Article by Steven Lester
Have you ever felt the desperate and frenzied sensation of an emergency? The head spinning round, thoughts that are lost, heat up around the neck, and the sick gut feeling that everything may not be alright? Have you then desperately prayed and tried to summon all the faith and trust you could muster? Then the news hits on the chin that rattles the mind: there is no healing.
Anger is felt, the type of anger that weakens the wall of the will that holds back the tides of maladaptive behaviors. Maladaptive behaviors? Yes, the drinking, porn watching, drug using, compulsions that are so too often used as defense mechanism, against such terrible life news. After the anger is hopelessness. Or maybe hopelessness is the cause of the anger. Hopelessness that wants to just throw the hands up and quit. I have described an acute situation that is far too real and repeated in life. What are we to do?
Two Roads I have met suffering in my own life in two different ways. In fact, often I have met suffering both ways simultaneously. The first way is the “my will way”. This way is just that, "I want and pray that suffering will be gone." My will wants sicknesses healed, wrongs corrected, jobs saved, houses bought, and doctor reports benign. You get the picture. I have a couple of observations about this “my will way”. First, isn’t this the way prayer requests are posited in the church? We ask for the “my will way” all the time. Why? Because we do not want suffering in our lives or anyone else’s, so we desire the quickest way to end suffering and that is how we pray to God. Secondly, the “my will way” seems like it is fair and the just thing to happen. I mean really, if we can just ask God to do anything, let us ask him to completely remove sickness and other maladies. Wouldn’t that be the best course of action? After all, He is God. Healing would prove He is God and prove that fact to everyone else. He would spare suffering and hardship because no Father would want their children to suffer. Seems like a win, win.
There are two major problems with the “my will way”. First, I recently read an anti-religious article on MSN that listed the top reasons that churches were in decline. Several of those reasons dealt with the ineffectiveness of prayer and the inability of religion to deal with life. In other words, prayer does not work because seldom does the “my will way” prayers get answered. Let’s be honest. Also, when the prayers are not answered what answers are there? Did God just not hear? Did he forget? Is He not able? Is He mad?
Second problem is that the “my will way” seeks our desire and good as the highest goal. When one comes to a time of suffering, there are two roads. The first road is to seek our desires and good. Because we love ourselves the most. Or we love our children the most or so on. The second road is that one loves God and his glory and purposes above all else. Even ourselves or our family. That is a tough pill to swallow. It is a fork of the road type of perspective. Yet, depending on which road we take will prove to be the most important event in our live. The road we take will determine how one meets life and all the suffering in it.
“God’s will way” Needless to say, the second view of suffering is “God’s will way”. This is where one seeks God’s will and glory above their own desires. It is said like this in the Bible, “he who seeks to find his life shall lose it and he who seeks to lose his life shall find it”. Or “not my will but thine be done”. It is also stated as “your loving kindness is better than life”. And finally, maybe the most piercing text: “if you seek to follow after me, lay down your life and pick up your cross and follow me”.
Now let’s put our thinking caps on for a second. If God is real, then He certainly knows about suffering. He also has the ability to stop suffering. Yet, He chooses not to. According to St John 9, He permits suffering so that His works and glory can be accomplished. So, some suffering (yes even suffering as seen in scripture with Joseph, Job, Jesus, Paul, etc.) are God’s will so that greater glory Jesus can receive.
How does that work? And what good is that to us?
Let us suppose that every single prayer that we ever prayed is answered and there is no suffering. I guess life would be wonderful, right? No. Because suffering is not the prime evil, but sinful hearts. Because where there are sinful hearts, there will be suffering. Killings, theft, abuse, revenge, are cause for great suffering. As a counselor, the most horrific sufferings I have seen are those caused not by disease or injury, but through malice, hate, and selfishness. If then, a changed heart is the only remedy for sinful nature, then how does this change come about? The first answer is the Gospel. The second answer is God’s sanctifying work in us. This means God allows hardship and trial to test and mold our character, keeping us humble, soft and dependent upon Him. Yes, God uses sickness and suffering in this sanctifying process.
A “my will" type of answered prayer may produce a moments gratitude and at best provide a superficial change. Yet, no deep and lasting change will remain. However, the “God’s will," which includes suffering, prayer, humility, dependance will cause a deep and lasting work in a person’s heart. One may even find that Jesus is the most satisfying, real and joyful relationship ever. One may even find that Jesus is better than life, health, and that new house. Jesus is better than a good report, successful business, and family.
God will receive glory from a person’s changed character. God will receive more glory when a person chooses to praise Him in spite of sickness and deaths. When God is valued more than life and happiness, that, friend, is the greatest of all miracles.
The good of that for those that suffer is that suffering can be a means to satisfaction in Christ. Suffering will highlight the very real grace of God to strengthen them. Remember Paul asked three times for his affliction to be removed from him. God said, no. But God did say that His (God’s) strength would be made perfect in weakness. Paul would go on to say that he then gloried in his infirmities that the power of Jesus may rest upon him.
In conclusion, when there is no healing, one can say this: it is God’s will, for his glory and my good. If you choose the “my will way”, it is going to hurt. You will have difficult time. It may cause you to lose faith in God. You will be angry with Him. You will shout, Why!? If you love God more. More than anything. Then you will have the rest knowing God’s will is being accomplished. You will have the satisfaction and peace of knowing that ultimate healing will happen. And you will have the power of the grace of Christ to help you now.
Steven Lester is husband, father, and pastor of Crossroads Church. He resides in Lebanon, VA and works as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. Steven also writes occasionally through his blog, sowerspouch.blog.