God’s Mysterious Ways
Help and Inspiration
When God Seems Cold and Indifferent
Insights into the Mysteries of Prayer
This is part of an inspiring series for those times when we fear that God has rejected us or is uncaring. Perhaps you fear you have abused God’s grace too often or secretly suppose you are not a high priority with God. In this page we will continue to plunge deep into the heart of God, as revealed in his Word. Our goal is to see if our fears and suspicions about God have a genuine basis or whether, despite surface indications, God is more loving that we dare hope and longs to lavish us with blessings.
When the resurrected Lord walked with the two to Emmaus, “Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them” (Luke 24:28-29). Taken in isolation, Jesus acting as if he had no desire to stay with them might seem peculiar, but we have already seen in previous pages (Feeling Rejected by God, Damned by God? and Punished by God) that the Lord, through prophets, often seems to give no hope when in reality there is much hope. Jesus’ behavior in Emmaus fits the pattern that is beginning to appear.
We see something similar in Mark 6:48. Jesus was on the land praying. The disciples were in the boat on the lake. Jesus saw them straining at the oars because the wind was against them, so he went out to them, walking on the water. What baffles Bible commentators is that the text seems to say Jesus acted as if he were going to walk on past the boat. This never eventuated because the disciples reacted and Jesus responded and the sea calmed.
We, too, know what it is like to feel that Jesus is going to by-pass us.
Urgent word was sent to Jesus that Lazarus was dying. Jesus stayed put. Eventually he turned up days late. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” sobbed Mary (John 11:32). It felt like Jesus was uncaring. The feeling was wrong. “God is love” means God always cares. No exceptions.
The God who longs to pour out his blessings upon us keeps making it seem as if he has no intention of blessing us. He is forever trying to coax faith out of us, and faith can only grow where there seems good reason for doubt. Just as muscles will not only not grow but will waste away unless they repeatedly come against resistance, so faith can grow only when it meets resistance.
Making it Hard for Us
John 6:52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (53) Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. . . . (60) On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (61) Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? . . . (63) . . . The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. (64) Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” . . . (65) He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” (66) From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (67) “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. (68) Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (69) We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Note how Jesus did not make it easy for them. He could have simplified his teaching, making it far more intelligible, but he refused. Those worthy of salvation – those desperate for God – will cling to Jesus even when he doesn’t make sense and belief seems almost impossible. Never do we prove ourselves unworthy of salvation by our past, but only if for the remainder of our lives we refuse to believe in Jesus as our Savior. To say, “I don’t understand, so I’ll reject Jesus as my Savior,” or “I don’t feel anything but rejection, so I won’t believe Jesus is my Savior,” is to miss out. To say, “I can’t understand it or feel it, but I will still do my utmost to believe that Jesus is my Savior,” is to win eternal life.
For top athletes to develop, they must be pushed to their limit. God knows our exact capacity for faith. He will not ask us to go beyond our capacity, but faith – more precious than Olympic gold – grows best by being stretched to its limit. So that is precisely what our loving Lord seeks to do.
Wrestling With God
It is startling to think that Jacob received God’s blessing not because he yielded to God but because he wrestled with God.
Genesis 32:24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. (25) When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. (26) Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
This was a fight that seriously injured Jacob. “The man” asked him to let him go. Instead of complying, Jacob refused and held out for a blessing. Every indication was that this was not what “the man” wanted and yet we learn later that Jacob’s stubborn battling for a blessing thrilled God. From then on Scripture honors him with a new name: Israel, meaning “he struggles with God.”
How peculiar! Doesn’t God want us to submit to him? Yes, but to submit to the true God – the God we know to be loving and longing to bless us – not the God of our nightmares whom we fear is out to crush us and cruelly rob us of what is best for us. The Lord is thrilled when we refuse to surrender to the fear that he is selfish and stingy and harsh. He wants not people who fight him but people who know him so well and love him so passionately that they fight any hint that God is less than infinitely good and kind and generous.
Faith is not about selfishly getting our own way, but neither is faith resigning ourselves to supposing our prayers will not be answered. Faith is deciding that God is so generous and so in love with you that no matter how things seem, you will fight the doubts and stubbornly cling to the belief that he longs to gives you good things.
