In Sunday school recently, we were looking at the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abendybobby, (ok Abednego) from Daniel 3. The king tells them that unless they worship a false god, he’s chucking them into a furnace. Here’s what they reply:
“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
I’d like to think that when times are tough I could say the first bit.
“King Nebuchadnezzar”. (Yep, that’s it).
OK. If I was feeling really brave, I might mumble something about God being able to save me. But after that, I’m not so sure.
…’Even if God doesn’t rescue me, I’ll still keep trusting Him’.
Is this true for me? When I don’t get a parking space I start questioning. And in the bigger struggles – well. I’m all over the place.
In these situations I sometimes approach prayer like an exam.
I start by asking for the right answer. This is for me to get what I want in exactly the way I want it. Example:
‘Dear God. Please can you make it so my stomach problems are healed. Preferably by tomorrow. And er – onlyifitsyourwill. But you love me and that’s what I want so it must be your will, right?’
I’ll pray this for a long, long time. Maybe three or four days. And then, when I’m still feeling dodgy, I start to get edgy.
You see, if God is God and if He likes me, then He’ll fix stuff in the way I say. But if He doesn’t, then We Have A Problem. If He doesn’t, then everything I believe is called into question. I start to think like this:
God hates me. If He loved me, He’d stop me feeling so rubbish.
God’s not there. Maybe, I’m praying to the sky.
He’s there, but He’s not very big. He’d love to help, but this one’s a little – tricky.
God’s there but He’s too big for my piddling problems. His remit is Global Issues and Church Building Repairs.
If God doesn’t answer my prayers in the way I expect, I conclude that something’s wrong at His end.
So I step in. I try to protect Him and to help Him out.
I do this by altering my prayers. Turning the Right Answer into multiple choice:
‘Dear God. If you have time, please can you make it so my stomach problems are healed. And erm, if you can’t or you’re busy, can you at least help me feel a bit less sick. And if that’s not – er working, then maybe you could improve my skin tone? Or fix the DVD player. Or..’
It’s a kind-of ‘covering all bases prayer’ that offers God (and me) a face-saving way out. But maybe instead of helping Him, it stops Him working instead.
It means I never have to think about what answer to prayer really looks like.
I never have to ask difficult questions of my life and my faith.
I never have to look at what I really believe about suffering and hope and comfort and perserverance and who God is and what He wants for me most.
Question is: Is the god I’m following just a slightly bigger version of me?
…Or is He the God who leads me into the furnace, but walks there with me?