Our circumstances, even if hard, do not mean God is not at work. Our suffering does not mean God has failed. Our difficulties – even if we are praying for them to be resolved and taken away – do not show God to not be serving our good. Which is why we perhaps need to stop implying that we trust God because he works followed by examples of the Lord finding the money for our rent or healing us of some sickness. Those things are great and warrant our praises and thanksgiving. But they are not the evidence that “prayer works” or “God has it covered” we often think. We know God has it covered because, whatever may befall us now, we have a home in Heaven.
I have blogged before about how we need to stop saying ‘prayer works’. As I said in that post, but I’ll head of again here, that’s not because I don’t think prayer works. I just think what we tend to communicate when we say that is not very helpful. Often what people mean by that phrase is also not very helpful. But you’ll have to read that other post to find out why.
But we have another close cousin of ‘prayer works’ that does the rounds. It is essentially ‘God works’. The view comes in a variety of forms. In its crasser form, it is the ‘delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart’ brigade. The most favourite verse of all who want God to be their personal genie. But there is a more reformed ‘seek first the kingdom of God’ approach that is just as problematic. It all ends up with either a quid pro quo with God – if I do this, he’ll do that – or, if we’re being less crass about it – a ‘God works’ idea so that I can just trust in the Lord because ‘he’s got it covered’ kind of thing.
Of course, we should trust in God because he does have things covered. Just as we should pray because prayer does work. The issue is that God having things covered and prayer working don’t always work in the way we have decided they must. I don’t think ‘prayer works’ in the sense that God will just give me whatever I ask for every time I ask. I don’t think ‘God has it covered’ by necessarily resolving everything to my satisfaction in the way I would like it resolving.
Often, these sentiments come out in little stories of our own. I was worried about such and such and event, I struggled to get something or other, I just had to trust God and, in the end, it all worked out. We can trust he’s got it covered. Or, I was worried about some operation or other, it was totally out of my hands, all I could do was pray and trust the Lord. But he made me well, the operation was a success, we can trust the Lord.
Now, I get the sentiment, I really do. And, for the record, it is obviously good to praise the Lord when he does what we have asked him to do. It is good when we are sick and God heals. It is good when we are worried and God resolves the cause of our fears. It is good when we are anxious about something unknown and the Lord works it all out for us. It is, of course, good and right to give thanks and praise him for such things.
My concern is, if we have gone hard on the ‘God has it covered’ or the ‘prayer works’ line, what do we say when our family member is sick and God doesn’t heal them and, worse yet, they die? What do we say when we are worried about something and God not only doesn’t appear to resolve the cause of our worries, but our worst fears are realised? What do we say when we are anxious about something unknown and the thing transpires to be even more hellish than we had even imagined? Do these things mean God doesn’t have it covered? Did prayer just not work that time? Has God basically let us down and failed to work for our good?
The problem with this line of thinking is that if God does not seem to have matters covered (as we judge it) or prayer does not appear to work (from our perspective), we quickly wonder whether it is worth the bother of following this God. You don’t have to know much about Israel’s history in Canaan to see this calculation roll round with troubling regularity. If God doesn’t appear to work, we’ll have a little go with Baal instead.