The Mystery of Prayer
Jeremiah 33:3 “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”
Have you ever thought how strange the above Scripture seems? If God wants to show us things, why doesn’t he just do it? Why does God in Scripture over and over plead with us to ask him so that he can bless us? He obviously longs for us to have these things or he would not beg for us to ask him for them. And yet still he refuses to act until we dig our heels in and determine not to give in to all the superficial indications that God has little desire to bless us.
In Jesus’ parable about how God wants us to pray, the widow was spurned over and over by the judge. She ended up with everything she had hoped for, but only because she refused to take rejection as the final answer (Luke 18:1-8). Clearly, this is the never-give-up, always-believe-that-God-will-bless-you attitude that God wants to build within us. The Lord, who always has our best interest at heart, knows that more important than instant answers to prayer is that we develop an unshakable conviction in the integrity of God’s character – a conviction that will withstand the strongest assaults from the evil deceiver who longs to slander the Perfect One.
Our Lord is a prayer-answering God of compassion. Every indication to the contrary is a divine invitation for us to grow in faith so that not only is our Lord glorified but we will be praised forevermore, just like that Canaanite woman who had felt so despised.
My friend Leona loves gardening. She told me, “When young plants that still have shallow root systems look wilted, I immediately want to revive them with a good dose of water. They quickly perk up and I seem to have done the right thing. If I always water them as soon as they seem to need it, however, the plants will never seek the water already available to them at a deeper level. Instead of developing a strong root system as God had intended, they will eventually die from root rot or fungus. For their sake, I must resist my urge to ‘rescue’ them the instant they seem to need it, or I will literally kill them with kindness. Too much of a seemingly good thing is not a good thing.”
I keep getting the sulks when I don’t get instant answers to prayer. I keep thinking a loving God should shower me with constant blessings without me even having to ask, much less having to fight for years and years for them. I feel hurt, not merely because I don’t get what I want, but because I keep falling into the trap of wrongly guessing how a wise and loving God would act if he really wanted to build up my faith in his goodness and wanted to help convince me that I am special to him.
It turns out that for God to act the way I want, would be like Leona giving in to her longing to pamper her plants. God’s pampering would seem to do wonders in the short term but it would actually stifle my faith. What would seem like building faith would actually be building a dependence upon circumstances and feelings, not building faith in the love and integrity of God. Faith is not about thinking of God as little more than a machine, but thinking of him as the passionate, tender-hearted person he truly is. It is not believing God is a vending machine – you push a button and out come goodies. Faith is about believing in the love and goodness and dependability and wisdom of your glorious Lord, no matter how many challenges to that belief occur in the short term. True faith comes not from being doted on but from having to hold on when all the outward signs keep screaming that God must be selfish, stingy and uncaring.
God spoiling me would truly spoil me.
Second Rate in God’s Eyes?
I’ve endured years of fighting the feeling, and all the apparent evidence, that I’m second rate in God’s eyes and overlooked by him. I could have spared myself much of the pain. I should have known that the wise and loving God of the Bible is not like that. Nevertheless, with the wisdom of hindsight – I felt the opposite at the time – I’m so thankful to God for not pampering me but letting me endure seeming rejection. Those painful times when God did not respond to what seemed an urgent need for confirmation of his love, toughened me. What seemed a never-ending endurance test forced my roots deeper into God so that now, after years of feeling hard done by, I know that the Lord is not like the God I had feared he might be. No one is second rate in his eyes. To seem singled out for special rejection by God is to be blessed with unique opportunities to grow in God.
Like a little boy having a fun filled wrestling match with his daddy, play fights with Father God make us strong and prove how special we are to him. It takes great faith and spiritual maturity, however, for us to see it that way at the time.
While we are in the midst of our trial – which in some cases will last for years – it doesn’t feel as if God is building our faith and making us stronger. On the contrary, everything within and without screams that we are getting weaker and weaker. It seems God is killing our faith. We’ll think that if he cared he would give our faith the boost it desperately needs by giving us some sort of sign that he has not abandoned us.
