Is God Asking for a Fight?
I was driving home from church, dejected. Prayer had been offered for people who felt any special call upon their lives. Though I longed to respond, God has never spoken to me about future service.
‘The Lord gives almost everyone a personal word to cling to while waiting,’ I mused. Abraham may have languished for years, but God had promised him descendants. Young Joseph had a dream. David was anointed with oil. And the names kept coming.
‘Lord,’ I complained, ‘you’ve never given me a promise!’
‘Except the million in God’s Word,’ came the thought.
I went to bed, still agitated. As I lay there next morning my mind floated to Ruth, who found God’s blessing by stubbornly resisting the pleas of the most godly woman she knew.a My thoughts flashed through the centuries to the Canaanite who won her daughter’s healing and Jesus’ praise by persisting, despite being ignored, called a dog, and told her request was improper.b
My heart leapt. Maybe God is doing the same to me! Surely, despite heaven’s silence, God’s heart is still open to my cry. I recalled something I placed in an early draft of this book:
Most biblical teaching on prayer can be summarized thus: God delights in lavishing his blessings upon those too resolute to take ‘No’ for an answer.
It’s true, and I hate it. Not only does it sound like a grueling endurance test, I loathe arguments. I cringe at the thought of pestering the One I love, or grieving him by not instantly yielding to the slightest indication of his wish. Further, I’m awed by the realization that God’s wisdom is infinite. That makes mine infinitesimal. Who am I to haggle with the greatest Mind in the universe?
Jacob was blessed because he wrestled with God – and won.c I thought we scored by letting God win! This side of prayer seems to tear up everything Scripture teaches about love, submission and respect.
After years of confusion a gleam penetrated in the guise of a startling thought: ‘God is a tease’. I slammed shut my mind. It couldn’t be. God’s not like that! Yet as I dared peek at that mysterious ray, light flooded my understanding. It’s true! God is a beautiful, loving tease! He declares he is the giving Godd and then lets everything suggest he is a tightwad. ‘You can’t have it! It’s not worth having. You’re not good enough!’ heaven and hell seem to howl. All the while he is hoping we will see through the jest to the heart of God.
Play-fights with God make us strong. They are not to be taken lightly, however. Eternity holds its breath. Ruth’s sister-in-law surrendered to Naomi’s repeated pleas and returned to her people, turning her back on God’s blessing.
Elisha wanted a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. The hide of the man! Time and again God’s oracle tried to shrug off that bald-headed upstart, yet Elisha clung to him with the obstinacy of a blood-sucker.e That’s what made him grate – er – great.
Heaven’s strong room is plundered by everyone with the audacity to ask and the tenacity to receive. And God is tickled pink! Look above the stern ‘No’ on God’s lips to the sparkle in his eyes.
With God as my co-author, I write best-sellers. That’s my new self-image. (More accurately, my Lord, Creator of humanity’s creative writers and Author of the world’s best-seller – the Bible – in his exorbitant love dares share his ability with me, and lets me tamper with his perfection. If only I can stifle my tendency to write solo, the result will be stunning.)
So new is this self-image that the cement hasn’t set. I had hardly finished shaping it when along came some ‘helpful’ criticism. ‘I hope you find these comments encouraging,’ he said. I didn’t. My revamped self-image oozed back into a nebulous blob. It had to be laboriously rebuilt. That meant hours of prayer and dwelling on faith-building truths; constant battles against negative thoughts, when surrender seemed perversely alluring. Without frequent repair and maintenance, my new image would soon be flattened by life’s squalls.
So far, I have nothing tangible to show for my inner struggles, but whenever I have patched things up and look in the mirror of my mind, the image I see causes less nausea than it used to. I bounce with new zing toward the goal.a
Too often I think and act as if the darkness of my inadequacy could extinguish the brilliance of Christ. I have seen myself as a failure and I have seen the results of such thinking. Now I endeavor to see myself as a born failure, born again a success. That’s scriptural. Without Christ I am brain-frozen with inadequacy. But I am not without Christ. I am tired of being hauled through the sludge by my former view of myself. I had backed off so far from the monster of pride that I had almost fallen into the ditch of despair, dragging God’s glory with me. Though I hate egotism, I must hate doubt with equal passion.
(I suspect that if I truly knew my Lord, self-image would be a non-issue. I would be so in love with Christ, so captivated with his splendor that I couldn’t bear to wrench my eyes off him long enough either to berate or congratulate myself. I’m not there yet, however.)
