Some problems in life take a long time to solve so God can increase your dependence on Him. Big problems are often solved after small problems are solved.
It is in the confusion of life that we discover the sovereignty of God. Rather than become bitter, we learn to tremble before a sovereign God in such a way that invites trust and rest. Dr. Larry Crabb uses the story of Habakkuk as an illustration of what it means to trust and know God.
Fighting the Battle through Prayer
If the real battle is to keep from making an idol of desire, if the real battle is to let our choices be ruled by a desire for God that sometimes leaves us empty and lonely, then, though we can rightly celebrate whatever blessings come our way and enjoy the pleasure they bring, we must never deposit that pleasure in the bank and write checks on that account. We must rather hope in Christ when life makes no sense, when sin does a better job of relieving emptiness than righteous living. We must write checks on the account of faith. Our hope must be fixed on Jesus, and the hope his presence brings, not on satisfied desire in this life.
With that slowly growing understanding of the battle going on in me and in my brother,
I must pray. I must engage in battle prayer, the kind that is carried along by the recognition that the spiritual battle is between the demand for felt satisfaction and the life of faith.
My version of prayer as battle is to imagine my friend in the presence of the Trinity and to eavesdrop on their conversation. I claim to hear neither audible voices nor inerrant messages. I simply reflect on what I know of God as revealed in Scripture – the Father’s unconditional love, the Son’s atoning grace, the Spirit’s gentle rhythm – and I imagine what they are right now saying to my friend and how they are feeling and thinking about him. Whatever impressions come to mind, I register, ponder, and try to put into words.
I pray for my friend who is about to throw away a life of faith for the experience of satisfied desire. I do not pray that he feel more joy in following Christ than in sin. I pray that he would get in touch with a longing to know God that is stronger than his desire for a present experience of joy and life. I imagine him in the presence of the Trinity. I sense their pain as their child values the experience coming from a woman who is not his wife over the hope they have promised, the hope that it cost the death of Jesus to provide.
I spent an evening telling him what I heard. He called me a day later. He told me he was ending his relationship with this woman. His words were,
“I can explain my decision only as the work of God in answer to prayer. It feels awful but in some strange way, it’s what I want to do.”
I since have been told he has re-entered his fleshmate relationship.
I’m afraid the heresy is still alive in his mind, that he may still believe that the choices we make should be determined by the joy they will bring in this life. Does he think he’ll feel better after giving up the other woman? That he’ll experience a fullness of joy that will make the pleasure he enjoys with the other woman pale in comparison? And does the other woman sincerely believe she is entering a relationship with a strong man who will pour strength and life into her soul? I don’t know. Will he in fact give her up? Or will he go back to her when he discovers that his soul experienced more aliveness with her than in following God? Again, I don’t know.
So I keep praying. Prayer is battle.
“I have something I want to share with you. I’m not very comfortable with this kind of language, but – well, here goes – the Lord spoke to me last night”.
I was all ears. I sometimes close them when others say something similar. Neither this women who was speaking to me nor I are fans of “easy-believism”, especially when it takes the form of sharing with a happy smile that God told them what they most wanted to hear. But Debbie, that’s what I’ll call her, had remained faithful to God during good times and bad, aware that the spirit of entitlement that plagues every Christian needs to be resisted. God’s ways don’t always make sense to us. We can’t count on God to respond favorably to every item on our wish list. Entitlement thinks otherwise.
Debbie was stunned by what she heard from God, stunned both by how foolish she was and grateful for God’s call to yield to her God-honoring desires that remained alive within her. Before (with her permission) I tell you what she heard from God, let me first tell you why I do so, I fear being misunderstood by something I wrote in my most recent book When God’s Ways Make No Sense. Debbie’s story clarifies what I meant. In Chapter Seven, I refer to myself as a Christian deist. Deists believe God made everything, set up natural laws like gravity, then washed His hands of any further involvement with what might happen in the world and among the people He created.
I am emphatically not a deist. I believe God is involved, interested, caring, compassionate, and sovereignly engaged in all that happens. *But it doesn’t always look that way.* Nothing escapes His attention, and nothing blocks the advance of the good story He is telling, not the holocaust, not a failed marriage, and not a stubbed toe. All things do work together for good to people who love God and remain confident that a larger story is unfolding in every detail of the smaller story we can see.
But such confidence finally depends on faith, not visible evidence. The lie of deism sometimes, too often, looks to be true: God seems distant and uninvolved. But things are not as they seem. Appearances really are deceiving. But now and again, always on God’s perfect timetable, we get a glimpse of His lovingly purposeful involvement in our lives, His commitment to our deepest well-being.
This is where Debbie comes in. For years she privately struggled with an addiction, a bad habit that curved her energy in on herself, an addiction that brought temporary but intensely pleasurable relief from the felt emptiness of life with all its worries and disappointments. It felt like she was struggling against her sin with no help from God. Was deism true? Was God really uninvolved in her struggle?
