I knew a girl once. She very much wanted a boy friend — bad. She was a good Christian girl so she knew the boy had to be a Christian too. She was a good Christian girl so she knew that she should ask God for what she wanted. She did her part. She made friends. She socialized. And she prayed a lot.
The years went by. No boy friend. After a while she gave up on God. At least I thought she did because she was so angry with God for not answering her prayers that she stopped attending church services. All this happened a long time ago. I haven’t met her in a long time. I don’t know what happened to her. Don’t know if she is still walking with God.
For some reason I thought of her recently when I received various accounts of Christians who were miraculously delivered when they were caught in the tsunami.
The accounts all had to do with believers caught in deadly situations. The water was about to sweep them away to certain death. They cried out to God. And God miraculously delivered.
They were saved. And eternally grateful to God. Their faith in God was now unshakeable.
I rejoiced when I read these accounts. But I also wondered — what about the many more whose cries for mercy were not answered? And I thought about my friend from long ago.
You know the drill in most church prayer meetings. During sharing time, those who had their prayers answered in tangible and often dramatic ways will stand up and glorify God. This is right and should happen. But what about the many others whose prayers were not answered?
Was there sin their life? Was God off duty during the times of their desperate prayers? Maybe they didn’t warrant as much of God’s love as those whose prayers were answered.
I know all this sounds stupid but you have to wonder what goes through people’s minds and hearts when they have a loved one dying at home. And listening to someone share about God’s miraculous healing.
Hebrews 11 is a good a chapter as any to turn to to learn about faith. It begins with that famous statement:
“Now faith is the reality of what is hope for, the proof of what is not seen. For by it our ancestors were approved.” Hebrews 11:1-2 HCSB
The writer of the book of Hebrews then goes on to list a who’s who of heroes of faith found in the Old Testament. He concludes his roll call of faith heroes by saying:
“And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength after being weak, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead raised to life again.” Hebrews 11: 32-35a HCSB
Here is the stuff of prayer meeting sharing!
But the writer of Hebrews doesn’t end there. He goes right on to remind us that:
“Some men were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection, and others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts, mountains, caves, and holes in the ground.” Hebrews 11:35b-38 HCSB
What needs to be noted is that both groups belonged to the same group as far as the writer of Hebrews was concerned. Some heroes of faith saw tangible, obvious responses from God. Others did not, God silent as they were sawed in two.
It seems that if we are to be committed to the whole counsel of God, we must come to terms with the fact that God does not always respond in the same way to our exercises of faith. Indeed earlier in the book of Hebrews, the writer had already reminded us of the penultimate nature of things this side of heaven.
“These all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been remembering that land they came from, they would have had opportunity to return But they now aspire to a better land; a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 11:13-16 HCSB
No matter what our individual experiences of faith may be, the big picture is this — this world is not our home. We are all journeying to the homeland that awaits us beyond this life. And it is in that homeland that we receive all that we are meant to receive.
Does that mean that we should not cry out when the waters are threatening to drown us? Of course not. That would be the absence of faith and fatal for soul and body. But we have to come to terms that there will be times that God will not answer in the ways we want, and God being God, will not feel obliged to tell us why He doesn’t.
So there is a faith that says, I was in desperate straits, I cried out to God and He rescued me with a mighty hand. But there is also a faith that says, I was in desperate straits, I cried to God but I have yet to get a response from Him — yet I praise God because I have absolute faith in His love, power and purposes.
I wish we heard more of the second type of testimonies at our sharing sessions. For this world is not our home and if we get it all this side of heaven, well, what is heaven for?
So I guess there will always be enough pain and unanswered prayers this side of heaven to ensure that we do not confuse this world for the next, so that we go on journeying to that city prepared for us.
And what a city that will be!
“What no eye has seen and no ear has heard, and what has never come into a man’s heart, is what God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 HCSB