Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Among my recent reading, I nominate for "most immediately significant" Chapter Nine ("The One Thing Needed") of Mark Buchanan's book Things Unseen: Living in Light of Forever. In it, pastor Buchanan describes a session with a counselee whose feelings beautifully echo my own of late: "Don’t take this too seriously [but] I just would rather not have to live anymore.... I’ve been waiting for a long time for something, anything, to change [for the better]. But nothing ever happens.... It’s like God doesn’t notice me. I don’t rate His attention."

God, I work hard. I'm committed to advancing Your Kingdom through the talents You gave me. I try to make time every day for prayer and worship. So how come I haven't had a drop of income in two months; and how come You let me stay so uncertain as to whether that's because of anything I'm doing or not doing? And how come You won't heal my depressive and perfectionistic tendencies that are just making things worse?

Buchanan relates such periods in our lives to Matthew 11:2-6 and notes, "Blessed is the man who doesn’t fall away on account of the One who does all this for others, but who sometimes leaves you–you!–in your prison, with death just outside the door. For me, one of the most difficult things about being a pastor is that too often I witness firsthand the lopsidedness of divine miracles." For those of us who pray about our problems for months or years without seeing anything discernible happening, hearing about the wonders God has wrought in others' lives doesn't always encourage; it may just tempt us to thoughts of "He cares about everyone but me." Why does He instantly answer a prayer about a relatively insignificant problem with a "yes," and seem deaf to "an entire church fasting and praying for forty-eight hours" for someone whose illness is not only terminal but strikes with agonizing pain in the prime of life? Why is it that two equally dedicated believers in seemingly identical situations can pray for relief, and one gets a "yes" answer and the other a "no"?

Then there was the man who prayed for healing of a potentially serious health problem and saw a minor one healed instead: "I guess God just wanted to show me He was able." I don't see how he could have taken it so well; to me, it would have been like asking for rent money to avoid eviction and having someone open a vault bulging with bills--and toss me a penny.

It doesn't help that many Christians who do get the more obvious blessings let it blind them to the reality of "lopsidedness." Hearing "God healed me when I prayed, so He'd heal you if you just prayed enough" is not comforting to someone who's already praying as best she feels able. Neither, for that matter, is hearing someone list how much worse she's lived through and conclude "...and you don't see me feeling sorry for myself," never considering that the ability to be happy in adverse circumstances might also be a blessing that God bestows in unequal degrees. No, I don't deny that self-pity is a sinful attitude; I just deny that all Spirit-filled Christians find it equally easy to put aside.

So what comfort is there for the believer who, by extreme circumstances or by temperament, finds himself in the "Lord, where's my miracle?" situation?

Quoting again from Buchanan's Things Unseen:"We hope in Christ not just because He feeds us, or heals us, or routs our enemies. Indeed, sometimes he doesn’t do any of that... No, we hope in Christ because of who He is, because He has the words of eternal life, and because anyone 'who feeds on this bread will live forever' [Jn. 6:58]. Because the world–and all its bread and all its fish and all its jewels and all its wonders and all its everything–is not enough." Because the physical healings and material provisions we pray for will eventually pass away with this life, and "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor. 15:19). "We can hope in Christ, but if that hope is only for the here and the now, if it is strictly earth-bound, we are in the deepest sense hopeless.... Life doesn’t justify living. Only eternity does. And Jesus alone grants that."

Our impatient natures hate waiting for Him to grant us the full blessings of eternity, which is why our "light and momentary troubles" (2 Cor. 4:17) seem anything but. Especially when we realize that nothing we can do will definitely guarantee God will perform at the speed and in the way we prefer. Still, He doesn't really leave us without compensation during our waiting periods; He always gives us Himself, and though we don't always feel comforted, He is still "the God of all comfort" (2 Cor. 1:3). We don't really know how much worse things would be without Him there protecting us.

With that thought, I'd like to close with a poem emphasizing God as our protection.

When food and clothing are uncertain,
When every paycheck is in doubt,
God is a shelter from despairing;
He will provide and bring you out.

When all the world seems set against you,
When foes are strong and friends are few,
God is a shelter from all scheming,
And He is Friend enough for you.

When tragedy has numbed your senses,
When deep depression grips your heart,
God is a shelter from the darkness,
And He will bring a brand new start.


Houghton Hutcheson said...

This is lovely, Katherine. Thank you for sharing it. I will be praying for your income situation. Houghton

Janet Ann Collins said...