God is not casual in the way He deals with His very own children. He does nothing by chance or happenstance. There is nothing hit-or-miss about His methods. Man may become casual and indifferent toward God, but God cannot be casual toward man.
Too often we think of God only as some kind of benign benevolence, a kind of elderly, gentle Father who may leisurely get around to meeting our needs. God is seen as a slow-moving problem-solver who must be flagged down. We see Him as some kind of great power that can be energized into action if fed enough faith. In other words, God will act if you make enough noise -- loud outcrys, intense demonstrations of faith, superhuman efforts to be holy.
This kind of thinking suggests man has to first get Godís attention, then plead his pitiful case, then hope this busy Director of the universe will put him on His list of "favors to be granted." Meanwhile, the worried believer hopes he can maintain a sufficient level of faith and good works so as not to lose his place in the blessing line. Wouldnít it be a shame, we think, to fail the faith test and have to go back to the end of the line? He almost shudders to think his hour of help may arrive, and he would not be worthy to receive the answer -- as if the Lord were to say to him, "Sorry -- I was all ready to answer your prayer and meet your need, but your faith slipped a bit. You got weak; you faltered; so it will have to wait. Get back to the Word; get it right; practice faith a little longer; get into more patience -- and when all systems are go, Iíll be back and weíll see what can be done."
God forgive us for thinking of Him as a far-off, casual Friend -- who comes to our rescue only in emergencies or when we are about to give up. What a slap in Godís face to suggest that He works on some kind of merit system, as if only the diligent, the strong in faith, the highly discipled can get His attention. We cannot earn Godís blessings or obtain answers to prayer by claiming a better quality or quantity of faith than our brother or sister.
How, then, does a Christian get Godís attention? How do we get His ear? How can we be assured our need has been placed before Him? How can we know He sees our present troubles? Is He preoccupied with the problems of nations and their leaders? Is He too busy at natureís master control? Are the worldís problems so complex and mighty, He has no time for our problems that seem trifling in comparison?
The truth is, none of Godís children have to vie for His attention. We do not have to enroll in some kind of faith inner circle to get better results. We donít have to weep, or wail, or fast, or groan to make Him see our present need.
The truth is: God has a human heart! He knows our needs, our hurts, our problems, because He has been living through them with us. He has always been there, from the very first hours the trials hit. He has been bottling every tear, deeply touched by the feelings of our infirmities.
Wake Him up? Beg for help? Run to Him in panic? Hope He will somehow hear my heartís cry? Try to bring Him down from some cosmic mission to get involved in my need? No! A thousand times no! Why shout at a Father who is at my side? Why panic when He is closer than a brother? Why worry about weak or strong faith, when He has already seen and felt my needs? Did not our Lord say, "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make an abode with him" (John 14:23)? To add emphasis, He said further, "...he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you..." (John 14:12).
God is not somewhere in the universe, "out there" or "up there" -- but He is dwelling with us and in us. And He is not a casual Lord, who comes and goes according to our moods, doubts, and fears. Too often, we think our Lord is "chased away" by our backslidings into despair and fear. We think He somehow "floats away," offended by a temporary fit of temper, weak faith, or fleeting doubts. We hope He will come back when we are improved. How immature and childish these thoughts are. He has promised to never leave us, never forsake us -- He is with us in every struggle of life, until the very end. He is faithful to us, even when our faith is staggered and weak.
"...If we are faithless, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny Himself..."
(2 Timothy 2:13)
What about all the delays -- the unanswered prayers -- the lingering illnesses -- the never-ending problems -- the ever-worsening hurts -- the feelings of helplessness? In spite of all the supposedly happy, problem-free saints who claim God has done everything they asked Him, I wonder how soon it will be before they, too, run up against the most severe test of faith in their entire lifetime?
The truth is: Godís people are right now going through a spiritual "Great Tribulation." Every Christianís faith is now on trial. This is the final test that will separate the over-comers from the deserters.
Jesus wondered if He would find faith on the earth when He returns. How could that be, when the earth has so many who claim to be His children?
Satan is determined to shipwreck the faith and confidence of all true believers. The Job-like problems that are being unleashed on Christians today have caused many to wonder if God has quit the prayer-answering business. They say they pray and nothing happens. They need a miracle, because things are turning from bad to worse -- but no answer seems to be forthcoming.
It is in this hour of confusion that an awful terror, deep in the soul, begins to surface. An inner haunting grips the mind. "Maybe God expects me to work this problem out all by myself. Maybe God offers us only eternal salvation, but not daily help. Perhaps Iíve been expecting too much from God. Maybe I am destined to go on hurting, lonely, just getting by. God must be mad at me, because He doesnít seem to see my tears or hear my crying."
