"It's hard to believe in God or Jesus or whatever when they don't get it right so often?" This is a conversation I have had with my friend James on his slow-ride trip back to Jesus. When I say slow I mean glacial. He has moved from atheist to the belief that there is a God. He does not know if God loves us or intervenes in our lives, but he knows that there is a God and God MAY love us and intervene. The Holy Spirit, I believe, will have to work hard to bring James to Jesus. I believe in miracles, so I pray for James and we talk a lot about a lot of things, God included. Atheist friends can be exhausting. <SIGH>
James believes that there should be a human definition of what God should do. God's not just an ATM machine in this belief set, God is a genie, but God grants an infinite set of wishes, not just three. When God does what we want when we want it, then there is a God. I'm actually giggling as I write this because he is right. Because in his own mind, he's right, that means JAMES IS GOD! He gets to dictate everything regardless of consequence and based on what Sonny sees from his own perspective is right.
If there were a God, God would answer prayers, all prayers (Psalm 65:2). There would be no suffering, no death, injury, poverty, illness, rained out ball games, or car wrecks. I could go on and on. God actually has this suffering-free world in mind- it is called heaven. He left a road map to get to heaven, given to us by His son, Jesus Christ. Jesus talked to His father as well. He asked for what His Father wanted. It is a part of being human and God sent His only son here to be among us not only as human but also as God. Jesus taught us how to pray, how to follow the map to salvation, and what heaven would be like. He even promised that all prayers would be answered (they just might not be answered in our way and on our timeline).
Lie - God chooses which prayers to answer and ignores the rest.
People often believe that if there were a God, He would answer all prayers the way that they were asked with the provisions that were asked for. In this instance, God's answers would not cover the intersection of the future, what is really the best for you and others around you, and of course it would mean that your prayers always aligned with everyone else's prayers. That couldn't work, but when we have prayers that are not answered the way we want, we don't care about these details. We want what we want when we want it.
I kind of worked out a little list of God's possible answer to prayers:
1. Yes, how you want the answer and when you want the answer.
2. Yes, and more than you expected from the prayer.
3. Yes, but different than how you expected the answer.
5. Not now.
6. Call back later.
These are all answers, but the first one is the only one acceptable to each of us as an acknowledgement of a response to prayer. James thinks it's the first one. It is actually a very popular one for most of us, me included, to challenge our faith. When we get what we want, it's a miracle. Church communities, individuals, small faith groups, and families all pray for miracles. I have experienced miracles, a bunch of them. People I do not know stop me and tell me that they have prayed for me and when I tell them that I have received a miracle, the say, "Praise God!" When I have not gotten one yet, they say, "God's ways are not our ways." No one says, "God's a jerk!" That is because the prayer is for someone else. When it is for someone really close to them, or for them, faith is really tested, and the person asks, "God, WHY AREN'T YOU LISTENING TO ME?"
I have some stories of unwanted tragedies that changed my life. While difficult at the time, I now know, these challenges were actually God's miracles. These challenges include, years of infertility, surviving a heart attack while on a plane, and two brain surgeries. I’ve got a basket more. In each of these instances, God stepped in and performed miracles. These have completely changed my life forever and I know now that they are miracles. I'm not trying to short-change the miracles at all; it is just that you can probably figure out the rest of the story yourself. Fast notes:
• Self-absorbed and independent person
• Believer, but wants to give and not receive
• Catastrophe happens to him and he needs to rely on other people and truly experiences God's love through being dependent rather than independent
• Slows down and really prays, studies and listens to God
• Realizes that God has a different plan for his life
• Embraces God and opens himself to God's control of his life
See, I knew you had already heard this story before. I left out a couple of kidney stones. I do not know what God was doing with those except giving me a greater appreciation for painkillers.
Jesus does not need an Instruction Manual. He has one. We need a faith manual, a trust manual, and an eternity manual (Matthew 7:7). They are really hard to read, understand and believe. Fortunately, God left it for us in the Bible.
James and I have a strong difference of opinion and a great friendship. How will James come to understand God's love if we stop being friends? I share the Good News with James and pray for him. Our spreading of the Good News is in strong part our spreading of faith (Acts 13:32). It is great to tell our stories as a way to demonstrate God's love and grace. Faith, as we know, is the belief in something that is not seen (2 Corinthians 4:18, Hebrew 11:1). It is our job, as outlined in our instruction manual, to spread the Good News, including the answering of prayers by God always in any one of the six ways I listed, not just the top answer. In the top answer, all that is acceptable to us as humans are answers for this life. The REAL promise is Salvation and Life Everlasting. This is the real promise of the Good News and faith. One is temporal and truly tiny in comparison with the complete commitment that all prayers are answered, and that God really knows what He’s doing even when we don’t.