Sunday, 6 August 2006

When the truck hits the hedgehog

Or, 'When God-incidents don't happen.'
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! [Matt 7:7-11]
What a wonderful promise. Yet one that makes us feel uncomfortable... when it doesn't always seem to happen. Tim Challies quoted it while giving thanks to God for answered prayer in a car breakdown, and someone commented, 'I'm curious how you would have responded had a tow truck or emergency aid not shown up at all, and left you to either a) change the tire in the rain and traffic, or b) make a long hike to get help? Would you (would any of us) still have thought to thank God for providing for us?'

Closer to home, I failed my driving test last week. Many people fail their driving tests in the UK: 57% in fact (and higher for 1st time candidates). But in this instance, I needed to get it before this Thursday as I'm about to move to England where I'll need a car as I start working for UCCF:thechristianunions, travelling to various universities to support the students there in discipleship and evangelism. It costs a bomb to take lessons and take the test, and repeating in a different place would cost another £150 odd. So, many people were praying for me, that I'd pass this test. When I failed, several of those wonderfully faithful pray-ers who were in touch with me, said with disappointment, 'Oh. But I was praying for you!'

We believe God's in control.
They prayed. (And my driving instructor knew of it.)
I failed.
I was at fault.
I felt like I'd let them down.
So because I believe God's in control and because we were praying, I feel guilty and struggle to trust that God is really doing what's best. Something's wrong here!

(Yes I know, a driving test isn't really that huge in the grand scheme of things, but prayer is, so bear with me.)
If it were not for the death of Jesus everything you and I experience would be a token of God's wrath. But since Jesus has died and we have become beneficiaries of that death, everything that happens to us, even our trouble, is a token of God's love. ...

What has God done in order that our prayers might be answered? He has sent His dearly loved and only Son to absorb His own wrath against sin and to lead us into the green pastures of His favour where there is mercy and grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). Jesus died for our sins that our prayers might be answered. - Piper

So what if our prayers don't seem to be answered?

Ultimately, he has better plans. It sounds trite, but it's true. Look, in John 15:7 Jesus says, "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." Piper observes:

"We would not approve a father's behaviour who did everything a rebellious child wished. Not just because the child doesn't deserve it but because it would be bad for the child and a dishonour to the father's word. It is not a good thing to confirm a child in his waywardness by giving him whatever he asks. No, if my words abide in you, son, then ask what you will and I'll do it.

"There are many other places in Scripture where this same thing is taught. John says in his first letter (3:21-23),
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us we have confidence before God; and we receive from Him whatever we ask because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him. And this is His commandment, that we should believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another just as He commanded us."
The Father gives us what pleases him. And what pleases him is that we grow more and more into the image of his Son, transformed by his Holy Spirit. Our plans are frequently so small and myopic in comparison. In this case, clearly God's plans are big enough to be worth a lot of frustration, time and money relating to a driving test. When I say it like that, it's obvious, isn't it? Or perhaps I should say, failure, frustrated plans and expense are worth learning how to develop a more God-trusting attitude to failure, frustrated plans and expense - plus whatever other good God will bring out of it.

In other words, if I felt frustrated, it was because the plans of those of us praying had been frustrated. We know that God's plans were not frustrated. And were I to persist in feeling frustrated, I'm effectively insisting that our ways would've been better than God's glorious, good ways! And so our attitude to prayer to our Father and Sovereign Lord turns out rather more like The Proclaimers' Hit the Highway than 'Not my will, but yours, be done.'

How then may we pray to avoid that? "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you."

  • So we must have God's words abiding in us: study and meditate on God's word to have our vision expanded to his, not imagining that our good intentions and plans don't matter (2 Thess.1:11-12), but having our good intentions and plans shaped by his words.
  • We must keep sights on how huge God is, meditating on what he has revealed of himself and his glory.
  • I must realise there's a difference between pleading on the basis of God's word and promises and giving God the list of watertight reasons I've worked out as to exactly why he should do according to my will - however much it seems to my little view of things that I'm arguing for his glory.

Further (and better) thoughts:
Piper on What Do Answers to Prayer Depend On? Part 1, Part 2


Alan Davey said...

Hi Rosemary

Sorry about your driving test. I failed first time. My second test was cancelled because of (a little!) snow. I passed with just a week left on my provisional.

When all sorts of things don't work out remember that God's overwhelming purpose for you is to make you Christ-like. Our plans seem important, and they probably are. Our hopes of what we will achieve for God seem important, too, and they probably are. But nothing is as important as becoming like Jesus Christ.

And I don't think that can ever happen without a lot of things apparently going horribly wrong!

mama said...

Isn't 'no' an answer? (Amy Carmichael)...

...and the angels sing, and the demons tremble, as yet another child of the Kingdom accepts the Father's 'no' as a token of his love, and strengthens herself and others by setting out her reasons.

But try explaining that to the dear old folk in church who say in bewilderment, "But I was praying for you."

Andy said...

I didn't pass my test until attempt #2 in my first term on UCCF staff. It was three days before my first (of many) journey's from Leeds to the Quinta.

You'll pass in good time and in the mean time I want to encourage you to give thanks in all circumstances. There's His goodness even in disappointment - there will be bigger 'failures' to come and His goodness and praise will not fail even then.


étrangère said...

Yes, thanks Andy. There's a world of difference between acceptance and thanksgiving and I needed that reminder. I'm off to sing some hymns :)

Anna said...

Thankyou so much for this post-was just what I needed reminding of as I head out to study in Holland for 3 months.

God Bless! XxxxxXx

étrangère said...

Glad that my passing on of what God reminded me has been helpful to you, Anna. You know of CUs in the Netherlands? Their website is here and their English website here. Which city will you be in? I have a Dutch friend I was on IFES team with who is back in the Netherlands and would be glad to give you a hand - if you want put in touch, let me know. The Dutch generally speak wonderful English (the younger generation anyway).