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.
“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.”
I’m not sure I agree with this quote though. Though I do not totally disagree, because wrong choices definitely lead to a suffering because of it. However, not all suffering comes from that point as these verses point out – Isaiah 45:6-7, Ecclesiastes 7:14. However, it may be said what we often call our greatest sufferings truly are blessings in disguise. For example, being deaf.
“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?”
This indeed is the battle all of us face and it really does get down to three little words and what we believe about these three little words, well maybe the words are not so little. Three Words: “God Loves Me”
I agree that God is in charge of all things, and that God sometimes brings a “calamity” (Is. 45:7) into my life, but I think he does it to purge my of my idols, to free me from the things I cling to that will harm me.
I like your three words (God loves me), but I also like to complicate things ( 🙂 ). So I like to hold onto these FOUR things: God is all powerful, God is all good, God is all holy, and God is all love. That means the all powerful God is loving me and freeing me from all that is not good and holy.
It means I can let go of the reins of my life.
You n I would be in agreement
Aww, where’s the fun in that?
Sam, As I sit in the comfort and “safety” of my home and read your latest, I can completely identify with your fears. I read this morning that the most important word in Proverbs 3: 5 & 6 is LORD not trust. In other words how big is your God? does He really know what he is doing? We in America fall apart when things don’t go our way. We want our lives filtered thru our will not His, Lord forgive me for my unbelief. I thank God for his mercy, grace, forgiveness and love, I don’t deserve it, it is His gift. Nancy
Great comment, and great commentary on Proverbs 3:5-6. Yes, the most important word is LORD. In fact, the only reason we can trust is that he is Lord.
Yet, I so often want to be Lord myself.
George in Toronto
The attitude of the heart that establishes covenant partnership with God is, and always has been, a leap of surrender and worship into the the love, provision, protection and Lordship of our Creator, Saviour, Provider and Protector.
This is true worship. This is true covenant partnership. This is, and always has been scary.
Thus because it is scary, our ‘flesh’ is scared, we always go our own way and thus always fall short of the life of glory to which we we are called.
Of course we then fool ourselves and others. We pretend. We pretend to commit. We pretend to worship. We join with others in a pretend church and pretend to be followers of Christ. Hypocrites!
The outcome of our falling short will be, and always has been a failure to receive the blessing side of the covenant: the provision, the protection, the health and deliverance, the love and fullness of life that Jesus walked in and promised to true disciples, as seen in Brother Lawrence.
Wonderful comment! Absolutely, we fool ourselves, we try to trick ourselves.
That’s why I was so shocked when I read that Imitation of Christ passage and found myself trembling. I think God was taking off my blinders. He was saying, “You aren’t giving yourself to me, you are only giving yourself to the good things I can provide.” But, those “good things” aren’t God (well, except that I make make the “gods”).
Real worship means letting God be God (not us or our will), it means acknowledging his way is always above our ways, and it means giving him our whole hearts. “Let it be done to me as you will.”
Excellent post, great find with the prayer and with the poem. Also liked your quip: “Everything else is just a signpost not the destination.” Something we need to come back to again and again.
Great to hear from you (or read from you). Thanks for your encouragement.
C. S. Lewis once wrote, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and lust and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to keep on
making mud-pie in the slums because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation at the beach.”
I realize that my fear is that God will take away my mud-pies, when he’s really bringing me to the ocean.
As a control freak, I found “Let Go and Let God” to be extremely difficult. Our mother was a rage-a-holic, so my sisters and I were raised trying to keep everything “perfect” so Mom wouldn’t go into a rage. That control issue stayed with me until I practiced daily…for quite some time…giving God control of my life, which He had all along. It has been such a relief for me to understand and to believe that I am not in control, but that the Lord is. Now I gladly put my problems in His hands, and I let go. What freedom to know that I’m no longer in charge!
Yes! We want to be in charge, and yet deep down inside we know that us being in charge never works, and it is a HUGE burden.
As you say, “What freedom!” when we are no longer in charge.
(But, it can be a bit scary too. Until we see God.)
You said, “What I need is God; knowing him, hearing him, worshiping him, being in a relationship with him.” I completely agree with all of that. However, we apparently see God differently. I don’t believe God ever wills or causes “loss and suffering”. We have an enemy who wills nothing except loss and suffering; he comes only to steal and kill and destroy. God, on the other hand, is always and only good and He will bring good out of even our troubles if we let Him (Rom 8:28). So yes, we need to stay as close to God as we can for many reasons, not the least is that in this world we will have trouble, and God is always able and willing to faithfully see us through in a way that will work out for our good. Frankly, that is why I can fully trust Him, because I know that He totally loves and adores us and the difficulties in our lives are never from Him. Be blessed!
