Sometimes when we pray, the first thing that happens is that things get much worse. When God finally talks to one of His people after 400 years of silence, He instructs Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand that he let the Hebrews go. God neglects to mention that the very first thing that will happen is that the Hebrews’ life will become much harder. Instead of letting them go, Pharaoh gives them even more back-breaking labor. Surely Moses must have been tempted to doubt God at that point.
Sometimes when we pray we don’t get the answer we hoped for. Actually, it seems that many of the stories in the Bible do not have happy endings in this life. David loses multiple children. Moses did not get to go into the Promised Land. Paul and most of the apostles are martyred. Look at Hebrews 11 to see some of the sufferings the children of God have had to endure:
“Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.”
The 21st century Western church needs to take a good, hard look at its teaching about suffering. We do not necessarily receive what is promised in this life. As Paul writes in Hebrews 11:39 “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.” Read that again. None of them received what had been promised. That is reality. And when you only showcase the triumphs, those who are suffering end up feeling dishonored, like they are doing something wrong.
Knowing that suffering is a normal part of our walk with God is immensely helpful. I remember going to a missionary conference at which John Piper spoke on 1 Corinthians 15:9 “ If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” He asked us what in our lives was pitiable, going on to say that if nothing was then we needed to look at how we were following Christ. At the time I was living in a mud brick house in Central Asia without a working bathroom. Those words brought great comfort to me. Now, I am living in a much more comfortable place but I am in a season of deep grief and loss over the death of my son. So yes, I am pitiable. Yes, not all my prayers were answered. But yes I still believe. Why? Because if for this life only I have had faith, there really was no point.
So, yes, the church does need to present testimonies of those who have seen their prayers answered. But we also need to honor those who didn’t get the healing they had hoped for, who are still infertile, who still deal with chronic illness. They have a story to tell, too, of the worth of Christ. Their story may actually be of great help to others. They show the value of God no matter what as in Habakkuk 3: 17-18 “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” Honoring those who are sorrowful and weak instead of only those who are joyful and strong is the only true way to be the body of Christ.
love this! great nuance of prayers answered.
Thank you, Phil!