Last night in our Wednesday Night Bible Study, we were talking about patience and were working through Mark 5 and the story of Jairus' daughter. We are using Tim Keller's King's Cross as a guide for our study. Toward the end, I started talking about reasons why we go to God and cry out to Him in prayer. Most of these reasons are usually related to some problem. Here is the scenario:
You are having a pretty good day. You have prayed, read Scripture, spent time with God, and are at peace with the world. You have plans for the day and you begin to carry out those plans. You rest when you want, do what you have planned, accomplish your goals one by one. Your kids cooperate, your marriage is good, you feel good about yourself, everyone around you is healthy and taken care of, and there is money in the bank. Work goes well. School goes well. Your other activities go well. You end the day relaxing with your family, then with a movie or book, and you thank God for a good day and lay your head down to rest. Shalom. I am not saying that this is your idea of a great day, but it is as "normal" as I can think of and it is the kind of day that does not really raise any major alarms for most. Things go according to plan and, perhaps, this is what we consider the "base line" for expectations.
Another day does not go well. Perhaps you are running late. You have a big project due. The kids are not cooperating. Someone is coming down hard on you at work. You get a flat tire. You are out of sorts with your spouse. You have a broken relationship with a friend. Traffic is terrible. You get an unexpected bill in the mail or the air condition breaks down. Or, perhaps things are even worse. You have a doctor's appointment and the doctor says they've found something. They think its cancer. You get sick. Or, your job goes away and you have to find work. Or, there is a death in the family or a divorce. All of these things are the things we want to get away from. So, our normal Bible study/prayer time doesn't cut it. We cry out to God and ask Him for help. You want the pain to go away. You want Him to heal you. Our expectations far exceed our reality and the distance in between is the amount of frustration that we are experiencing. You want to get back to 'normal.'
But, what are you really asking for? You want the traffic to move. You don't want to be late. You want the kids to cooperate. You want your spouse to love you. So, you ask God to help you and get things to work out for you. You pray more intensely. You want life to get back to your base line so that you can be at peace. But, you are saying that "peace" is found when things work the way you want them to. You think life is going well when it is going the way that you think it should go. This means that you are in charge and your relationship with God involves getting Him to help you because you know you can't manage your life all by yourself. But, the Bible says that "peace" is found in God alone. When God doesn't show up and help you in the relationship or on the job or with your finances or your health the way you want, you wonder what has happened? Why is God so far away from you?
The truth is, you don't want God the way you should. You want things to work out. You want God so He can bring things back to equilibrium with whatever you have decided the "good life" is. Maybe your "good life" is successful ministry or adventure or living dangerously. It could be anything. But, if we are only really crying out to God when we think we have problems – and if our prayers involve trying to get things back to 'normal' so we can be at peace, we are actually using God as a means to some other end and that is idolatry.
It is good to pray for healing and for relationships and finances and your kids and for the traffic to move. PLEASE pray for those things! But, in praying for them, seek first God's Kingdom – His will and reign and rule (Matt. 6:33). Seek to be reconciled to God. Seek after Him. Repent from trying to get your own way. Maybe the delay or the sickness or the difficult relationship is exactly the place that you meet with God. Maybe it isn't about you at all but it is about someone else. Maybe this is just the world we live in. Still, God is found when we trust in Him and not when we just want to use Him to fix our circumstance. There is a lot of superficial superstition masquerading as Christianity these days. True Christianity is about Jesus and us being reconciled to Him and Him being before all things and in whom all things hold together (Col. 1:17). Religion is ultimately about us and how we get right or get what we want from God so that we can have the life we've always wanted. It is prosperity gospel, even if the goals are good.
We don't need 'normal.' We need Jesus. And, he has a tendency to upset our understanding of 'normal' so we can meet with Him. Patience is not something that we cultivate. It is the fruit of the Spirit – it comes from God alone and we only meet with God when we look to Him in faith. That means that we shouldn't be looking everywhere else to get the life we want. Jesus has the life we need.
*For more on this, read James 4:1-10. All that I am saying here can be found in that passage, at least in part.