I don’t mean that God arbitrarily brings loss or suffering; he isn’t mean or sadistic. He is ever so loving. But a loving God doesn’t sit on the sidelines.
His love means that he has to act in our lives. Our hearts sometimes cling to things that are not good for us; God in his love has to act. A loving God cannot be indifferent. An alcoholic giving up booze experiences loss and suffering. God sometimes needs to help rid our lives of the things that hold us back; but often these are the things we cling to most.
He is like the most skillful of surgeons cutting out a tumor that is killing us. The surgery is scary, and sometimes it hurts, but God does it out of love.
Heck we sometimes willing choose loss and suffering (like when we diet and exercise); in a deeper way, God–in the fullness of his love–must do the same with us.
His love doesn’t mean no loss or suffering; it means he is with us in our loss and suffering.
Don’t you think?
God is a jealous and venegful God as well. It is shown in the scriptures. But then again He gets to be that way since He is the creator of all life. Look what he did to the wicked in the Bible and to entire cities for their wickedness. That was venegful but needed. He turned a woman into a pillar of salt for her disobeying his command. This is not actually bad, it is good. We are like children and he is our Father. A loving parent will discipline his children to teach them right from wrong. Without the consequences of our actions we would never learn and thus God must allow us to suffer the consequences of our actions and choices so that we can learn. The same as we do with our children. All in the end is done out of Love but still is a harsh reality.
What amazes me is God’s continuing.
Someone once said, “the opposite of love isn’t anger, it is hate. And the ultimate form of hate is indifference.”
God’s sticks with us. His love means he cannot be indifferent to us. In fact, he sticks with us and suffers with us.
The day humans sinned, God could have just wiped us out and started over again. Instead he stuck with us. You know how parents used to say, “This will hurt me more than it hurts you”?
When God stuck with us, he knew it meant the Garden of Gethsemane, it meant the mockery. It meant the cross. It truly meant that it would hurt him (Jesus) more than it hurt us.
A God like that is what we need and what we have.
Trina Geller Riepe
“For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. you brought us into the net; You laid affliction in our backs.
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your Word. It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.”
Thank you for this article – I have come to truly love God’s Sovereignty and am learning to trust Him in all things, including many trials and hardships. God is Good…all the time.
Exactly. His “testing” is really a refining. We think of a “test” like the SAT or ACT college entrance examines: either we “pass” and get into a great school, or we “fail.” But God’s tests aren’t meant to exclude us, they are meant to make us. And there’s a huge difference (see my article on this: http://20255.maisolution.com/2013/09/09/how-scary-are-the-tests-of-god/
Thanks for your encouragement.
Thanks for that Sam. I’ll admit I wasn’t as scared of praying that prayer as you seemed to be, for a couple of reasons… Partly because my life is pretty much amazing by worldly standards, and honestly it’s hard to even imagine what it would be like if God really did put me through the fire. I can pray “sure, that’ll be fine, whatever you want” because the reality is that what God’s given me so far is very minimal suffering. However (and not to puff myself up), I have been reading a lot about Christian suffering – my wife and I have been memorising 1 Peter, and I recently reread John Piper’s “Spectacular Sins” – and they’ve really hammered home to me the idea that suffering is an inevitable reality in our lives, and we need to know God so closely, to be near him and like him and to trust him, if our faith is to survive times of trial. I kind of imagine my life at the moment as being like Joseph’s during the 7 years of plenty. Everything seems fine, and it would be easy to relax. But I can at least intellectually realise that sufferings are certainly coming, and I want to use all the time and energy and strength that God has blessed me with to grow close to him, build my life on a strong foundation, and be ready for those storms. Do you ever feel like that?
Another part of the reason is that because of my natural incorrigible bent towards self-justification and self-righteousness, I find it relatively easy to accept circumstances that come on me when there’s nothing I can do about it. If I can’t stop it, and if I know what I have to do despite it, I know I can just grit my teeth and soldier on, and I’m not afraid that I’ll do the wrong thing. But what I find terribly difficult and scary is being in a trial or confusing situation and not knowing what to do. When I have to respond to a situation, or be proactive, or take responsibility, I’m full of anxiety. Because I’m afraid I’ll get it wrong.
