“But if not…”

Since our pastor has been diagnosed with cancer and given only 6 months or so to live, he has had a couple of sessions of combined adult Sunday School classes in order to discuss with us some issues and some of his vision and burden for us. A couple of weeks ago he was feeling poorly enough not to be able to make it for Sunday School for one of these sessions. Our assistant pastors took that opportunity to share a bit of their perspective and then a few men prayed for the family. That time was greatly beneficial and therapeutic for me: outside of our own family and sharing of thoughts on blogs or Facebook with other members, I hadn’t really had a chance to partake of that kind of sharing and praying together. Though I’m sorry our pastor was feeling so sick that day, I think the time was very well spent.

Though those who prayed aloud mentioned varying aspects – the pastor’s physical needs, grace for his wife and family, his two daughters who were getting married in what was supposed to have been one of the best summers of their lives, direction for the youngest daughter scheduled for college in the fall, and many others – there was a recurring theme in several of them. They prayed for the miracle of healing (and it would take a true miracle) and promised to give God the glory for it, but, acknowledging that might not be God’s will, prayed for His grace for the family and our church.

I’ve known some who belittle the Christian faith to point to this kind of praying as a lack of faith, as providing an “out” if God doesn’t answer prayer the way we ask, or even a lack of evidence for God since we can explain away the lack of an answer with it’s not being God’s will. But that’s not why we pray that way. We have good Biblical precedent.

In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were threatened with being thrown in a fiery furnace if they did not bow down and worship the king’s golden image. They refused and replied, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.  But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (verses 17-18).

Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane the night before He was crucified, prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” “Luke 22:42).

Someone once said, “Prayer is asking God to align you with His will rather than asking Him to be aligned with yours.”

Can God heal someone diagnosed with cancer and only months to live? Sure. Why doesn’t He do so every time we ask Him to? I don’t know.

In Goforth of China when Rosalind recounted their miraculous deliverance during the Boxer rebellion, she had been asked why God didn’t deliver all the missionaries in China at that time. Some were horribly murdered. She responded:

Truly a vital question, which could not lightly be set aside! Humbly and prayerfully we pondered this “Why” in the light of Scripture. In the twelfth chapter of Acts, we read of Herod’s succeeding in putting James to death by the sword, and directly after comes the story of how Herod was hindered in carrying out his intention to kill Peter who was delivered by a miracle. Then who could read that marvelous eleventh chapter of Hebrews with its record of glorious martyrdom and miraculous deliverances without being thrilled? In face of these and many other passages, while still unable to answer the “why” we saw our Almighty God used His own prerogative to glorify His name whether in the glorious martyrdom of some or in the miraculous deliverance of others (p. 129-130).

James was killed while Peter was delivered. Uriah was killed while David lived. Many Hebrew babies died while Moses was rescued. Not only was Moses answered “no” to his request to see the Promised Land, but God admonished him not to speak about it any more. Jesus escaped Herod while the rest of the children under 2 in Bethlehem were slaughtered. Many people were healed, but God answered Paul’s request for deliverance with a “No” and a promise of His grace instead. The people in the first part of Hebrews 11 experienced glorious deliverance: the people at the end experienced trials, mocking, imprisonment, stoning, being sawn asunder, homelessness, “being destitute, afflicted, tormented” – yet these were included with the rest as “having obtained a good report through faith” (verse 39) even though they weren’t delivered.

Sometimes there are reasons why prayer isn’t answered, or at least isn’t answered the way we’d like. God has many reasons for allowing suffering, but we can’t know all the reasons or see the big picture of what He is doing in the world or even in the life of any one person and his or her sphere of influence. But those who know Him can trust Him as a father. Even the best of fathers has to sometimes say “no.”

