THIS paper is filled with success stories about people who have found God, been set free from their addictions, been healed emotionally and physically, had their marriages restored and found a peace and joy that was previously unknown. As a result of this, you may be forgiven for thinking that giving your life to Jesus will fix all your problems and make your life rosy.
The truth is, though, that in the Christian life there will likely be deep disappointments and unanswered prayers.
I know a faithful Christian couple who lost both their sons in separate freak accidents; another Christian couple who can’t have children; and a woman who was raped while her husband was away on missionary business. I have Christian friends who have never found Mr. Right despite much prayer; and I know a wonderful Christian father who seems about to die of cancer and leave his wife to raise five young children, despite many prayers for healing.
How does one process this in the light of the Christian teaching about a loving, all-powerful God?
This is a deep issue and I would be arrogant to think I know all the answers, but having known my own share of disappointment in life, these are the insights I have gained.
• God is not Santa. We don’t control or manipulate Him. We don’t come to Him on our terms with our demands. He is the sovereign ruler of the universe. We come to Him on His terms, and any goodness or answer to prayer we receive from Him is because of His kindness and mercy, not because we deserve or earn it.
• God has an eternal perspective. We can’t see the long-term results of our choices or plans, but God sees all the knock-on effects of our prayers and sometimes it is His grace that says “no”. We can’t see the bigger problems or heartaches that have been avoided, or the greater blessings that are achieved by not getting what we want right now. In the book of Isaiah God tells us “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” (55:8)
• We need to have an eternal perspective too. Christians are like athletes training for a marathon. This short life is a time of hard work, deprivation and occasional pain, for most, in order to prepare us for the ultimate goal of eternal life. These 70+ years on earth are a dot in the light of forever. As the Apostle Paul, who suffered many beatings and losses, said: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)
• God is more interested in making us holy, than keeping us happy. How do we learn the virtues of patience, long-suffering or humility if we are always given everything we want? Sometimes God uses suffering to gently deal with our natural narcissistic, selfish pride, and make us more compassionate and loving towards others.
• Seemingly unanswered prayer refines our motives and focus as followers of Christ. God often encourages new believers with a lot of answered prayer but as we mature in the faith, He tests us to disclose (to us – since He already knows) whether we are in love with the gifts or the Giver; whether our faith is based on answers and blessings, or on a true commitment to Jesus.
Disappointment is real. Christians can be honest with God when they are angry or hurt by the perceived way He is dealing with them, and sometimes those situations will never be fully understood in this life.
But ultimately, like Job in the Bible, if we turn to God in the hard times, although we may not get the answers we want, we will get a deeper understanding of the character and trustworthiness of God – a deeper faith that He is good and that “all things work together for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).