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/.