Why does God have to use such means to accomplish His purposes? Somewhere I read that Elisabeth Elliot wrote that, though she had heard many wonderful stories of how God used her husband Jim’s death in many people’s lives, that knowledge still didn’t really satisfy. Didn’t God save people and call them to His service through other means than someone’s death? Sure, all the time. Why was that required this time? She didn’t know, but she trusted that God had His reasons. In “Thy Calvary Still All Our Questions” in the book Rose From Brier, Any Carmichael wrestled with this:

This is a Why? of a different order from that of the little mosquito. It is immeasurable greater. It strikes at the root of things. Why is pain at all, and such pain? Why did God ask Satan the question which (apparently) suggested to the Evil One to deal so cruelly with an innocent man? Why do the innocent so often suffer? Such questions generally choose a time when we are in keen physical or mental suffering, and may (the questioner hopes will) forget our comfort. They seize us like fierce living things and claw at our very souls.

Between us and a sense of the pain of the world there is usually a gate, a kind of sluice gate. In our unsuffering hours it may be shut fast. Thank God, it is shut fast for tens of millions. But let severe pain come, and it is as though the torture in us touched a secret spring, and the door opens suddenly, and straight upon us pour the lava floods of the woe of a Creation that groans and travails together….

O Lord, why?

After considering several answers which did not really satisfy her, she wrote,

But, though, indeed, we know that pain nobly born strengthens the soul, knits hearts together, leads to unselfish sacrifice (and we could not spare from our lives the Christ of the Cross), yet, when the raw nerve in our own flesh is touched, we know, with a knowledge that penetrates to a place which these words cannot reach, that our question is not answered. It is only pushed farther back, for why should that be the way of strength, and why need hearts be knit together by such sharp knitting needles, and who would not willingly choose relief rather than the pity of the pitiful?

…What, then, is the answer? I do not know. I believe that it is one of the secret things of the Lord, which will not be opened to us till we see Him who endured the Cross, see the scars in His hands and feet and side, see Him, our Beloved, face to face. I believe that in that revelation of love, which is far past our understanding now, we shall “understand even as all along we have been understood.”

And till then? What does a child do whose mother or father allows something to be done which it cannot understand? There is only one way of peace. It is the child’s way. The loving child trusts.

I believe that we who know our God, and have proved Him good past telling, will find rest there. The faith of the child rests on the character it knows. So may ours, so shall ours. Our Father does not explain, nor does He assure us as we long to be assured… But we know our Father. We know His character. Somehow, somewhere, the wrong must be put right; how we do not know, only we know that, because He is what He is, anything else is inconceivable. For the word sent to the man whose soul was among lions and who was soon to be done to death, unsuccored, though the Lord of Daniel was so near, is fathomless: “And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me.”

There is only one place we can receive, not an answer to our questions, but peace — that place is Calvary. An hour at the foot of the Cross steadies the soul as nothing else can. “O Christ beloved, Thy Calvary stills all our questions.” Love that loves like that can be trusted about this.

There are many strong and positive verses about prayer that we can rely on, yet we have to include “if it be Thy will” and trust that even if God doesn’t heal or deliver or provide like we wanted Him to, He is still good and wise and accomplishing His purpose.

God is doing good things in our own church and across the country through our pastor’s situation. One of our church members has shared some of those things. If you feel led, I’m sure all involved would appreciate your prayers. In addition, some are attempting to help raise funds for the family’s needs through https://www.idoitfor.org/Tom/.


17 thoughts on ““But if not…”

  1. An additional note: I didn’t want to get sidetracked on this aspect of what was already a long post, but some say we aren’t supposed to ask God why at all. I don’t think it is wrong to do so. Elisabeth Elliot has written a good book called On Asking God Why, and there and in her radio program (http://www.backtothebible.org/index.php/Gateway-to-Joy/Asking-God-Why.html) she says this:

    “Now is it a sin to ask God why? It’s always best to go first for our answers to Jesus Himself. He cried out on the cross, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ It was a human cry; a cry of desperation springing from His heart’s agony at the prospect of being put into the hands of wicked men and actually becoming sin for you and me. We can never suffer anything like that, yet we do at times feel forsaken, don’t we? It’s quite natural for us to cry, ‘Why, Lord?’

