In a previous post, Plop…Yogurt Across Her Forehead! (Part 1), I wrote about the adventure Chelsea and I shared. I was feeding Chelsea yogurt when one time she leaned into the yogurt too early and plop ,or splat, it went on her forehead. Yogurt was everywhere and I thought it was hilarious, while Chelsea did not. In the post we explored the idea of waiting for God to bless us with that thing that we want or desire. You could also say- do not lean into the yogurt, which is the blessing you want, too early. We concluded the post with this statement: “So, may you thrive in the moment- trusting and believing in Jesus, that if you are faithful He will be faithful to you.” As I thought about that post I realized that it not only expressed a very strong truth about God’s faithfulness and blessing of His children, but it also made me realize that it didn’t completely address the issue. I began to ask myself the question- what if God never provides that thing that I want? What if I truly am faithful and I work hard yet I never receive the blessing that I am expecting? Does God still love me- am I still His child? What did I do wrong? Should I still remain faithful even in what appears to be a lack of blessing? I think it is wise to break the questions that are asked into two groupings: the first, what have I done to make God not give me the blessing (thing you wanted) and second, should I still follow a God who does not give me that which I desire.
The journey to answering these questions will take us into the writings of Paul. Let us now begin to explore Paul, who is believed to have written many books in the New Testament and was responsible for beginning many churches especially throughout the Mediterranean Basin. Paul often found himself in very difficult situations. The type of situations that would make many of us, modern western Christians, deny or even leave our faith in Jesus. In at least two instances in Paul’s writing we see him explain what he is suffering through and the first is in 1 Corinthians 4.11-12a: “To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands” (NRSV). These verses make it sound as if Paul has had a bad day. I would even say that there are days that I come home feeling the way that Paul describes. Let’s explore another instance of the trouble that Paul is going through.
Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was ship-wrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.
(2 Corinthians 11:24-28 NRSV)
These verses make it sound like Paul is struggling beyond the normal struggles of Christians today. For instance, how many of us will ever be floating adrift for a day or two at sea? How many of us will be beaten, receive lashes or possibly receive a stoning? All of these struggles show that even a person that many Christians idolize will be subject to difficult times. I would even suggest that when Paul was hungry, thirsty and naked he was praying to God for food, water and clothing. Yet as we’ve seen in history and in the Bible, Paul did not let these apparent lack of blessings from God hold him back. Paul still moved forward for the sake of Christ.
Returning to the first grouping of questions, what have I done to make God not give me the blessing (thing you wanted)- you have done nothing. Let me say that again, you have done nothing! You have done nothing right and you have done nothing wrong. God does not always give that which you think you need. Paul probably felt like he needed clothes but God did not provide them. God’s blessings are not based off of your good works. They simply flow from His love.
Now we will seek to answer the second groups question: should I still follow a God who does not give me that which I desire? Paul who had every reason to quit, did not. He was put through pain, suffering, lack of basic needs and was near death several times- despite all of this he still followed and served Christ. Paul did not see these difficult moments as God not giving, but rather God shaping and molding. In the difficult moments, when God doesn’t seem to provide what you desire, He is actually realigning your desires and creating strength within you.
I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all thing through him who strengthens me.
(Philippians 4:12-13 NRSV)
As we see in Paul’s writings, God is realigning our hearts so that our happiness, our peace and our strength do not come from what we have. It is God’s desire that our life be centered around Him and thus all that we have, including happiness, strength and peace, come from Him. So to recap: if you have not received what you desire please know that you are loved by God, have done nothing wrong and are currently being molded and shaped so that your strength comes through Christ. It is God’s hope and desire that we can say as Paul did:
Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:10 NRSV)