I spent many years as a Charismatic and Word of Faith adherent. It was pretty common to embrace the notion of speaking life over circumstances (as if God was obligated to obey that) and believing that if one just stood on faith circumstances would work out in their favor. Add to that, being convinced that whatever subjective and often arbitrary “voice of God” led to the right to believe for certain outcomes. Well there are certainly concerns regarding that position, primarily that these beliefs and practices undermine the sovereignty of God. The idea that we can have what we say in accordance with subjective leadings, smacks of human initiated and self-focused rights that presumes works on behalf of our bidding.
A survey of all 66 books of the bible should shout in our face that all request and desires are subject to the will of God. Depending on what view of sovereignty you ascribe to, scripture is understood to deem God in ultimate control of his purposes being carried since he “works all things according to the council of His will.” (Ephesians 1:11). To think that our prayers, desires and verbal proclamations can override what God intends is myopic at least and irreverent at worse.
I am of the conviction that everything happens by God’s sovereign choice, including election of His people (how we are called into God’s family). Yet on the other hand, I wonder if our deep awe and respect for God’s sovereignty can temper our expectations to irrelevancy that is concerned with very little beyond being accepted in the family of God. Don’t get me wrong, we should be grateful for a deep and abiding grace that can turn an enemy of God into His beloved child and friend. Regardless of your view of election, the fact is it had to begin with an extension of His grace made available to those who did not deserve it. It should produce a reverent fear that puts our humanity, with all of its wants and needs in perspective.
But I fear that our respect for God’s sovereignty can go too far to the opposite extremes. I wonder if we are so resigned to a “hands off” approach that reduces our faith to a type of fatalism. It relegates all aspirations under the rubric of “if it be your will”. Not that it is supposed God’s will can be overridden, but that it leaves little to no room for expectation of change. This is particularly relevant to those who have endured disappointment and unanswered prayers, for those who have hoped and prayed but it did not change the outcomes of the situation that drove us to prayer in the first place. In this case, it is easy for expectations to be tempered with the resignation that God is going to do what He wants to anyway. So rather than subject our hopes to God for positive answers, it might be prudent not to do that. It’s better to be safe, than sorry.
I recall when my late husband was alive, sick with kidney failure and lupus, not following Christ, unappreciative of me and uncaring of the burden. I prayed for a number of years that God would change his heart, that he would get healthy – spiritually and physically and that the marriage would turn around. I desired that, I prayed for that, I hoped for that. Being committed at that time to the idea that we can speak life into our circumstances, I professed that and believed that God could do it. But the situation got worse, as did his health. It did not seem like my prayers were changing anything. One day I just stopped, I kneeled and prayed and told God that while I know I have prayed a certain way for a certain outcome, that whatever His will was in that situation then so be it. He passed away shortly after that.
That was in 2004 and a lot has happened since then. I went through a pretty radical doctrinal paradigm shift, away from the Charismatic/Word of Faith beliefs I once held, learned to read scripture holistically and entered seminary for a Masters in Theology in 2008. Yet, since being in seminary these past 4 years, I have been confronted with a bucket of unanswered prayers. God’s silence and seemingly inactivity on behalf of my petitions have grown discouraging. I can honestly say that this is the longest bout I’ve gone with no answers, no change, no intervention. Some days my heart is so heavy with disappointment yet the Lord sustains me and reminds me through his Word, that there is a greater purpose. But at the same time reminds me that He responds to prayers and He does intervene.
So I stand in tension between God’s sovereignty and hope for change. I know He is in charge and will orchestrate things according to what He wants. But there is still that expectation that prayers will be answered. It is indeed a tightrope. But I fear getting off may lead to some unhealthy extremes.
I remember a cartoon of a monk lying in bed with the bedside doctor packing up his little black bag. The monk is saying “Don’t expect a miracle? Why shouldn’t I expect a miracle?” Such a question is not necessarily arrogant or demanding. The humble believer has it, too.
The inactivity (Christians are salivating “SEEMING inactivity”) of God is a test I must admit I failed while at seminary. Total failure. While all the “Don’t Lose it at Seminary” articles you read wish to focus solely on the “arrogance of learning” (because the Christian Church in America is anti-intellectual), this aspect is either ignored or when addressed, the church proclaims that Job’s friends were right. What is the answer when the only thing you can think of is “Taste and see that the Lord is niggardly”?
I appreciate that you are addressing this so openly.
“Taste and see that the Lord is niggardly”? Excellent! Of course he is good and I wants us to experience his goodness.
When I was growing up, I spent my summer and winter vacations in Chicago with my grandparents. I remember this one summer when I was in high school (junior year I think), on a shopping excursion with my grandmother for school clothes I saw this beautiful cream color winter coat. It was so fashionable for the times but yet had this edge and elegance. I absolutely fell in love with it. Well my grandmother gave me a choice between the coat and what was practical. As much as I wanted that coat, I knew that getting the clothes we came in for was the way to go.
When I went back for winter break and opened my Christmas presents, to my surprise and sheer delight one of the boxes contained that coat. It put such a smile on my face not only because I got what I desired but because of my grandmother’s thoughtfulness to surprise me that way.
I can’t help but think our Lord takes that same delight and knowing what will put a smile on the faces of his children though at times we go through dark and dry periods.
Encouraging. Thanks, Lisa.
For many years I experienced that sort of fatalism which hindered my prayers. Why pray for anything in any situation except to say, “Thy will be done”?
I have to believe that God is moved to action by the sincerity of our faith expressed in prayer; that “prayer changes things”.