A couple of weeks ago I listened to a sermon by Pastor Chris Brown of North Coast Church in California. Chris was our campus pastor for three of my four years at APU and his teaching style impacted me greatly during those years. God used him to challenge me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Just looking at the margins of the Bible I was using at the time would show you how much I learned from him!
This particular sermon was about getting “Unstuck” from religion. It just happened to be the next sermon in the series – I didn’t listen to this specific one for any particular reason, but God knew that I needed to hear what Chris would say.
I’m not going to detail out exactly what he said – you can listen to it here. But I do want to mention some of the lessons from his teaching that God has used in the days since to show me more about this unwanted journey we are on and how we should respond.
After the battle was over, the troops retreated to their camp, and the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?”
– 1 Samuel 4:3
In short, this passage in 1 Samuel 4 is about the Israelites relying on religion instead of God. They believed that their rituals would bring them success, but they left God out of it entirely, and they were defeated. They were clueless as to why the Lord allowed them to be defeated. Chris said a lot more about this than I will, as that’s not the objective of this post.
As he continued through the lesson about how you can know if you’re stuck in religion, his second and third points were the ones that impacted me greatly. It’s not that Brennan and I are stuck in religion (thankfully!), but the Lord used his words in a powerful way to speak to me.
The second point was titled, “My focus is on what I get, not the giver.” He discussed the point of prayer: is it to get things to go better for us or to have a relationship with God?
‘We have turned prayer into what we get from God, not how we get TO God…”God, give me…God, do this…”‘ – Chris Brown
Is God useful or is God worthy? Are we asking Him to give me something or to change me?
The third point was: “I’m angry at God when I don’t get what I ask for.”
“We’ve got the wrong idea of prayer if this is where it leads us.” – Chris Brown
Pastor Chris then talked about when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was arrested. Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to Him, and yet His prayer sounded nothing like what ours would have been.
Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” – Matthew 26:36-39
Jesus, knowing that He was about to be brutally beaten and crucified, prayed that God’s Will be done, not His own selfish desires. In his grief and desperation, He knew that what God had planned was best for not only Him, but for all mankind. So He submitted to the Will of His Father, despite the personal suffering He would undergo.
If Jesus Himself suffered, why do we think that our lives should be easy and painless?
“We expect a much better life than Jesus and His disciples, and we all know they got killed and tortured. But we deserve a much better life than that and we demand it in prayer. And when we don’t get it, it leaves us angry and frustrated with God.” – Chris Brown
I’m not entitled to a life of comfort and perfection. WE aren’t entitled to that life! No matter what our culture teaches us, or what the media portrays, life is not supposed to be easy and carefree. God never said that would be our reality.
As we walk through this season of knowing that we are likely going to lose Tori, it has been so tempting to be frustrated with God. We haven’t been angry with Him, but there have definitely been times when it seems like He is so far away, like He is ignoring our prayers. Sometimes it feels like we are alone.
The unanswered prayers for Tori to be healed aren’t the ones that cause the frustration: it’s the simple prayers like the ones for her to sleep so that we can sleep, because our continual sleep deprivation is wearing on us. It seems like something so easy for God to do, and yet He doesn’t answer them the way we want Him to answer.
We’re constantly asking God to make things easier for us – and while there’s nothing wrong with asking for those things, sometimes we lose sight of the fact that we’re constantly asking for Him to do things instead of asking how we can serve/learn/grow through these things.
Who are we to ask God to change His mind? We have no idea what He has in store. We can’t even imagine how He is going to use Tori’s life (and our lives) to impact the world! If He took this cup from us, would His impact on the world through her/us be the same?
When we think about it like this, it almost feels selfish to pray for God to heal her (almost – it’s obviously not selfish to want to keep your precious child).
We will continue to pray for her earthly healing, but we also pray that God will continue to use this situation to impact the world, to grow His Kingdom though Tori’s precious life, that there will be VICTORY through Victoria even if there isn’t an earthly victory FOR her.
Your will be done…
Pastor Chris gave a beautiful example of how we can pray through things like this:
“In the midst of this, if it doesn’t go this way, give me what I need to walk with you and be a light. And God, if this is the darkness we have to walk through, may we shine and may we shine brightly.” – Chris Brown
The Bible contains so much wisdom about how to live this life in a way that honors God. He never promised to do miracles – but He did promise that He would always be with us (Matthew 28:20).
His presence is worth more than His presents.
He tells us to cast our cares upon Him so that He can walk through these trials with us, so that we don’t go through them seemingly alone.
Sometimes He doesn’t take the problems from us, but He always carries them with us if we will allow Him the opportunity.
Lord, may we shine brightly through this unbelievable trial that you have allowed to happen in our lives. Please forgive us for believing that we are somehow entitled to a painless life, free from sorrow. We continue to plead with you to heal Tori, but more than anything we want YOUR Will to be done in her life, not our will.