And the thing that bothers me most about praying for God’s will and trusting him is that I know his will for me – my sanctification, the glory of his name, and ultimately my homecoming in his kingdom. But I have a younger brother who abandoned his faith a few years ago, and that’s been no end of trouble and question in my relationship with God. What is God’s will for him? God can save him if he wants to. God could glorify his name so wonderfully by drawing my brother back to the truth in the midst of his rebellion. But I know in many people who reject God, God decides not to do that. He made some vessels for destruction (Romans 9), and we can’t answer back for that. So… so how can I pray for God’s will in my brother’s life? What if God’s will is his destruction? How can that be better for God’s name? I haven’t figured out how to accept that. I can’t believe that I’m more loving than God, and that I want my brother to be saved while God doesn’t care. I know God’s will is higher and greater and truer and better than mine. But I just can’t seem to believe it in my heart sometimes. 🙁
And what if God’s will for me is that I eventually reject him and fall under condemnation? If God can glorify his name perfectly by letting my brother reject his faith and be punished, displaying God’s righteousness and justice, can’t he do the same in my life? If God knows that the best use of my life for his glory is as an object of wrath… and if I truly desire God’s glory more than anything… can I pray for that? Should I pray for that?
I hope you know I don’t actually expect you to answer these questions! But it seems like you like hearing people’s responses to your writing. And this is what I thought about as I read it. Thanks again. 🙂
Yes! I love to hear responses. Some challenge me, some encourage me, and some disagree in the strongest terms. And we all need all of that.
Frankly, most of my life, like your life, has been successful. I think that’s why the passages of suffering haven’t struck me like this one did.
But I read (somewhere) that when people suffer, the ones who suffer most are the ones who found ANY suffering a shock. The FACT of suffering was as painful (sometimes more painful) than the pain of the suffering.
I think that’s why scripture continually warns us that “in this world there will be suffering.” So we know in advance.
Great comment. Thanks.
awesome prayer, cuts through the crap
Sam, you lamented a while back as you stared at a blank page, struggling for something to write. Then you go and pack tons of painfully important stuff into ONE blog post! Why? Can’t you think of a way to somehow even things out? (kidding of course)
Since we are being totally honest here, I also have to confess I do not trust God. Or more correctly stated, I do not trust in God. I do not distrust him. I just don’t actively, deliberately, have a strong trust in him. I don’t think in a theological sense that He is unreliable, but I live that way. If I had absolutely perfect trust in God, I would never ever worry again. Never. Not about anything. I would literally “be anxious about nothing.”
Some might argue (and I might agree to some point) that if we had more practice with or experience in God helping us through the bad times, we would trust him more. But why is it then I have more trust in the seat belt in my car than I do in God, when I have never had an accident that proved the life-saving feature of the belt? The answer of course is there have been times I think I buckled the God belt, and wound up flying through the windshield. I guess it’s just hard to trust when things don’t go our way.
Finally, this blog entry was difficult for me to read, painful for me to realize, and one that will not soak in for a while. I usually send links to your blog on to others that I am anxious to have read them. But this one will make me hesitate. (But don’t worry, I’ll still do it anyway!) But please trust that I am honest when I say I am glad I read it and thanks for posting it. Ouch! Can I have another sir!
Wow, I appreciate your honesty, and I appreciate your shared self-wonderment and how we believe and yet we don’t believe (misery loves company!).
You seat-belt metaphor really works for me. I’ve never needed a seat belt, yet I use one all the time.
I think there is great value in recognizing our lack of faith. It means we are being real. That is, we accept truth. And that is the starting place. If we ignore our own lack of faith, how will we ever cry out to God for more faith? If we blind ourselves to our own blindness, how will we ever cry out for sight?
Love you man, thanks for sharing.
yep.. I have wondered the same thing: some christians always walk arond with a big smile, and they ask if I have lost my faith, when I have hardships currently and am not so merry and gay at that moment…cause they say that if I really trusted God, I wouldnt have thoose hardships. I think that is not true. Of course it is not God who sends us suffering, it is this world and the one who rules it at the moment. God is why and how I can go on, pick myself up and start again or take a new turn…
But there is also another radical way of thinking- a christian life means suffering….And then theu walk about with their suffering “mask” on…and they somehow think that the more suffering- the more they are christians…thats not true either. The truth I think is somewhere in the middle, as usual:)
I forgot to say…we fear God, cause He is our Father and one wh actually punishes also, though with love. He does not share todays views that corporal punishment should be criminalized..I dont know the paragraph anymore, but it is actually said in the Bible that we should also punish our children if we love them..it was weird to read…