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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Waiting for God? Part 3: Staying with God

I've been talking about "Waiting for Godot" over the past two posts. I'll remind my readers again that some people have interpreted the play as an accusation that God abandoned everyone during World War II, or that God was a fairy tale that was forgotten during the war.

So far I've mainly addressed the people who wrote or interpreted the play--namely, the secular humanists. This leaves out a lot of people, however. Suppose you have acknowledged God as supreme and have submitted to Him (as I've already discussed in Waiting for God? parts 1 and 2), but you still feel like God has abandoned you. Don't give up. This post is for you.

If your salvation experience went a lot like mine, you woke up the next day excited to begin your new life with God. Then something bad happened. Something came along that basically seemed like punishment for your attempts to do right and obey God. Then, to make matters worse, you cried out to God for an explanation as to why this was happening to you, and God didn't seem to respond. Does this mean the interpreters of "Waiting for Godot" were right all along?
Where did the fun go? How do we choose to go on being a Christian when it seems like there is no point in doing it anymore? Where is our hope in times like these?

Where's My Party?

If someone told you that being a Christian is just a perpetual party, in which you get anything you ask from God and never have to suffer any pain, well, that person was lying to you. Even Jesus said:
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.(Matthew 10: 21-23 NIV)

Christians are promised pain, but we are also promised a reward for that pain--we "will be saved"--and that applies to both salvation from our present troubles, and salvation from Hell and eternal suffering.

Jesus told a parable about this, called "The Parable of the Sower." He tells the story of a farmer who sowed seed. Some fell along the path and was snatched up by birds. Some fell on shallow soil and grew up quickly, but withered. Some fell among thorns, which choked out the plants. Still more fell on good soil and produced an abundant crop. Jesus' disciples asked Him to explain the parable, and this is Jesus' reply:
Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. (Matthew 13: 18-23 NIV)

So what I'm trying to say here is that there is a party, and if you've submitted your life to God, you are an honored guest. That doesn't mean your whole life will always be a party, but you are guaranteed one at the end, and nothing but your own choice can take that from you. Are you like "the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy," but gives up later when staying with God gets difficult? Are you going to be choked out with "the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth"? As a Christian, you can't let the trials you face now take away the hope and the "party" in your future.

Prayers Bouncing off the Ceiling?

Sometimes hope at the end of the road doesn't feel like enough to get you through today. You've heard all the trite sayings, like "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade," but they don't make you feel better when you've lost someone or are really struggling with something in your life. At those moments, when you desperately cry out for answers from God, sometimes He doesn't give them. Your prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling. When God seems silent, are we right to say that He no longer exists, that He has abandoned us, or that He doesn't love us?

When it seems like God isn't hearing our prayers, we should first make sure that we have repented of all of our sins. The Bible says:
Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.(Isaiah 59: 1, 2 NIV)

I don't say that to accuse everyone of unrepented sin, but it is a real problem that can cut us off from God. For those who have repented, and yet still haven't heard from God, know that it isn't because God can't answer. Sometimes He just chooses not to explain everything He does.

Before you start saying that God is fickle toward Christians, remember that God thinks of Christians as His children. That makes Him our Father. Now, when you were small, did your parents always explain to you why they took you to the doctor for vaccinations, examinations, or even surgeries? They weren't fun, but who were you to say to your parents that they weren't necessary? Your parents, if they loved you half as much as God did, made all those hard decisions for your benefit, and they did their best to stay with you through the pain. Meanwhile, God, who loves you more than any parent, makes even harder decisions about what trials you must face, but He doesn't abandon you to the pain while you are going through it. David wrote, even as he was being pursued by a man who wanted to kill him, "The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you" (Psalm 9: 9-10 NIV). Furthermore, God doesn't put you through something He doesn't think you can handle. It is written, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11: 29-30 NIV).

The Bible tells the story of Job, a righteous man who did not turn his back on God, even when God allowed Satan to torment him and destroy everything he had, including his health. Job kept asking God "why would You let this happen?", but he didn't get an answer. When God finally answered him, it was to remind Job that God is sovereign, and that Job, by questioning God, was questioning God's authority to make decisions for his life (Job chapters 40-42).

Remember, sometimes God doesn't explain His reasons to us, but He is trustworthy. When God is silent, it doesn't make Him less trustworthy. He sent His son to die for us, so that we could have eternal life (John 3:16). In the meantime, He promised us that He would always be with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:9), and that He would fight our battles, if we would just trust Him (Exodus 14:14).

To Go on or Go Back

I leave you with the story of the Israelites in the desert after they had left Egypt. At that point, they had so offended God that He said to them:
Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way. (Exodus 33: 1-3)
Moses was not satified with that. Yes, they would be getting their ancestral homeland, but they wouldn't do it with God's blessing. Was God abandoning them in the desert?
Moses said to the LORD, "You have been telling me, 'Lead these people,' but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, 'I know you by name and you have found favor with me.' If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people."
The LORD replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."
Then Moses said to him, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?"
And the LORD said to Moses, "I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name." (Exodus 33: 12-17)

So I'm posing the question now--who was going to abandon who in that desert? Weren't the people about to abandon God? Even though God felt they had rejected Him, He had still promised to go ahead of them and give them the Promised Land. When Moses pleaded with Him, He even promised to be with Moses (in other words, not with the people, but with their leader). When life is hard and following God is difficult, we should not accuse God of abandoning us. We should make sure we are not abandoning Him--and then we should trust Him. When has God ever failed us? Even when we reject Him, He is kind and generous with us. What proof do we have to accuse God of leaving us, or not loving us? Let us stay with God, so that after every struggle is over, the world can see that He is our help and our comfort.


Anonymous said...

As my pastor once said, God didn't tell us there would be an angel scattering rose petals in our path, just that He would be with us. I'm so glad to say that I've been walking with Him for almost ten years, and although I may not have beleived it at every moment along the way, looking back I can see that He has never let me down. Great is His faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:19-26)