James 4:3 – You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (NKJV)
When you teach the Bible and interact with a large number of responses and questions, you see patterns and tendencies that are generally true for the majority. One trend that I’ve seen is the preconceived ideas about HOW God is most glorified in our trials.
Many Christians have the idea that God is glorified when He “fixes” what we believe to be broken in our lives. We apply a Madison Avenue mindset to God’s options thinking that God will enjoy greater acceptance and popularity with mankind if He is seen as the source of “successful” and “victorious” life.
The problem with this notion lies in our modern definition of those two words, “success” and “victory”. The common concept today, even in Christianity, is that “successful” and “victorious” are synonymous with material possessions, physical health and a lack of trials – faith in God is supposed to be directly measurable in a persons life by the amount of prosperity they enjoy.
This has created a generation of Christians who have a difficult time understanding the blessing of suffering, trials, persecution and hardship – a blessing well understood by the Apostles, the early church and deeply ingrained in the Reformation, Puritan and revival heritage of the Church. What would be your first thought about how God would be most glorified in these following situations:
- A friend is diagnosed with cancer, MS or Parkinsons – how can God be most glorified?
- A fellow Christian businessman faces losing his business and years of hard work because of a partner who cheated him – how can God be most glorified?
- A married couple faces divorce because one of them has chosen immorality and personal happiness over the family – how can God be most glorified?
- A couple’s unborn child has been diagnosed with severe problems and will not survive to be born – how can God be most glorified?
- A son in the military is sent off to combat in an area where many have already died – how can God be most glorified?
These are all real scenarios that I have experienced directly or indirectly with some of you (my readers), Christian friends or those I teach or disciple. How would God be most glorified and His purpose served in the previous list of situations? Here is what I believe would be the most common answers based on my experience:
- The disease is healed and the person miraculously made whole
- The business rebounds, the cheater is exposed and the Christian gets everything back plus more
- The marriage is restored and the family goes on with a happy life
- The child is miraculously healed and born without complication
- The soldier goes to war, fights courageously and returns home unharmed
Is God glorified in each of these results? Certainly. Is there anything wrong with praying for these results? Certainly not. So what’s my point?
My point is that we have difficulty seeing any OTHER answer as the most glorifying to God other than the answer that returns our lives to “happiness”. Only the answers that restore us physically, materially and emotionally are conceived as bringing the greatest glory to God. This can betray a shallowness of faith and understanding of God.
ANY answer or solution that God allows
brings Him the most glory, or He wouldn’t allow it.
What do I mean by that? If God chooses for us to lose our health, money or loved ones it is the perfect answer even if we don’t see it, understand it or like it.
Whatever God allows in our life is by default PERFECT
for what God wants to accomplish, or God wouldn’t be God.
Many of you may be thinking “um, I don’t get what your saying”. Others of you are loading up the “prosperity verses” to send to me. We are conditioned by today’s popular teaching that God is “successful” and more “attractive to the unsaved” when He is the God who restores what is lacking, fixes what is broken, and blesses us with comfort and suffering-free living. It is the Gospel that proclaims, “Jesus will improve your life”.
Jesus certainly does improve our life and sometimes He does it through restoration and prosperity. But, just as frequently, maybe more, His will is accomplished through our trials and suffering. God may decide that:
- The cancer or Parkinson’s patient may completely lose their health and eventually die but because of their faithful testimony and joy through their suffering, God is extraordinarily glorified and many lives are transformed as a result.
- (One of my good friends told me last week that if his disease destroyed him physically, but brought his Dad to Christ, he would gladly give up his health. That is a true understanding of how God is glorified in suffering or healing.)
- The businessman may lose everything and suffer severe financial loss but through it he rediscovers everything his business had overshadowed – his marriage, family, church and devotional life.
- The marriage may end up in divorce because of an unrepentant spouse, but through the pain and trials the other family members draw deep from the well of faith and in the years ahead they are able to counsel and pray with many others facing the same ordeal.
- The unborn child may lose the battle and never be born but through the peace, joy and faith of the parents an entire family comes to Christ who previously were uninterested and unimpressed about God.
- The soldier may go to war and lose his life fighting for what he believes in and over the months that follow the parents are overwhelmed by letters from his fellow servicemen describing the faith and courage of their son and the many lives that were brought to Christ during the soul-searching stress of combat because of his faithful witness.
Many of our Bible heroes didn’t get answers that we would consider “most” glorifying to God:
- Moses didn’t get to enter the promise land;
- Joseph was an imprisoned slave for many years;
- Job lost every single thing he had including his health and family (yes, he got them back plus more, but he didn’t know that at the time the suffering was happening);
- John the Baptist was beheaded;
- Lazarus died;
- most of the Apostles were dirt poor and eventually martyred;
- the Apostle Paul was sick, poor, beaten, stoned and imprisoned.
Not exactly a list of answers that we would think of as “successful” in today’s Christian culture.
Our greatest example, Jesus Christ, prayed to have it “all” (his suffering and crucifixion) removed if possible but immediately followed up with an understanding and submission to the greater glory of God: Not my will but yours be done! (Matt 26.39, emphasis mine). “Not my will but yours be done” is frequently pronounced a “negative confession” and a “lack of faith” by many Christian personalities today.
We sometimes pray for the superficial without regards to the depth of God’s sovereignty or glory. We pray “God give me money, restore my health, make everything good, fix all my problems”. And while that is a natural desire, and not necessarily wrong to pray, we need to be ready for God’s answer that may very well involve suffering.
We should be praying “Lord, I know what I would like to see happen, but what is most important is that You are glorified to the greatest possible degree. So I ask You to open my spiritual eyes and show me what will bring You the most glory even if it does not fix my problem, grant my desire, or restore what I’m missing.”
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
If God receives greater glory through my greater suffering (1Pet 3.17), then suffering is the answer to our prayer (1Pet 2.19). If the Lord is magnified in the lives around us through a loss of material possession, then take it all. If the Son of God is lifted up through tragedy in my life, then let the tragedies begin (1Pet 4.16).
It’s all a question of true priorities. Which is more important? You’re comfort, restoration, healing, and prosperity; or the glory of God and the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 3.8-10)? We need to pray for and accept the answer to prayer that brings the greatest glory to God no matter what (Rom 8.18).
1 Peter 2:21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps;
I’m going to close with a clarification because I know I’m bucking against popular teaching today. YES, God can be glorified by healing us, blessing us materially and restoring what is “broken” in our lives. We are all well informed of this aspect of Christianity. But if that is where we stop, then we are settling for only a portion of God’s blessing, and the lesser portion at that. We’re setting up Christians to have a “faith crisis” when suffering and trials become God’s will for them.
My point is NOT to tell you that BRENT RIGGS knows how God is most glorified, only God knows that. My point is that God’s will may include prosperity or suffering and we don’t hear that taught very often in our current Christian environment because it’s not very “attractive” or “positive”.
Lord God, give us spiritual eyes to see that Your ways are beyond ours. You have answers that we cannot imagine. Help us to pray for the answer that brings You the most glory, and not necessarily the one that brings us the most benefit, In Jesus name, Amen.
Contemplation: Are most of your prayers to God summarized in “give me, fix me, heal me, bless me, restore me”? If you were facing losing your health, can you conceive where God might be glorified MORE if you actually did lose your health? What about money?
Application: Be careful of perpetuating “Christian” clichés such as this one, or ones like “God helps those who help themselves” and “grace is where you leave off and God picks up”. We pass these things on so frequently that everyone comes to believe they are Scripture. They only serve to simplify and limit God in our minds, and make us lazy in pursuing the depths of real truth that is not quite so easy and nicely packaged.
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?