It's been awhile since I've posted anything that seems spiritually deep. Probably because while I believe God is always at work on my heart, I've been wading in the shallow waters a bit in terms of discipleship. After being pretty hit or miss with Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart and AW Tozer's The Pursuit of God, I have spent the last few weeks reading Mark Batterson's Praying Circles Around Your Kids. It's an easy short read and reaffirmed a lot of the ways I pray for my kids.
I also enjoyed that he covered unanswered prayer. I think one of the biggest downfalls of the church is that we do not teach people how to deal with unaswered prayer, heartache, and disappointment with God. The church loves to claim the Bible stories full of miraculous healing. But the reality is the Bible is full of plenty of stories of people who did not get the miraculous healing. And I think there are a lot of people, believers and non believers, who find the clean scrubbed, Pollyanna version of the Bible hard to swallow.
The tipping point is when we equate God's presence with His action. We create if-then scenerios where "if God is active in my life, then He will shower me with blessings that look like this." Situations where we say"if God is good, then this is what will my life will look like." Even if we never audibly say such things, I think it is just part of our humanness that wants to qualify God's presence by defining His action in our lives. But it all hits the fan when something unexpected or tragic happens and we are left with one end of the if-then slipping and sliding right through our hands. What those situations are really about is God not acting in a way that we think is very God like.
In the Praying Circles book, Mark Batterson points to the story of John the Baptist as one that can teach us about unanswered prayers and the questions that kind of flit around in our hearts as we wonder exactly what God is up to. John the Baptist was Jesus' cousin. He had some type of deep connection to Jesus because as infants in the womb, Jesus jumped when He was in the presence of John and John's mother. John started his public ministry before Jesus, preparing the way for Jesus by reminding the Jewish people about the promised Messiah who would come to forgive their sins. John dedicated his entire life to this message, forsaking good clothes and good food to do so. And John baptized Jesus, allowing the Heavenly Father to annoint Jesus in a very public way. But John also had the audacity to call out the current Roman ruler, Herod, who was engaging in sin. And such words resulted in him being imprisoned and ultimately beheaded.
John, friend, cousin, and ministry companion of Jesus? Beheaded? Imprisoned? Not rescued by God? Hmm....
In Matthew 11:1-6, John has been imprisoned. His followers seek out Jesus, sent by John himself. They ask Jesus "Are you the one Who has come or should we expect someone else?" In other words, they (and probably John) have set in their minds an expectation for whom the Messiah will be, for how this deliverer will act. And Jesus is not meeting those expectations. Jesus is not rescuing John.
The Bible does not tell us that Jesus even visited John. (It does tell us that when Jesus receives word of John's death, he sent his disciples to bury the body and then he personally retreated, seeking out solitude despite the crowds who had been following Him.) I can't help but wonder if the lack of a visit must have been a deep wound to John's heart.
What Jesus tells John's friends is a bit of an odd piece of Scripture. "Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me." Some translations phrase it "Blessed is he who is not offended by me." But the crux of Jesus' words are this: blessed is he who is not discouraged when I don't meet his expectations.
It's about faith despite a perceived failure of God. It's about steadfastness when you feel unsteady. It's about belief when you have to reexamine your beliefs regarding Who God is. Blessed is he who is not offended...