Friday, March 4, 2016

When You Pray and Nothing Changes

Suspicion grows weighty and worry plagues my mind for months before the diagnosis finally confirms all my silent fears. My mom has cancer. An overwhelming sense of entitlement follows:  This isn’t what I asked for, God. No, this is the very thing I prayed against. God, you know I believe You can do anything, but God, I prayed and nothing changed.

My faith feels dead, but I know it isn’t. Dreams may be dying, but not my faith. Faith will move me from this raw and honest prayer of heartbreak to an entirely new prayer, eventually. Faith will move me to a prayer that sounds more like this:  I trust You, God, even in this. You are good even if the news isn’t. Whenever I seek You I always find You. Thank you that nothing changes You.

Faith is the vehicle that brings me back to gratitude, because faith isn’t based on my understanding. Faith has nothing to do with me and everything to do with God. Faith assures me that no matter how impossible the circumstances might seem I will find God.

I don’t need strong faith; I need faith in a strong God.

Daniel found God in an impossible situation. A Jewish exile who had been promoted to a very high station in the Medo-Persian Empire, Daniel’s reputation was spotless. The other officials became so jealous that they tried and tried to find ways to slander him, yet they could not. So they did what our enemy loves to do to us: they went after his relationship with God.

Appealing to King Darius’ ego, they concocted a brilliant plan to get the king to sign a new law stating that everyone in the kingdom must pray only to him for thirty days. Those who broke the law would be thrown into the lion’s den. The king agreed and the document was signed, making the law irrevocable, even by the king himself. Daniel’s enemies knew he’d never stop talking to God.

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Daniel 6:10

When Daniel received bad news, he gave thanks. Daniel wasn’t thanking God for the bad news; he just knew there were plenty of reasons to give thanks based on God’s character rather than his circumstances. Gratitude prompted peace in his heart. Daniel knew nothing could change how God felt about him. Nothing.  Not being persecuted or slandered or mistreated or rejected or falsely accused. Not even being trapped in a den full of lions.

Nothing changes God’s love for us.

Then they said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.” When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him. Daniel 6:13-14

King Darius was a powerful king. He tried and tried to change Daniel’s situation, but he could not. His rescue mission failed. He was too late. It had become an incredibly impossible situation. The king’s plan involved keeping Daniel from the lion’s den altogether, but God’s plan involved entering the lion’s den Himself. That’s always been God’s plan.

Jesus willingly entered the dark, sin-infested pit of this world to suffer and serve and confront the lion, so that we might live with God in an ongoing relationship forever and ever. Moved by a love that’s unchanging, God paid the price that we never could.

Nothing changes God’s plan to rescue and redeem.

So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed. Daniel 6:16-17

Just as the king sealed the den so Daniel’s situation could not be changed, God has sealed us so that we are forever marked as His. To everyone who believes in Jesus, God has promised the gift of His Spirit as a deposit that cannot be revoked. His Spirit within us is proof of His promise. No matter how hard life gets, no matter how far we fall, God has promised He will never remove His Spirit. 

Nothing changes the power of God’s Spirit within us.

If we quit before the story’s over, it might go something like this: Daniel prayed and nothing changed. He had to spend the night with hungry lions. I don’t know what den you’re facing, but Daniel’s story isn’t over yet, and neither is yours. King Darius sprinted to the den the next morning, unsure of what he would find. When he heard Daniel’s voice, he had no choice but to believe in Daniel’s God as well.

Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.  Daniel 6:21-23

I have a tendency to read through this story and forget it really happened. These were real lions- real hungry lions- that had their mouths shut by God. Scripture doesn’t say God filled their stomachs and satisfied their appetites. It only says their mouths were shut. These weren’t sweet cats purring all night long. They were angry and frustrated and confused. And still very, very hungry.

God didn’t remove the threat from Daniel’s life; He rendered the threat powerless over Daniels’ life. The lions remained a part of Daniel’s story, but the lions could never overpower God. 1 Peter 5:8 says that our “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Though we still encounter the lion, God has rendered him powerless over those who trust in Jesus.

Daniel’s faith in God did not change, because he understood that nothing changes God. Not addiction, not job loss, not failure, not slander, not divorce, not cancer, not even death can separate us from Him. We can have faith in God through the most impossible situations, because His love never changes, His plan cannot be revoked, and His Spirit will never depart from those who are His.

May we embrace the promise of a God who never changes even as we are dealt heartbreaking disappointments and harsh setbacks. May we give thanks at all times and in all circumstances, especially the unfavorable ones. May we cling to the God who holds in His hand the whole mess of our lives and every broken way we take. May we rest in the companionship of God, knowing that no matter what unfolds in the here and now His love will usher us into eternity blameless and unscathed.

Jesus loves you,

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