The rising bubble of my New Year enthusiasm was burst
last week when I read a prayer in the Imitation
of Christ. It terrified me. Does
it scare you too? (Misery loves company.)
Purely as a scientific experiment, pray the following
words out loud (or under your breath if your spouse is
nearby and already suspicious of your sanity). I’m
curious how it speaks to you.
Lord, you know what is best
for me; let this be done—or that be done—as you please.
Grant what you will, as much as you will, when you will.
Do with me as you know best, as will most please you,
and will be for your greater honor (Book 3, Chapter 15).
The first phrase is easy: “You know what’s best for
me.” Sure, God knows everything better than
anyone, Theology 101. The second phrase gets prickly: “Let
this—or that—be done as you please.” I’m okay
with “let this” be done as long as it means
financial or physical health; but what if it means
something else? I imagine stock market crashes and
The next phrase scares me, “Grant to me what, as
much, and whenever you want.” I want (right now)
a home with a roof and a checkbook that can pay the
bills. But what if what he grants is “Never,” or “Not
very much,” or, “A lifetime of struggle”?
The last phrase put an exclamation point on my fears: “Do
with me as you please.” What if God thinks my
greatest need is a trial by fire, betrayal by friends,
or a financial melt-down? What if my wife and I end up
homeless, or that my life’s work looks like campfire
smoke that vanishes in the evening sky, forgotten by
How is that for New Year optimism?
The vague and the specific
I vaguely pray the Lord’s Prayer with a pious
indifference, “Your kingdom come, your will be done!”
It’s a shadowy hope for the return of his kingdom on
earth. I also specifically pray that I make it
to the airport on time, “but your will be done.”
If I miss my plane because of a flat tire or traffic
jam, “well I just want God’s will.” (I pray it
with a hint self-righteousness.)
But there is a sweet spot—actually, a sour
spot—somewhere between the vague and specific. There is
a very real possibility that “God’s will” for me might
include loss and suffering. Maybe he thinks that is what
I need most. The thought scares me.
Because I don’t really trust God. I say I believe in
God’s love, but sometimes there is a little voice inside
me that says I know better than he does, and he’s going
to get it wrong.
Health and wealth, or suffering?
I dislike Western Christianity’s doctrines of health
and prosperity, the “name-it claim-it” brand of
televangelists. They seem to ignore passages that say
Christian lives will include difficulty and hardship.
They seem to forget that all we really need is God, and
that health and wealth are very often obstacles to real
rich life, that we often grip tightest the poisons that
are killing us.
Even though I intellectually (and Biblically) reject
those health and wealth sentiments, my heart secretly
embraces them. My heart furtively thinks flat tires and
empty bank accounts are the anomaly. They may happen,
though rarely, and probably because I failed to think
What will really satisfy?
There is a tiny part of me that doesn’t trust God, and
there is a big part of me (I’m just being honest here)
that says my real needs can only be satisfied in this
But what if the very things I want for my
life—including health and wealth—are the worst things
for me right now? What if God—filled with love and
wisdom—is deliberately, kindly, and gently weaning me
from the liquid poison I slurp down every day? What if
he does know best?
My battle in life is to believe God loves me more than
I do, and he is proving it. I forget that all I need is
God, really knowing God; that worldly comforts are the
real fading campfire smoke.
If I honestly examine my life, I must admit that my
greatest successes were the result of God’s actions and
my greatest sufferings were the results of my own
actions. Why do I mistrust God?
The harshness of God
I think God is calling me to let go of my life, to
reach the end of my control, to lay my crown down, to
put away my scepter, and to say, “Your kingdom come in
my life—all of it.” C. S. Lewis said “The harshness of
God is kinder than the softness of man.”
I draw too much comfort from blessing in this world. I
forget that the blessing of God point me to my only true
need: God himself. Not just what he gives. Financial or
physical health is not what I need at this moment. What
I need is God; knowing him, hearing him, worshiping him,
being in a relationship with him. Everything else is
just a signpost not the destination.
God’s will might may be to rip down the signposts so
that my only guide is his presence. Do I really want my
will for my life? I know—at least deep down I know—that
my will almost always wreaks havoc in my life. His will
leads to true comfort.
I think God is leading me back to him
William Cowper wrote a poem
about suffering. In the middle of
it is this verse:
His purposes will ripen
fast, unfolding every hour. The bud may have a bitter
taste, but sweet will be the flower. Ye fearful saints,
fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread, are big
with mercy and shall break, with blessings on your head.
God always gives us what we most desperately need. And
sometimes we need a weaning. The blessing I need most is
to reach the end of myself (and this world), and reach
for God alone. God alone will satisfy the deepest
longings of my heart. “Father, Your will be done.”
Even when I’m scared.