Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18
God hasn’t answered the biggest prayer I’ve been praying for over a year. And this request is coming months after another situation when He didn’t answer a prayer we’d been praying for five years. (And when I say He’s not answering, of course I mean He’s not answering the way I want Him to.)
We had a plan. The next two years were laid out for us with timelines and budgets and t-shirts. And even though we followed the plan and stuck to the timeline, it isn’t working out that way. We followed God’s guidance and expected to be rewarded. Instead, we are suffering. Every one of us. It’s heavy and hard and I don’t like it.
Last week, after days of thinking and trying to understand how I was feeling (we INTJs aren’t so good with understanding our feelings), I finally came up with a name for it—hopelessness. I can’t see a solution. People are making suggestions and coming up with contingency plans, but I’m not convinced. When I lay my head on the pillow each night, all I can think is “This isn’t going to work.”
Almost two years ago I was on the phone with a therapist who was not helpful. I closed my door so the boys couldn’t hear me gasping for breath and raising my voice through my tears, “You are taking away our hope and we cannot live with out hope. It’s the only thing that gets me out of bed each morning.” Right now the only thing that’s getting me out of bed is the to do list.
So how do I find hope again? How do I learn to say with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, “God will answer our prayers, but even if He doesn’t, I will still worship Him”?
I remind myself of God’s sovereignty, and in Him alone I place my hope.
I don’t want to remind myself this is all from God. I bet Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn’t either as they faced the furnace. (Or Joseph in jail. Or Moses in the wilderness. Or Ruth and Naomi as they walked back to the home Naomi had left. Or David as he mourned the loss of his son. Or Jeremiah as he wept for his people. Or Zechariah and Elizabeth as they spent decades praying an unanswered prayer.) We like to give God credit for the results but not don’t always acknowledge His love and mercy in our suffering.
I want to blame someone else. If only he had come through. If only she would have said yes. Then plan A would still be working out. But ultimately what is happening is God’s will for us. What I currently view as suffering is God’s will for us.
He isn’t thwarted by detours or surprised when dates on the calendar come and go without goals being met. He is working all things out for our good. And our good doesn’t mean we are going to have success (just like having enough faith isn’t going to mean James will be healed of his autism).
I don’t know why I keep forgetting this lesson. My whole life has been an example of it. The book of James speaks of every good and perfect gift being from above, but who gets to say if what we’re experiencing isn’t a good and perfect gift? From God’s perspective it must be. As we know, His goal is our holiness, our sanctification. And through that comes hope.
Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Hebrews 6:9-12
Houston in July feels a lot like a “burning fiery furnace.” And as we walk through it, I’m going to keep praying for exactly what I want to happen. Even when I don’t see any possible way for it to work out.