Will You Accept What God Gives?

May 09, 2016 |Meredith Whitmore
Distressed young adult man

Learning how to trust His plan when you don't like the answers.

During college, I attended a large church with a vibrant college-career group. Headed by a fresh-out-of-seminary assistant pastor, it was a warm, friendly gathering. Prayer seemed to come naturally to each member, and many needs were graciously lifted up each Sunday.

One day, after a member of the group announced he had been diagnosed with cancer, the pastor prayed for the young man’s healing. They happened to be best friends. From that class on, each Sunday the pastor prayed for the young man’s health with growing urgency. He often quoted John 14:14 and prayed, “Lord, we are trusting You to heal our friend. We ask in Your name, and we know You will do it.”

When the young man died eight months later, the once enthusiastic pastor was crushed. He seemed disoriented; his cheerful demeanor was noticeably shaken. After all, he had faithfully petitioned God and held to his fervent belief that God would spare his friend.

Was he wrong to pray for healing? No. James 5:13-15 states:

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.

Throughout the Bible, healing is mentioned — both spiritual and physical — so it was right for the man to pray for healing for his friend. But was he hasty to presume with utter confidence that his friend would be healed? Possibly. 

While we are told to pray with absolute assurance in God’s ability to answer our prayers, we are also to pray according to His will. This means we pray with the knowledge that God will do what He will do, whether it is what we want Him to do or not.

My Will or His?

So why was the pastor so shaken? It might seem like a silly question with an obvious answer — God didn’t answer his prayer the way he thought He would — but I think it goes deeper. In order for someone to be confused by God’s answer to prayer, they must have a prior expectation. That is, they must believe, consciously or unconsciously, that life will turn out a certain way for them.

The pastor was disoriented when his friend died because he, probably unconsciously, had an agenda for how life — his and his best friend’s — should be. We all have many such expectations whether we are aware of them or not.

In order to get out of our confusion when life doesn’t go as we anticipate, it’s important to realize why we’re perplexed in the first place. My experience has shown that we often trust our plans for our life more than we trust His. And our plans often go something like this:

  1. Find the love of my life.
  2. Have a wonderful marriage.
  3. Enjoy a fulfilling career with multiple promotions.
  4. Live in a nice home and go on fabulous vacations.
  5. Raise well-kept, obedient children.
  6. Etc., etc., ad nauseam.

Naturally, there are variations of this list, but these items seem to form a common refrain.

Know Who You’re Asking

“If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” is tempting to misconstrue as, “You, God, will give me the good things I ask for because I’m asking in Your name and, hey, they’re good, so you want me to have them.” But faith has little to do with what we’re asking for and everything to do with Who we are asking.

To pray in His name means to pray with His authority, yet to pray according to His will, not our own. It’s easy to identify God’s stated will — the commands and instructions for living that He makes clear in His Word. But many of the things we pray for fall within His unknown will. It seems even Jesus was unsure of His Father’s sovereign will when He asked for deliverance in the Garden of Gethsemane. He says, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

“Not as I will, but as You will.” Can you say that with conviction? Can I? 

So what can we be certain God will give us when we pray? Let’s look to another verse for illustration. Luke 11:13 says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” In other words, if we ask God for what He wants to give us, He will give us the good gift of the Holy Spirit. He will almost certainly give us other good things, as well, but the Holy Spirit is by far the most important.

Though I’m ashamed to admit it, when I was younger, this verse felt like throwing a wet blanket on my already tear-stained sorrows. The Holy Spirit is the gift? How can He make things better? That’s cold comfort when you don’t get into the Ph.D. program you’d dreamed of, or your chances at a Fulbright Scholarship are dashed. How shortsighted I was.

Unwanted Chapters

Sometimes it’s helpful to see such concepts worked out in others’ stories. Helen Roseveare is an excellent illustration. Born in 1925 to a comfortable English family, Helen attended Cambridge University and became a physician. Between 1953 and 1973, she worked in the Congo as a medical missionary. In 1964, however, during the Congolese civil war, she was held hostage for five months by soldiers. She was also raped. Her horrendous trials are touched upon in her autobiography, Give Me This Mountain.

After her ordeal, Dr. Roseveare spoke to thousands, perhaps millions, of people, sharing the story of how God had worked the evil in her life for her good, not her harm. She had not expected the barbarous savagery that He had allowed in her life, but she came to accept it. Instead of her plan, He followed His own, and she grew to trust Him through it.

In her presentations, she sometimes used a small tree, gradually stripping it of leaves and branches as she told her story. When only a bare trunk was left, she then explained that, though she had expected and desired marriage, children and many more good things common to people’s stories, God had stripped them away.

He had also stripped away her pride and other negative character traits. Through the process, He had made her a spear to touch others for Him — which she demonstrated by holding up the stripped-down trunk in her hand. In the book, Living Sacrifice: Willing to Be Whittled as an Arrow, she tells more of how God has used her to “pierce” others’ hearts for His Kingdom.

How did she survive the unexpected, unwanted chapters of the story He gave her? She learned to trust His plan above her own.

Another illustration of someone who demonstrated faith in God’s plan above his own is Allen Gardiner. In 1851 Allen, another English missionary, sailed to South America to open a mission station in Patagonia. He had left everything behind in England, including his family, his comfort and his safety. But instead of realizing his good plan to minister to others, his ship sank and he was washed ashore on Tierra del Fuego, where he eventually died of thirst and starvation.

His body was finally found, as was his journal. In his last entry he wrote Psalm 34:10: “The young lions do lack and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want [lack] any good thing” (KJV). The very last line of his journal was this: “I am overwhelmed with a sense of the goodness of God.”

His attitude seems impossible. Why wasn’t he furious with God? Why wasn’t he utterly confused that his good plans had not come true? Because he realized that God Himself was the good thing he most needed and wanted. He found God to be both beautiful and sufficient, and not merely useful to him in achieving his human agenda. Like Dr. Roseveare, he had learned to trust the Lord.

Trusting Through Trials

I am deeply humbled by the trust in God and submission to His will displayed by these two missionaries. Their faithfulness sings to my soul whenever I am faced with my own trials, which, so far, have paled in comparison. Still, these trials have broken my heart, and God has used them to hone me, whether I’ve been rejected by a once good friend who refuses to reconcile, passed over for a promotion or prevented from achieving a life-long dream.

Will I trust God when I’m confused by events in my life? Will I trust Him if I’ve prayed passionately for a good thing for 20 years, and it has not been given to me — and might not be? Will I trust Him through health problems, a dying loved one and every other difficult but sovereignly planned event in my life? Will I let go of my own agenda and let Him guide me in His perfect plan, not mine?

Will you?

I pray so.

Copyright Meredith Whitmore 2016. All rights reserved.

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