amiss, for our own pleasures. We trust our own hearts a little to easily: yet the Bible tells us the human heart is wicked and deceitful; self-centredness is the default position of the human heart. Even among His chosen, we must unlearn a lifetime of looking out for number one, and sometimes what we ask for has some of this in it.

But what about when we have done nothing wrong, and God just doesn’t seem to be there?

5) I wonder if God sometimes answers prayer in large strokes, with the complex good arising out of many smaller things that seem like reversals and trials at the time.

One example that comes to mind is Joseph in the Bible. Sold into slavery by his brothers, I don’t doubt he cried to God and wondered why he was left to languish in an Egyptian prison. Yet this trial put him in the position to save his family and changed him from an arrogant upstart to a gentle, forgiving man. It took decades before he was able to connect the dots and see God’s hand.

6) And what of Christ’s passion? Our Lord prayed for deliverance in Gethsemene, yet it was not offered. The Jewish leaders freely chose to have Jesus executed; and they are described as blameworthy even though we are told it was God’s plan from the start.

7) Waiting and trusting develops our souls, puts on spiritual muscle. What we become is more important than our comfort. And if our wills really are free, I don’t see any other way God can amend our bent nature. We have to swim against the current if we are to be changed in fact.

Read Psalms. Lots of wonderings, yet the Psalmist remains faithful. The Bible is quite clear that sometimes faithful people endure terrible trial.

Read Hebrews 11. Some were saved or brought great deliverance; others suffered and were even killed rather than deny their allegiance to God.

When we trust, even our effort is more relaxed. To do our very best because of the gratitude we have for Our redemption is one thing; to work hard because we don’t think God will come through if we don’t is another, and I wonder if this attitude informs much of our work for Him. To do our best and then to be able to rest at the same time is the key, I suspect, to avoiding burn-out. Understanding God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge is part of this.

In the end, I think the Bible describes a God who is eternal and sovereign; whose plan will prevail, and who wants to change our hearts. He moves many things to accomplish His will; and our freedom is one of the things He works with. His work in and for us will not always be obvious.

Advertisements

Thoughts on relationship

Ps. 119:101

I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word.

Legalism comes from fear of punishment, and is the basis of code-based religion: some times it even masquerades as Christianity. And fear is selfish, because we are worried about what bad thing might happen to us.

Discipline, however, is goal-centred and looks outward. In this scripture the writer is so in love with God that he doesn’t want anything to get in the way. He’s not so much concerned about himself, but just wants more of the source of life. It’s a positive (I do this and achieve a goal) rather than a negative (I must do this or else).

Any relationship worth having must have a certain amount of humility in it. And, for the purposes of definition, I’ll describe humility as a looking outside oneself, a love of the other. When you’re in love, you’re so preoccupied with the Lover that (at least in one sense) what you might get out of the deal is secondary.  Love expressed to the beloved is what’s behind your actions.

And this is what drives Christ’s love. It was for the love of His Bride He went to the cross – He was so excited at the concept of spending eternity with every one of us that He allowed Himself to be beaten, flogged, and crucified. We were His goal.

What a motivation for our own service to God! When we really think of all He did, can’t we take our minds off our own selfish agendas and just be captivated by Him, shaping our lives around the single goal of knowing Him more?

Is He a little religious compartment of our lives or Lord and Lover? Read Matthew 7:23 – He doesn’t so much ask us if we keep rules (remember it was the religious people who engineered His crucifixion) but whether we know Him. Our own actions should arise out of relationship with a real, living God rather than just being religious rules keepers. The ironic thing is that when we just focus on Him, our lives tend to keep all the rules and then some, but for the right reasons: from love, and not selfish fear.

Thoughts on Faith

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD!
Psalm 27:13-14

I tend to mentally substitute the work trust when ever I see the word faith. It has more of a relational sense to it; we tend to look at faith as an object (as in “the Christian Faith”), a quality or even an ability or special power that some have more of than others. But really, it’s just a raw decision to trust God, often in spite of our feelings. Do we really trust Him? You’ll find out when hard times hit.

Two years ago, I lost my job. Technological changes forced a downsizing, and the recession of 2008 didn’t help matters. I had been with this employer nearly 24 years and had served well; but as the junior man in my department (all the other people beneath me on the seniority list had been laid off years before), in a union shop, I was the next to go. In February of 2010 this finally happened. I’ve since started a business and taken some temp assignments; there’s still a lot up in the air, but I’m increasingly confident that God is really there and He is active in our situation.

