"Bring me pain, Lord, if it brings You glory!"
I’ve always found the statements of “I want the Lord to do whatever He wants in my life to bring Him the most glory possible, even if it means bringing me pain” to be inspirational …
and a bit “off.”
When I was 21 (half my lifetime ago), I went to Papua New Guinea for a summer on a mission trip. And I told my mom that I picked PNG over any other place because it was so remote and primitive. I said that I wanted to have everything taken away to really challenge me, to grow my faith in new ways. And I meant it. I really did. My heart was in the right place.
But my mom said something wise, something that stuck. She said, “Don’t ask for that! Never ask for that! Because He could take away everything – your legs, your eyesight, your health, your home, etc.”
Wow! So true.
As I thought about it, I realized that I didn’t really want God to do “whatever.” I didn’t want Him to take away all my comforts, just the ones I could do without for a summer. I didn’t want to be broken into pieces, just smooth off a couple rough edges. I didn’t want to be tried like Job was; I just wanted a little adventure that would grow my faith in fun, exciting, safe ways.
I think of that lesson often, especially as I have faced deeper and more troubling trials over the years. And I thought about it again not too long ago when I heard a famous Christian (who grew up rich and went on to become even more rich and successful) say on camera that even if God took it all away, they would still be able to praise Him - because it’s not about the money; it’s all about God.
(It seems that the people who say this kind of thing are those who have a lot or who have it rather easy. They have money and possessions and relationships and success, etc. A rather comfortable life.)
When I first heard this Christian say this, I bristled. It bothered me. I mean, it sounds so humble and honoring, so God-glorifying … so why would I have a problem with it? Isn’t that the kind of humble thing we are supposed to say? Isn’t it similar to what I said about PNG?
While I do think they mean it (like I did) and they really want God to be glorified in their lives and they know that money is of no eternal value, I think I finally figured out what bothers me about that kind of statement …
What bothers me is they are overestimating themselves. There’s a certain level of self-confidence and self-ability, a subtle underlying belief of “I can handle it. My faith is strong enough. I won’t crack under the pressure and trials. I won’t be like the other people out there who despair and doubt and struggle with their faith when times get really hard. I’m stronger than that. No matter what happens to me, I’ll still be singing God’s praises.”
And they say this while their checking account is full of money and their refrigerator is full of food and their job is going well.
To me, this doesn’t really show a strong, unshakeable faith in God (usually because it’s said before crushing trials come) so much as it shows a faith in ourselves, in our ability to maintain a strong, unshakeable faith if trials happen someday in the future.
Our hearts can be in the right place, while our confidence is in the wrong place. And we can’t really know what’s in our hearts before painful trials expose the truth, the attitudes and fears and doubts that we didn’t know were there.
It’s so easy to say “Even if it was all taken away, I would still praise God.” … until it’s all taken away.
It’s easy to say, “I want Him to do whatever He wants in my life to bring Him glory, even if it means pain.” … until He does whatever He wants and brings the pain and hides in the background and doesn’t answer your prayers the way you want and lets you come face-to-face with the fact that you grossly overestimated yourself when you said, “Whatever You want, Lord … as long as it brings You glory.”
It’s easy to assume that you’ll be able to keep your chin up and a compliant, Christianly smile on your face during the trials, instead of being brought to your face in despair and exhaustion.
It’s easy to make naïve, untested, over-confident assumptions like that, especially when our hearts are in the right place.
It’s easy to say it … until God actually does it.
But I don’t think we really want Him to bring the trials. We don’t really want to lose everything, even if it does bring Him glory. We just want to say it because it sounds mature and faithful and glorifying to say it. And we do really want to please Him. (And maybe deep down we think that if we say it then He’ll be pleased with us and bless us more, that He’ll spare us the trials because we said the right thing and our hearts were in the right place. It’s the thought that counts, right?)
But what if?
What if He really does take us up on our challenge? What if He decides to show us what’s really in our hearts, to show us who we really are? What if He decides to expose just how much over-confidence we placed in ourselves and how we believed that if we did everything right and said all the right things then life would go the way we wanted and we would be blessed? What if He decided to teach us just how human we are, how un-self-sufficient and weak and scared and unwise we are, how much we desperately need Him because we can’t do it on our own anymore? What if Satan asks to tests us, like he tested Job?
