Dangerous Prayers

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praying-hands2We’ve all heard the warning, “Never pray for patience, because God gives it to you by putting you in situations where you have to be patient.” This warning is easily understood. The only way to learn to be patient is to wait patiently. There are other prayers to which this same warning could apply. One such dawned on me last night while writing in my journal and praying.

I was meditating and praying on some of my own reactions to things from my past. There were several situations from my past that were bothering me, even though I believed I had forgiven them. It dawned on me that I was holding onto bitterness and unforgiveness towards some. I asked the Lord in prayer, while writing in my journal, “Lord, teach me to forgive.” As I closed my journal and lay down to sleep it suddenly dawned on me that one can be taught to forgive only through experiences that must be forgiven. Just as one does not learn patience without waiting patiently, no one learns to forgive without facing times and situations where it is necessary to forgive. When praying to be taught forgiveness, you are praying to be placed in situations where you will have to learn to forgive.

This brings us to a theme that runs all through the scriptures, especially the New Testament—why does God allow bad things to happen to his people? We often hear that God will turn all things to our own good, and make all things work out. However, we forget that his definition of “work out” may be different from ours. One passage commonly quoted (most often, misquoted) is Romans 8:28. It is used as a promise that nothing bad will happen but God will work out all things. However, you have to see this in context with the next verse to understand just what that means:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (NIV).

To understand verse 28, one must understand God is working for your good (as one who has been called according to his purpose). However, we must keep in mind that the purpose of his calling matters here. Without getting into issues of foreknowledge and predestination, which will only lengthen this discussion (since I’ve discussed them elsewhere), understand that the purpose for which God called us was “to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” When God allows things in our life there is no guarantee that those bad things will not be experienced. There is no guarantee that those bad things will not have grievous consequences. There is no promise that God will get you out of all the things that make life uncomfortable. There is actually nothing in this passage about taking you out of any situation. This passage tells us that when God allows anything into our lives it is to transform us into (or conform us to) the image of Christ. He wants us to be like Christ. So he wants us to be patient. He wants us to be forgiving. He wants us to be compassionate. He wants us to be sympathetic. He wants us to be self-sacrificing. He wants us to put others before ourselves. All of these things are like the image of Christ and he wants to form these characteristics within us. The things he allows into our lives—good, bad, painful, pleasurable—are meant to transform us to the image of Christ.

In order to do this, God must allow situations in our lives that require us to exercise develop and mature these characteristics. Just as you cannot be transformed into a patient person without being forced to wait, you cannot be transformed into a forgiving person without being confronted with situations where you must forgive. In other words, you can only become a forgiving person if God allows you to face a situation where you must forgive—you must experience an affront or offense. When you face trouble realize he is teaching you to be prepared for greater trouble and to be more like Christ in the face of trouble. When you face difficulty he is teaching you to face it like Christ would. But it would be foolish to expect God to empower us to face trouble and difficulty without having us go through trouble and difficulty.

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