Let down by God
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s entirely possible to be let down by God.
Now, this has been a bit of a revelation for me. I have actually told people that one of the lessons I’ve learnt is that, while people may (and probably, eventually will) let you down, God never will.
I no longer believe that that statement is always true.
It’s actually fairly easy to be let down by God; all it takes is a faulty understanding of who He is.
Let’s take an extreme example.
Let’s say you believed that God always answered your prayers, and He always answered them with a “yes.”
So you ask God to make your favourite sports team win. You believe it. You are confident, because God always answers prayer. And He always answers yes. You have Faith, and you are stirred up, and excited, because, by golly, this is happening! Your team is going to win tonight, because you asked God, and God is gonna make this happen!
And then your team loses. Bummer. You have now, officially, been let down by God.
Now, obviously, this is a trite example. I doubt there are very many people who truly believe that God answers any prayer we ask him. If there are, and they are sports fans, they will likely stop believing that shortly.
But I actually think this concept is incredibly important, because otherwise, when we pray for something that doesn’t happen, we can easily become upset and frustrated at a God we thought we understood.
To bring out a personal example, I got a minor injury two months or so ago. It really wasn’t that bad, but I was annoyed because, if I’m honest, it was going to hinder my volleyball playing at our annual cottage vacation. And that’s totally important.
Anyways, in my frustration, I started praying for healing. Well that’s good. We should ask God for healing.
But, for some reason, I got it my head that God needed to answer my prayer, and heal me, soon. I think my existing frustration with the injury itself caused me to have a false expectation of the way God would respond to my prayer. I somehow got the mindset that God had some sort of obligation to answer my prayer in the way I wanted.
As a result, I found myself growing increasingly frustrated at God for not healing me quickly. And that frustration formed a wall between God and me. I felt let down by God. I still tried to pray and everything, but it turns out it’s rather hard to do when you have a beef with God.
And God, in His patience and graciousness, just let me be mad at Him. He didn’t come thundering down from heaven shouting “Who are you to question me?” Not that He would’ve been wrong to do that; He was just merciful enough to spare me.
I finally came to a point of perspective, where I took a step back, and realized that I was allowing my frustration with God, this fact that I felt let down, to affect my relationship with Him, and decided it wasn’t worth it. Despite still not understanding, I decided to embrace God through my confusion. To love the healer before having received my healing.
I still don’t totally understand the way healing works, but I do understand enough to know that God doesn’t always answer your prayer in the way you want, or even expect. Having that understanding will, I hope, prevent future let-down’s with God.
As a side note, this process also helped me realize that, if I let some disappointment or frustration with God hinder my relationship with Him, I am perfectly modelling what conditional love looks like. I actually let my disappointment reduce my act of loving God, because I felt in some way that He wasn’t living up to His end of the bargain. That is exactly what conditional love is.
Thank God He doesn’t do that with us, because I’m pretty sure, if He wasn’t all-knowing, the way we do things would cause Him to shake His head in disbelief sometimes.
Anyways, let me wrap this up in a few thoughts:
God will never contradict His nature to fulfill your expectations of Him.
God is God. He is constant, never-changing, unending.
Regardless of how hard you believe in something, in some aspect of God, if it is against His nature, you are going to be let down. God will not contradict who He is just because You don’t understand the way He works.
However, I do want to emphasize that God will not, cannot let you down if you do have a clear understanding of who He is. The fact that He is ever-loving, ever-present, that He has a destiny and a plan in mind for every human, and that He is always, always ready to catch me when I screw up and fall is something I know I can rely on. God is absolutely, perfectly Faithful to His nature. That is something I will never let go of.
All this convinces me that I want to — need to — understand God better. I want to know the ways He works. Yes, to prevent being let down by faulty expectations, but also because, I believe, the more I understand God, the better I can be used by Him.
I want to know Him better and better. Every day of my life, I want to know Him more.
Terrifying, overwhelming brokenness
I feel like this goes in waves. There are seasons of my life where I feel like I’m doing pretty good, and I’m happy with where I’m at.
And there are times when God pulls back the veil, and lets me see a little bit more of my true self.
Man, I’m broken.
I’m broken in the way I interact with unsaved people. Pretty sure Jesus would be doing it differently.
I’m broken in the way I evaluate people. I’m broken in the way I compare them to each other. I’m broken in the way I compare them to myself, and how it seems I am constantly searching for ways in which I can justify feeling superior.