But then, after years, after God’s “little while”, she heard Him speak, meaning words suddenly rose up in her mind, uninvited but clear and powerful:
“Debbie, you are sacrificing the joy of giving yourself fully to your husband, children, and friends for five seconds of deliciousness.” Those four words hit her like a liberating thunderbolt.
Five seconds of deliciousness; five seconds of enjoying narcissistic contentment and unmitigated pleasure that left her alone, uninvolved with either God or others; five seconds that numbed the deepest thirst in her Spirit-indwelt soul, to love well. How foolish! She felt both broken over sin and released to live, to love.
I’m no deist. God is always advancing the plot of His story. Sometimes His ways become obvious. Trust Him when they don’t. Celebrate when they do.
I wonder if anyone these days, including me, takes seriously a rarely quoted verse from the Bible: “…if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world”. So many sermons and books and conferences seem to focus on how Christians can live for God and trust in God in a way that will win God’s favor in their lives. And “favor” usually is presented as having to do with God’s blessings in this life, blessings such as a solid marriage, responsible children, meaningful work, good health, and, if you’re a Christian in ministry, satisfying success. No one who enjoys those blessings – and I enjoy most of them – will invoke pity from anyone.
In terms of this life’s blessings, Paul was seemingly not so favored. Writing to Christians who were enjoying what most of us think of as the good life, Paul said this: “You think you are already rich… I sometimes think God has put us apostles on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor’s parade, condemned to die. We have become a spectacle to the entire world… Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools”; those words come from 1 Corinthians 4: 8-10. The ones quoted above can be found in 1 Corinthians 15: 19 (both in NLT).
Among others one thing is clear: maturity in Christ does not guarantee blessings from Christ that are designed by Him to make our lives comfortable. But today’s version of the prosperity gospel, perhaps better labeled as the “blessed life” gospel, has come up with a variety of ways to pray, of promises to claim, of morality to live, and of spiritual practices to do that will apparently persuade God to open the windows of heaven and give Christians a happy healthy experience in this life, virtually problem free; and when problems do arise, we can expect better times coming.
Christianity was once viewed as a guaranteed hope of eternal life in heaven that freed us to live with one goal, to delight our Father and love like Jesus in dependence on their Spirit. Somehow along the way we’ve changed our understanding. The BIG SHIFT has occurred. A doctor’s check-up? Count on good news as you pray. A troubled marriage? A Christian counselor will guide you toward restored intimacy to enjoy. A lost job? Trust the God who only closes one door to open a wider one.
Our Christian culture, with few but notable exceptions, is now focused on the smaller story of our lives, the story that begins at our birth and ends at our death. But the good news of Jesus includes the promise of “many troubles and sorrows” during the years of our smaller story (see John 16: 33 NLT). That’s good news? Yes, but only when we become aware of the Larger Story God is telling.
The Father’s story is designed to form us into the likeness of Jesus, who trusted His Father’s goodness during tough times, even during the agony in Gethsemane and on Calvary, not without profound struggle but with unwavering confidence in the goodness of the story His Father was telling. And He knew that the outcome of God’s Larger Story, an eternity of endless joy in a world where everything was made new, was worth the struggle required to do what mattered most, to delight the Father and to experience the joy of Jesus.
The time has never been more in need of a renewed focus on God’s Larger Story, a Big Shift backwards to the Good News made possible by the Cross of Christ, and a way to live sustained by the anticipation of the Coming of Christ. LARGER STORY is a ministry designed to do exactly that, to shift our focus back to what God is doing in us and through us in the good times and bad times of life, and back to living in glad anticipation of the never ending good times. And only as we more clearly realize what defines God’s beauty and learn, not merely to glance at it occasionally but gaze on it continually will we long to join His story. God’s beauty is ours to enjoy even now as we live in a world soon to be destroyed then rebuilt to eternally reflect His unblemished beauty.
Listen to Peter. As an old man after years earlier leaving a pleasant life as a fisherman and now knowing he would soon die a death by crucifixion promised by Jesus, Peter wrote this:
“…when the Day of God’s Judgment does come, it will be unannounced, like a thief. The sky will collapse with a thunderous bang, everything disintegrating in a huge conflagration, earth and all its ways exposed to a scrutiny of Judgment. Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life?… So… since this is what you have to look forward to, do your very best to be found living at your best” (2 Peter 3: 10-14 MSG).
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are worthy of pity, not envy. But if these short years are followed by severe judgment on this world that ushers in an eternity of perfect joy in perfect relationship in a perfect world in the presence of our perfect Savior, then living now to reveal the God whose heart designed the Larger Story is the only life worth living. Learn about God’s loving plan for you, now and forever, to live in hope-filled community, through LARGER STORY.