William Carey’s relentless succession of achievements in the face of oppression suggests he was no more deterred by tragedies than a locomotive by butterflies. I was stunned to learn he sometimes suffered what one biographer called ‘sheer black depression’.215
C. H. Spurgeon, revered as last century’s greatest Baptist preacher, was so plagued by discouragement, depression, fatigue and illness that he tendered his resignation thirty-two times in thirty-nine years. Interestingly, he gradually discovered that such lows always seemed to precede new times of empowering for ministry.216
A modern preacher, world-famous for his emphasis on possibility thinking, sat dejected on a building site and pronounced the death-sentence on his pet project. ‘You can’t give up,’ gasped his advisers, ‘the whole world is looking at you!’
‘If only I could have a good old-fashioned heart attack and fail with dignity,’ was his pathetic reply.
Such grim anecdotes charge me with hope. If past heroes and modern champions of positive thinking can have such bouts, I need not let the Accuser belittle me just because I am appallingly negative at times. For twenty-four-year-old David Brainerd, thrilling experiences in God’s presence were regularly interspersed with deep bouts of melancholy in which he despaired of ever achieving anything in God’s service. Three years later, an unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit upon American Indians erupted after his preaching. This move coincided with a time when the clammy clouds of dejection were so thick that he was seriously contemplating ending his missionary endeavors.217
A. B. Simpson – that highly respected missionary statesman, exceptional preacher, and founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance – was yet another great achiever who ‘was always susceptible to periods of despair.’ Though his highs soared to supernatural visions, they did not prevent his lows.218
I don’t make excuses. Having the disposition of a professional prune taster is nothing to boast about. Depression usually marks lost faith in the One with whom I have entrusted my future. It dishonors the One who floods my life with endless love and manipulates for good everything that touches me. When I’m low, however, the last thing I need is despondency about my despondency. Though we slide on a downer, that does not make us losers. A horde of spiritual giants have been on the slide before us and lived to excel.
Take heart from the man exalted as Scripture’s prime example of faith.a In an early chapter of Genesis, God tells Abraham on two separate occasions that he will give him the land and descendants.b Just four verses later we find Abraham humiliating Sarah, denying that she is his wife. In cowardly deceit, he stands dumbly by as Pharaoh marries Sarah and takes her into his harem.c Next chapter, God yet again details the promise of land and descendants.d Nevertheless, two chapters on, we find Abraham expecting to die childless. For a fourth time God insists he will give Abraham descendants. At last the old fossil believes. The Lord, thrilled with Abraham’s refound faith, repeats his vow to give him the land. In disbelief, Abraham asks for a sign.e With divine patience God dramatically shows the mighty man of faith not only his future descendants, but what will happen to them. In the next chapter we find our faith model throwing away any hope of a miracle from God. He resorts to dubious natural means to forcibly accomplish what God seems unwilling to do. He bypasses his wife and turns to her maid for a baby.f Years later, the Lord yet again reaffirms his promise to Abraham and declares that Sarah would conceive. Abraham laughs. He is sure his wife has more potential as an Egyptian mummy than as a Hebrew one. ‘She’s too old. Just bless Ishmael,’ is the crux of his reply.g Yet the Lord persists. One more time our hero gropes for that slippery fish called faith. Before long, he is again passing off Sarah as his sister, showing more faith in his powers of deception than in God’s integrity. This time it is King Abimelech who almost has a go at impregnating Sarah.h Just weeks later,i she conceived Abraham’s baby.
Faith is not a non-stop flight above reality; it’s a fight. What distinguishes people of faith is not how rarely they hit the dirt, but how often they get up again. To be perpetually positive is impossible. The mere attempt embroils us in prayer battles and Abrahamic effort. The enemy often flees to his corner, only to prepare for the next round. You might even have climbed out of the ring, but the reward for getting back in exceeds anything anyone could offer.
‘Lord, increase our faith,’ pleaded the disciples.
‘If you have faith the size of a mustard seed ...’ came the reply.j
Perhaps our greatest need is not huge faith, but to fully use our small faith. Perhaps we miss out because we devalue our faith, not using it to the fullest because we wrongly imagine that tiny faith is too insignificant to move the hand of God. If faith is more valuable than gold,k the merest speck is too precious to despise. Do not let feelings of inadequacy strangle your faith. Just keep pressing on. Past greats achieved much with floundering faith. So can you.
Like everyone, my faith levels fluctuate. Usually I am aware that a few moments dwelling on faith-building truths or squashing negative thoughts would boost my faith a little, but I foolishly let myself remain at a lower faith level than I know I am capable of. I have failed to take faith as seriously as Scripture does. If it is as valuable as Scripture affirms, then only a fool would pass up an opportunity to slightly increase it. If our Lord valued faith at a dollar, then a one per cent increase is not worth bothering about. What can you do with a cent? If common faith is of immense value, however, everything changes. On a million dollars, one per cent is $10,000 – well worth a little effort!