But Even If Not

By James L. Morrisson



     In Daniel Chapter 3, the three young Hebrews are threatened with being thrown into a hot furnace if they refuse to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar's golden image. They reply, "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O King. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not worship your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up" (Daniel 3:17-18). (Unless otherwise indicated, Scriptures are from the New International Version and any emphasis is mine.)

     I find there are a number of situations in which we may ask God to do something, and pray earnestly for it. We pray, believing (James 1:6). But we also need to be able to say, "Even if you don't do this, God, I will still serve you and love you."

     Not long ago the wife of one of the leaders in our church was diagnosed as having liver cancer. We undertook a major prayer project for her healing. The church was open for prayer almost every day, with different people assigned to lead prayer. People also prayed, daily, in their homes. We believed she would be healed. She was not, and died. This was a major disappointment. But we did not allow ourselves to become bitter at God, or to lose our faith. And I believe the intense prayer effort did a lot to unify our church, to get us praying, and to prepare us for new functions that God is calling us to.

     A friend of ours, a very gifted and attractive young woman in her late 20s, has longed for a mate. She prayed fervently that God would give her a husband. She became very frustrated, and perhaps even angry at God, when this did not happen. Finally she reached the point where she was able to say, in effect, "God, I want a husband. I believe I can serve you better as a married woman. But even if not, I will still serve you and love you. I am not going to put my desire for a husband ahead of you." At this point a young man came along who looks very much as if he will be the right one for her.

     I have wanted to be able to minister more effectively in various ways. I have felt very frustrated when this has not happened. I have felt discouraged, and have had to deal with a loss of faith. Finally I have come to the place where I can say, "God, I want this. I know you can give it to me and I believe you will. But even if not, I will love you, and give thanks for the many things you have done for me, and serve you in whatever ways I can."

     The issue is, quite simply, do we love God for what he does for us, for what he gives us, or do we love him for who he is? Is our love for God unconditional, or is it conditioned on whether he does for us what we want him to do?

     This is the issue with which the book of Job deals. God points out that Job is "blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." Satan replies, "Does Job fear God for nothing?... Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will curse you to your face" (Job 1:8-11). When this did not work, satan then said, in effect, "Take away his health and he will curse you" (Job 2:4-5). Job struggled, he called God unjust, he wished he were dead, but he never really turned away from God. At the end he got rid of his self-reliance and came to a much deeper understanding of who God is (Job 42:1-6), and God restored his health and wealth.

     God tested Abraham. He asked him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, on whom depended all the promises of God for Abraham's posterity. When Abraham was willing to do this, God said, "Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you" (Genesis 22:16-17). In effect God was saying, "which do you love more: Me, or your son in whom all the promises reside? Do you love me because of the promises and the son I miraculously gave you, or because of who I am?"

     God is "able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (Ephesians 3:20). But he does not always give us everything we ask for or expect. He is not a heavenly vending machine: put in a prayer and get what you ordered. God is sovereign. There can be many reasons why our prayers are not answered in the way and at the time that we expect. One of them may be that God wants to see whether we love the Giver more than the gifts. Once we resolve that issue correctly, God can be much freer to give us what he wants to give us.


Copyrightę 2002 by James L. Morrisson