I couldn’t think of a good post title for this. But it is something I’m wrestling with and I need to get it out in words to sort through it myself. Maybe you can suggest a better title 🙂
Before I do my verbal rambling, here is a video link from a sermon by John Piper, which hit the button that made me want to talk about it now. If you only have a few minutes, I’d recommend watching his video rather than reading the rest of this post. I have to talk it out for myself, to think through what it all means for me. But when it comes to getting to the point in a powerful way, John Piper is way better at that than I am!
I struggle a lot with hearing praise reports: “God is so good: Just this week I got enough money to go on my missions trip, my kids passed their state standardized tests, my medicine for depression started working and I got the better paying job I was hoping for…….etc.”
In another post, I talked about my struggle with prayer, especially the asking kind. Part of the reason is that my brain starts at the end (the praise report after prayer has been answered) and when I trace it backwards logically, it feels like something is being missed. I don’t know if I can articulate what I feel, but here is my attempt.
On the one hand, I know that every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father. On the other, when I hear a litany of how amazing God is to answer so many prayers, I wonder, where does that leave you as a Christian in Asia with a baby who has just died of starvation and a 3-year-old dead from diarrhea? What about when you are a Christian refugee in Africa whose family has been killed? If God is so satisfying and enjoyable because He meets all my needs (and then some), isn’t God reduced to a genie who does what I want?
And then, what do I do with my theology when God isn’t meeting my needs? How do my praise reports look then? What happens to my theology? I think sometimes what happens is we do mental gymnastics to make the theology fit the situation so it all makes sense (I think we do this when science and theology seem to contradict as well).
The thing is, I’m okay with things not making sense. I’m okay with knowing that if God is God, then it’s normal that I can’t see enough of all the factors going on in His plan to be able to put it all together and prove that He is doing His thing (whether His thing is creating the world or working all things out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose).
Everything about my relationship with God is rooted in trust. For all the certainty and affirmation I have in Scripture and the world around me and the testimony of the Spirit inside of me, at the core, I still have to choose to trust. Trust is what makes my worldview make sense to me. And trust, I know, is the thing that can make my worldview look crazy to others.
Well, that was a diversion from the topic at hand. Back to prayer and praise. Back to the question, “What do I do with my theology when God isn’t meeting my needs?” Well, part of the answer is hinted at above: On a bigger, spiritual dimension, God knows my needs better than I do. So I can still trust Him to provide what He knows I need vs. what I’m sure I need.
That’s okay up to a point, but it still is lacking for me. That feels like some of those mental, theological gymnastics.
Which makes me think that what is needed is not more theological gymnastics to prove that God really is and does meet all my needs, but maybe a theology that isn’t so focused on God meeting all my needs (and proving that He does and that He really is good because He does. With the “proof” coming from the focus on all the good things God is doing for me, emphasizing the gifts and ignoring the things God isn’t doing). Maybe it’s a whole different theology which is focused on, can you imagine, GOD!
I’m not saying I think we should get rid of intercessory prayer and praise reports. Something happens in the Body of Christ, I know, when we join together, praying for each other in our sorrows and rejoicing together in our blessings. And something happens in the heavenlies, too, when we pray. It’s just that I also think something very important is missed in it, when prayer for things to happen, and the resulting checklists that show how much God is answering, become a primary focus. That is what I’m grappling with here.
To me, if I’m going to have joy in the Lord, it needs to be joy that is totally separate from a list of how and what God is doing. Those things do make me happy, but if my joy is rooted in how amazingly God answers prayer, then eventually God is going to disappoint me. Even the idea that God can disappoint me makes me think I’m way more at the center of my theology than I probably should be.