Reality is Reality

Especially when I was younger, I was prone to saying prayers that amounted to “God, please don’t let reality be reality.’ I would not prepare for a test and ask God to help me do well on it anyways. I would wake up late and ask God to somehow make the 5 minutes I had extend to the 15 minutes I needed. And if the bus could be running just the right amount late, that would be great. Or to let the $3 in my bank account somehow cover the $25 I needed for gas. Pretty please, please, please.

Oddly enough, God never seemed inclined to answer these prayers. In fact, anyone who has known me for a while will tell you that I have remarkably bad luck. I’m the sort of person who hits every red light, always gets stuck behind someone who has a problem at the checkout and when I switch lanes while driving, that lane immediately slows down. At least twice a year, my mail mysteriously gets waylaid or returned to sender. And it’s almost always mail with money or something important in it. My checks always went through miraculously fast while my deposits were usually delayed. So on and so forth.

After a while, I stopped fighting life as it is and just went with it. It’s much less stressful to just let life be what it is than to continually hope against hope that just this once, I’ll catch a break.

The thing is that God made reality. It works according to certain rules and principles. And it works the way it does for reasons. Asking God to make reality work some other way for your benefit isn’t really a reasonable request. Nor is it practical. There are 7 billion of us. Imagine if God changed the rules of time, physics and biology every time someone prayed for it in Jesus’ name. It would be an unholy disaster. For all of us.

Right now some of you are saying, “but Rebecca, you’re talking about petty things you were asking for here. I had a kid who I asked God to heal and he didn’t. I asked God to provide safety or shelter and he didn’t. I understand why God isn’t continually making time stand still or changing traffic for our benefit. What about the really major tragedies people ask God to intervene in?”

The examples I’ve given are pretty petty, but I too have prayed “please stop reality from being reality” prayers in some very serious circumstances which have remained unanswered. People I’ve begged God to heal and tragedies which went un-averted. I get it.

And I don’t often understand why God can’t just intervene and set things right. What possible harm could come from healing my 33 year old brother in law who is imprisoned in a body he hasn’t been able to control for the last decade, for example.

To a certain extent, the issue is that there’s a bigger plan at work than we understand. Some things are the way they are and will remain so because to change them would interfere with other important things which are going on. And often there’s no way for us to know the why’s behind such things.

However, I think that mostly the answer is basically the same as for our unanswered petty prayers: reality is what it is. And God made it that way for a reason. As I’ve said often before, all of creation works not in spite of destructive forces, but because of them. The planet could not support life without earthquakes, fierce weather and death, for example. The evolution of life which lead to us could not occur without mutations which more often than not lead to deformity and death. Remember, when God created the world he declared it “good”, not perfect.

As Job said, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Have you ever considered how it is that we came to have the ability to suffer? If God had intended the world to be perfect and for us to never suffer, then why would he have created us with the capacity to suffer? He could have made us so that no matter what happened, we wouldn’t mind and would just carry on our merry way. But he didn’t.

The truth which has too long been denied – especially by Christians – is that this world is as it should be, even though we often are not. Even with all the trouble which being alive can bring. When we ask God to change reality for our benefit, we are rejecting the reality he made. Which I am certain he understands, but he made reality intentionally, for good purposes. Is it any wonder that he doesn’t often step in to change it?*

Now, I’m not claiming that God never steps in to change reality. Sometimes prayers for healing are answered. Sometimes favor is given, luck strikes and tragedy is averted. And those are good things. Some people say that this is what we can expect when we have enough faith. As if one child will receive healing because of the faith of his parents while another dies because her family’s faith wasn’t good enough. This is simply not true.

As I said a couple of weeks ago, Jesus is the author of our faith, so our faith is always just what it should be. God will not find fault in us and withhold blessings from us because our faith doesn’t meet his standards.

Again, we have to go back to what I said at the outset about answered and unanswered prayers. Different people need different things. Life is far too complex to be boiled down to simplistic formulas.

So yes, there will be times when God answers prayers for reality to be something other than what it is. But as a rule, we should expect that reality will remain reality. Jesus said that no father would hand his son a scorpion when he’d asked for bread. He didn’t say that he’d turn a scorpion into bread for him, though.

