For the past several months, our men’s Bible study has been reading through the book A Praying Life by Paul Miller. I chose this book for the purely selfish reason that I felt a need to focus on my own prayer life, and thought that the men at EBC could probably also use some help in that area. As we have slowly read and discussed our way through Miller’s book, several things have stood out to me. This book has challenged my thinking about God, my own discipleship, and my role in the discipleship of those in my sphere of influence. Last night was no exception. As we discussed the latest chapters, I was struck by a statement that Miller makes on the subject of suffering in modern, American Christianity. He says that even though suffering is an essential part of the gospel story, it doesn’t quite mesh with our view of the Christian life, “So we pray to escape a gospel story, when that is the best gift the Father can give us” (p.215).
In the midst of the trial and the moment of suffering (sometimes it seems more like the æon of suffering), my prayers usually consist of requests for God to either set things right or provide some escape so that I no longer have to feel the affliction so acutely. But when I begin to understand that God never wastes a crisis in the life of me, his child, I can begin to pray differently. Instead of seeking a way out, I can begin to seek the Lord in the midst of the trying circumstance. In fact, I can begin to realize that the trial is actually a gift from God in that it offers proof that he is still working in me to bring about his good and perfect will of molding me into the likeness of his Son, Jesus Christ.
I imagine that it goes something like this. God allows me to suffer some injustice or to enter into a time of serious pain, so I do what every child does in that moment – I cry out to my Father. And like any young child, I cry very loudly about how much it hurts and how unfair it all seems. But instead of fixing the problem or removing the thorn of difficulty, God says to me, “I gave this to you. Why on earth would I want to remove it? Don’t you know that I love you and this hard and painful thing is the best gift I can possibly give you at this moment?” Of course, he doesn’t actually speak to me in this way, but this is how it appears in my imagination. Anyway, as I come to understand God’s working in my own life, I can pray something else. I still cry out to my Father. (I am his child, after all.) But instead of asking him to remove the source of pain, I pray that I might see him and feel his touch and know that he is near. I need him, because I do not think I can make it without him, since the trial is so hard and seems to go on for so long. And the more that I pray like that, the more I begin to see the threads of God’s grace working in my life and the lives of those I love, so that I can begin to rest in the goodness of my Father. You see, prayer really does come down to faith. In the midst of the trial, we are tested to see if we actually believe that God is both all-powerful and all-loving. I really like how Miller puts it on the very next page, when he says “If we stop fighting and embrace the gospel story God is weaving in our lives, we discover joy.” My prayer life still isn’t perfect, but I’m learning that seeking Jesus in my trials brings me great joy.