We can’t know how we will handle “Job-sized” trials until we face Job-sized trials. And I think it is foolish to think we have the strength and ability to make it through unscathed, to think that we can handle what God dishes out (or allows Satan to dish out) and that our faith won’t waver or be stretched to the breaking point or be shattered into tiny pieces that we have to scoop up and place in the Lord’s hands so that He can put it back together again.
Crushing trials will bring out any trace of self-sufficiency or pride or love of comfort or need for control that we have deep inside. It will expose the over-self-confidence that made us think we were strong enough to face terrible trials with our chin up, a smile on our faces, and a pleasing “good Christian” attitude.
I was someone who grew up with faith, and I was confident in myself and my faith. Confident enough to say that I wanted to be stripped of every comfort because I knew it would help grow my faith.
I was confident about my faith … until too many trials broke me, finally coming to a head in 2016.
I never thought I’d be someone who broke so bad that - for three days - I couldn’t get out of bed or eat because lights and sounds hurt my head so much that I wanted to vomit every time I stood up. I never thought I’d be someone who was hiding in my house, deep in depression, staring out my backdoor window for most of the day, praying that Jesus would come back and end it all. I never thought that I’d be standing in my garden one day picking beans, thinking and praying things I never did before - thinking “Hmm, so this is the point people get to when they decide to kill themselves” and praying, “Lord, stop! Please, no more trials. I can’t stand anymore. Please, give me a break from trials for awhile. I can’t do it!”
(I wasn’t going to kill myself. I was more analytical about it than emotional. But I did start to understand the people who do kill themselves or who cut themselves. I was sitting on rock-bottom hopelessness and discouragement, when you want nothing more than to be free of the incredible stress and overwhelming feelings of pain and failure and suffocating entrapment. It absolutely breaks my heart now whenever I hear about someone who committed suicide or who cuts themselves. I understand the place they were in when they did it. It's a horrible, horrible place to be in.)
Trials have a way of bringing us to that point. They have a way of destroying every bit of self-sufficiency, self-assurance, self-ability, self-strength, self-wisdom, and everything bit of confidence that we have in anything that’s not God. They have a way of tearing us into shreds until we can’t do anything but fall down on our faces - broken, unable to pick ourselves up, pleading with God to remove His hand from us, wishing we could turn our backs on Him because we feel He turned His back on us yet knowing that there is no one else to go to because He alone has the words of Truth and Life.
When you are hit with the painful trials, the dashed dreams, the overwhelming obstacles, the echoing silence when it feels like God abandoned you, the unanswered prayers, etc., then - and only then – can you really know what’s in your heart and what you’ve really placed your faith on and how strong it is and how weak it is and how much you need the Lord to help you stand.
That’s when you move from “I can handle whatever, Lord” to “Help me, Lord, I’m breaking and I can’t do it anymore.” And that’s when genuine faith is born, when your trust in Him is purified, when it’s simplified and yet made more complex. When God becomes more mysterious and more wild and too big to be controlled by us. Too big to fit into our little boxes and our meager understandings. Too big to be manipulated by our “right talk” and “right attitudes” and our proper “good Christian” performance, the things we say and do in the hopes that we can earn His favor and a smooth, comfortable life.
Oh, how naïve we are to assume that we can handle it, that we can face the devastating trials with a “good Christian” response, that our faith will not be shaken to the core. May we never be too casual about our faith, may we never overestimate our own strength and capabilities while underestimating God’s ability to humble us and make us see the truth about ourselves and give us the trials we think we can handle.
Let us always remember from the start that we are too weak to do it all, too unwise to know it all, too broken to stand tall and proud, too scared to face it all. Let us always remember that we always need Him to uphold us and guide us and provide for us, that we are fully dependent on His grace and mercy and love.
And let us always remember that we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future or how we will handle it, but we do know that we have today. And this is how we show our faith – not with predictions of how well we think we will handle future trials but by being faithful and honoring and obedient in the here-and-now.
(reposted from Love, Heal Me)