Thursday, November 3, 2011

Will we receive whatever we ask of Him?

I knew the question would come up when I read, “Whatever we ask we receive of Him.” But I was tired. There is no answer to satisfy the masses. Life doesn’t seem fair. I can answer it no better than so many who have tackled it in the past. But since the question was posed by my “second mother” I will address it. When true Christians pray for other true Christians, why is there not always healing? Why do bad things happen to good people? My own father who has faithfully served God as a Music Minister has lung cancer, something that seems a slap in the face to a man with a wonderful bass voice so often used for God. My grandmother has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and she is one of the most wonderful examples of a Christian woman on this earth. I can focus on prayers answered – my Dad’s cancer isn’t in remission but there isn’t even anything going on to treat right now, and my grandmother is improving with therapy – but the illnesses are still there. Death and suffering are inevitable for all who tread this realm of mortality. There are times when we all want to scream “That’s not fair!” at the top of our lungs in our best preschool voice.

Ancient Jewish thought was that bad things happened to bad people and good things happened to good people. In Jesus’ day illness was believed to be the result of sin. When Jesus’ disciples pointed out a man blind from birth and asked if the blindness was a result of the man’s sin or his parent’s sin Jesus responded, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Some today, such as Mormons and some branches of Christianity, still believe that trials in this life are a result of sin. And sometimes they are. Drug abuse, sexual sins, anger, wrath, malice, greed, envy – all these sins have an effect not only on the sinner but on others around them. But it is completely against Scripture to teach that enough faith can make anyone well, that trials are always a result of sin, or that if you have enough faith God will bless you with health and wealth. I would boldly place anyone who teaches otherwise in the aforementioned category of “antichrist.”

Most modern scholars believe the book of Job was the first book written in the Bible. Job suffers greatly – losing property, livestock, and all his children – but still praises God. Although his wife nags him and his friends are little comfort he does not give up his faith. His initial response to all the bad news is relayed in the first chapter:

     Then Job stood up, tore his robe and shaved his head. He fell to the ground and worshiped,
          Naked I came from my mother's womb,
          and naked I will leave this life.
          The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away.
          Praise the name of the LORD.
      Throughout all this Job did not sin or blame God for anything.

Job’s example of praise through his trials is an example to us all, and his friends’ beliefs that Job must have sinned to bring the trials upon himself were shot down by none other than the voice of the Almighty God.

Will even the prayer of even a spiritual “giant” always heal the sick? The apostle Paul wrote of the illness of Epaphroditus, "For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow" (Phil 2:27). On the other hand, the same apostle wrote, "Trophimus I left sick at Miletus" (2 Tim 4:20). Do you imagine that Paul prayed for Epaphroditus but not Trophimus? Surely he prayed for both men, but one was healed and one was left sick. Paul himself refers to a physical affliction he had as a "thorn in the flesh." We are not told what the affliction was, but he reveals his attitude toward it: “Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (2 Cor. 12:8-9). Paul certainly did not always receive what he prayed for!

Some respond to the question by saying that if your spirit is truly in tune with God you will only ask for things within his will – therefore whatever you ask will be given. There is some truth in this, but not fully. Jesus himself asked the Father to let the cup of suffering pass from him, praying “But not my will, but thine be done.” It is pretty clear that the answer to the first part of that prayer was a no. Jesus suffered far more than any of us ever will, yet he was fully righteous and completely one with the will of God. Sometimes the answer to our desires is simply “No” – no matter how pious the asker, no matter how sincere the prayer, no matter how righteous the request may be.

In Western society we tend to ask “Why me?” I noticed after the Japanese tsunami and nuclear crises that the response of the people was not on why the event happened but on how to respond to the situation. I think the latter train of thought is actually closer to the biblical train of thought, even though it comes from a largely non-Christian society. What can God do through the tragedies surrounding you? Grow your faith? Strengthen your testimony? Bring you and others to more fully rely on Him? If there were no pruning there would be no fruit, but the pruning is painful. We can choose to focus on the painful cut of the shears or seek the way the work of God may be displayed in our life. It is a daily choice – sometimes even minute by minute – but it is one that profoundly affects our walk with God, our relationships with others, and our peace here in earth. What will you choose today?