By Bethany Riehl
“What cannot be overcome in prayer? Answer me! What cannot be done by the hand of the Almighty? Answer me! What can be done by your feeble arms? Answer me! He can take down the Iron Curtain in a day; He can convert a nation in an hour. Call upon Him! Believe Him!” –Paul Washer, American evangelist
One of my earliest articles for Christian Living – perhaps even the first – was about a class I was teaching on the book “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom. Years later, I’m once again teaching through that book, and once again, the lessons are coming in waves.
If you’re not familiar with the book, it is the account of a family in Holland that used their home for work in the Dutch underground resistance in WWII, and to hide Jews in a secret room they had constructed in the house. An elderly man and his two middle-aged, “spinster daughters” lived in the home, and his other married children, their spouses and older children were also part of the work. It is estimated that the Ten Boom family saved over 800 lives during that time. They credited all of their success to the Lord.
Corrie says that they prayed through everything, and were mysteriously led by the Holy Spirit on who to trust, how to do the work, and that, miraculously, they were able to do much right there in the heart of Holland in their tiny watch shop without being discovered.
Until one day, it seemed, everything went wrong.
It would appear that their lives and work had been a game of Jenga, barely staying together until one wrong move made the whole tower come tumbling down. You’ll have to read the book to know the rest – it’s an incredible testimony to the goodness of God.
But not in the way you might expect.
In the same way, this verse, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2c), does not necessarily mean what we think it does at first blush. It would be easy to assume that everything went wrong for the Ten Booms in the moment it did because they prayed wrong or because the enemy was stronger or because God didn’t care about them.
It’s easy to look at this verse and believe that God will give us everything we want as long as we ask.
Dear Christian, it is so much more – and so much better – than that.
We are here for a purpose. Every human that has ever lived or ever will live is made in the image of God and our express purpose is to glorify Him (Isaiah 43:7, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Psalm 73:25-26).
Why did God make vast oceans that we have been unable to fully explore? Because He is glorious.
Why do we continue to discover that the universe is bigger and more complex with unfathomable numbers of galaxies than we originally thought? Because God is glorious.
Why do things go well for us? Because God is glorious.
Why do things fall apart? Because God is glorious.
God can make the lame walk and the blind see; He can also touch the socket of a man and make him lame the rest of his life to act as a reminder of when God changed his name (Genesis 32).
He can take a seeing man and place scales over his eyes, blinding him to the physical world while opening the eyes to his soul (Acts 9).
For His glory.
We are saved to glorify the Lord. Every breath we’re given should be as unto the Lord. And this we can’t do on our own, but if we ask, He will train us in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Training takes work, but too often we believe that our walk with the Lord should be without difficulty – which is not at all what He promised. We are willing to endure hardship for reward in nearly other avenue of life – we work hard for a paycheck, we train hard for marathons, we study hard to pass tests. Yes, our salvation is a gift, given to us freely. But we are bought and paid for people, and we have a Master to serve. A Master that designed us to work for things. Not our salvation, no. But rather a worshipful response to His saving grace.
While in this flesh, there is much we don’t understand; our good and gracious Lord will teach us. Jesus didn’t just come to save us; He came to live a perfect life in exchange for ours and to show us how to live.
“By this we may know that we are in Him: whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked” (1 John 2:5b-6).
Recently I became aware of how utterly weak I was in the discipline of prayer. I had become lazy and full of excuses. “Well, I just don’t understand exactly how it works. I don’t know what to say. God is sovereign; He does what He pleases, does it matter if I pray?”
It’s not that I didn’t pray or believe that prayer was important (Jesus made time to pray, we should, too!), it’s that I knew I wasn’t praying as I should. I finally stopped making excuses and asked the Lord to train me. Then, I had to show up for the lesson.
I read about prayer, asked a friend to pray that I would obey, and – wouldn’t you know it? – our church just so happened to be starting a Sunday School class on prayer. All by God’s power. He fulfilled His promise His way. It wasn’t easy, though. I had to take all of those lessons and develop the discipline and put it all into practice by getting up early, and praying.
Recently in my small group it seemed the physical and emotional needs of my friends came wave after wave and as I put my new understanding of prayer into practice, I found my heart aching for their pain and cried out for the Lord to please just miraculously fix all of it, to take it away for them.
But He reminded me through reading His Word that that’s not always the best thing for us. Sometimes the trials we’re in are consequences of our own sin and we need to endure them. And sometimes God has designed the trial to sanctify us and glorify Himself. See Job.
“ ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways, My ways,’ declares the LORD.
‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.’” – Isaiah 55:8-9
Are you weary? Cry out to the Lord. Are you struggling? Ask Him for help. He will deliver you, but possibly not in the way you expect but in the way that is best – to train you in righteousness. For your good and for His glory.
Bethany Riehl lives in the Treasure Valley with her husband, three kids, and one super chill dog. She writes articles and fictional novels when she can, and her one desire is to point others to the love and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Her books can be found on Amazon or at your local library…after you request them to be in stock, of course.