Maybe I’m not supposed to say this because I’m a pastor, but I’ve never questioned my faith more than I have in the past 18 months. I’ve never doubted God. Not His existence, not His love, not His presence. But I have done a lot of asking, searching, and chasing after answers to some tough questions about life, faith, and how God interacts with us particularly in the middle of hard times.
Although I’ve never doubted God, I have wrestled with anger that, if I’m honest, I’ve directed at Him more than once. As I watch people I love go through difficulties in life, as I watch students I love experience pain and hurt, and as I watch tragedies of all shapes and sizes unfold across the planet (like yet another high school shooting that took place today), sometimes I can’t help but take a step back and wonder why in the world God allows certain things happen the way they do. That’s a tension that we all have to face.
What I’ve come to realize and have complete peace with is that there’s nothing wrong with struggling through those moments. There’s nothing sinful about wrestling with God’s plan. God’s grace is greater than my weakness, and it covers me even in these moments of my life. Especially in these moments.
Trusting and having faith in the purpose and provision of an unseen God is the single most difficult thing any human being will ever have to decide to do or not do. After all, if Jesus didn’t know that having faith was nearly impossible, He wouldn’t have said that such a small amount as a mustard seed could move a mountain (Matthew 17:20). To pretend that it’s wrong to have to work through those things is naive and foolish, and people who would make others feel that way are the reason so many are abandoning their faith in God.
What God has revealed to me through the past year-and-a-half is the simple truth that most of the time, it’s not that God isn’t answering the prayers we’re praying. It’s that we’re praying the wrong prayers in the first place. Track with me here:
In Daniel chapter 3, we read the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They were three men who were living in a foreign land. They had faith in God and refused to follow the directions of the King to bow down and worship an idol he had created out of gold. They would bow to no other God but the one they had put their faith in.
So the King has them thrown into a giant furnace. This furnace was often used to kill people who crossed the King. The three men knew their fate was all but sealed. I’ll bet they were praying for God to rescue them. They were praying every prayer they could think of in that moment, asking God to keep them out of the furnace.
To make matters worse, on this particular day the King was so mad that he told his servants to heat the furnace seven times hotter than normal. Here’s something that’s true of life: many times, before our situation gets better, things are going to get worse. Before things cool off, it might just get seven times hotter. But there’s hope. (Tweet this)
So the furnace is heated and the King has the men thrown in. It was so hot that Daniel 3:22 says the guards who threw the men into the furnace died from the heat and the flames. Three men go into the fire.
But then a moment later, the King lost his freaking mind when he looked into the furnace and saw four men. And they weren’t four charred corpses. They were alive and walking around. So he asked, “I’m not crazy, right? We did throw three men into the fire didn’t we?” “Yes,” they answered. Three men. And now there were four. The fourth man in the furnace was Jesus.
The hope for us to hang onto in life’s hottest moments is this: we often don’t see Jesus until we’re already in the fire. That’s when He reveals himself to us. That’s when He does His best work. When we are at our weakest, at the end of our rope, with nowhere else to go, Jesus shows up and makes things happen.
The reason for that is simple: at the point the three men found themselves in the fire, their lives were basically over. They weren’t going to save themselves. They were powerless. So a few verses later, when we read that they came out of the fire and not a hair on their heads was even singed, we can only reason that they were saved by God. Without Him, they were dead.
That’s how He works in our lives. Sometimes Jesus waits until the only possible explanation for our rescue is that He showed up. (Tweet this) We can’t take credit, no one else can either…only Jesus.
So here’s the moral of this story: more often than not, when we don’t see an immediate answer from God, it’s not that we’re not praying enough, or hard enough, or long enough. It’s that our prayers need to shift. We need to stop praying, “God, save me from the fire,” and start praying, “Jesus, reveal yourself to me. Let me see you.” (Tweet this)
In the moments when the fire is hottest and the hope is distant, simply ask God to show Himself to you and let you know He’s still working, that He hasn’t left or abandoned you, and that He isn’t done with you yet. The moments where we find ourselves beyond hope are the moments where God can refine us and teach us to use our stories for His glory.
I’m sure that I haven’t asked my last question or wrestled with my last frustration. It’s part of learning to walk in faith, which is something we don’t stop learning to do until we wake up one day and see Jesus face-to-face. It’s a life-long process. But in the meantime, I’m just praying to see Jesus more clearly, and to learn to trust Him more fully, even in the midst of the fire.
Thanks you so much for your post. I’m going through a fire right now with terrible depression and anxiety. Your post has given much to think about and hope. I struggle with God not answering my prayer to help me with these issues. They overwhelm me. I believe God has a plan and purpose for this but emotions are so hard to deal with. I do thank you for writing this.
I’m glad this meant something to you…I am praying for you!