Updated: May 18, 2020
I had the opportunity to preach at my church this past Sunday about having faith in God’s authority. This is a small excerpt from my sermon, but I invite you to listen to the entire message (about 35 min.) here, as it provides more context.
My husband, Matt, has been dealing with chronic back pain for 5 years. It is his constant companion and affects pretty much every area of his life. Sometimes it’s extremely debilitating. So we have prayed for healing for these past 5 years. And we’ve accompanied that prayer with some really practical actions, too. Matt has seen doctors, he’s done physical therapy, he’s seen a chiropractor, and he’s tried acupuncture. He’s constantly trying new things, finding new stretches, changing his routines, but nothing seems to work.
Throughout this time, we’ve read so many passages in the Bible about healing, trying to find some clue about what we need to do. We’ve questioned if we needed to pray in a certain way, if there were specific words that we needed to say. In our desperation, we’ve quoted Scripture, we’ve sang worship songs, and we’ve even tried to cast out the pain as if we were casting out a demon. We’ve thought maybe we needed the right person to pray, you know, someone who has the gift of healing. A lot of our community has prayed with us. There have been times that we’ve reached out and asked people to come physically surround him and pray. And yet, here we are 5 years into this, and he’s still in pain.
So sometimes when I read stories about healing in the Bible, it’s a little bit painful because I can’t understand why Matt hasn’t been healed. I know that God has the ability to heal and that he loves Matt. I even feel like God has told me that Matt will be healed at some point. And I see in these stories in the Bible, that any time someone comes to Jesus and asks to be healed, Jesus does it every single time. So why hasn’t it happened for Matt?
A few weeks ago was one of those times when Matt’s back was really bad, and we reached out to a few people in our church community and asked them to pray. We were feeling really defeated and we were desperate for God to do something, but we didn’t feel like we had the words to pray anymore. So several people came over to our house and as they began to pray, I was actually really frustrated at first. What I wanted in that moment was an instant miraculous healing. And while people were asking for God to heal, mostly what they were praying for was for Matt to be aware of God’s presence in the midst of the pain or for strength or peace or freedom in the midst of the pain. These are good things to pray for, but my frustration came because I had some really specific expectations on God. I wanted him to exert his power and do what I thought was best. So when our friends, who were seeking and crying out to God on our behalf, prayed the things that God put on their hearts and it didn’t line up with what I wanted, I just felt frustrated and angry.
As the prayer time went on, there was some truth that was spoken over Matt, the kind of truth that doesn’t just come from clichés or platitudes, but truth that cut deep to both Matt’s and my heart. And I believe that God was using the words of our friends to show us that God is up to something bigger than we have planned. We’re crying out for the physical healing, but God wants to do something much bigger and better. There are some deeper wounds that God wants to heal. If God just did what we asked and took away the physical pain, I think Matt would be missing out on some of that deeper healing. Now I do still believe that God has the ability and the desire to heal Matt’s physical pain, and I do believe that we will see that come to fruition at some point. But I also trust God’s timing and path to that healing. I believe that God knows better than we do what Matt needs. And I believe that we will be amazed to see what God is going to do if we simply release control and trust in his authority.
In Hebrews 11, it says that “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Faith is continuing to believe even when we don’t see the results that we want. It is continuing to believe that God is good, that he has authority, and that he can do all things even in the midst of pain, struggle, and oppression. Hebrews 11 goes on to give us example after example of people who trusted God, who followed him even when it meant leaving behind family and security, even when it was dangerous, even when it led to their death. And it says in verse 13 of Hebrews 11 that many of these people “did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” And yet, they “were still living by faith when they died.”
We have faith that God can do amazing things. There are times that our faith will lead to the things that we want and hope for. We may be healed or rescued. God might give us that thing that we have been begging him for. Other times, our prayers will not be answered in the way that we want. Our situation might not change. Maybe we won’t experience physical healing. Maybe that broken relationship won’t be restored. Maybe that person that we’ve been praying for won’t change their ways and won’t be rescued. In those times, will you continue to trust in God’s authority? Will you continue to follow him? Will you continue to declare his goodness?
I don’t believe that faith means you never question God or that you never doubt. There are plenty of examples of the people mentioned in Hebrews 11 when they doubted God’s faithfulness. And yet, we see that their faith is recognized and held as a standard. They did not always get it right, but they continued to return to God. They kept the conversation with God open. They remained in relationship. God did not turn his back on them for their doubt.
We can express doubt. We can question God. We can express our anger and frustration with him without fear that he will turn his back on us. There has to be room for doubt. It’s actually in those places of questioning God that we grow in relationship with him, that we come to understand him more, and that our faith is strengthened. I believe that leaving room for questions shows a greater depth of faith in God’s authority. When there is no room for question, that is what leads people to leave the faith altogether. If there is no room for doubt, then that leaves us in a place where God must come through in the ways that we expect, that he must fit into our formula or else he isn’t real. But if I can bring my doubts to God and still trust him enough to continue the relationship and the conversation, that shows that I trust God beyond my understanding. He may not fit into the box that I put him in, but he is still sovereign and he is still good.
That is what God desires. He doesn’t require that we have perfect theology or that we understand all his mysteries. It’s not even possible to understand God completely because as it says in Isaiah 55, God’s ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts higher than our thoughts. God is beyond our comprehension. But we can recognize and trust his authority even when we don’t understand it.
In those moments when I can’t make sense of God or the world around me, what is the truth that I can hold onto? I know that God is sovereign. And I know that God is good. And I know that God loves me. Sometimes that is all I have to go on and in those moments, the only thing I can ask of him is that his will be done.
Some questions for personal reflection…
What does it look like to live in the tension of maintaining the faith that God has the authority to do all things while also recognizing that he might not do what we ask of him?
Does your life reflect that kind of faith?
What are some of the expectations that you need to let go of so that you can trust God’s authority and be amazed by the way He is moving?
Also, check out this song: “Thy Will” by Hillary Scott. It has such a beautiful message that fits so well with what I wrote about here.