*Sometime soon I will have to write more about why God might have desired to make a reality in which suffering is an unavoidable part. But for now, consider that grace, mercy, compassion, empathy and patience are all part of God’s character. And we are made in his image, so it’s part of our true identity as well. If no one ever erred or suffered, what need would there be for grace, mercy, compassion and the like? How would God and man ever express these parts of our character?

God Plays the Long Game

Let’s take a quick look at things from God’s perspective. 17 billion years ago or so, God set this creation into motion. Presumably when God did it, it was with the knowledge that eventually a life form such as ourselves would come into existance. But in the meantime, it takes about a million years for the first stars to form. Some explode, some go on and on, some die out. Galaxies form. Planets form. Life probably shows up here and there.

God watches it all, delighting in the beautiful and unexpected ways it all takes shape. And he waits. One day, according to the plan being played out, there will be these creatures who will bear his own image. What will they look like? Where will they be? When will they show up? What will be the signs that their time is nearing?

Perhaps God searched through the galaxy, narrowing down the places we may appear, watching for signs of life, for the development of the prerequisites to being able to carry his image. Creatures who could create and shape things. Make plans and execute them. Be in relationship and bond to each other. Sit and think. Have a relationship with their maker.

Probably God spent the intervening time with all sorts of other distractions. Relating to other life forms. Watching the workings of stars, mapping the trajectories of atoms, observing the battles played out between colliding galaxies to see which would swallow the other. But at some point, after 17 billion years, the sign were there, the conditions were right, the groundwork had been laid and we began to emerge. It’s game time for humanity. The image bearers are ready for the breath of God.

So after all this time, God is in relationship with human beings. And here I come, begging him to help me find a parking spot. After about 5 minutes, I get frustrated and give up. Consider for a moment, what 5 minutes is to a God who has been dealing with his creation for 17 billion years. Clearly, we’re working with completely different time frames here.

It’s probably the result of getting to middle age, but over the last few years, I have become more and more aware that God is playing the long game while I’ve spent most of my life focused on fixing what’s going on right this very minute. It’s a mismatch in priorities and perspectives which leads to a good number of seemingly unanswered prayers.

Consider the issue of my old 1987 Chevy Celebrity with the bad starter. On many occassions back in the late 90s, I begged God to start that damn car for me. I believed for it to be so. I named it and claimed it. But it never worked. Unanswered prayer.

But within weeks, I got the car repaired and it lasted me for another 2 years with shockingly few problems. So my prayer for the moment was unanswer. But ultimately I did get the cheap, reliable transportation I needed.

If we don’t get what we ask for immediately, but the ultimate goal comes in time, is that really unanswered prayer?

If I pray for sucess and it takes 20 years to arrive, is that unanswered prayer? What if the fruits of my labor aren’t clear until after I am gone? Does that count as my prayers for sucess going unanswered?

Certainly, not all unanswered prayers fall into the category of “just hasn’t happened yet”. And it can be very, very hard to tell the difference between “just hasn’t happened yet” and “aint never gonna happen”. But some of our unanswered prayers are really being-answered-in-time prayers.

As I said yesterday, God is always giving us what we need. And one of the things we need is to expand our perspective beyond the current crisis. Especially in the middle of pressing problems, it’s easy to forget that no matter what, the sun just keeps rising and setting. Babies keep getting born and while other people die. Life goes on and everything passes in time. If your prayer isn’t answered in the moment, life will continue and quite often, the prayer gets answered in time anyways.

Sometimes, God is even calling us to expand our perspective beyond our own lifetimes. We moderns (or post-moderns, if you prefer) are rather unique in that we tend to see ourselves as disconnected from what went before us and what will come after us. We think of ourselves as unique entities who popped into existance to try our hand at the game of life before leaving again.

But what we really are is part of an ongoing game that is much bigger than any one person’s lifetime. In fact, we may be the answer to a prayer said long before we arrived, by somone who is no longer here. And it could be that the answer to our own prayers will only be found after we are gone as well.