Satan has the upper hand the very moment he can make a child of God think his Lord has turned a deaf ear to his need. So the young lady whose boyfriend breaks her heart gets angry with God. She reasons, "Lord, why did You let him hurt me? Why didnít You keep him loving me? Why do You let me carry this broken heart -- until Iím ready to die? Where are You, Lord? How can I serve You if You keep letting me down?"
Listen to parents with the disobedient child: "Dear Lord, when will You ever straighten my child out? Why wonít You come down in answer to my prayer and turn that life around? How many years must go by without a sign of a change? Donít my prayers mean anything? Donít the promises work?"
Listen to the child of God in the throes of illness: "Oh God -- if You feel our pain, why must I go on suffering? Why are others healed and not me? Why me. Lord? I have claimed every promise in the Bible -- my faith has been strong -- others have agreed with me in prayer -- so why doesnít the miracle happen? Why do I go from bad to worse? Will I ever come out of it? Will You let me die?"
Listen to troubled marriage partners: "Father, everything is going wrong; why? Iím in a mess -- things are out of control -- Iím so unhappy -- why canít You lift this burden? I need direction, but I canít seem to get answers. Why wonít You lift my loneliness and fear? Why wonít You show me what Iím supposed to do? Iíll do it, if You will only speak to me. Answer my prayer -- please -- before itís too late!"
Listen to the fretting believer who is desperately needing a word of direction:
"Lord, shall I or shall I not? What is Your will? What is my next step? I donít want to get out of Your will, but I donít know what to do next. Iím so confused -- why canít I get clear direction? Iím asking in faith -- but I donít seem to get a clear word from heaven. Whatís blocking the answer?"
Oh beloved -- we are all going through the same thing! We are all being tested! Every honest child of God knows what it is like to look up to heavens that seem brass -- and wonder if God really hears and answers prayer. When you have done all you can; when you know you believe God is able to do anything; when you pray and weep and hope -- and nothing seems to happen -- that is when the enemy creeps into our thoughts and whispers, "God will never answer; go ahead and do the best you can, work it out yourself use your head and figure a way out on your own."
I believe in Godís interference in manís affairs! Fate is not at the wheel of this universe. Life is not an accidental conglomeration of atoms. God does not reign by accident. The key to understanding Godís concern for man is to believe "He is ever near!" Being near, He is within armís reach, within ear shot. Being near, He sees me! Faith is seeing the closeness of God. Through their struggles, their joy, mankind seldom experiences the nearness of God. To the man of faith, God is always nearby, even in the thickest darkness. The trial is never fatal, because the Almighty is at hand.
I believe in the livingness of God -- rather than divine casualness. He lives with His children. He walks and talks with them. God will interfere with my affairs, not just to satisfy my prayers, but because it is His nature to do what is right for His children.
I believe in divine sympathy! He acts on my behalf because He suffers with me. He enters into my sorrow, and therefore He is close enough to understand when He must interfere. I donít have to tell Him; He feels it. He knows it even before I ask -- because He has been through it all the way with me. I believe in perfect Holy Ghost timing.
I am more interested in Godís sympathy than His power. Power has to do with the vastness of divineness; sympathy is His personal concern for my problems. Power is a principle; sympathy is a feeling. He has feelings for me. When I know He feels for me, I know He will act for me. Majesty and power are great principles we attribute to the awesome Father, but it is the pity of His heart toward me that I most respond to. His majesty makes me know He is able to do anything; His pity makes me know He wants to. There is nothing casual about that!
God individualizes! He breaks mankind down into nations, to races, to families, to individual persons. We know He is the Redeemer of the whole world, but it means little to your needs until you can say, "My Redeemer." I am separated from the whole world when it comes to my needs. I am not just one of the family of God; I am the apple of His eye! You must personalize God in your hour of need. True, you are but one of His children -- you are a co-laborer -- you are but one of many. But not when it comes to your inner dealings with God. When in need, you must see how individual you are -- how exclusively God sees your needs -- how privately He must act on your behalf
Get your eyes off the universe for a moment; get your eyes on a Friend who never forsakes! Get into His friendliness! Get into His nearness. God desires that we approach Him as if no other person lived on earth, that we alone are the object of His concern. That is not selfishness. Having loved all others, having been charitable and caring, having fulfilled the law of love to a lost world -- then move on to the meeting of your needs as if you alone existed.
He counts every hair on my head. He bottles every one of my tears. He counts my sighs and my smiles. He is my Redeemer! He interprets for me those things I donít understand in my heart. You must end your loneliness by coming into the nearness of Christ!
Your problems mount up like unpassable mountains. All around you are no signs of God at work. Doubt assails from all sides. And all you have to combat all this are words pronounced in a book. But those are the words of a God who rules by voice. He speaks and it happens.