My priorities seem to be perpetually fluctuating between properly aligned and messed up.
I’m broken in my insecurities, and my needs and desires. I’m broken in what drives some of my decisions and thought patterns.
Thank God He doesn’t let me see the true depth of my depravity all at once. He’s so good at breaking up chunks of our brokenness, and feeding them to us one by one to work on.
But man, sometimes it still feels terrifying, and overwhelming. Because there isn’t any real hope for change, ever.
Not without God.
I look at some aspects of my life, and just think: “Man. I’ve been like that for a long time. That’s not changing. I think I’m just gonna have to learn to live with that.”
But then God reminds me who He is.
He’s the same one who created me, and saw the beginning and the end of me. He fought one on one with death, and won. He’s seen all of my shortcomings from the beginning of time, and He also can see the end of His working on me, what I’m supposed to look like at the end of all this. He knows the path that I’m supposed to walk in, and how the steps are supposed to be ordered.
He’s able. He’s strong. And He’s willing to dive headlong into my messes, equipped with a pair of work gloves and a shovel. And I’m realizing recently that He also believes in me. He believes that, with His help, I can overcome the things that are broken in me.
See, realizing my own shortcomings makes me feel bad.
And I really don’t believe that God is interested in making us feel bad just for the heck of it.
Given those facts, I think the only reason He would ever reveal my brokenness is because He knows that I can overcome it. If God is truly good, I think He would only ever shows us our darkness if He knew that we could eventually replace it with light.
You know, it’s funny. I’m just thinking… I think we often react to a revelation of our failings either by trying to hide them from God, or trying to hide ourselves from God.
For example, you suddenly realize that you are prideful in an area of your life, and you react by trying to ignore that shortcoming, and put on a face with God, or neglect your prayer time all together.
Or maybe you acknowledge it, but you approach God with fear and trembling, frustrated at yourself and apologetic to God for not doing better. I think this is the path I usually take.
It’s almost like we’re afraid at how God will react, now that we have this sin on us. Granted, this sin has been present for awhile, but I think once we realize, we have a tendency to be afraid that God might treat us differently.
Now, I absolutely believe we should take our sin seriously, and be apologetic, but I think any fear of God’s reaction is just silly.
I can just picture God sitting back and chuckling: “Um, the only reason you even realized that you had that issue was because I told you! You really think your sins scare me?”
God’s been around for awhile. He’s got a pretty good track record of taking brutally broken people and setting them up to accomplish amazing things.
The Bible is chock-full of them. From the insecure Moses, to the adulterer David, to the murderer Paul, God’s been pretty good at taking messed up people and turning them into ridiculously powerful builders of His Kingdom.
God’s been doing it for 6,000 years to the worst of the worst.
I’m pretty sure He can handle my brokenness.
"If anyone could fix me, it’s You... Only You can take the broken pieces and make me new"
Why prayers go unanswered
Before you start yelling “blasphemy!,” Yes. God’s ways are inherently much higher than ours. He sees things from a different perspective. And I fully believe there are times when we, as humans on this side of eternity, just won’t understand why certain prayers don’t get answered the way we wanted.
But, I think I’ve come to a realization of why at least some of our prayers go unanswered:
Sometimes, they’re really silly.
And no, I’m not talking about praying that your favourite sports team will win the championship. (That’s actually totally legit. For some reason, it hasn’t really worked for the Sens yet, but I haven’t lost Faith yet!)
Maybe the best way to sum it up is to say that sometimes we ask God for things based on emotions and present circumstances, two things which can often distort our perception of the larger reality, and make our requests, in the bigger context, look pretty silly.
And I think sometimes, God looks at our emotion-laden prayer requests, smiles, and says “Sorry, but I have something way better for you, so there’s no way I’m gonna answer that request!”
Let’s take an extreme example from the Bible. Elijah.
Elijah was a massively important figure in the Old Testament of the Bible. He was a prophet during one of the darkest times of Israel’s history, where the majority of the nation had turned from the true God to serve other god’s of the surrounding nations. The king and queen of Israel of that time were frequently trying to kill God’s prophets, but God helped Elijah survive.
In my opinion, two of the biggest compliments to Elijah as a person come in the New Testament.
First, in Mark 8:27-28, Jesus basically turns to His disciples and asks “Hey, who do people around here think I am?”