What I’ve learned is that it’s easy to think you trust God when you’re healthy and employed. We give mental assent to God’s provision, but when difficulties test us we will find out whether our trust is in God or our own situation and abilities. We were shaken; and (despite the emotional roller coaster) we have grown much closer to God as we have been tested. And we have seen some remarkable, bolt-out-of-the-blue provisions that were too remarkable to be entirely coincidental.

It’s when you’re in dire straits that we learn if we really rest in His faithfulness. If He blessed right away, if our prayers were answered to our satisfaction exactly when we wanted, these prayers would be more of a business transaction than an opportunity to trust. And that is what it boils down to in the end: a decision to trust God’s character and His faithfulness to us as His followers.

Faith is the kid sitting down in the dentist’s chair because his mom says it will be okay.

Feeling Judged

Nobody likes to feel judged. We get defensive when someone points out we’re less than perfect: who do they think they are, anyways? One of the reasons moral law is rejected, and one of the reasons Christians are accused of being “legalistic” is because by highlighting God’s law, peoples’ lives are shown to be defective.

But there’s another component: the fact that we look at ourselves at all. The self-centred life is consumed with itself, its needs, wants and agendas, and especially How It Compares To Others.

The Law is the ultimate yardstick. It shows us that we are no big deal, and worse, that we are failures. The moral law is a mirror that isn’t at all flattering, and (let’s be honest) we resent it being pointed out. But it’s  only a teacher. By highlighting our less-than-stellar performance, it points us in the end not to ourselves, but to relationship for mercy and acceptance.

A fundamental characteristic of successful relationships is that we focus on the other, rather than ourselves. The Law does not flatter us: no worries. We’re not supposed to be concentrating on that anyways, save as a guidepost to something better. And that is exactly what  a relationship with Jesus is all about. We are called out of selfishness, called out of concern with ourselves and our shortcomings (though it is a veil we must pass through to realize the necessity of this new life. To bring us to the point of dismay over our own attempts at  goodness, the law is a necessary teacher), to relationship; to the heart of Love. By the Law we see  our shortcomings; but grace tells us to look not to our own goodness, but to Jesus as the basis of our relating to God.

And another thing: when we are thus occupied, we  care less what others think of us, not because we feel superior or inferior (it’s a non-issue) but because we care more for what God thinks of us than what the rest of the world does. This is a genuine freedom.

As we draw near to God, we either feel small and dirty next to His holiness, or we don’t think of ourselves at all. As C.S. Lewis points out, the latter option is preferable. Besides, how can we love perfectly when we are busy thinking about ourselves? By being called  into vulnerability and relationship, we find our ultimate healing.

It’s like fussing and fretting over our reflection when our date is at the door, waiting for us. But He sees us, not by the reflection in the mirror – however true it is to life – but in the light of His love; because He sees what He made us to be.

“All things are lawful, but all things don’t edify”. As Christians, we are no longer under the law as a system of justification. Does that mean it’s ok for us to indulge in whatever activity we want to?

No. In the same way that smoking or excessive alcohol consumption will damage our bodies, so allowing certain habits and things into our hearts will hinder our relationship with God. Pornography, illicit affairs, intemperance, covetousness – as the saying goes, garbage in, garbage out.

The writers of many of the letters in the New Testament seem to have understood that God’s grace would be misunderstood in this way. We are constantly reminded not to use God’s grace as an excuse to indulge ourselves, but in love to serve one another.

If I care about my marriage, I will take care to nourish it, doing things to build up the relationship, and avoiding things that don’t. I won’t flirt with other women, I’ll make time to be alone with my bride, I’ll try to be thoughtful and considerate, even when I feel selfish. I’ll be careful about what I watch on the Internet and on TV. My knowing of God works on the exact same rules as any other relationship. If I choose to neglect those things that will strengthen it – obedience, prayer, reading of the Bible, choosing to serve and to love – my relationship with God will grow cold.

We can affect our faith life and our emotions for better or worse by the things we expose ourselves to. Doesn’t it make sense that if we are going to draw close to Jesus, we’ll want to stay away from things that can gunk up the works? It says in Phillipians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things”.

Take care of your soul just like you nourish and exercise your body.