A few years after the mission trip to which I referred last week, I was on another trip (this time in Togo). I had the humbling experience of being asked to give the benediction (closing prayer) at the close of a special commencement/commissioning service for a group of new pastors. They had just finished a pastor training intensive and were about to embark on new adventures laid before them by God in their home communities (mostly in very rural villages scattered throughout West African countries).
A national pastor named James (with whom my partner and I had been working in Ghana) was to give the keynote address. Every eye and ear focused solidly on him as he both passionately and compassionately laid before his hearers the charge to be faithful stewards of the Word of God.
As he began to wrap up his thoughts and knowing well the prevailing winds of pop-culture Christianity, he began to tell a story about an experience that he’d had early in his ministry with a man named Charles. Charles, an elder at James’ first church, was as stalwart a pillar of that community of faith as a pastor could hope for.
When Charles became very sick, Pastor James and his church family began to pray for him, intensely interceding over the course of several days. Charles’ illness did not dissipate however, so more and more Christians were called upon to pray. The huge numbers of people praying as well as their earnestness touched the family deeply and many believed that Brother Charles would be healed.
As Pastor James was relating his story to the crowd of young pastors before him, I noticed that his audience was being drawn deeply into the account. They were excited about God’s call upon them; they were eager to see the Kingdom of God grow and advance; and they were expectant of God’s power and might to be manifested in and through themselves. I could see many of them nodding approvingly of the broad cooperation of God’s people with one another as they agreed in prayer for Charles’ healing and I sensed their longing for something like that to happen for each of them.
But James’ story took an unexpected turn. Just where the audience expected him to say that Charles miraculously arose from his sick bed to give glory to God, James instead said simply that Charles died. As soon as they were uttered, the men before me wilted visibly at his words.
James then mentioned a conversation that he had with another Christian friend who challenged him with the words, “Where is your faith? God undoubtedly allowed Charles to die so that He could raise him from the dead.” The crowd in the room sat up straighter as a new look of wonder filled their expressions.
The thought of God’s power raising Charles from the dead struck a chord with them just as it had with James years earlier as he found himself wondering if perhaps the whole experience had all been a test. Soon he concluded that it must have been a test and that he wasn’t to stop praying. So he began to pray for Charles to be raised from the dead like Lazarus in John 11. He promptly involved a few of his closest friends and then word quickly spread that people were to now pray for Charles’ resurrection. The excitement in the crowd about me as James shared his story began to climb afresh as the desire to hear of God’s power working in such an awesome way began to take hold of them.
James shared about how he rose early in the morning and went to the building where Charles’ body had been laid. He arrived there while it was still dark and silent. The family wasn’t present and no one answered James’ knock at the door. It wasn’t locked so he stepped inside. He walked up to the dark form spread out in the center of the room, ready at any moment to find his brother in the Lord sitting up to greet him.
The crowd about me waited in suspense as James drew near to the end of his story. Was Charles alive? Had the Lord raised him from the dead? Would God not honor the faith and prayers of His people in such a way as to prove His favor? Everyone in the room seemed to be expecting a resounding affirmation. Even a few of the officials on the platform near me were nodding their heads enthusiastically and smiling from ear to ear.
James shared that as he drew near to the figure in the center of the room, he was sure he would hear Charles’ voice and see him stir. Everyone hearing James’ story was holding his breath as he paused in his tale. What would happen next? James looked over the hundreds of faces turned his way. “Charles never spoke,” he said. “Charles didn’t move. He didn’t even breathe.” I could hear the sound of air as the people before me suddenly released the breaths they had been holding. “No,” James said. “Charles couldn’t greet me. He was still dead. He hadn’t been raised back to life.”
James then shared with the room about the pain that emerged in that dark moment which challenged his faith and the subsequent disillusionment of what at first appeared to be unanswered prayer. He had thought that by this sign that God would prove His unimaginable power (by conquering death) and demonstrate His infinite love (by answering – in the affirmative – the specific hearts’ cries of His people).
In the years that have followed my hearing James’ tell that story, I’ve thought long and hard about the wisdom that he had sought to pass on to the generation of young pastors heading out into the spiritual battlefields of their homelands. It seems to me that James’ point was that God has already proven His power by conquering death in Jesus Christ Who was raised to new life! And it appears to me also that the Lord has already demonstrated His infinite love for us by sending Jesus, His Son, to die for us so that our deepest and most desperate need (forgiveness of sin) might be granted to us through faith!
Many of us want continually for God to prove His power, His love, and Himself. But God doesn’t have to prove anything. He is, after all, Creator, Judge, and King. He doesn’t have to condescend to us at any point on any level. But it just so happens that He has proven everything we really need to know anyway, praise His name, in what He has done in Jesus Christ. He didn’t have to… but He did.
It’s therefore all the more grievous a transgression on our part when we hesitate or even refuse to obey Him until He satisfies us with signs and wonders, miracles that wow us sufficiently until all vestiges of doubt are eradicated. Truth be told, many of us (even those of us who call ourselves Christian) hold back on an attitude and subsequent lifestyle of true obedience to His Word and Lordship until He convinces us that the path to which He calls us is really worth the price of “dying to self” (Luke 9:23).
Of course, we’re not the first to fall into the selfish trap of demanding signs from God. Some who had seen for themselves Jesus healing the lame and sick, satisfying the multitudes with miraculously provided foods, and even walking on water, said to Him, “What sign do You do, that we may see and believe You? What work do You perform?” (John 6:30 ESV).
What cheek! Here they were demanding from God’s Son Himself a sign even after He had provided them with sign after sign! Luke 11 records the fact that there were some who repeatedly demanded signs from Him (v. 16), yet Jesus’ ultimate assessment for their spiritual pig-headedness was, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah” (v. 29b; the "sign" was the man who was sent from God to preach repentance and returned miraculously after three days – Jonah from the belly of the great fish [Jonah 1:17 & 2:10] and Jesus from the grave [Luke 24:6]).
More often than not, what we deem as our “need” for proof before we will believe is really an excuse to not obey God. Selfishness, fear, pride, and laziness are so deeply rooted within us that we scarcely can discern those traits within ourselves, yet they are there contaminating trusting obedience.
What is actually needful then is a humble and submitted heart that does not put upon God any demand but is ever ready to cry out to Him as did Jesus, “Father… not My will but Yours, be done (Luke 22:42).
As was shared in the previous article, real faith is nothing more than trusting God. By faith, we receive God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. By faith, we pray, laying out our petitions before him and sending our intercessions to Him. By faith, we serve Him, believing that He can take our meagerness and multiply it so that many may be blessed. By faith, we press on in this life believing that our labors are not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58 & Philippians 2:16). By faith, we rejoice because our God is sovereign and has under His control all the stars of the endless universe as well as the heartaches and needs of these lives of ours no matter how small and inconsequential we deem ourselves (Romans 8:28).
It may be that God awaits your request to move a mountain in your life (Matthew 21:21). But if He hasn't, don’t throw in the towel even though you have spent yourself in the request and are as submitted as you know how to be. It could be that your heavenly Father’s refusal to “move the mountain” is the prelude to having you climb it by His side so that you can achieve a high place with Him you could not have known otherwise.
“This God – His way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him. For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God? – the God Who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights” (Psalm 18:30-33 ESV).
Copyright © Thom Mollohan
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