Some people in towns and villages Jesus had visited thought that He was John the Baptist (the forerunner to Jesus’ ministry, who had been beheaded) raised back to life, but the second most prevailing theory was that it was Elijah, somehow back from the dead.
That’s a pretty good note on your record. You’ve been dead for hundreds of years, and when the Son of God comes walking the earth, people start thinking it might be you, resurrected.
The second compliment comes just a chapter later, at the beginning of Mark 9, when Jesus is Transfigured (basically a fancy word that basically means He shone like crazy, and the disciples who were with Him caught a glimpse of His true glory).
I can’t say I know why exactly God decided to do this, but He had two Old Testament men come down to chat with Jesus. I would love to know what they talked about, but that’s besides the point.
One of those men was Moses, a man who was the primary leader as God freed His people from slavery in Egypt, and in the process did some crazy signs and wonders, like causing a darkness that the Bible says “could be felt.” So yeah, Moses is kind of a big deal.
The other guy that apparently came down from heaven to have this talk with Jesus was Elijah. So, by association, he’s probably a pretty big deal too.
There’s one other aspect of Elijah that is just crazy cool:
He never died.
According to the Bible, there are two people who never actually died, and instead just got brought directly up to heaven. One of them was a guy named Enoch, who we really don’t know all that much about. The other was Elijah.
The follow-up to this?
He prayed to.
So this amazing prophet of God, who was obviously honoured and revered by the Israelites even hundreds of years after his death, actually asked God to take his life.
Think about that. One of only two people that we know of to never die, prayed to. (Check 1 Kings 19:4, if you’re curious to read the whole context)
What if God had just answered Elijah’s request?
For starters, the national landscape of the day would’ve looked pretty different, as God had Elijah anoint kings over both Syria and Israel shortly after denying Elijah’s request to die.
But, more importantly, there also wouldn’t have been any Elisha, who was the successor to Elijah. (I know, those names are confusing. Why did God have to make their names so similar?)
Because we wouldn’t have had Elisha, we wouldn’t have an amazing story of a widow who had a miraculous supply of oil (2 Kings 4:1-7). A Shunammite woman wouldn’t have miraculously birthed a son, and wouldn’t have had that same son later raised from the dead (2 Kings 4:8-37). We wouldn’t have a miraculous feeding of 100 men, which is honestly a story I forgot existed (1 Kings 4:42-44). We also wouldn’t have the super cool story of Elisha relaying the Syrians war tactics that God had told him to Israel, and the follow-up story of God blinding an entire army when they went to try to capture Elisha (1 Kings 6:8-23).
So if God had simply answered Elijah’s emotional, suicidal prayer to end his own life, Elijah’s story would’ve ended there, and Elisha likely wouldn’t even be a name mentioned in the Bible.
But instead, God chose to deny Elijah his request, and instead do something better. Because, from God’s perspective, Elijah’s prayer was really silly.
God, looking at the entire timeline of history, might’ve looked down at Elijah as he asked to die, and thought “Really? Seriously? You have no idea the plans I have for you, and for the person who will succeed you. There’s no way I’m sacrificing all of that future awesomeness for your current prayer! Try to think bigger, man!”
So I think that’s a reason why God denies us our prayer requests sometimes. Because really, they’re kinda silly.
And I’ll be the first to admit, Elijah’s example is a pretty extreme one. I’ve never asked God to kill me. You probably haven’t either.
But I think Elijah can still be a helpful example.
Ultimately, the reason God refused Elijah his request was because God knew what was going to happen. Elijah’s request was legitimate to him, in the moment, but God knew that there was something far, far better than answering that request.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, and certainly not when it comes to prayer.
I struggle with how prayer works, and I struggle far more when it doesn’t.
I struggle with how and when to pray for healing for someone.
I struggle with the difference between belief and Faith, and how they actually practically work.
I sometimes struggle with why God even set the world up to make prayer part of the process. (e.g., Why does He even want us to ask for something, if He already knows our request and whether or not He’s gonna answer it?)
But I’m beginning to think that maybe the only reason God ever refuses a prayer request is that He’s got something better in the pipeline. Maybe our unanswered prayers go unanswered because, from God’s perspective, answering them would be flat-out silly when compared with the far better plans God has, not only for us, but for the people that are supposed to be impacted by us and our story.
And I just think the story of Elijah is such a perfect, if extreme, example of that.
One of only two men to never die, prayed to. That’s almost laughable.
