The teenaged son of a good friend seems to be wasting away; not of cancer, AIDS, or drug addiction, but of an inability to keep down what he eats. The boy has seen the best specialists in the US, has had every reasonable medical test, and has tried a panoply of medications, procedures, exercises, and behavioral health interventions. Hundreds of people have prayed earnestly for his healing. Still, the food comes up and his weight goes down.
The middle-aged wife of our music minister was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma. She had surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and a variety of experimental therapies. Christians in churches across the country prayed for her healing, and hundreds of us joined hands in a prayer chain around her house. Nonetheless, in Jan 2017, this wonderful woman slipped the bounds of this earth and into glory.
God’s “failure” to heal these faithful followers, at least in the earthly sense, has strengthened the faith of some and weakened the faith of others. We pray for their healing out of a genuine love for them and their families and out of the realization that God commands us to pray. And yet when He does not grant our request, we are perplexed, and perhaps even angry. Why angry – because we expect to get what we want.
In modern America, we expect to get our own will. Burger King said “have it your way” and McDonald’s said “you deserve a break today.” Frank Sinatra crooned “I did it my way” and advertisers tell us “it’s all about you.” The internet can give us exactly the information we desire, and thousands of retailers will provide the clothes, food, toy, or experience of our dreams. Technology and wealth have made getting our own will easier than ever, and we have come to expect and even demand it. “What I want” has turned into “what I need” which has become “what I deserve” and finally “what you have to give me because it is my right.”
It was not always this way. People have always pursued their desires, but were less successful in achieving them, and less likely to think it their unalienable right. In the Psalms, David pleaded for his own will but often did not get it. Job protested that he deserved to be treated better than he was, but in the end still trusted in God (Job 13:15). Paul implored the Lord to take away his “thorn in the flesh”, a malady that caused pain, disability, and slowed his ministry, but was refused. In early American history, Mary Rowlandson had most of her family murdered and was captured by Indians, but she found comfort in the writings of Isaiah and the other prophets. Our ancestors pursued their desires with as much ardor as we do, perhaps more. But they had to give in, compromise, be satisfied, and be grateful because so much was so far out of their reach.
There is nothing wrong with asking God for what we want. Paul writes “Let your requests be made known unto God (Philippians 4:6)”. Our Lord loves us and wants us to bare our souls before Him. He wants honesty, just like a good father wants his children to speak frankly. But when the prayer is done, God wants us to trust in Him; not what we expect Him to do for us.
My family and I have been watching old episodes of the 1990s-television show “Early Edition.” The plot line involves a man whose morning newspaper shows what will happen that day rather than what happened the day before. The main character, Gary, feels compelled to use the information to do good for others. His friend Chuck wants to make use it to make a fortune, and his other friend, Marissa, agrees with Gary. Thus, Gary, Chuck, and Marissa run all over Chicago trying to stop plane crashes, bank robberies, and auto accidents; all while still unable to reveal the source of their information. My family and I discussed what we would do if we got the “Early Edition”. Would we make money, help others, or do both? What would that knowledge do to us?
After a little talking, we concluded that the point of the “Early Edition” is to do good where you are and with what you have. While we don’t know the future, God puts each of us in the right place to do good in our situation. He sends me to work in the clinic and hospital to serve the patients that He puts before me. A plane may crash, a bank may be robbed, and a car may crash, but preventing those disasters is not my task. My task is to take good care of my patients today. Each person has important daily work, even if we have trouble seeing it.
In His way, the Lord gives us His form of the Early Edition every day. Why then, do we still want to know the news 24 hours ahead like Gary does? Because then we can accomplish our goals, and not just His. We can make money, gratify our own desires, and impress people with our knowledge. Our will, not God’s, becomes paramount.
God is good. At almost every point in our lives He gives us what we need, and a lot of what we want. He provides food to nourish us, clothes to warm us, and shelter to protect us. He makes sun and rain to fall on the evil and the good (Matthew 5:45). In His grace, God gives us family and friends to walk through life, nature to enjoy, and meaningful work to do. Too often we ignore or at least take for granted most of these blessings, doing instead what the Eagles sang about in “Desperado”:
“It seems to me some fine things have been laid upon your table, but you always want the ones that you can’t get.”
It is right for Christian friends and family to pray earnestly for the young man noted above, just like it was right for us to pray for the woman. It is human to feel disappointed, or even angry, when God does not answer these prayers in the time or manner that we want. But it is not right to reject Him as a result.
God wants us to have faith in Him; not in what we expect Him to do for us. He commands us to trust and obey, regardless of the fact that the outcome will often be His will, not ours. The Lord wants us to believe Him, and often we don’t believe because we don’t want to. His outcomes are not necessarily what we want. God gives us so much, and He wants us to live our lives in gratitude. But when those times come when we don’t get what we want, or feel we need, despite our best and most holy efforts, we must ask ourselves…