One of my favorite things in the world is to sit and listen to my boys, Will and Nate, entertain themselves. Each finds the other to be an unparalleled comedian. Sometimes Sam is included in the revelry, and I’m sure hoping that one day he’ll be a full member. But for now, most of their jokes are intended only for each other, and boy oh boy, do they get worked up into a laughing frenzy. Nate, in particular, sounds almost intoxicated by the hilarity of it all.
Sometimes I wish the whole of life was like that, yet I know that Jesus told us in plain and simple terms that we’d have trouble in this life. (John 16:33). Amazingly, His words are often ignored. Thousands upon thousands of people have been led astray by the prosperity gospel–the claim that God always wants you healthy and wealthy, that God always wants you in a Nate-like hilarious state-of-mind. Certainly, if that were true, Christians would be the healthiest, wealthiest people in town, and the envy of all their neighbors. People would probably start turning to Christ by the droves.
But how would God be glorified in that? People would be using God as a means to an end. It would be all about them and what they could get from Him. But that’s not the way God works. The reality is that even though God often chooses to bless those who follow Him, even the most devout Christians experience extreme hardships and heartaches. It must grieve God greatly to see people embrace the prosperity gospel when it mars the whole purpose of Jesus’ sacrifice. And why exactly didn’t the prosperity gospel work for Jesus anyway?
My pastor, Lon Solomon, was speaking about this recently and he said, “sometimes God wants you sick.” Now, that’s a pretty hard-lined position, much different than what we often hear, that God allows pain in our lives, but does not will it. So I’ve been thinking about this, and talking with some friends about it. And in some respects I’m not sure, in our humanness, we can fully get our heads around it. God loves us, right? How could He want us sick?
However, in another respect it makes perfect sense to me. As C.S. Lewis puts it in Mere Christianity, “Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You…No half-measures are any good.'” But tidbits and half-measures are pretty much our nature, don’t you think? We have to work at it if we really aim to give ALL to Christ.
Now look back at your own spiritual journey and ask yourself this question: Where did I most learn to trust God with my life? Was it when you were in green pastures walking beside still waters? I doubt it. It was in the valley of the shadow of death, right?
So if God wants us to trust Him, to cling to Him, to rest in the assurance of His love, and we best learn to do that in the valley, then why can’t the valley be what God wants for us?
If sin had never entered the world, we wouldn’t have any valleys. But sin did enter this world, and Christ told us we’d have troubles. So why not pray that we will learn all that there is to learn in our valleys, and then take heart and praise Jesus that He has overcome the world!