I don’t think any of this affects the way I’m going to pray, and ask for things. I think that’s a super valuable aspect of the Christian walk.
However, I hope that this frame of mind will help me with my response to the disappointment of unanswered prayer requests.
In all likelihood, God’s denial of a prayer request just means He’s got something better lined up, regardless of how hard it is to see.
A tech post
Life as a runner
I’m a bit of a runner. Not like those marathon-every-other-week types, and certainly not the ultra-marathon types. I’m not at that level, at least not yet, but I do actually enjoy it, at least after the first 5 minutes of desperate breathing, and I certainly enjoy the feeling right after a run, where I feel like I pushed myself, and feel like I’ve accomplished something.
I think the whole concept of running has so many cool comparisons to life as a Christian. The Apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament section of the Bible, actually drew this same comparison himself a couple of times, but my favourite place is in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline by body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
I think there’s so much good stuff in here, but I’ll just pick on a couple things:
First, the concept of running to receive a prize. We, as Christians, need to run hard. And I think implicitly, Paul is also saying that we shouldn’t worry too much about how others are running. Yes, we need to help others, and be there for them, but we should run our own race without regards to how others are running.
In other words, just because someone else is compromising in a particular area, it doesn’t give you the go-ahead to falter there as well. We should run with abandon, not comparing ourselves to others, to see how much further ahead or behind they are. We should run the race God has set before us, and run it to the best of our abilities, not in a constant state of checking over our shoulder to see if anyone else is slacking off, as if that would give us the leave to do the same. In some ways, our Spiritual race should be run with blinders on, for an audience of One. Jesus’ opinion should be the one that matters the most.
I also like Paul’s comparison between natural runners and Spiritual runners. When we think of olympic athletes, we think of people who are totally sold-out to what they are doing, potentially to the point of unhealthy obsession in some cases. Their entire lives revolve around the fact that they are athletes, and every decision has to pass through that filter before anything else happens.
And Paul is basically saying that, as focused and committed as they are, we should be so much more committed to our lives as Christians. After all, these athletes compete to win a gold medal, something that doesn’t last; we’re racing for eternity. Our lives and decisions should revolve around that fact. We’re not here for here; we’re here for the afterlife, for heaven.
Another concept I’ve always loved related to running and Christianity is that of chasing Jesus.
I think sometimes, Jesus actually hides Himself to force us to chase Him. To work for it. A test to see how much we really want Him.
Sometimes, this chase is as easy as a God-thought while driving down the road. Sometimes, it can be a hard process, lasting days, weeks, even years. Sometimes it means worshipping loudly in the midst of God’s momentary silence. Other times, it’s forcing yourself to be quiet so He can speak.
Whatever the circumstances, whatever the pathway, I want to chase Jesus, in any and every way possible, until the day I die.
That leads to my final points:
As a natural runner, I always like to sprint the last little bit in a distance run. (To the more proper runners out there, I think this may technically not be the best thing to do for recovery, but I promise I do cool down after!).
Anyways, I like to sprint the last little bit in a race, just to make sure I’ve burned up all my energy reserves. Nothing left in the tank, no thought of how I could’ve had a better time if I had just given a little bit more. I like to give it my all in one last sprint before letting myself rest.
That is exactly how I want to end my Spiritual race as well.
And I know that, as we age, natural things like running get harder. Running a 10k 25 years from now will likely require a lot more discipline and hard work than it does today. I’m expecting to have to work harder for it when I’m older.
I like to look at my Spiritual journey the same way. As hard as I work to stay chasing after Jesus today, I expect to have to work even harder as I get older.
And as my Spiritual race nears the finish line with the end of my natural life, I don’t want to slow down in this chase of Jesus. I don’t want the last 10 or 15 years of my life to be spent just sitting around cheering other people on in their pursuit of Jesus (though of course I want to do that too!).
I want to sprint. I want the last years of my life to be one long full-tilt, head-first, all-or-nothing sprint to the finish line of my Spiritual race. I don’t want to have any bit of energy reserves left in the tank when I finally trade in this temporary body for an eternal one.
The chase may get more difficult as time goes on, but I have no doubts every tired step will be more than worth it.
And when I finally break the ribbon, and leave my body behind, I want heaven to have that good-tired feeling. I want to know that I gave it my all, and that I didn’t skimp out on chasing Jesus.
When I get there, I want to hear something along the lines of:
“Well done, my good and Faithful servant”