Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Go Ahead and Pray for Patience

Have you ever heard or even said yourself: "Don't pray for patience. God might give it to you." In all honesty, I sometimes qualify my prayers. I don't want God to disrupt my life with pain or trouble. So I carefully pray not only for a blessing, but how specifically I want it accomplished. Essentially, I struggle to trust God to do the best thing for me. I am underestimating the goodness of God.

Jesus knew this was a human tendency. So after telling his disciples to ask, seek, and knock in their prayers, he reminded them of God's goodness and desire to give good to His children. "What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish; he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?" (Matthew 7:9-11) God delights in doing good things for His children, because He is good.

A friend of mine committed herself into a mental health facility very recently. She was struggling with suicidal thoughts and feared herself capable of doing bodily harm. Her doctor urged her to put herself into a safe environment. It has been over a year since she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. This is a woman with a true heart for God. Even now, while presently in excruciating emotional distress, she has determinedly placed herself into God's capable hands, waiting for Him to use her illness for His glory. No medications as yet have stemmed the wild up and down emotional roller coaster she is on. She continues to wait.

It is so hard to watch someone you love suffer. In my prayers for her, I instruct God on how He should act. It is time for the suffering to end, I inform Him. She's been through enough. Once again, I am doubting the goodness of God.

A God who is good will only do good for us. But it is challenging to believe in that goodness in light of the suffering and terrible things that happen to those that love the Lord. How can these things be good?

Maybe we need to rethink our definition of good.

A psalm writer named Asaph found it necessary to do just that. At the beginning of Psalm 73, Asaph perceives good as health, wealth, and security. Therefore his faith in the goodness of God falters as he sees the wicked flourish while godly people struggle. Then, in the middle of the psalm, Asaph has a eureka moment. His conflict abruptly comes to an end when he enters God's presence. "Then I perceived their end," he confesses.

Until the middle of the psalm, Asaph thought of goodness in very external terms, as many of us do. But as he comes face to face with God, he understands he has missed the truth. God's goodness must be viewed within the reality of eternity.

God is all about His relationship with us. His desire is to draw us into a close, intimate bond. One way He does this is through trials and various struggles, because prosperity breeds independence. The success of the wicked had actually hardened their hearts toward God. They had become proud and arrogant. This independence would cost them a great deal, especially in light of eternity.

In the end, Asaph finally concludes the struggle has brought him good. "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever... the nearness of God is my good." Asaph has redefined good at the end of his psalm. It no longer means health and wealth. He now understands that intimacy with God is the greatest good, and it is this God has in mind for His people.

To understand the goodness of God, we must look beyond ourselves and view reality as our eternal God does. Elisabeth Elliot put it this way: "He makes us wait. He keeps us on purpose in the dark. He makes us walk when we want to run, sit still when we want to walk, for He has things to do in our souls that we are not interested in." Whether we know it or not, the best thing (the greatest good) is to be in a close relationship with Him. God sometimes chooses to accomplish this through the struggle.


Van said...

You have challenged me - I'm rethinking my definition of good. My prayers are with you and yours sweet friend.

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