Again, not all prayers which seem unanswered are actually a work in progress. But some of them are. When we don’t recognize this, bad things happen. One is that we can lose heart, thinking God is rejecting us or not attentive to us. Even worse, we can be so stuck on an unanswered prayer that we actually miss it when the answer does come.

So, if you’re struggling with unanswered prayer, stop and consider if maybe this is something that God is working out over time. If so, it’s not an unanswered prayer. Just one that’s going to take more than you thought to come to fruition.

Now, it does take some trust to accept that what you’ve asked God for is on it’s way. Which is why it can be enormously helpful to keep a prayer journal. You just write down whatever you are asking God for each day. And then, after a year or so, go back through and re-read what you have written.

You will be shocked to discover that much, if not most, of what you ask for has been given. Often the answer doesn’t look like you thought it would (or should). But you will still find that your needs did get met, one way or another.

Of course, not all of your prayers will be answered, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the God who waited 17 billion years for us to arrive takes more than a year to work things out in our lives. But it becomes much easier to trust that an answer is coming, once you have a better view of all the times it’s happened before

Is Your Faith Good Enough? Yes. Always.

gotfaithOnce upon a time, back when I was a young, single mom trying to get my crap car to start, or wishing for money to fall from the sky to get my electricity turned back on or hoping I could  make it to the gas station on fumes, I prayed many desperate prayers. I was queen of the desperate prayer, in fact. But my prayers were answered close to never. Which made me think that I didn’t have enough faith. Because if I had enough faith, I could make anything happen. Right?

“Name it and claim it”, some people would say.

“Walk boldly into the throne room and lay hold of your rightful inheritance,” others would advise.

“True belief is the key that unlocks the blessings God has promised his children,” I was told.

“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,” Jesus claims.

So as I moved from crisis to crisis to crisis, I tried really, really hard to have faith. Enough faith. Real faith. Good enough faith. The kind that could move mountains. Or at least help me find change in the couch cushions to buy milk for my toddler right before payday.

I was like a little kid who’s been told that a fairy’s going to die if they stop believing in fairies. “I do believe! I do believe! I do!” I would practically clap my hands and will myself to really, really believe – with absolute certainty – that God would answer my prayer.

In the end, I learned two things. The first is that magic isn’t real. I can’t just really, really believe and say just the right words and make things happen. I’ve heard of people who this works for, but I’m just going to have to chalk that up to the sort of illusions which all so-called-magic relies on.*

The other thing I learned is that my faith isn’t faulty. You see, when you’ve been told that the key to getting God to answer your prayers is having enough faith, unanswered prayers can never be God’s fault. If you get mad at God then he’ll really not ever answer your prayers. Therefor unanswered prayers are always your fault for not having enough faith.

But one day I heard the scripture verse which refers to Jesus as “the author of our faith.” And I had a little revelation. Whatever faith I have – be it big and certain or small and doubtful, has been written – authored – by Jesus. Who can always be trusted. And who does all things perfectly. So my faith, shaky though it sometimes seems, is always just as it should be.

And all those unanswered prayers? Well, that same verse says that along with being the author, Jesus is the “perfecter” of our faith. As hard as it is for me to swallow sometimes, my faith is much more important to Jesus than my car not starting. My car problems will pass one day. (Maybe. I’m still waiting on that one, actually!) But my faith is meant to be carried into eternity.

As much as I would like it if I could simply believe and make things happen by the magical force of my belief, instead I have a faith that doesn’t fail when my car does. Or when my wishes don’t come true. Or when tragedy strikes. Or even when God is no where to be seen. Because Jesus has been using all those unanswered prayers to perfect the faith he’s authored for me.

So if you ever worry whether your faith is strong enough or good enough or big enough, stop. It is. Because Jesus himself is authoring and perfecting it just for you.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith ~ Hebrews 12:2

And all God’s people said – Amen and amen!

*For the record, this is not meant to discount the possibility of being gifted for healing or other seemingly miraculous things. I know a young man who regularly goes into the ER waiting area at local hospitals with a group of friends to pray over people. Most of them end up leaving without seeing a doctor. But that’s a gift given by God for his own purposes, not something which is just our due for putting an “X” next to the Christian check-off box.