Last week a friend and I prayed for her son. This boy had worked very hard over a long period of time and made many sacrifices to achieve a goal. We were hoping that God would reward that sweet boy’s effort and self-discipline with the prize he strove so hard to attain.
Later, I got a text. He didn’t win. Didn’t come close. Frownie-face emoji.
And then, a few minutes later: “I want him to know that hard work and sacrifice result in success not failure. Why doesn’t God think I know best?” Winky-face emoji.
My friend nailed it. Her reaction is the same as mine when God doesn’t answer my prayers in the way that I think He should. I think of myself as a reasonable person, and I would like the world to be predictably sensible according to my rules: Cheaters never win. (Oh, but they do.) Hard work equals success. (Except when it doesn’t.) Nice guys finish first. (Or last.)
On the surface of it, I want the world to work according to these principles, so that if I just work hard and follow the rules, good things will happen for me. I also want my children to learn that working hard, being good, and following the rules pays off, because I think that is my “insurance” that they will grow up to do what I want them to do, which is of course to work hard, be good, and follow the rules.
Then I remember that I am a cheater, capable of great laziness, whose niceness is questionable on my best days. I would do well to be glad that because of Jesus, I am not going to get what I actually deserve. And I remember that when I don’t get what I want, God is graciously giving me what I need instead.
Here’s another story: several years ago when we lived in Colorado, my husband Jeff was on schedule to make partner at his law firm. He had literally worked harder than any other associate. He was the number one billing and collecting associate in the entire nationwide firm. When the time came, however, he inexplicably did not make partner. We discovered that a very influential partner had taken a strong dislike to Jeff and threw up a roadblock on his partnership track. That attorney was going nowhere, so Jeff took a job elsewhere and we moved to Alabama. He was disappointed, hurt, and defeated.
Nine months later, the news broke on CNN that this enormous national firm had declared bankruptcy. Its partners got greedy and paid themselves too much, and now they were all in debt and in trouble. My husband was not one of them.
God graciously allowed us to see how He had protected us. To this day I am amazed by how something that looked so terrible and unfair was actually a saving grace, financially and otherwise. We thought that Jeff had not gotten the promotion he “deserved;” instead our family received protection we did not earn. God had a greater purpose in mind when He demonstrated His trustworthiness so clearly.
Sometimes God gives us a glimpse of why He says “no” to our heart’s desires, but usually we do not get such a clear view into His mysterious ways. Scripture teaches that Jesus is the “author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 2:2) This means that our faith is Jesus’s masterpiece, and He will craft that faith in the way He chooses to give it the beauty He intends. Sometimes He shows His handiwork openly, as He did with our law firm experience, and it increased our trust in Him. Oftentimes He keeps His purposes hidden, as He has done with my friend’s son, and so we do the hard work of believing. In these cases God is prompting us to exercise our fledgling faith and trust Him in spite of circumstances. In either case, He shows us what we need to know and hides what we do not.
Disappointments remind us not only of God’s sovereignty, but also of His care for other human beings. It’s not all about me. It’s not all about my kid either. John Piper writes: “Considering all the factors at play in the universe, it is likely no exaggeration that there are trillions of reasons for why God directs the course of our lives, and He prefers to carry out His purposes in ways that confound, surprise, and humble humans, angels and demons.”
Proverbs 30:8-9 ESV says: “…Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny You and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” This profound prayer of faith is hard for me. I want to be “full” of the “riches” of this world, and I want especially for my kids to get everything their hearts desire. But getting what we want can actually turn our hearts away from God instead of toward Him. If my son wins every race, nails every interview, receives every award, and charms every girl, he will quickly become arrogant, lazy, and proud. He will believe he can do all things through his own effort and ability, quickly forgetting Who gave him any ability he has to begin with. He might be rich and successful, but that fullness will make him godless.
To pray for what we need even more than what we want – this is a bold prayer demonstrating radical confidence in the Father who answers with perfect provision. Give us day by day, Lord, our daily bread. Amen. (Luke 11:3 KJV)