There are some aches and pains – some heaviness of spirit – that are simply prayer- resistant. No matter how many people we have praying for us or the depth of our own faith, some infirmities will doggedly remain. Why? While sometimes, it is God’s will to deliver us, there are times when this is not part of His will.
For example, take Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” After Paul had prayed numerous times for God to remove it, God’s answer was “no!” Without this infirmity, Paul would have become insufferably proud to his own detriment, as God’s servant. Instead, this thorn would make him weak so that he would become and remain strong in the Lord (2 Cor. 12:7-11).
On other occasions, God did deliver him from painful trials, but first he had to learn a necessary lesson:
· We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Cor. 1:8-9)
There is no secret to getting God to remove the yoke of trials. If anyone claims that there is one, just show him these verses:
· We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Cor. 4:10-11)
Trials have been ordained as part of our daily diet – our daily bread. We require them! If we are going to manifest Jesus in our lives, the old self must continually be put to death. No pain, no gain!
Meanwhile, how do we deal these trials? I must admit that I have been struggling lately with numerous afflictions. Perhaps the Lord will remove them, and perhaps He won’t. I continue to pray and have others join with me in prayer, but I also look for the joy to carry me through them. This continually turns me back to the Scriptures. Hebrews informs us of how Jesus appropriated this joy:
· Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. (Hebrews 12:1-3; NKJV – all others are NIV as usual)
How are we to resist discouragement and the temptation to sin? Hebrews doesn’t say that if we just pray long enough and hard enough, the pains will disappear. Instead, we are to endure by looking to Jesus’ example! He took His eyes off the temporal – the expectation of the Cross – and set them upon the eternal ((2 Cor. 4:16-18). He was able to endure because of the “joy that was set before Him” – His glorious return to the Father.
How are we to do this? I think that our focus must be heavenward. We have to meditate day and night (Psalm 1) on those verses that illuminate our ultimate hope (Phil. 4:8-9).
Jude completes his doom and gloom epistle with an admonition about this hope:
· To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—(Jude 24)
Despite the apostasy Jude had detailed, he promised that God was not only able to keep us but also to present us “before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” Clearly, the promise of “great joy” transcends this world. Instead, we are admonished to look towards the fulfillment of this hope in the next world.
Hebrews informs us that Abraham didn’t live in a palace but in a tent. His hopes were therefore invested in another place:
· For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10)
We are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13), and our hope is in another world – the very thing that our Lord wants:
· Instead, they [people of faith] were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:16)
Our hope has to be invested in the Promised Land, and trials will enable us to have this hope:
· Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)
Peter reasons that without the “painful trial,” we will not be overjoyed when our Lord is revealed. Instead, we will be too comfortable here and probably tell Him, “Lord, great to see you, but could you just postpone for a couple of months. We have an awards dinner coming up and a trip to the Bahamas. And then there’s the new Chronicles of Narnia movie!”
It’s not easy to envision heaven. However, John assures us that we will be just like Him:
· Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)
This hope has to be primary for us. It is also transformational. John suggests that, before all else, heaven will be a matter of being with Him and like Him. However, he does not help us to envision what this will look like. However, other verses give us an inkling:
1. We will be immortal (1 Cor. 15:53-54).
2. We will be perfect in knowledge (1 Cor. 13:12).
3. We will shine like the sun (Mat. 13:43).
4. There will be no tears or curse (Isa. 25:7-8; Rev. 21:4)
5. We will judge the world (1 Cor. 6:2-3) and minister to the nations (Rev. 22:1-5).
I want my focus to be heavenward. I intend to memorize Revelation 22:1-17 to keep me focused there. However, Hebrews also gives us another hardball admonition about dealing with life’s hardships. It’s one that I need – one that unmasks my self-pity. We mustn’t be tempted to think that our problems are so much greater than those of others:
· In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." (Proverbs 3:11-12) Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:4-11)
Others have shed blood and have experienced horrible forms of victimization. I haven’t. In comparison, my suffering is minimal. Besides, we must never forget that these afflictions are a sign of God’s love. Hebrews also reminds us that it’s going to be painful. We shouldn’t expect to be able deny the pain away, but there’s a reason for this – spiritual growth.
Our eyes do not tell us everything we’d like to know. Neither does the Bible, but it does tell us what we need to know. It may not be a GPS, but it is a trustworthy roadmap. It may not tell us everything about our sojourn, but it does give us the final chapter, and this hope will win over our thoughts and dreams.
AN ADDITIONAL THOUGHT: Although prayer may not get us everything we want, it can give us what we really need - the peace of God:
- Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philip. 4:6-7)