It seems unthinkable that a God who cares about our faith would treat us this way. If we puzzle at the enigma long enough, however, we’ll discover that it makes perfect sense. Consider an athlete during a training session. Perhaps his coach has him doing bench presses with weights, but it applies to any attempt to strengthen him. The athlete lifts the weight and is immediately asked to lift it again and again and again. Each time he lifts the weight, it feels heavier, even though it is exactly the same weight. There is no denying that he is getting weaker with each bench press. Eventually, he ends up exhausted and, for a few moments, almost unable to move, much less lift a weight. It seems almost unbelievable that the only way for him to get stronger is to go through a process that, in the short term, makes him weaker and weaker. If the athlete were not smart enough to understand the coach’s wisdom, he would find the process bitterly discouraging. It would seem that a caring coach should encourage the athlete by making the weight significantly lighter each time the athlete lifts it so that he feels he is getting stronger. With such a training schedule the athlete’s spirit would soar. He would feel he is improving but in reality he would be blissfully heading for shame as he trains in ease for the event he has set his heart on winning.
This is why Jesus indicated that there will be many shocks when we stand before our Judge. Many who were sure they were miserable failures will be crowned as heroes. Many whom everyone thought to be strong will be shown to be weak. They had seemed to excel only because life had been a breeze for them and they had coasted when they should have striven. On that momentous Day, many praised on earth as great men and women of God will be shamed, and many who had seen themselves as insignificant or even failures, will suddenly find themselves acclaimed as spiritual giants and forever exalted.
So when God seems harsh and seems to be favoring everyone but you, keep pressing on. You are headed for spiritual greatness. It is when life seems easy that we are most in danger of shrinking our eternal reward.
The first lie the Evil One ever attempted with humanity was that God is selfish. The slimy snake conned Eve into thinking that by forbidding certain fruit, her loving Creator was trying to keep something good from her (Genesis 3:1-6). The lie worked so well that the Evil One has been trying it ever since. The fact that God is love, combined with the intensity with which he does everything, means that your best interests are more important to God than they are even to you. Either God is longing for you to press through the challenges and receive that good thing you have not yet received, or eternity will prove that what you have craved is not as good as the alternative God is planning for you.
If you fear God would rather condemn you to hell than respond to your sincere longing to be rid both of your sin and its eternal penalty, your fear is groundless. There is no way that hell could be better for you than finding the forgiveness you long for. There are other prayer requests, however, when not knowing every fact in the universe, nor having the ability to see the future, nor having infinite intelligence, means that your certainty that you know what is best might be misplaced.
Take careful note of our Lord’s prayer life. Jesus said that if he had asked, God his father would have answered Jesus’ prayer to send angels to rescue him from crucifixion (Matthew 26:47-54). I shudder to think of the consequences for our eternities had Jesus prayed that prayer. Nevertheless, Jesus insisted that God would have answered that prayer. Three times he wrestled in prayer with this issue. The stakes were so horrific that his sweat was like blood dripping from him. Nevertheless, he each time battled through to the point where he told God he wanted God’s will, not his own (Matthew 26:36-44).
Jesus is our role model. He could have got his way with God and ended up with less than God’s best. So can we, I believe – although often God has mercy on us and holds off on granting us a request that would end up disastrous for us.
So there are two dangers. We must be careful not to settle for less than God’s best by not persisting in faith-filled prayer. On the other extreme, we could miss God’s best by insisting God do a certain thing when he has a better plan.
Scripture makes it easy for us to know that God wants for us to ask in faith for his forgiveness. With less obvious things, however, knowing what to ask for can sometimes be beyond us. That’s why the Holy Spirit comes to our aid, helping us to pray (Romans 8:26-27). What you can know with utter certainty, however, is that God wants the best for you and that he is thrilled when you refuse to settle for anything less than heaven’s best.
Warning: These Pages Won’t Help Everyone
Some people terrified about being unforgivable just need Bible-based reassurance or an explanation of a disturbing Scripture. If vast amounts of rational support and biblical exposition are the answer, keep following the links. Many Christians, however, presume this is what they need but it turns out that no amount of biblical proof or sound, theological argument or even spectacular spiritual experience can put their minds to rest. If you have already sought much help but worries keep resurfacing, you most likely need a totally different approach. You should skip these pages (you can return later if you wish) and go straight to Scrupulosity.
Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2004, Grantley Morris. Not to be copied in whole or in part without citing this entire paragraph. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings by Grantley Morris available free at the following internet site www.net-burst.net Freely you have received, freely give.
Scripture quotations are from the New International Version © Copyright, 1978 by New York International Bible Society
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