The rising bubble of my New Year enthusiasm was burst last week when I read a prayer in the Imitation of Christ. It terrified me. Does it scare you too? (Misery loves company.)
Purely as a scientific experiment, pray the following words out loud (or under your breath if your spouse is nearby and already suspicious of your sanity). I’m curious how it speaks to you.
Lord, you know what is best for me; let this be done—or that be done—as you please. Grant what you will, as much as you will, when you will. Do with me as you know best, as will most please you, and will be for your greater honor (Book 3, Chapter 15).
The first phrase is easy: “You know what’s best for me.” Sure, God knows everything better than anyone, Theology 101. The second phrase gets prickly: “Let this—or that—be done as you please.” I’m okay with “let this” be done as long as it means financial or physical health; but what if it means something else? I imagine stock market crashes and cancer.
The next phrase scares me, “Grant to me what, as much, and whenever you want.” I want (right now) a home with a roof and a checkbook that can pay the bills. But what if what he grants is “Never,” or “Not very much,” or, “A lifetime of struggle”?
The last phrase put an exclamation point on my fears: “Do with me as you please.” What if God thinks my greatest need is a trial by fire, betrayal by friends, or a financial melt-down? What if my wife and I end up homeless, or that my life’s work looks like campfire smoke that vanishes in the evening sky, forgotten by tomorrow?
How is that for New Year optimism?
The vague and the specific
I vaguely pray the Lord’s Prayer with a pious indifference, “Your kingdom come, your will be done!” It’s a shadowy hope for the return of his kingdom on earth. I also specifically pray that I make it to the airport on time, “but your will be done.” If I miss my plane because of a flat tire or traffic jam, “well I just want God’s will.” (I pray it with a hint self-righteousness.)
But there is a sweet spot—actually, a sour spot—somewhere between the vague and specific. There is a very real possibility that “God’s will” for me might include loss and suffering. Maybe he thinks that is what I need most. The thought scares me.
Because I don’t really trust God. I say I believe in God’s love, but sometimes there is a little voice inside me that says I know better than he does, and he’s going to get it wrong.
Health and wealth, or suffering?
I dislike Western Christianity’s doctrines of health and prosperity, the “name-it claim-it” brand of televangelists. They seem to ignore passages that say Christian lives will include difficulty and hardship. They seem to forget that all we really need is God, and that health and wealth are very often obstacles to real rich life, that we often grip tightest the poisons that are killing us.
Even though I intellectually (and Biblically) reject those health and wealth sentiments, my heart secretly embraces them. My heart furtively thinks flat tires and empty bank accounts are the anomaly. They may happen, though rarely, and probably because I failed to think positively.
What will really satisfy?
There is a tiny part of me that doesn’t trust God, and there is a big part of me (I’m just being honest here) that says my real needs can only be satisfied in this world.
But what if the very things I want for my life—including health and wealth—are the worst things for me right now? What if God—filled with love and wisdom—is deliberately, kindly, and gently weaning me from the liquid poison I slurp down every day? What if he does know best?
My battle in life is to believe God loves me more than I do, and he is proving it. I forget that all I need is God, really knowing God; that worldly comforts are the real fading campfire smoke.
If I honestly examine my life, I must admit that my greatest successes were the result of God’s actions and my greatest sufferings were the results of my own actions. Why do I mistrust God?
The harshness of God
I think God is calling me to let go of my life, to reach the end of my control, to lay my crown down, to put away my scepter, and to say, “Your kingdom come in my life—all of it.” C. S. Lewis said “The harshness of God is kinder than the softness of man.”
I draw too much comfort from blessing in this world. I forget that the blessing of God point me to my only true need: God himself. Not just what he gives. Financial or physical health is not what I need at this moment. What I need is God; knowing him, hearing him, worshipping him, being in a relationship with him. Everything else is just a signpost not the destination.
God’s will might may be to rip down the signposts so that my only guide is his presence. Do I really want my will for my life? I know—at least deep down I know—that my will almost always wreaks havoc in my life. His will leads to true comfort.
I think God is leading me back to him
William Cowper wrote a poem about suffering. In the middle of it is this verse:
His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour. The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower. Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread, are big with mercy and shall break, with blessings on your head.
God always gives us what we most desperately need. And sometimes we need a weaning. The blessing I need most is to reach the end of myself (and this world), and reach for God alone. God alone will satisfy the deepest longings of my heart. “Father, Your will be done.”
Even when I’m scared.