    “The psalmist asked why. Job, a blameless man suffering horrible torments on an ash heap, asked why. It doesn’t seem to me to be sinful to ask the question. What is sinful is resentment against God and His dealings with us. When we begin to doubt His love and imagine that He is cheating us of something we have a right to, we are guilty as Adam and Eve were guilty. They took the snake at his word rather than God.

    The same snake comes to us repeatedly with the same suggestions. ‘Does God love you? Does He really want the best for you? Is His Word trustworthy? Isn’t He cheating you? Forget His promises. You’d be better off if you’d do it your way.

    “I’ve often asked why. Many things have happened which I didn’t plan and which human rationality could not explain. In the darkness of my perplexity and sorrow, I have heard God say quietly, ‘Trust Me.’ He knew that my question was not the challenge of unbelief or of resentment.

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  3. Thank you for taking the time to write this, Barbara. I did make it to the end, and will check the links.

    I couldn’t help thinking as I read, the reason is just because He is God. I love the illustration of the earthly father, which is hard for those of us who did not experience the love of a godly father/husband.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you, and to risk stating the obvious, I believe this biblical view and ability to trust comes from one’s level of knowing God personally.

    I wil pray for you and your pastor and your precious church as God brings you to mind. For grace to accept and live with His will. And for the Hebrews 11 brand of faith. ~Joyce

  4. Barbara, this is such a rich and helpful teaching. Thank you for taking the time to form and share these enlightening thoughts.

  5. Barabara, thank you so much for the time you devote to share your heart and to also share the Scriptures to back them up, as well as other quotes. These words, “I believe that we who know our God, and have proved Him good past telling, will find rest there. The faith of the child rests on the character it knows.”, by Amy Carmichael speaks volumes. And also, thank you for what you’ve added here as a side note about asking God why by Elisabeth Elliot. He made us, He knows and understands our frailties far better than even we ourselves know…He knows what will drive us to Himself. I truly believe it has to do with our heart attitude when we ask Him. Great post, my friend!

  6. Thanks. I have to be constantly reminded to just trust in Him whether I understand what is going on in my life, or someone else’s, or not.

  7. I just realized that your pastor is the same pastor that we have been praying for at our church. I go to Ashley Baptist Church in Belding, Michigan. Our pastor, David Oliver, is good friends with your pastor and has been keeping us updated on his situation. It is a small world:) Will continue to pray.

  8. I had heard the news about your pastor through some other sources an had been reading the blog by Brad Zockell as well. Was so sorry to hear about this, but am encouraged by the testimony he has maintained throughout. we will keep praying for him and your church.
    I had commented several months ago that I think we were at BJU around the same time (1978-1982) although we never met. Realized yesterday that we may know some of the same people, Graham and Renee Foran (I think her parents and son go to your church). Graham was the youth pastor at the church I grew up in (Buffalo Ridge Baptist Church, Gray, TN) . Small world!! I believe they will be in the states in August for their son’s wedding. If you see them please tell them I said “Hi”!

    • A small world indeed! Gary Seaman at Buffalo Ridge is the pastor’s son of the church my husband grew up in in Idaho. His brother Steve is my husband’s age and their whole family has been great friends for years. I do know of Graham and Renee – I met her once when they were here and have communicated by e-mail a couple of times. I know her parents well. I hadn’t known of their connection to Buffalo Ridge.

      Thanks so much for your prayers for my pastor, his family, and our church.

      On Fri, Jul 25, 2014 at 9:01 AM, Stray Thoughts wrote:


      • Wow! We know Gary as well! My husband’s brother and his wife are still at Buffalo Ridge and are good friends with Gary and his family! Amazing to see how worlds collide.

  9. Such an interesting, meaty post! I always tend as well to pray, asking for “best case scenario” but then “discussing” other options with God as well. To me, this isn’t a lack of faith at all. I know God *can* do anything. The dilemma is, he *may not,* for reasons unknown to any of us. Actually, praying, for instance, with the “only” option of God healing seems presumptuous to me. I would never deem to put myself in God’s place by telling Him how He “should” answer prayer. I, too, am praying for your pastor and church family during what has to be a really difficult time.

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