The nearness of God needs to become natural to us. It is not enough to know the truth; we must let that truth become natural to us -- a part of us. That comes through meditation. God must not be breaking in on us only at intervals, only in flashes of devotion. You never forget what your mind dwells on constantly. Things are riveted to the memory by forcing your thoughts upon it time and again. Godís presence, His nearness, can become instinctive to us -- so that His closeness is engraved in our minds. The heart can become so full of His presence it takes over the mouth.
Job discovered Godís faithfulness on an ash heap. He discovered the nearness of God, the personal concern of God, in the crucible of affliction. There are many things that only suffering can teach us. All through the Bible, we see sorrow as the great teacher. There is not much depth to those who go through life without suffering and trial. Such a light theology springs from the lips of those who refuse to yield to the trial of faith. It is the trial, not the reward of faith, that produces fruit.
Suffering and trial brings man face to face with God, with reality. It strips away all false gaiety, all pretentiousness, all empty clichťs, all trifling worldliness. It makes a man seek after tmth. It was the suffering of Christ that took away the veil that separated God and man. And it is human suffering that still removes the scales from eyes blinded to the promises. It is when the soul is raw and wounded that it yearns the most for a healing balm.
Children have one thing in common -- they live only for the present. They want everything "right now." To them, it is now or never. They will put on a tantrum to get what they want immediately. Esau was a child in spirit. He was willing to exchange future blessings to satisfy an immediate hunger.
Faith must not become an impetuous demand for God to do what we believe we must have right now! Now or never, God -- is our childish pout. Immediate gratification -- immediate gifts -- immediate deliverance; "I canít wait."
Faith is not a gamble, i.e. "If I get healed now, I had faith; if I donít get healed now, I didnít have it." Our prayers become like taking chances with God. Play the cards right, play the hand properly, and you win the prize. How childish!
Those who are under the tyranny of THE NOW are serving God only with their senses. The prophet Mohammed taught that faith is the way to gain happiness of the senses. But who is the true overcomer, the true person of faith? The one who procures for himself blessings, health, prosperity, a life of personal enjoyment -- free from suffering? Or is it the man who has heard that the greatest joys are those of the Spirit -- peace, longsuffering, gentleness, patience -- the one who no longer lives for the present world? This man of faith is more concerned about growing than getting.
What has a Christian gained if he learns to obtain everything his heart desires, yet he lays down in old age to die, having never known the fellowship of Christís suffering? Once a man touches the invisible with his faith, never again will he be satisfied with the present and the sensual.
Praying through is not praying until one gets his wish granted; rather, it is praying until we are willing to do His will. The holiest prayers are not of petition, but of praise. When petition passes into thanksgiving, Christ is being revealed. We become elated when God answers, as if that were a proof of His grace to us. We become depressed when the prayer goes unanswered, as if our faith has been unsuccessful.
Jesus didnít pray to procure; He prayed to fellowship. He prayed for submission to the Fatherís will. He prayed that all His wishes would be moderated to the will of His Father, until obedience was more important than receiving. How sad we have so few today really interested in pure and simple communion with God. Instead, we come to Him to do battle, to wrestle like Jacob, to demand our rights, to extract blessings, to claim birthrights. "In that day, ye shall ask nothing..."
We want to force our hearing on the Lord. We pump up our faith like some kind of spiritual adrenalin, and come bloated with it into His presence to exchange it for a shopping cart full of blessings. Faith becomes our green stamps -- God becomes the gift center. The more stamps, the more goodies.
How far short that comes in pleasing the heart of our Lord. Demanding faith is not the faith that pleases Him. It is that trusting faith He so desires. Some would rebuke Brother Job if he lived today and said, "Tho He slay me, yet will I trust Him." Some, whose theology is all victory and no suffering, would stand in front of the fiery furnace and yell to the Hebrew children, "Oh ye of little faith -- you donít have to go through that fire. That fire is of the devil; claim your rights. Why be singed and suffocated?"
Is prayer only for prizes? Or is prayer meant to make us forget our own wishes and yearn only for Him? Is prayer meant to give us a way out of trouble or to give us the victory in it? "A way of escape that ye may be able to bear it (not escape it)." We donít ward off evil; we become empowered over it.
No, God is not casual -- He is concerned. He is deeply concerned about every detail of our lives. Let us enter into the rest of faith, having confidence that when the time is fully ripe, He will do right by us. The relaxed, unhurried Christian is the believing one. Not a single prayer is blocked out; not once will He fail in our hour of need.
"Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed" (Hebrew 12:12,13)
So that we may boldly say:
"The Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (Hebrew 13:6)
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